curtis fisher.

the road to happiness

- 9 Minute Read

There I was, barreling down a Thai highway at 140km/hr on a motorbike I'd never ridden before. My phone was dead, it was pitch black out (not that I could see through the rain anyway), and I was three hours from Bangkok. Lightning was crashing down around me, and it turns out rain drops really hurt at 140km/hr when you're not wearing face protection. There were stray dogs in the road causing me to slam on my breaks occasionally, and the wind was so strong that it blew me back and fourth between lanes. The biggest thought on my mind at the time was, "That was such a lovely conversation with the monk."

We'll come back to the monk, but like my short story about stepping in a puddle, I found so much joy with the hand that life had dealt me. When I reflect on the circumstances, there was so much chaos going on around me. During the experience I remember the gratitude I had for being presented with the challenge of enduring it. That memory serves as a reminder to how mentally-nourishing a well-cultivated mindset can be.

What is Happiness

If you're aiming to accomplish a goal, it's important to have a clear understanding of the object of your goal. If leading a happy life is your goal, then you better get crystal clear on what happiness means to you.

"Happy" is one of those words with many ambiguous definitions. Commonly, I see happy used as a replacement for serenity and fulfillment. Some refer to happiness as a fleeting sense, something ever-coming but hopelessly unattainable. For some, it's nothing more than a concoction of chemicals whipped up by our bodies.

This article is targeted towards those who are looking for a sense of lifelong serenity. Borrowing from David Brooks', "The Second Mountain," the word "Joy" is a more appropriate term to reflect what, I think, people seek when they desire to be happy.

The Recipe for Lifelong Happiness (Joy)

My friends have described me as a fairly warm and content person. This hasn't always been the case. The past year of my life has been an intentional effort of dedicating my energy towards living well. While there is much room for personal improvement, I am more content than any past period I can remember.

The serenity I've found in my own life can be boiled down into a few component parts:

1. Tell yourself the right story.

We cause ourselves a lot of suffering by what we believe. There's a buddhist parable that goes as follows:

If a person is struck by an arrow, is it painful? If the person is struck by a second arrow, is it even more painful?

The Buddha then went on to elaborate,

In life, we can’t always control the first arrow. However, the second arrow is our reaction to the first. This second arrow is optional.

The suffering that we experience is a product of the stories that we tell ourselves. If you get shot by an arrow, you might first think "OUCH." But then, you may start to think "Why did this person shoot me? I don't deserve this. The world is unfair." These thoughts are what cause us suffering.

So, how would the content person respond? When a content person gets shot, they will likely first think "OUCH." However, these thoughts are often followed by "Thanks!"

Okay... that might be a stretch, but when a content person experiences something "bad" they don't suffer because they don't believe it is bad. The story that they tell themselves about what happened isn't a bad one. In fact, often times it is even a good one.

When I found myself barreling down that Thai highway, I didn't tell myself, "this sucks." Instead, I was thinking, "This is a fantastic character building experience. It's also going to be a great story later. I can't wait to write about this!"

When you think in this way, the universe becomes your ally; it hand delivers personalized experiences for you to learn and grow. Everything that was once "bad" becomes an opportunity for something good.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional. We can overcome suffering by telling ourselves the right story. If you'd like to master the skill of internal storytelling, I'd recommend delving into stoic literature. Great stoic books include:

  • 📖 Meditations
  • 📖 The Enchiridion
  • 📖 Discourses of Epictetus

From this, I've developed the value "The universe is your ally."

2. Live on purpose.

Joy comes from a sense that you are living well. In order to "live well" we need to define what a well-lived life is. This standard of a good life, "The Good Life," becomes the standard by which we can evaluate all of our actions. I've already written in detail about this in my article about living congruently if you'd like to read more.

In essence, when we have a defined purpose, and live in accordance with that purpose, we generate an immense sense of personal fulfillment.

