Week 0 – How I went looking for the secret of happiness

During the Summer of 2016 some major events in my personal life happened: the end of a long term relationship followed by a very short term major crush. Both events left me kind of…confused. Why did a 2 year relationship end without drama & why did the very short flirt leave me devastated? Were these events related? What is wrong with me? When a relationship does not work you first question yourself – am I good enough, what could have I done differently, what if?

First rule:


Following these painful breakups (major life journeys often start like that) I spent  months harassing my friends with deep conversations about life, love, future, and reading books to better understand man-woman interaction & then after realizing men were not the real issue but I was, I started reading books about finding happiness on my own. Even while relationships were working I was not happier and I understood that external events could never make me as happy as by learning to be fulfilled by myself first. You will find in this post the review of 3 books that changed the end of my 2016.

The first book I read was actually a revelation as he helped me see many mistakes I made in past relationships and in life.

In his book Get the Guy, written by relationship expert and renowned matchmaker, Matthew Hussey explains, in terms that us women can understand, how the male mind works and why innocent things we do traumatize men and some things that are so meaningful to us are of no value to men. The true lesson though is that you are your own self and you should absolutely not wait to find fulfillment in love because a companion is in fact supposed to “accompany” you though the path you decide to take, not find it for you.

The books explains how to be proactive in the search for a man while still letting him chase you and most of all explains how you should not pretend but become a woman of high value.

First rule, be proactive: for something so meaningful to us, we spend so little time being proactive while expecting love just to happen. Because we are afraid to look desperate in the eyes of others, we expect to bump into the right guy by chance. So why don’t we do the same with our job? We are very picky with finding the perfect job, comparing, changing, working hard to succeed, but then something that should be more important for our happiness is left to luck? Because you are a rational person you can also quickly understand simple arithmetics: if you only meet 0 to 1 new person per week how long do you think it will take to meet “the one”? In addition, if you only meet a man every 3 months your standards decrease because scarcity makes you wish for this guy to be perfect and because there is no one to compare him to, you settle for less. The key is to create rituals to meet more people every week (not necessarily men) and learn to engage conversation and feel at ease: talk to service staff, learn the names of the regular people in your life, address anyone reading a book in the bus, talk to the person next to you in the line, talk to at least 3 people at the gym…these are simple rituals you should start today.

Second rule: become a woman of high value: confident, independent, with standards which you should not compromise for a man, feminine which means that you should also let the guy be “the man”. And this is tricky: we need to be strong but the guy needs us to let him feel masculine, so never turn down his help (yes, never turn down his jacket when it is chilly!). Is seems juvenile but many things suddenly make sense since I read that. To summarize: as a woman of high value you know that a guy needs to be able to take care of your needs even if you don’t need it:

“It’s not about you and your power, it’s about his insecurities”

Then you need to understand that it is hard for a man to make the first step if there is a chance that you turn him down, so no move is no sign of him not being interested (those guys who are too confident are often men that are used to hit on many women so not a good choice). So again, you’ll have to do it, in a very subtle way of course. An advice: you should not worry about the outcome: if you regularly meet new people you can quickly overcome any deception.  You should also accept that you cannot be everyone’s cup of tea and finally, do not worry about competition, there will always be more beautiful women than you out there, but if they are passive as most women are, they are not your competition anyways. So back to getting the guy, how to attract him subtly? The author calls it the handkerchief approach, aka signify to the guy (with a look, smile, by starting a conversation) that you have selected him and he wont be rejected if he approaches you.

After explaining how to attract the guy and then be the perfect date, perfect woman and such, he gets to the nerve of the battle: how to keep the guy. Most common error: push for the relationship to go faster than it should. Guys tend to be scared of commitment but girls really push for it without deeply thinking if the guy is good for them or not! To keep the guy: make him feel validated, let him protect and provide and make him feel he is unique (this is very important): if you give too much too quickly as if it didn’t matter who you are going out with, as long as you are going out with someone and he feels you do not recognize its uniqueness he won’t value what you give to him, nor you.

To most people, if only subconsciously, “free” means “worth nothing” even if the free thing is something they want.

Now, how do YOU know if he is the one for you? Besides the obvious attraction which remains essential, you need to be sure that you have the same core values and the same standards for them, meaning the same order of importance in life (you can both value family but for one it means going to see family only at Christmas  and for the other having lunch twice a week). For a relationship to work both persons also need to possess these core values: growth and teamwork. You need to be able to grow and adapt to live in harmony with your significant other. Teamwork is about knowing that whatever the challenge, you will face it together instead of one dealing with it and cutting off the other until it is solved.

