Advice On How To Be Happy

I was standing in Starbucks yesterday morning when I saw this list from author Robert Louis Stevenson (Treasure Island, Kidnapped, and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) hanging from the community board.  I think his advice is as appropriate today as it was over a hundred years ago. I’ve been pretty busy lately and I haven’t had time to slow down, so reading this was a good reminder of what’s really important. Enjoy.

1. Make up your mind to be happy. Learn to find pleasure in simple things.

 2. Make the best of your circumstances. No one has everything, and everyone has something of sorrow intermingled with gladness of life. The trick is to make the laughter outweigh the tears.

3. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t think that somehow you should be protected from misfortune that befalls other people.

4. You can’t please everybody. Don’t let criticism worry you.

5. Don’t let your neighbor set your standards. Be yourself.

6. Do the things you enjoy doing but stay out of debt.

7. Never borrow trouble. Imaginary things are harder to bear than real ones.

8. Since hate poisons the soul, do not cherish jealousy, enmity, grudges. Avoid people who make you unhappy.

9. Have many interests. If you can’t travel, read about new places.

10. Don’t hold post-mortems. Don’t spend your time brooding over sorrows or mistakes. Don’t be one who never gets over things.

11. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself.

12. Keep busy at something. A busy person never has time to be unhappy.

Read more: http://www.life-with-confidence.com/how-to-be-happy-stevenson.html#EwMyglEm8LQz5wTs#ixzz0rijIWRP5

Thank you, Robin Williams: A Lesson in Gratitude

dead-poets-society-quotes-1I’m writing and posting this quickly before I change my mind, so, as Anne Lamott said in her own post on the same subject, this isn’t going to be proofread to perfection. I don’t usually comment on the passing of famous people since I’m not sure what I can add that someone more articulate than I am hasn’t already said, yet I find I can’t let the passing of Robin Williams go without saying at least a few words.

I’m going to date myself here—in fact, I’ll give you a precise date: I’ll be 45 in 17 days on August 30. I was a kid in the 1970s when Robin Williams first appeared on TV screens as Mork, first on Happy Days and then on Mork and Mindy. I was infatuated with Robin from the very beginning. I had my Mork and Mindy lunchbox, and I even had my own Mork from Ork rainbow colored suspenders. (Yes, I still have a photo where I’m wearing them. No, I won’t show it to you.) I listened to his comedy album Reality, What a Concept too many times to count. I could probably still do some of his skits from that show if I set my mind to it. As I grew, Robin Williams did too.

I was two years into my university studies in 1989 when Dead Poet’s Society was released. Two years into college I still didn’t have a major. I was one of those people who wanted to study everything, and in that time I had been a psychology major, a liberal studies major, and a history major. I’ve always loved books, and by college I knew I had some skill as a writer, but Dead Poet’s Society gave me a direction. A matter of days after I saw the movie I changed my major to English and never looked back. I became an English teacher, and though the John Keating moments become fewer as the years pass and society changes, I never stop trying to achieve them. I have my “Seize the Day” rock and a picture of “Uncle” Walt on my classroom wall. The title for my latest novel, That You Are Here, comes from a segment of Whitman’s Leaves of Grass that Williams quotes in Dead Poet’s Society: “That you are here, that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on, and you will contribute a verse.” Over the years, I loved watching Williams continue to grow as an actor and a comedian.

As a writer with dreams for my career, I find I keep learning the same lesson over again—to be grateful for what I have right now, in this moment. We always think that when we get to some certain place or when we have some particular success we’ll be happy. I’m as guilty of this as anyone. When I sell x many books, or when I make y amount of money, or when I have this amount of recognition, or when I win that award, or when my books become films then I’ll be happy. But how many examples have we seen over the years of those who had all the success in the world and still struggled? Because you know what? It doesn’t matter. If you’re not content within yourself no amount of success matters. Success in itself can’t make you happy.

