An 8-Step Framework to Maximize Happiness by Minimizing Stress
I aspire to be happier.
I aspire to have less stress in my life.
The following framework will be useful to you if at least one of the above statements applies.
1. Define Happiness
2. Define Stress
3. Prioritize Happiness through Reduced Stress
4. Create Ideal Schedule
5. Extract Ideal Identities
6. Document Present-Day Schedule
7. Extract Present-Day Identities
8. Create Present-Day Ideal Schedule
9. Live Present-Day Ideal Schedule
10. Iterate Present-Day Ideal Schedule
11. Highlander Metric: Time Spent in the Present Moment
1) Define Happiness
Happiness is often conflated with joy. Let us distinguish between the two. Happiness is a state. Joy is experienced in moments.
Moments of joy include:
- Winning the Super Bowl / World Cup
- Having sex
- A bite of your favorite dessert
- Reuniting with family after several months/years
Constant joy is unsustainable. Chasing a never-ending string of moments of joy can only end in self-destruction.
So, if happiness is not moments of joy, what is happiness? I turn to Naval Ravikant:
Peace is happiness at rest; happiness is peace in motion. Someone who’s peaceful at rest will end up happy when they do an activity. While a happy person sitting idle will be peaceful. The ultimate goal is not happiness, even though we use that term a lot. The goal is peace.
Humans have been chasing joy when we should have been chasing peace. Naval continues:
So the question becomes: How do you get to peace?
The first problem with attaining peace is that no activity will get you there. Fundamentally, peace is inactivity; it’s a sense that everything is fine.
Naval sums it up beautifully. We need to achieve a state of being where everything is fine. We’ll revisit this shortly.
2) Define Stress
In physical terms, stress happens when something wants to be in two places at one time… You want two incompatible things at once. I want to relax, but I need to work. Now I’m under stress. — Naval Ravikant
Such a simple definition leads us to our next question:
Is it possible to only want to be in one place at any one given time?
3) Prioritize Happiness through Reduced Stress
We know that happiness is not the same as joy.
We need to achieve a state of being where everything is fine.
Everything cannot be fine if we desire to be multiple places at the same time. We shouldn’t be playing with our kids while mentally thinking about our next Instagram post. We shouldn’t be scoping out our next vacation when we are working for a client on a deadline.
What if we allocated time for all these activities separately?
What if we only ever focused on one activity at any one given time?
If you aren’t desiring to be anywhere else, you would be at peace. More importantly, you would be present in the moment. Achieving a state of happiness would then become a foregone conclusion.
I intend to maximize my Happiness.
I will prioritize my Happiness.
We must intentionally, sometimes ruthlessly, prioritize happiness if we are to achieve it.
This is powerful; it turns happiness into a choice. In an ironic twist, we need to plan ahead in order to be fully present in each moment. We’ll need to allocate time individually for all of the activities that make up our lives.
4) Create Ideal Schedule
Planning ahead is not enough. We have to be honest with ourselves with regards to how we actually want to live our own life, and how close we are to that ideal state today.
How do we want to intentionally be spending our time? Do you consciously look at social media for four hours a day? Do you sit down at 8 pm and intentionally commit to scrolling until midnight? Doubtful. These times happen due to a lack of intention and purpose.
What does your ideal week look like? How would you structure each day/week to minimize your stress and maximize being fully present?
Print out some blank weekly calendars (I’m partial to template 7) and let’s get started.
Let’s start with sleep. Are you baking sleep deprivation into your ideal schedule? Hopefully not. Block-out your bedtime, and be sure to leave enough slack for your wind-down routine prior to getting in bed.
Non-Negotiable Obligations (Work, Children, etc.)
Which hours of the day do you have to be present for work?
Do you need to pick up your child from school at a certain time each day?
Do you volunteer anywhere on a fixed schedule?
Allocate time for each of these non-negotiable obligations.
I handle breakfast time in the house, so I blocked off an hour each morning to make the kids’ breakfast and spend quality time with them reading or playing to start each weekday.
Schedule in date nights. Your relationship will not take care of itself.
Schedule intentional leisure with your kids. I just show up and they tell me what to do. It’s empowering for them to be in control of the situation. Some of the most imaginative missions have come from letting my 3-year-old set the agenda for playtime.
Schedule call-time with family and friends. I have recurring calendar invites for the people I regularly communicate with. At first glance, that may seem callous, but I am intentionally creating space for them.
If any of your work hours are flexible, you have some thinking to do. How would you structure your ideal day?
Personally, I work best in 2–3 hour bursts with long, refreshing breaks. I consult for my primary income and have multiple additional income streams and private projects to work on at any given time. I know I have to work 40 hours for my client in a given week, and I keep a consistent schedule so my colleagues have clear expectations on when to engage.
That works out to 8 hours each day for work and 2–4 hours for side-hustles and personal projects.
What is your weekly training routine like? Do you lift, hike, surf? Whatever you do, now is the time to create space for your Athletic Self. I engage in some form of exercise every day. For weekdays I workout over lunch; I’ve found it to be the perfect reset for the workday and I don’t experience the afternoon crashes I used to.
Everything is intentional. Each day has only one athletic purpose from a selection of the following:
- Strength (calisthenics or power yoga)
- Cardio (hiking, skateboarding, running, or biking)
- Recovery (yin-yoga)
Once I’m vaccinated, I’ll resume my Brazilian jiu-jitsu (BJJ) training as well.
Worrying is like paying a debt you don’t owe — Mark Twain
There are two categories of things we worry about:
- Problems we cannot control
- Problems we can control
Of the things you worry about, which situations are out of your control? If there is a political issue that has you concerned, for example, either make a resolution to do something about it or wipe it clean from your list of worries. Examples include volunteering at an organization (local or online) or creating content to spread awareness. Endlessly scrolling through posts will do nothing positive for your happiness.