Unfortunately you may do everything right and still get your heart broken. Sometimes when we lose someone we feel devastated because we think we have lost the one and therefore are convinced that we will never feel the same level of emotion with anyone else again. Author’s advice: look at it in another way. The disappointment doesn’t come from the fact that you lost your soul mate but from realizing he was not and you were wrong. It is still painful but more bearable!

One last thought on commitment and why guys are afraid of it: a guy has this vision of the alpha male having this amazing jet set life, traveling, sleeping with lots of girls, so he pictures his twenties doing exactly that and imagines he will settle down once he has done all these things. If he meets the perfect woman too early he won’t be ready to settle because he doesn’t want to miss sleeping with the dozens of women he was supposed to. It’s not that he is having such a great time being single, for most guys it means getting drunk with friends and watching movies, but as long as he is single he has a perceived freedom that he is not ready to give up, because THE day that fabulous life presents itself he doesn’t want to be stuck in a relationship and miss the opportunity.

So what happens often? a guy who is not ready and that finds himself with a girl in his late twenties will get along with her plans until she wants real commitment and gives an ultimatum and then, because he thinks he will miss all these opportunities, he will choose to leave. He will be very happy being free again, until he realizes that being single is not as extraordinary as he thinks and he is not doing those amazing things anyways. And then he realizes that being in a relationship can actually be good and fulfilling and he commits to the first girl he meets (and the ex thinks she was not good enough and starts with a lot of self doubting). Many men regret the one who got away because they were not ready…

So, whatever you do, evaluate what he is ready to put on the table and do not give anything for free.The value you give to the guy should not be based on how much he cares about/loves you but on how he behaves. To commit he needs to feel that life is better with you than without, so maintaining a fun and playful lifestyle is essential. Don’t ever give up what made you a high value woman nor your activities to make him your priority until he deserves more of your time. Although it is tempting to lower your standards at the beginning of a relationship and free your time to be with him this is misleading and a guy will not understand when things change later on.

One last thing I discovered: a guy that suddenly realizes he is getting attached whereas he is not ready for commitment will freak out and leave you with a ridiculous excuse (like that you are getting too attached while the day before he was telling all his friends you are his girlfriend and texting you continuously). Yes it happen to me and apparently you can flip the script and comfort the guy by discarding his fears with a simple “we have just known each other a few weeks, I don’t want to marry you!”. Yes you can reassure hime, but I wouldn’t do it if it happened to me again. Chasing a man who is not ready is asking for trouble and someone who is scared to lose freedom will be scared when the game get’s tough and you need to be able to count on the person you share your life with.

So after this insightful reading on the male mind, it was more or less the time I became interested with going to India (more on this on the next post) and started reading Eat, Pray, Love, One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia.

While the story starts with the painful divorce of the author, who finally finds happiness through traveling and a mindful journey, I became interested in mindfulness and finding what would fulfill my life: I did not like my job nor the city I was living in, so clearly having a boyfriend was just a minor issue that would bring temporary excitement but not lasting happiness.

While browsing an online library I came across The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, by de The Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler.

“The Art of Happiness (1998) is based on interviews of His Holiness the Dalai Lama conducted by the psychiatrist Howard C. Cutler. The combination of Tibetan Buddhist spiritual tradition with Dr. Cutler’s knowledge of Western therapeutic methods and scientific studies makes this a very accessible guide to everyday happiness. The book spent 97 weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.”

The translation of Dalai Lama’s vision of life by a Westerner psychiatrist gives to this book a real grasp on how we could more benefit from Oriental culture. He talks about how the purpose of life is happiness and therefore man should only seek it, although it generally has a poor understanding of what makes him happy.

First of all what we often fail to understand is the happiness is not determined by external events but by one inner state of mind: external events affect us temporarily, success makes us happy and downfalls can make us depressed but overall we always comeback to the state of mind, the baseline,  we were in before that event. This is called “adaptation”.

So basically one should increase his or her baseline level of happiness through inner mental discipline and not counting on external events (love, money, success). Our mind is a powerful tool that completely affects our perception of the world. By cultivating compassion, (having a non-aggressive and empathetic mentality while trying to put yourself in other’s shoes to understand their behavior), spirituality and a supple mind we can increase our happiness baseline, for this qualities will help us deal with pain and suffering when they arise.