Normally, when I’m writing I have some point I’m trying to make, and to be honest I’m not exactly sure what I’m saying here except that I know I should be thankful for what I have. I know I have a lot to be grateful for. Waiting for a certain event to be happy, thinking that everything will fall into place when I have this one thing—whatever that thing is—isn’t good enough because nothing in itself can bring happiness. In an odd way, I think that’s what I’ve been trying to say in my posts all summer about being an indie author on my own terms. Success isn’t about numbers or rankings or awards. It’s about being true to yourself and doing your thing and living your life in a way so you feel good about yourself along the journey.  

So, yes, I have a lot to be thankful for. Mainly, right now I’m thankful because I was around at the same time as Robin Williams and I had so many belly laughs because of him.

Thank you for everything, Robin Williams. I know you’re making God laugh right now.

How I Conduct My Business by Leo Babauta

Feeling zen in the Japanese Garden in Portland, OR

Feeling zen in the Japanese Garden in Portland, OR

I’ve been a fan of Leo Babauta’s Zen Habits for a few years now and I check his website at least once a week. I love his spirituality-based messages about finding inner peace and being true to yourself. I love that he isn’t didactic in his posts. He’s not trying to sermonize or preachify or testify. He’s simply sharing what he’s learned as he struggles (like the rest of us) to be as centered as he can in this crazy world of ours.

I wanted to share this post that Leo published on February 17, 2014. While I love all of Leo’s articles, this one really hit home for me and I find myself still thinking about it months later. As an independent author, I’ve had some choices to make regarding how I conduct the business end of my enterprise. The creative side of it, the writing stories part of it, is a no brainer for me. I write fiction. It’s who I am. But I had to learn the business aspect of publishing from the ground up, and it’s been an eye-opening experience. I’ve sold over 70,000 books now and given away nearly 150,000 books (thank you, Loving Husband Trilogy fans), and even with this success there was a time when I wasn’t happy about it. I should be selling even more, I thought. I should be doing more. At least that’s what all the book marketing articles said. Then one day I realized that I’m doing all right. I really am. Reading this post from Leo helped me come to the conclusion I had already started to form on my own…that it’s okay for me to pursue my publishing business on my own terms. I don’t follow Leo’s ways completely (I do, for example, run sales on my books, and I think social media share buttons can be useful), but when he talks about don’t focus on stats, focus on helping people, or about doing what feels right, he’s speaking my language.

Just so you know, Leo won’t mind that I’ve published his post here. Leo’s work is uncopyrighted (see #6 below), and he’s fine with others sharing his work.

Enjoy.

How I Conduct My Business

By Leo Babauta

I started my own business at a late age — by the time I made Zen Habits into a business in 2007, I was in my mid-30s and had toiled through various jobs for 17 years.

So when I started out, I didn’t know what I was doing (and still don’t, but less so now). I tried everything to make money, to make my site more popular (which I thought was important). Some of it worked, some didn’t. Some made me feel bad about myself. Some things readers reacted badly to, and others they loved.

Through this trial and error, I learned some principles that work for me. I don’t share them here to show that I’m superior to anyone, but to show an example of what might work for you. To show that doing things that feel right can make a business succeed.

Here’s how I conduct my business.

