"The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." - Carl Sagan
This is the second part of the interview with Naval Ravikant. As mentioned in the first part of the interview, Naval is the CEO of AngelList, a company designed to help entrepreneurs get funding and find talent. He is also the former co-founder of Epinions, and is known for his skill as an angel investor. He has invested in many unicorn companies from Twitter to Stack Overflow to Uber.
In this part of the interview we spoke about the skill of happiness and his hacks for developing it.
Here are the other three parts of the interview:
Hope you guys enjoy!
"I think of happiness as an emergent property of peace."
After struggling your way to success, was there ever a moment where you looked back and said, 'All of that work for this'?
I've been well off enough where I can live the life I want to for a long time. But I've never had crazy money. Nor do I care for it. Beyond a certain point, I've just given it away to friends, family, and charities.
Happiness doesn't come from money.
But you can be very unhappy from a lack of money, especially relative to your peers. So choose your peers carefully. If you want to be wealthy, surround yourself with rich, successful people, but if you want to be happy, surround yourself with poor people. Otherwise you'll be consumed by envy.
I think happiness is a tough subject because it's such an overloaded word. We use it to mean many different things. Everybody has their own definition.
I think of happiness as an emergent property of peace. If you're peaceful inside and out, that will eventually result in happiness.
But peace is a very hard thing to come by. The irony is that the way that most of us try to find peace is through war. When you start a business, in a way you're going to war. When you struggle with your roommates as to who's to going to clean the dishes, you're going to war. You're doing that so you have some sense of security and peace later.
The reality is that peace is not a guarantee. It's always flowing. It's always changing. What you want to do is learn the core skill set of flowing with life and accepting it in most cases.
There are a few things that you'll probably never compromise on. But pick those battles very, very carefully. And this is what I meant when I said on Tim's podcast, 'Desire is a contract that you make with yourself to be unhappy until you get what you want.' By the way, I can't take credit for that. I got the concept from a blog called Delusional Damage, which is unfortunately not online anymore. He's a very clever guy.
"You always have three choices: You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it."
You have to pick your desires very carefully. Wherever your desire is, that is where your suffering will be until you get what you want.
There's an old Buddhist saying that is something along the lines of 'Happiness is like a butterfly. If you chase it, it'll fly away. But if you sit there quietly, it may land gently on your shoulder.' I think that's right. By the time you start interpreting and savouring that experience, you've already lost it.
Real happiness only comes as a side effect of peace. Most of it is going to come from acceptance, not from changing your external environment.
You always have three choices: You can change it, you can accept it, or you can leave it.
If you want to change it, then that is a desire. And that will cause you suffering until you successfully change it. So don't pick too many of those. Pick one big desire in your life at any given time to give yourself purpose and motivation.
Why not two?
You'll be distracted.
Even one is hard enough. A lot of being peaceful comes from having your mind clear of thoughts. And a lot of that comes from being in the present moment. It's very hard to be in the present moment if you're thinking, 'I need to do this. I want that. This has got to change.'
"Death is the most important thing that is ever going to happen to you."
How do you learn to accept things that you can't change?
Fundamentally it boils down to one big hack: embracing death.
Death is the most important thing that is ever going to happen to you. When you look at your death and you acknowledge it, rather than running away from it, it'll bring great meaning to your life. We spend so much of our life trying to avoid death. So much of what we struggle for can be classified is a quest for immortality.
If you're religious and believe that there is an afterlife, then you'll be taken care of. If you're not religious, maybe you'll have kids. If you're an artist, a painter, or a businessman, you do so because you want to leave a legacy behind.
"Your life is a firefly that blinks once in a night."
Here's a hot tip: There is no legacy. There's nothing to leave. We're all going to be gone. Our children will be gone. Our works will be dust. Our civilizations will be dust. Our planet will be dust. Our solar system will be dust. In the grand scheme of things, the Universe has been around for 10 billion years. It'll be around for another ten of billions of years.
Your life is a firefly that blinks once in a night. You're here for such a brief period of time. If you fully acknowledge the futility of what you're doing, then I think it can bring great happiness and peace because you realize that this is a game. But it's a fun game. All that matters is that you experience your reality as you go through life. So why not interpret it in the most positive possible way?
