If you are currently in your 20s, the main responsibility I want to bestow on you is developing the self-awareness to know what makes you happy.
That is why we’re all here, right?
To have the best experience imaginable?
Despite the heavy emphasis we put on individual happiness here in America, we still fail, as a nation, to pull off breaking into the top 10 happiest countries in the world.
(We’re number 15, in case you're curious.)
This, I believe, can be greatly tied back to our unrealistic perception of what happiness is, and the unrealistic expectations surrounding what one needs to experience happiness.
You see, in the present day, we have unlimited exposure to all the pleasures available in the world.
As you scroll through celebrity Instagram and Twitter profiles, you are constantly being presented with examples of how extravagant life can be.
As you flip through the images of the most beautiful people in the world, the best cars, the best parties, the best clothes and so on, you are feeding your subconscious mind messages that make you feel like you don’t have enough.
You feel you are not enough.
This is what's called "the comparison basis."
You begin to believe this is what happiness is supposed to look like.
This is the experience you need to create for yourself if you’re going to finally feel like you made it.
Yes, there are those enlightened souls amongst us who understand happiness comes from within.
But nonetheless, for many people, it’s hard to remember this wisdom when you’re in the thick of what life is really like for so many people.
When you’re struggling to find your legs professionally, still figuring out how to manage romantic relationships and doing your best to keep your bank account in the green, enlightenment seems to go out the window.
For times like these, I turn to the grandfather of philosophical entertainment: Alan Watts.
If you don’t know much about Alan, he was especially popular in the 1950s and '60s for his teachings on Eastern philosophy.
Over that 20-year stretch, he could be found sharing his wisdom everywhere from Playboy magazine and universities across the globe to his own show on CBS.
Alan has authored over 25 books and has nearly 400 lectures recorded.
But what I believe to be his greatest contribution to the world is his unique and insightful perspective into happiness and living a fulfilling life.
He was by no means a perfect person.
He struggled through the highs and lows of living an imperfect life, just like anyone else.
If he were still alive, I’m sure he would be the first person to tell you he was no guru.
He would also point out that anyone who is a guru or claims to be one is trying to sell you a story that is simply untrue.
We’re all human. We all have our triumphs and letdowns.
The difference between the people whose lives are full of more happy experiences and those whose lives are full of suffering is the fact that the happier people have a greater wisdom they seem to approach the game of life with.
Some of the most significant wisdom I’ve gained in my 20s has come from studying Alan Watts, and it would be an honor for me to now share this same wisdom with you.
(Disclaimer: I’ll do my best to share these concepts as eloquently as Alan did, but keep in mind, these are my interpretations of the topics he discusses in his books and lectures.
They are not an exact transcription of his words.)
1. This is the best possible life you could be living.
Have you ever thought about what life would be like if you could control how everything turned out in your world?
If you could create infinite wealth, love and anything else you could imagine with the snap of a finger, what would happen?
It sounds pretty cool, right?
For a while, maybe.
But the real excitement from life comes from the experience of not knowing what’s going to happen.
Beyond that, you have to remember the only reason pleasurable experiences feel good is because you get to contrast them with the experience of pain.
If you created a life in which you only experienced what you controlled, you would eventually grow tired of this numb experience.
You would wish up the possibility of living a life where some things are just out of your control.
Over time, you would continue iterating on your experience, until eventually, you would say, "Forget this game. I’ll just go back to living my old life."
At least, this is what Alan imagined up.
I can see his point here.
Appreciate the life you have been given, and find peace in knowing things are unfolding exactly as they should for you.
2. You are not separate from the world around you.
It’s easy to see ourselves as strange and separate from other people and things in this world.
But that could not be further from the truth.
The truth is, we are made up of an infinite number of atoms.
Your body, the ground you stand on, the device you are reading this article on and everything in this universe is made up of the same stuff: atoms.
If we were to put all of existence under a powerful enough microscope, we would see a bunch of tennis balls (atoms) floating around.
There would be no end to you, and no beginning of something else.
Understand you are connected to everything and everyone.
With this wisdom, start living your life.
Respect and love the rest of your existence as much as you would like to be respected and loved yourself because it is all you.
3. Figuring out what you desire is the single most important thing you can do.
There is no dress rehearsal for life.
You either do it right this time around, or you miss your opportunity.
That is why it’s so important for you to grasp what it is you actually desire.
So many people live their lives trying to fulfill the desires of other people, including their parents, peers and so on.
As long as you are pursuing someone else’s desires, you cannot expect to find happiness.
Ask yourself what you would like to spend your time doing, and do that.
If you like something, you can be guaranteed there are people who share your interests.
It just becomes a matter of practicing your craft enough to become a master at it.
Once you do that, you’ll be worthy of being paid enough to make a living from it.
4. There are two explanations for why you haven’t figured out what you desire yet.
Reason one is you already have it.
This sounds too simple, but it’s true.
So many of us are looking around, trying to figure out what we’re missing.
In reality, all we need to be happy is already in our current reality.
Reason two is you don’t know yourself.
If you haven’t spent enough time looking for personal development and getting to know who you are, how could you expect to know what you want out of life?
5. You can stop fearing death now.
One of the greatest fears humans share is the fear of death.
Alan Watts does an incredible job nullifying any reason to fear this experience.
He describes death as an experience much like what life was before we were born.
Before you were born, you were not locked up in eternal darkness, so it would be illogical to anticipate it as an experience waiting for you when you die.
The worst thing you can anticipate is an experience of nothingness, which is not a conscious experience.
Chill out, and stop fearing death.
6. It’s time to wake up to the real you.
You are more than your insecurities, past failures and recurrent anxieties.
If you choose to wake up to your full potential, you’ll realize you are constantly being given the opportunity to reinvent yourself in each and every moment.
The past isn’t real. The future isn’t real.
What’s real is how you choose to show up in life during each and every moment.
7. Understand you can't buy happiness.
Many people work their whole lives doing stuff they don’t like doing, just so they can make enough money to go on living and doing the thing they don’t like doing.
You may have to read that over a few times, but once you grasp it, you will realize how ludicrous this way of life is.
Stop working for money in hopes of finding happiness at the end of the rainbow.
Money supports a life of stability and freedom, which are pillars of happiness.
But, they are only part of the story.
8. You are important, and your life matters.
It’s easy to see ourselves as insignificant in this great big world.
But the truth is, you are the very fabric of the universe.
You living and breathing is the universe living and breathing through you.
In the same way, darkness implies there is light, sound implies there is silence and you imply there is a world taking place around you.
Your perception of the world is bringing all of existence into reality.
So, the next time you feel like you don’t matter, remember that.
If this was your first exposure to Alan Watts' philosophy, it may seem a little out there.
But when you read it over a few times, you begin to realize most of what he said is startlingly logical.
You are the ultimate creator of your life, and with every thought you have, you are ushering in a new experience.
So think clearly, and decide what it is you truly desire from this life you have been gifted.
I’ll admit this question sounds a bit cooler coming from Alan, so I’ll leave you with a video in which he asks you the same thing.