Serial tech entrepreneur Naval Ravikant recently fielded readers’ questions on Tim Ferriss’s podcast on topics ranging from artificial intelligence to memento mori. Asked about happiness, Ravikant shared his definition of it and some ideas on how to get there.
I actually think happiness is the absence of suffering. It comes from peace, and that comes from just being very careful about desire, judgment and reactions.
Ravikant shares a story about a monk who was asked his secret to peace and happiness. The monk responded “I say yes. To everything that happens, I say yes.” This acceptance—not resisting what is—is a key tenet of Buddhist philosophy, as meditation teacher Tara Brach explores eloquently in her book Radical Acceptance.
Ravikant himself practices Insight meditation (Vipassana), and counsels being aware in every moment to stop yourself from judging—emulating the monk. He also suggests training your mind to find a positive interpretation of events. The latter is the cornerstone of positive psychology, pioneered by Martin Seligman at UPenn with books like Learned Optimism.
Another idea is to “look up and smile.” Smiling—even if you’re faking it—has been shown to increase feelings of happiness.
Ravikant mirrors the motivation behind the Sound Body category here:
If you have peace of body, it’s much easier to have peace of mind.
Peace of body for him personally includes avoiding caffeine, working out every day, and getting more sunlight on skin (boosting vitamin D, which has been shown to contribute to feelings of wellbeing).
He also suggests telling your friends you’re a happy person, so that you’ll have to live up it…
Lastly, Any time you catch yourself desiring something, ask yourself ‘Is it really that important to me that I be unhappy if this doesn’t go my way?’ The answer is almost always ‘no’.
The most important trick I think to being happy is to realize that happiness is a skill that you develop and a choice that you make. You choose to be happy and then you work at it. It’s just like building muscles, it’s just like losing weight, it’s just like succeeding at your job, it’s just like learning calculus. You decide it’s important to you, you prioritize it above everything else, you read everything on the topic and then you work at it.