A few more resources (books) to consider for understanding how to live on purpose:

  • 📖 Mans Search For Meaning
  • 📖 The Second Mountain
  • 📖 The Alchemist

From this, I've developed the value "Live congruently."

3. Develop an internal and free-flowing source of love.

For some reason things seem to be easily boiled down into binary pathways. Our interactions are not an exception to that. In terms of how we interact with the world, we can either operate from a position of love, or from a position of fear.

For example, let's say we're sharing a pizza with friends.

We can snag a few extra slices for ourselves to make sure we have enough, or we can grab only what we need and leave the rest for others to enjoy. The first approach is rooted in a scarcity mindset, and the fear that we will run out if we don't act now. The second approach–which likely delivers less pizza straight into our mouths–gives us the opportunity to take care of both our needs and others.

Love machine - Dealing with the past & Healing old wounds

This is a little metaphor I like to use to describe how love works.

We all have these little internal machines that are capable of producing raw love. When we are born, our love machines work flawlessly. As we embrace the world, and more often than not, are beaten down by it, our love machines start to experience some wear and tear. After living for many years neglecting our internal love machine, it barely functions. We get used to this broken state of living and never consider what it might look like to fix it.

Self-love is the act of fixing your own love machine. Like any broken machine, it requires some reverse-engineering to understand what caused it to break down in the first place. Once we understand how it is broken, we can do the work of fixing it.

The beautiful thing about having a fully functioning love machine is that you can produce love on the fly with no trouble. It affords us the ability to provide our love, as energy, to others at all times. With a little drop of love in the right direction, you can give others the energy they need to go off and fix their own machines.

I dream of a world in which we all take the time to repair our own love machines. The more machines we repair, and the more love we generate and send out to others, the healthier our world becomes.

A few resources to learn how to love better:

  • 📖 Body Keeps the Score
  • 📖 The Power of Vulnerability (Brené Brown)
  • 📖 Four Agreements
  • School of Life (YouTube)

From this, I've developed the value "Radiate love."

4. Take care of your physical health.

Your mental health and physical health are tightly related.

We have biological needs and our body will force us to take care of the physical before we can work on higher level.

Listen to your body when it's telling you something. Often, messages from our bodies come in the form of whispers; something feels off and we can't quite pinpoint it. It's important that we make time to understand the whispers and uncover what they are communicating.

Some great books to learn more about our bodies and building good habits:

  • Can't Hurt Me
  • The Body Keeps the Score
  • Atomic Habits

From this, I've developed the value "Nurture your body."

5. Learn to breath well.

Finally, proper breathing is perhaps the most important skill you will ever learn. It's one of the few skills that your life depends on. If you're reading this, you probably know how to breath. But, there's a big difference between breathing, and breathing well.

When we master our breath, we equip ourselves with many powers. Breath supplies oxygen to our blood for nourishing our organs, and deep diaphragmatic breaths enable us to generate physical energy. Deep breathing also helps to lower our blood pressure, reduce our heart rate, and reduce the amount of stress hormones in the blood. The combination of these physiological changes results in a calming effect that promotes our overall well-being.

In short, deep breathing is a powerful tool for nurturing positive physiological health. It is from a place of positive and calm energy that we can find immense physical joy. Learning to breath well is one of the greatest skills you will ever develop.

A few more resources to consider for understanding how to breath well:

  • 📖 Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
  • Practice Prānāyāma through a yoga class or online video
  • Practice mindful breathing through a guided meditation

Concluding thoughts

This isn't a one size fits all pathway to happiness. Each person must chart their own path up the mountain towards personal joy. However, some paths are easier to follow, and the techniques listed here are what have served me and many others well in our own journey. These provide a great starting point to uncovering your unique pathway to happiness, and if you practice these you will surely be much closer than you were before.

I hope this article proves helpful in your mission towards becoming a whole, happy person. Please don't hesitate to reach out at to share your stories! I may not always respond, but I read all of them :)

Happy trekking!