My life is never dull. My work, my friendships and my relationships lack the tedium of drama for drama’s sake, and I work hard to keep them positive, exciting and fulfilling. I have a long-standing commitment to being happy (since I was six years old, in fact) so it’s something I pay attention to. While everyone’s version of being happy is different, I am quite familiar with what does it for me — or so I thought. Recently I made a leap in manifesting my happiness, and that’s what I want to share with you today.
My background is in advertising, tech and the creative industries. After being burned as a co-founder of a startup, I did a stint in the new and experimental digital dept for the Department of International Trade (the previous experience made Government look reasonable), and I pivoted my career two years ago to become a coach. I’ve lived in four different countries, and I travel as much as I can. Outside of coaching, I produce content like Truth Or Drink: My First Same-Sex Girlfriend for YouTube channel Cut with the talented Julia Vogl. What I’m demonstrating is that I love variety, and I love change. Ask me to do something I’ve been doing for a long time and get paid a shit-load, or do something new and start at the bottom of the ladder, and I’ll take a running leap at the latter. I once had a late-night conversation about moving to Australia, and within 24 hours, I had a working-holiday visa. Inside of a month, I was touching down in Melbourne with no contacts and no clue — but with a massive sense of excitement.
*spoiler alert* I also have ADHD — which means I double down on being addicted to stimulation.
People with ADHD are dopamine junkies, and my way of channelling poor impulse control and being addicted to intellectual stimulation is to chase new experiences ferociously. It’s not a bad use of my (ADHD) talents, but it’s unquestionably intense and means my life is a constant state of being on the run.
The thought of standing still for any length of time (physically or metaphorically) makes me just as twitchy as some people would get if you said: “Here’s a new job, life — and wardrobe now GO!”. I’m aware it’s not entirely reasonable.
Always chasing shiny new things means you work VERY hard cognitively — you haven’t developed any short cuts, you have no experience to draw on, and every problem you have to solve is brand new. I would commit to substantial personal projects on top of my full-time job. Does this sound exhausting?
I used to sleep 3 hours a night, and when I did lay down to sleep, I was wired so tight that I was like a stiff board until I deliberately went through and relaxed my muscles. I genuinely did not know how to decompress, and whenever I had to do ‘relaxing’ activities, I was bored and filled with a feeling that I could and should be doing something more. I was burning up resources, and I was told that eventually, the tab would come due. I nodded at this, and then carried on anyway. And let me be clear, it wasn’t ambition, as I didn’t care what I achieved; it was pure compulsion toward newness, to learning curves, to different.
My low tolerance for boredom means I make it a point to be the dumbest person in the room whenever I can, and I chase down smart people like a bounty hunter. But at one point I realised I just had too many — people. I interacted with too many people to connect meaningfully with all of them — and maybe even any of them.
Now don’t get me wrong: it was an exciting life. And this isn’t a story of crash and burnout. But while I could say it was wildly exciting, I couldn’t honestly tell you I was happy. Until I started doing this one thing.
But before I give it up, let me tell how I found it.
About two years ago, filled with the exhaustion that only people who have worked in government can feel, I decided that the thing that was most preoccupying for me was other people. How much anxiety I saw in the world around me from people who had, sometimes against considerable odds, created and built and inspired. So many people, that from the outside looked like successes, but on the inside felt raw and uncertain. So many people that wanted more, that deserved more but didn’t know how to get it. In particular, I was drawn to the elevation of marginalised groups, and I realised that coaching could help level the ‘privilege playing field’ using education and personal accountability.
When I decided to pivot and re-train as a coach, I did regular coaching training, and it is essential, but I also started researching happiness. The definition of it, the science behind it, and what gold-standard research was around for its existence and composition. This research gave me many valuable tools for coaching, and it eventually led me to Yale University. To Laurie Santos and the most popular course in all of Yale’s history — The Science of Well-Being. The course harmonises the last hundred years of behavioural science and relates it to happiness. The science of happiness, how to measure it, how our brains can trick us and lead us astray in the pursuit of it, and what you can do to cultivate happiness and in turn, resilience.
You can take the course yourself, and or follow Laurie Santos’ podcast (and I highly recommend that you do). There was one thing in particular that changed everything for me, that has been scientifically proven by robust and replicable studies to increase happiness.
I was well aware from my studies of the research into gratitude as a practice, its place in life satisfaction is well documented, including by the godfather of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, but what I wasn’t aware of was the practice of savouring — a practice that accelerates and extrapolates the benefits of gratitude, and basically weaponises them.
Savouring firstly means consciously acknowledging good moments and happenings, big or small — doesn’t matter — and then dwelling on them, rolling them around in your mind the way you’d swirl a mouthful of good wine in your mouth to intensely experience it. There are several ways to savour an experience to live and relive and explore it so that you internalise it more thoroughly, but the crucial thing it made me do was to slow down. I had so many amazing moments, so many sought-after experiences with remarkable people in unbelievable situations — but was I savouring them? Was I honouring them, was I revelling in these moments — or was I zooming from one to another until I barely remember they had happened at all?
We don’t have all the time in the world. We have what we have, and we can only fit so much into it. I don’t regret how I lived my life — but I’m glad I use savouring to turn fleeting moments in time into technicolour epics that I revel in (picture a dog rolling around in the best scent ever). By slowing down and appreciating what’s going on, and with whom, I internalise these moments more, and my life is more meaningful.
The drive to continually seek out stimulation at all costs has been tamed by something bigger, something more exciting. The fast pace I cultivated has been replaced — and not by boredom. By pursuing a more meaningful series of experiences with far fewer people, my decisions feel instinctive, and for the first time, I’m not worried about being bored. I thought I had my eyes open before; now, I know they are open, and I like what I see around me. It doesn’t mean I’ve stopped learning, and it doesn’t mean I won’t sign up for new experiences. But in doing less, I am more. In acknowledging, appreciating, and savouring my experiences, I feel more complete and yes, more alive. If that’s not happiness, I don’t know what is.
As ever, hit me up in the comments below, or on Twitter if you want some recommendations, or to discuss what you can do personally to create a savouring practice.