  1. Readers first. This is my No. 1 rule, and it has served me extremely well. When I have a question (“should I promote X or not?”) the answer is always, “What would my readers want? What would help them most?” When the choice is between making some extra money or my readers’ interest, the choice is obvious. There is no choice. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve passed up being part of a mega-sale or affiliate marketing campaign that would have earned me $50K (and sometimes much more) in a day or two if I’d decided to participate. I’ve walked away from at least $1M because it would have put profits before my readers. And I think my readers trust me more because of this (see next item).
  2. Trust is everything. The most valuable assets I have are my readers’ trust and attention. And the attention will go really fast if they stop trusting me. Everything else in this list is based around these first two principles. When you start doing affiliate marketing, even if you think it would help the reader, if it would make them question your motives (is he trying to help me or make some money here?), it erodes their trust, a little at a time. That’s not worth the money.
  3. Make money by helping. I put out products and courses that I think will really help people, and that’s how I make money. This works really well for me. People are happy because their lives are better, and I’m happy because the revenue I make is entirely coming from making people’s lives better. We both win, our lives are all enriched. This is not the case from advertising (see next item).
  4. No ads, affiliate marketing. These are both the same, really. When you market someone else’s product as an affiliate, it’s just a hidden form of advertising. I should note that I had ads and did affiliate marketing for a couple years before giving it up. Why’d I give it up? Well, I realized (through experimentation) that the return on this kind of business model is very bad. You get very little revenue, and erode trust. That’s a bad formula for making money. When you sell an ad, what you’re really selling is your readers’ attention and trust — they trust you to put something important in front of their attention, and you capitalize on that. Of course, most readers learn not to trust the ads, and try to skip them, and put up with them because they want the good content (or service) you’re giving them. So they no longer trust you as much, but put up with your revenue tactics. This sucks. Who wants their customers to put up with anything? Why not delight them with how you make money? Why not enrich them? Now, can everyone do this? Possibly not, but I wouldn’t reject the idea without giving it a genuine shot.
  5. Just the text – no social media buttons, popups, dropdowns, or anything else that annoys or distracts. This goes back to trust — people come to my site to read something that will add value to their lives. Not to be pushed to share something on social media, or like something, or subscribe to my email newsletter. Yes, I have a thing at the bottom to subscribe, but it’s not pushy, and I don’t promise any gimmicky downloads. When your site has a popup or dropdown that asks people to subscribe, it’s annoying. I’m sorry to be blunt but I’m speaking as a reader now — I will never go back to a site that does that. Which means I don’t read a lot of my friends’ sites because they do this. Give the readers what they want, and nothing else, and you won’t have to ask them to subscribe or share. They’ll do it on their own, and this is the kind of share and subscriber you want.
  6. Uncopyright. My site has been uncopryrighted since January 2008 (there weren’t any other sites doing this at the time), and in the last 5+ years, uncopyright has not only not hurt my business, I strongly believe it’s helped tremendously. Why? Because it helps people share and spread my work much more easily. If someone wants to use an article of mine, they don’t have to go through the hassle of trying to contact me and ask permission — they just use it. This has caused people to use my work in books, magazines, blogs, newsletters, classroom materials, art, conferences and more. This is amazing. In addition, uncopyright promotes the idea of sharing, and when you share with people, they tend to trust you more. Sharing builds trust.
  7. No sales. I’ve seen many people do three-day sales of their products (or something similar), but I’ve never done one of these (that I can recall). Why not? Because it makes no sense to the reader (remember, readers first). Tell me the reader: why are you lowering the price of your product for three days? Why only those three days? If you can lower the price for those days, why not the other days? Is it to make more money from me (manipulate me into buying the book)? Is the price too high on the other days? What if I already bought the book at the higher price — was I ripped off? These are questions the reader has no answers to, and no matter how much you try to justify the reasons of the sale, it doesn’t make sense. Either set the price at the higher price point (because you think it’s worth it), or set it at the lower price point (because you want to get it into the hands of more people).
  8. Admit mistakes. It might sound like I’m pretending to be perfect at what I do, but the truth is I’m winging it. I’m making it up as a I go along, in hopes that I won’t screw it up, and constant fear that I am badly messing up. I have more trust in this process (and in my readers) now that I’ve been doing it for seven years and nothing has fallen apart, but I have made many mistakes along the way. I’ve been overly promotional, I’ve done affiliate marketing (just a couple of times), I had advertising, I asked people to share my work, I asked for votes. Those were mistakes, but I learned from them and try my best not to repeat them. Recently, in my Sea Change Program, I removed old habit modules from 2013 (I felt they were outdated), and my members were upset. I fixed the mistake and put the modules back. People don’t expect you to be perfect — they do expect you to try your best to fix mistakes when you make them. I admit my mistakes, and try to rectify them and do better. People trust me more because of it, I think.
  9. Don’t front. I don’t pretend I’m more than I am. I think there’s a tendency in the online world to overrepresent yourself — put yourself off as an expert or the world’s leading whateverthehell. But I’m not the world’s leading anything. I am just a guy who has a wife and six kids, who has changed his life by making small habit changes, one at a time. A guy who has simplified his life and focused on being mindful. I’ve learned a lot from these experiences, and share them as much as I can here on Zen Habits. That’s all I am, and I don’t try to be more. When you only try to be yourself, you can’t fail.
  10. Forget about stats, focus on helping. In the early days, I was obsessed about site statistics. I would check my stats counter several times a day, look at where all the traffic was coming from, try to get my numbers up. Here’s the thing: you can’t do anything with those stats. If you’re getting traffic from Reddit or Twitter, you can’t do anything about that. All you can do, once you’ve seen the stats, is try to create great content. Try to help people. Try to add value. That’s what you’d do even if you had zero stats. The stats don’t change what you should do — though they might motivate you to do things you shouldn’t do to get the stats up, things that aren’t trustworthy. The stats just make you obsessive. About three years ago, I removed all stats trackers from my site, and now am freed from that worry. Now I focus on what really matters: helping people as best I can.
  11. Do what feels right. This is vague and isn’t very helpful at first, because in the beginning, you’re never really sure what’s “right”. There are lots of choices to make and it always seems smart to just do what other people are doing, what the experts tell you to do. Unfortunately, that’s often wrong. Everyone else does what everyone else does because that seems safer, and so they act out of fear of doing the wrong thing. In fact, safer is not the right thing. Doing the right thing is going to be against the mainstream. For example, when I gave up copyright, or let go of ads or social media buttons or affiliate marketing, or comments, those were all very scary things for me. It was against what everyone else at the time was doing. But in the end, I knew they were the right thing, because it was what was best for my readers. And it made me feel good about what I was doing. This is the compass you need to develop, to build trust with your readers, and with yourself. Feel good about what you’re doing, don’t act out of fear.