We should also accept that suffering is a natural part of life, although we often increase it unnecessarily. In fact pain is better accepted by Easterner countries whereas we tend to reject it as we take it as an injustice directed towards us. So we need to eliminate those negative attitudes, feelings and habits through sustained effort. Learn to shift perspectives and find the good in every situation and understand that is is a normal part of life, not a course.

Overall you need to be more tolerant, to let go of negative feelings, learn to confront and analyze your feelings of anger and hatred, and replace them with patience and tolerance. Combat anxiety and low self-confidence by examining your thoughts, motives and capabilities honestly.

I advise this book particularly because of the sense of calmness emanating from it. Sometimes you just need the right book to put you back on track and this was it for me.

Finally I decided to buy a book on positive thinking, and after meticulously searching the Internet, the Happier: Can you learn to be Happy? by Tal Ben-Shahar, teacher of Harvard University’s most popular and life-changing course, came highly recommended.

“There are few self-help books more resolutely down to earth than Happier…Ben Shahar provides straightforward guidelines for integrating habits of gratitude and accepting negative emotions into daily life” Observer, January 2012

Although Dalai Lama’s book gives you a sense of peace while reading it, this book grounded in the revolutionary “positive psychology” movement, gives you a set of principles that you can apply to your daily life. Once you open your heart and mind to Happier ’s thoughts, you will feel more fulfilled, more connected . . . and, yes, HAPPIER.

First good news (or bad it depends how you see it): you are not alone, the level on happiness among people in Western countries has decreased despite the fact their wealth has dramatically increased in the last decades resulting in a rapid growth in the number of adults and children who experience anxiety and depression.

Why? because society has pushed us in the wrong direction by forcing us to be a rate racer, wanting success and prestige but sacrificing the journey. Attaining a goal that has no core meaning (money, prestige) we will feel relief (from an unpleasant experience which was the journey itself) but not happiness, and it will fade away quickly enough. Unfortunately society pushes us to be rat racer and this will never fulfill us: we have to have meaningful goals and enjoy the journey to attain them. We derive a certain pleasure from the absence of pain, but then very quickly adapt and take its absence for granted (same as explained by Dalai Lama).

Becoming happier is a lifelong pursuit and every day we should try to improve something, set new rituals to be happier than yesterday:

Exercise: Describe with precise words what happiness mean to you and then create rituals that you identify they would make you happy – to become rituals they need to be very specific actions performed at very specific times & be motivated by deeply held value. As a way of changing our habits, this method works better than imposing discipline with no core motive, as rituals can become a habit in less than a month (21 days).  

Being grateful in this way can itself be a source of real meaning and pleasure:

Exercise:Write down (at least) 5 things daily for which you’re grateful, raises your emotional and physical well being as you have to tell yourself that there are good things that you should not forget about.I do that every morning while in the bus going to work.

In the second part the author introduces 4 archetypes which represent 4 different types of behaviors, all present in each of us:

  • Hedonist behavior which focuses on enjoying the present while ignoring the potential negative consequences of their actions.  A struggle free hedonistic existence is not a prescription for happiness as the best moments usually occur when a person’s body and mind are stretched to its limits in voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.
  • Rat racer behavior which subordinates the present to the future, and suffers now for the purpose of some anticipated gain. The rat racer confuses the temporary feeling of relief of attaining a goal for happiness, and continues to chase goals never feeling fulfilled.
  • Nihilists have lost the lust for life; someone who neither enjoys the moment nor has a sense of future purpose.
  • Happy people are secure in the knowledge that the activities that bring them enjoyment in the present will also lead to a fulfilling future. Happiness is a worthwhile pursuit, whether as an end to itself or as a means toward other ends.

Identify in which quadrant  (Rat Racer, Hedonist, Nihilist, Happiness) you were and spend most of your time in now, what advice would you give yourself? Living as a rat racer, an hedonist are both fallacious ways of thinking because the both have a distorted vision of reality. Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy both the journey on our way toward the destination we deem valuable. However to expect constant happiness will  set ourselves up for failure and disappointment.

Exercise: On 4 consecutive days, spend 15min writing about your experiences of the 4 quadrants. Do the happiness quadrant last… It is important that you describe the emotions you experienced or experience now, the behaviors you engaged in, and the thoughts you had then or are having as you write… Repeat the exercise two more times for the nihilist and happiness quadrants. Revisit the entire exercise periodically .