If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever. — Dalai Lama XIV
Categorize your worries into two categories, actionable and in-actionable. If the worry is actionable, intentionally carve out time in your schedule to make active progress against the problem. If the worry is in-actionable, cast it from your mind. If you must “keep tabs” on a problem, add it to the list of items you will research in the section below.
Research / Rabbit holes
I allocate 30 minutes on weekdays to get lost in rabbit holes on the internet. It seems counter-intuitive, but this time block is like a drain for the fountain of worries. If a new worry flashes across my mind whilst I’m playing with my children or working, I’m able to mentally snooze the worry until this time block. This quells anxiety because I know I’ll be able to make progress against this worry, and it’s not a hanging thread in my mind that I have to hold onto.
Snooze. Release. Research.
This keeps me enjoying the present moment.
It’s human nature (at least my nature) to get lost in rabbit holes on the internet. We come across a topic we want to know more about and dive in, opening up dozens of browser tabs to keep up. The only difference is whether it is intentional or spontaneous. If you allow yourself to spontaneously traverse the internet, you will lose a lot of time in the present moment.
It’s not simply my worries that I research; I also keep a running list of items I want to know more about. Here’s what’s currently on my research list.
- Reducing Inequality
- Seva (Community Service)
- Content Creation
- Skateboarding / Snowboarding / Surfing
- Machine Learning
- Current Events
- Firearms for Self Defense
When the time block arrives, simply check your list, pick a topic, and get lost in progress.
Protect Your Weekends
Protect your weekends as much as possible. I am able to accomplish all of the above during the week, leaving my weekends as a blank canvas. Sometimes I meet up with friends for coffee or a hike. Other times we have a family beach day. Your weekends are for your mental health.
5) Extract Ideal Identities
Now you have your ideal schedule, let’s go through and extract who you are. Yes, it’s supposed to be deep. You are the sum of your habits and actions, so your ideal schedule reflects your ideal self.
Do you fancy yourself a yogi? You should be able to say, “I practice yoga X times per week; therefore, I’m a yogi.” What’s your X?
I was able to extract the following identities for myself based on the time I carved out each week:
- Attentive Spouse
- Attentive Parent
- Athlete (Yogi, Hooper, BJJ Practitioner)
- Technologist (BPM, NoCode, Machine Learning)
- Good Businessman
- Able to Defend Myself (BJJ Practitioner)
- Explorer (Hiker)
- Aware of Current Events
- Lifelong Student (Reader, Philosophy, Solving Inequality)
- Financially Fit (Budgeting)
- Content Creator
Each of the above identities has at least one time block carved out on the ideal schedule in order to pursue it. Which identities does your ideal schedule pursue?
6) Document Present-Day Schedule
This is only going to be as valuable as you are honest with yourself. On a weekly calendar, document your current schedule in 30-minute time-blocks.
7) Extract Present-Day Identities
Are there any habits today that are not in your ideal schedule?
- Fantasy Sports Player
When I honestly documented how I spent my time, I found I was spending far too much time online.
I also noticed that my switching costs were higher than I anticipated. For example, a 45-minute yoga session doesn’t simply take 45 minutes. There needs to be time allocated for preparing to step on the mat as well as time afterward for a shower, smoothie, etc.
8) Create Present-Day Ideal Schedule
We know where we want to end up (ideal schedule), and we know where we stand today (present-day schedule). Let’s combine today’s constraints with tomorrow’s aspirations to create your Present Day Ideal Schedule.
Run through the same gambit as we did in Step 4:
— Non-negotiable Obligations
— Flex Work
How much of your ideal schedule and, more importantly, your ideal identities, can you pull into the present day?
I decided to minimize my online activity to 30 minutes a day, and I actually found I was more interested in my research list than endlessly scrolling social media. It was a far more intentional (and fulfilling) way to spend the time.
9) Live Your Present-Day Ideal Schedule
Congratulations! You’ve completed the eight-step framework!
It’s time to put your work and intentions into practice.
- You have prioritized your happiness.
- You are minimizing stress, not maximizing joy.
- You know that to minimize stress, we need to commit to desiring only to be in one place at any one time.
- You have a present-day ideal schedule outlining the one place you need to be at any given time.
- Snooze your worries until the Research time block.
- Enjoy each activity in the present moment. Your needs will be taken care of in their appropriate allocated time blocks, so what’s the worry?
10) Iterate Present-Day Ideal Schedule
Setup intervals for review. Revisit your ideal schedule at least once a year. Rebuild your present-day ideal schedule when a life event happens, introducing or removing a constraint.
11) Highlander Metric: Time Spent in the Present Moment
There can be only one. — Highlander (Film)
There is only one metric you need to be focused on with laser precision: How much time you are fully present in the moment.
This takes practice. You could be playing with your kids, but mentally you could be wondering whether those who committed insurrection against the United States will be held accountable. You could be at work, but mentally you want to go to the beach.
How can you bring yourself back into the present?
“I am where I need to be right now”
I’m constantly affirming to myself: “I am where I need to be right now.” Whenever I sense that my mind is drifting away, I use this to bring me back to the present and to remind myself that everything is fine. I planned to be here. I am here. Life is good.
Looking at your present-day ideal schedule, what would it look like if you pursued all of your identities with mental clarity, without longing to be in a different place? What would that feel like after one week? What would that feel like after six months?
If you focus on “Time Spent in the Present Moment” according to your schedule, your life successes will take care of themselves.
P.S. How did this work for you? Let me know about your successes and challenges, I’m ready and willing to engage :)