* * * * *

You can follow Leo on Twitter, and don’t forget his fabulous website.

 

When a Book Changes Your Life

“I don’t want to change anything, because I don’t know how to deal with change. I’m used to the way I am.”

From Paulo Coelho’s The Alchemist

The Alchemist How often does a book change  your life? I’m not talking about books you love so much you read them again and again. I’m not even talking about books that prompt you to think differently. I’m talking about books that cause you to do something, to take action. Just because I’ve loved a book doesn’t mean I make any changes in my day-to-day life after reading it. When I’m reading the book I’m engrossed in it, but then I close the covers and go back to my life, doing the same thing at the same time most days of the week, most weeks of the year.

About a year ago I read The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho when it was one of the books available for a literature class I was teaching. The books in the textbook room were brand new, as in no one else had used them. The pages were crisp, the covers unmarked, but that didn’t deter me. When I read the book I fell in love with the simple yet profound message of finding the power of dreams and staying true to your destiny. The Alchemist is a parable about how what you’re looking for is already within you (think Glinda the Good Witch telling Dorothy she’s always had the power within her—only without the sparkly red slippers). It’s the story of Santiago, the young Andalusian shepherd who has always wanted to travel and ends up on a journey of self-discovery:

“My heart is afraid that it will have to suffer,” the boy (Santiago) told the Alchemist one night as they looked up at the moonless sky.

“Tell your heart that the fear of suffering is worse than the suffering itself. And that no heart has ever suffered when it goes in search of its dreams.”