Any moment where you're not having a great time, when you're not really happy, you're not doing anybody any favours. It's not like your unhappiness makes them better off somehow. All you're doing is wasting this incredibly small and precious time you have on this Earth. So I think keeping death on the forefront and not denying it is very important.
Whenever I get caught up in my ego battles, I just think of entire civilizations that have come and gone. For example, take the Sumerians. I’m sure they were important people and did great things, but go ahead and name me a single Sumerian. Tell me anything interesting or important that Sumerians did that lasted. Nothing.
So maybe ten thousand years from now or a hundred thousand years from now, people will say, 'Oh yeah, Americans. I've heard of Americans.'
So what were some moments where you said to yourself, 'I'm taking life way too seriously'? Did you take a step back and make some adjustments in your life?
Yeah. There have been moments where I was overly stressed out. Usually after moments of stress, I look for change. Change can come in many ways.
I've seen people go through life transformations. Some people become spiritual and meditative. Some drop everything and travel to a remote destination. Some go to Burning Man, do psychedelics, and come back a different person. Some fall in love and have a child.
Usually there is some inflection point that is preceded by suffering that comes with a strong desire to change.
And what adjustments did you make to your life?
I have a little hacks that help.
There is the hack where I try to interpret any event in a positive manner instead in a negative way.
There are relaxation hacks that I do that come out of Yoga Nidra. I check my body and I relax every part of it.
There is a 'be here now' hack, where I just look at the moment and clear my thoughts.
There is walking in nature. I look at the birds and trees. It helps clear your mind. Seeing how nature goes about its business in the most effortless way can make you very present.
I look at someone I love regardless of what they do for me, true love.
You can look up at the sky and smile. It makes everything in this rat race look really small. Also, smiling releases serotonin.
"My most surprising discovery in the last five years is that peace and happiness are skills."
You can build good habits. Not drinking alcohol will help keep your mood more stable. Not eating sugar will keep your mood more stable. Not going on Facebook, Snapchat, or Twitter will keep your mood more stable. Playing video games will make you happier in the short run--and I used to an avid gamer--but in the long run, it could ruin your happiness. You're being fed dopamine and having dopamine withdrawn from you in these little uncontrollable ways. Caffeine is another one where you trade long term for the short term.
Essentially you have to go through your life replacing your thoughtless bad habits with good ones, making a commitment to be a happier person.
My most surprising discovery in the last five years is that peace and happiness are skills. These are not things you are born with. Yes, there is a genetic range. Some of my friends are happier than others. A lot of it is conditioning from your environment, but you can uncondition and recondition yourself.
You can increase your happiness over time, and it starts with believing that you can do it.
It's a skill. Just like nutrition is a skill, dieting is a skill, working out is a skill, making money is a skill, meeting girls and guys is a skill, having good relationships is a skill, even love is a skill. It starts with realizing they're skills that you can learn. When you put your intention and focus on it, the world can become a better place.
"When it comes to medicines of the mind, the placebo effect is a hundred percent effective."
What type of skill is happiness?
It's all trial and error. You just see what works. You can try sitting meditation. Did that work for me? Was it Tantra meditation or was it Vipassana meditation? Was it a 10 day retreat or was 20 minutes enough?
'Okay. None of those worked.' But what if I tried Yoga? What if I kite surfed? What if I go car racing? What about cooking? Does that make me Zen? You literally have to try all of these things until you find something that works for you.
When it comes to medicines of the mind, the placebo effect is a hundred percent effective. If you break your arm and your doctor says here's a sugar pill, it'll heal you, he'd be locked up for malpractice. But if a doctor gives you a pill and says that it'll make you happy and you fully believe it works with the core of your being, then what's wrong with it? When it comes to your mind, you want to be positively inclined, not incredulous in belief. If it is fully internal, you should have a positive mindset.
For example I was reading The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, which is a fantastic introduction to being present for people who are not religious. He basically shows you that the single most important thing is to be present, and hammers it home over and over again until you get it.
He wrote about this body-energy exercise. You lie down and you feel the energy moving around your body. At that point, the old me would have put the book down and said well that's BS. But the new me said, 'Well if I believe it, maybe it'll work.' So I went into it with a positive mindset. I laid down and tried the meditation. You know what? It felt really good.
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