For me it would be to meditate 10min/day, write on my blog every morning with a nice cup of coffee, play zumba 3 times a week, spend meaningful time with my loved ones.

Note: You should not introduce more than 2 rituals at a time before you introduce new ones (that is why I failed my challenge in 2016 as I tried to impose many new rituals all at the same time).

Exercise: Meditate every day from 10min to one hour as one of your new routines. I am using the Headspace App on smartphone but there are many more available. The basic subscription is free and is enough to accompany you through the different parts of a 10min session: from breathing deeply, scanning your body from top to bottom to concentrating on positive emotions.

We should look for things that make us happy now and in the future, but living an emotionally gratifying life is necessary but is not enough. To experience a sense of purpose, the goals we set for ourselves need to be intrinsically meaningful (otherwise consuming inducing drugs, living all your life on a beach would be enough).

“Imagine a machine that could provide us with brain experience of anything we desire. Our brain wouldn’t be able to tell the difference between actually being in love and the machine induced emotion… If given the opportunity, would you choose to plug into the machine? If so, why not plug in for the rest of your life?… The answer for most of us would clearly be “NO!”

Therefore we should avoid quick-fix solutions (medications and drugs to alleviate pain in the long term)  and find meaning even in hard experiences (Did it make your more resilient? Are you more appreciative of certain things now? ), turn them into positive events and never let a good crisis go to waste. Furthermore we should remember that going through difficult times augments our capacity for pleasure: it keeps us from taking pleasure for granted.

Besides positive thinking, to increase your daily level of happiness you have to give more space to the things that you enjoy and are meaningful to you. Identifying the right activity, and then the right quantity for each activity, leads to the highest quality of life. The best method for maximizing our levels of happiness is trial and error, paying attention to the quality of our inner experiences. Take the time to do it.

Being passive cannot make us happy in the long term and goals are indispensable for sustained happiness, but they are not sufficient: you have to set the right king of goals. The goals need to be meaningful (you should look for growth, connection, and contribution rather than  money, beauty and prestige) and the journey needs to be pleasurable for them to bring about a significant increase in your happiness. The purpose is not to attain the goal but to have one!

 Exercise: Ask yourself what do  you look forward to the start of the day or week? What are the things you really, really want to do? Set long term goals that stretch you and help you enjoy the journey / Set short term goals that help you achieve your long term goal by focusing on what you need to do this week, month or year / Action plan it. Put down on your calendar that actual activities that you must carry out for these goals.

In the end, having sufficient money to provide for food, shelter, education, and other basic needs is essential to our well being. However, providing beyond these needs, money or prestige need not and should not be our central pursuits. Money can free up our time to do things that are personally significant to us, or it can enable us to support a cause we believe in. 

Exercise 6: Create Create a Happiness board from a group of people who care about your well being. Ask board members to keep track of your commitments and meet regularly to discuss your progress.


The love of learning is hardwired within each of us (we can see how young children always ask questions) and most successful people are lifelong learners that keep this curiosity through adulthood.

Exercise: write a lifelong learning program with 2 categories: personal and professional. Under each category commit to learning material that will yield present as well as future benefit and ritualize your program by putting aside regular times each week for your education.

The most beautiful fate , the most wonderful good fortune that can happen to any human being is to be paid for that he passionately loves to do. Without having an emotional investment in our work, we ultimately lose interest and become unhappy. Emotions lead to motion so we should craft it to what gives you a sense of purpose and to what you enjoy doing while using your strength (we can change at a macro level for instance changing career or at micro-level by introducing hobbies to make our day better) 

Exercise: Rewrite your job description into a calling description. Write a description that would entice others, but not by misrepresenting it, but by highlighting the potential pleasure and meaning that can be derived from it (describing your work negatively will also make it more it more negative to you). How we perceive work, how we describe it to ourselves and to others, can make a significant difference in terms of how we experience it.

More on how I am creating my perfect job on the next post.

To realize life’s potential for happiness, we must first accept that ‘this is it’ – that all there is to life is the day to day, the ordinary. We are living a happy life when we derive our pleasure and meaning while spending time with our loved ones, or learning something new, or engaging in an activity that is challenging. The more our days are filled with these experiences, the happier we become. This is all there is to it.



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