Of all the characters in The Alchemist, the one I most related to (as I would guess most people do) is the crystal merchant. Santiago is stranded after his money is stolen, and he goes to work for the crystal merchant, who treats Santiago with kindness. Though the merchant is afraid of change, he takes Santiago’s advice and makes changes to his crystal shop. Because of Santiago’s ideas, the crystal shop thrives. The crystal merchant has dreams of travel like Santiago, but he’s full of excuses. He reminds me of that complaining relative everyone has—I can’t do this because… I can’t do that since… You think you’re not feeling well? Let me tell you about not feeling well… Like many of us, the merchant hides his heart’s desire behind worries. He can’t go to Mecca because… It’s not a good idea since… The crystal merchant fears that if he does finally go to Mecca he’ll have nothing else to look forward to.

The view from the Globe Theater in London.

I wasn’t dreaming of Mecca, but I had been wanting to visit London for more than a decade. As a student of English literature, a trip to England seemed somehow necessary. But, like the crystal merchant, I made excuses. England, especially London, is too expensive. It’s too far. I don’t like flying. England is an entirely different country! How would I know what to do or where to go in another country? I didn’t have a passport. Don’t they use different money there? Oh, did I mention how expensive England, especially London, is? But after reading about Santiago’s journey of self-discovery—how he achieved his dreams despite the obstacles—I realized how flimsy a lot of the crystal merchant’s excuses sounded. And if the crystal merchant’s excuses were flimsy, and I made the same excuses, then I’m not any better than the crystal merchant.

I began examining my excuses about not visiting England one by one to see what, if any, validity they had. Here’s what I found:

1. England, especially London, is definitely expensive, but the truth is I had the money. I’ve been fortunate enough to have sold a fair number of books and I had money set aside. When I looked into airfare, hotel, and the cost of meals and attractions, I had to cross too expensive off my list because it wasn’t true—I could afford it.

Haymarket in London

2. London is far from Las Vegas, Nevada, 5235 miles to be exact, which is ten hours airplane time. True, I don’t like to fly, but I had already discovered that just because I don’t like to fly doesn’t mean I can’t. Whenever I do travel by plane I get an aisle seat and pretend I’m on a bus or a train. And it’s not like I have to know how to work the controls in the cockpit. I just have to sit there. I didn’t want to be one of those people who are so afraid of flying they never go anywhere. I had been that way for a while, but there are places I want to go so I had to get over my fears. Not wanting to fly ten hours was no longer an excuse.

3. It’s true that England is a different country thanks to that little squabble called the American Revolution circa 1776. I often think of that quote from George Bernard Shaw: “England and America are two countries separated by a common language.” But they do speak English in England, English an American can understand, even, and from reading so much British literature and watching so much British television I like to think I speak conversational British English. So yes, England is a different country, but since I wouldn’t have trouble communicating with anyone that wasn’t an excuse—at least not a good one.

4. No passport? Seriously? Two filled-out forms, two hours in the post office, one bad photograph, and $150 later the lack of a passport was no longer an issue. They do use different money in England, but a trip to the ATM gave me a few hundred dollars, which the nice man at my bank exchanged for ten British pounds (that’s an exaggeration, but not by much).

Regent Street in London

Regent Street in London

I realized I didn’t want to look back and know I missed my chance to go to London. I booked my flight and hotel room, I bought a few tourist guides, signed up on Rick Steves’ travel website, and a few months later I was there, in London, seeing places I had dreamed of for years. I wasn’t disappointed when I got there the way the crystal merchant expected he would be disappointed. I loved being in London. It’s a truly international city and an easy place to visit for tourists who haven’t been there before. I even went to Paris. Despite my French surname, I don’t speak a word of French (American English and conversational British English are as far as I go), but I managed to get around and back to the airport on time and in one piece. In other words, my trip wasn’t a colossal failure as the crystal merchant thought his journey would be. It was a joy, and I’m already making plans to visit again next summer.

I wouldn’t have visited London if I hadn’t read The Alchemist. Goes to show how inspiration to follow your dreams can come from anywhere—even an unused stack of books in the textbook room.