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How To Live A Great Life in 5 Simple Steps

All we want is to be set free. To live life and to make it special. To see the real beauty in ourself and others. To know that, when it all comes to an end, we somehow made a difference and brought light into the world. Unfortunately, all the rambling pseudo-philosophical intros in the world won’t make one bit of difference, and being on random substances in an Ibiza nightclub probably won’t help, either.

Knife Party

Something that everyone wants is to live a meaningful life and feel like they had an impact while they were here. Unfortunately, for some reason most people spend their lives just going through the motions in a job they can’t stand while finding inventive new ways to let off frustration, then calling it a day. While I am far from the universal standard of success, I get told “I want your life” enough to want to write a concise guide to success on your own terms.

Building change

1. Strong beliefs, held loosely.

After spending his life studying which creatures thrived in the world and which ones faded away, Charles Darwin did not write “only the strongest survive” or “only the smartest survive”, despite what your high school gym teacher may have shouted at you. He wrote “only the most adaptable survive.”

This is the biggest key, before trying anything else. The only constant in the universe is change, and you need to change with it. When you gain knowledge, don’t just be content in knowing it, use it. When you find out something you held dear is wrong, let it go and adopt the new correct answer. Don’t be passive and let the world do what it wants, because it always will, but if you find conflicting evidence, don’t be afraid to put yourself under a microscope and find the truth.

2. Be appreciative

Humans are scared, self-centered creatures. This isn’t an insult, just a fact of life. Most people are just trying to get by day to day, on autopilot for all but the most important things. When you stop someone to thank them genuinely, you break their autopilot in a surprisingly great way, causing them to appreciate the world in return. For the most part, people don’t want to risk being nice to someone, because they might get hurt. If you are appreciative first, it allows them to be nice to you back without fear.

Each and every time someone tells me how my work or my writing has impacted their lives, I am appreciative. I know it takes a big effort to write someone out of the blue or go up and talk to someone new, and I want them to know they should do it more often.

3. Be generous

It’s a cliché that you should give as much as you can to charities, but for me, donating money is the easy way out. It’s good to donate money, but donating yourself, your skills, and your time is much more valuable. The time I’ve spent feeding people and talking to them at homeless shelters, starting a line of toys to help out artisans in rural India, and even just helping people out with projects at Burning Man have created some of the best memories and stories of my life.

Not everything has to be a big cause. Pick up something when someone drops it. Hold the door for a stranger. Surprise a friend with a cake. I guarantee it will make more of an impact than you expect.


4. Smile

I’ve written about this before, but it’s worth saying again. If you smile at someone genuinely, it relaxes them and makes them happy. Generally, I like being surrounded by happy, relaxed people. Don’t walk around with a Joker grin on your face, but if you make eye contact with a stranger, smile. You will likely brighten their day.

Here’s a psychological trick, as well. If you find yourself in a situation that makes you nervous, but there’s nothing you can do about it, just smile. The only physiological difference between excitement and nervousness (increased heart rate, more energy, heightened reactions) is whether or not you are smiling. Doing that part on your own short circuits the feedback loop and switches it over in your brain. I’ve used this trick to help people get through big situations with gusto, and it’s always surprising how effective it is.

5. Make your own rules

Once you are good at consistently doing the previous four steps, you have set the stage for the big step that really changes your life. It’s the one you can’t just make a decision to do. You have to consistently work on this one for a while before you start to work it out.

Everyone has their own definition of success that has been constructed through a combination of society, family, friends, and their own past successes and failures. Unfortunately, it’s easy to think your concept is entirely self-defined when you have actually just learned them through repeated exposure. Having a job. Having income. Having nice possessions. Having stability. Over the years, I’ve experimented with variations of all of these, and it has become evident that none of them are requirements for success, and most of them can even hold you back from it.

Ask yourself some serious questions about what defines success for you. Fame? Fortune? Marriage? I am and will continue to be happy with or without all of these. What I couldn’t live without, however, are great friends, adventures in new places, and delicious food. It took a long time and a lot of trial and error to figure out that I am happier sleeping in a cramped bus curled up next to a dear friend after a meal of fresh mangoes from a street vendor than I would be coming home to a mansion after leaving my high-paying stable job yet again.

What I want out of life is to help people while sharing knowledge and beauty. On the occasions I achieve that, I feel truly successful in life. Thank you to each and every person who feels like I have, and has helped me do that.

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One Comment

  1. Amagi Patrick says:

    Nov 12th, 2012 … Grüezi Chris! My good friend William in Montreal told me about your website, and he thought I should check it out! He figured I would enjoy what you have to share. Well, he was right on! You are indeed a great ambassador to the human species, and I am certain that you can overcome any stressful situation due to your ability to adapt to change and to “letting go” of the unfortunate. I am happy to be aware of your website, as I plan to occasionally come for a good read. Wishing much success in all your future ventures! Tschüss! Amagi

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