The Path to Happiness: Do What You Love, Not What You Like

I spend a lot of time thinking about optimizing my life. Sometimes that’s towards optimizing to achieve some other goal—strengthen my business, get in better shape or have better relationships.

However, the ultimate goal is to be happy and fulfilled, so why not optimize for that more directly?

I think an easy way to optimize that is to follow the advice: Do more of the things you love, and less of the things you like.

More Love, Less Like

Do more of what you love, less of what you like and worry less about the shoulds

Each of us has things we love. These things are both deeply enjoyable, and they fit ourselves into the vision of who we would like to be. When we’re doing them, we feel both fun and joy in the moment, but also feel content with the person we’re aiming to be.

We also have things we just like. These things may offer some momentary pings of joy, but the activity itself doesn’t really make us feel better about ourselves or deeply fulfilled. It’s just something to pass the time.

A route to greater happiness, in both the day-to-day enjoyment and long-term fulfillment with who you are and where you are in life is simple: do more of the things you love, and cut back on the things you merely like.

Fewer Shoulds

There’s lots of things we have to do in life. We need to work to pay the bills. We need to support our friends and families. We need to eat healthy, stay in shape and take care of ourselves.

But there’s an awful lot of things we should do, that we neither like nor love, nor have to, in the strictest sense. Friends say we should follow politics closely or we’re a bad citizen. Society says if you haven’t read Shakespeare you’re a philistine. Parents have lists of shoulds for raising kids that grows longer every day.

Just as you should cut back on the things you like to make room for what you love, you should also cut back on the shoulds. If something isn’t a must, and it doesn’t fill you with excitement, then you might as well abandon the guilt about avoiding it now.

Don’t Feel Guilty About Things You Love

I love people who really love what they do, even if society sometimes raises an eyebrow about it.

I’m fascinated by speed runners. People who obsessively play video games to beat them as fast as possible. Society often deems playing games a low-status hobby. Grown men shouldn’t play so much. Except, the people who do it absolutely love it. I admire these people because they’re willing to work hard at something they love, even if the world around them is sometimes dismissive of it.

When I started blogging, that too had an almost pejorative connotation. “You mean those people who write online diaries?” Ditto with when I started to love personal development and habits. It’s not cool to try too hard.

Loving the things you do is what makes for happiness. More than money, fame or status. It’s also something almost fully under your control. Your health, relationships or career may be tossed around by outside factors, but doing what you love is largely a choice.

This doesn’t mean you can avoid the things you have to do. The things you have to do will take up a lot of your time, sometimes even all of it. Part of the reason to work on becoming more successful is to eliminate things you have to do and replace them with things you love to do, but even the most successful people are never completely free of it.

While you may not be able to excuse the things you have to do, you can definitely make adjustments to the things you merely like or reducing guilt from the things you feel you should do.

Disciplining Yourself to Do What You Love

It takes courage and discipline to do what you love.

Courage, because the shoulds and socially-acceptable activities you merely like, often are the default. The general tone of society isn’t love, but mild irritation, so being someone who does what you love automatically makes you a little weird.

Discipline, because our society is full of addictive behavioral loops that hijack our impulses, without providing deep satisfaction. I love learning new things, painting, programming and spending time with friends. But I’m often watching only mildly interesting YouTube videos, because the app on my phone becomes the perfect variable reinforcement schedule to give me just the right dose of intrigue for the lowest possible effort to keep me engaged.

If you want to do more of what you love, here’s how:

  1. Write on a list all the things you love to do. That means you enjoy doing them, but also they give you a deeper satisfaction and meaning.
  2. Write also a list of things you might love to do, if you gave them a chance. They might be things that intrigue you, but that you haven’t mastered to a point that would make you feel good consistently while you do them.
  3. Write out a list of the things you do regularly, that you merely like (or even dislike!).
  4. Step-by-step, seek to eliminate those in #3 and replace them with those in lists #1 or #2. You can do this by changing your habits, putting restrictions on your phone, television or computer to limit usage, or simply by signing up more of your time for what you love so the things you merely like get pushed out.

While this may sound like a strategy for those with the luxury of lots of time, it’s actually the opposite. If your life is filled mostly with things you have to do, then it’s even more important that what little remains is spent doing things you really love, and not wasted on the things that you merely like.

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