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A man’s life is what his thoughts make it. – Marcus Aurelius

Anyone who is a regular on Reddit has probably read the “zero days” post. A redditor posted a comment about his lack of success in life and accompanied despondence, to which redditor ryans01 posted his now famous reply. Ryan’s four step plan to happiness:

  1. No more zero days. Accomplish something, anything, each day toward your goals. Write one sentence, do one pushup, read one paragraph, eat one less piece of candy – anything that gets you closer than you were to your goals or dreams.
  2. Be grateful to the three yous. Be thankful to the past you who made decisions, sacrificed, or did things that are paying off for you today, the present you. At the same time, the present you needs to do the same for the future you. Take care of yourself now so that you reap the benefits later. This includes things like education, exercise, saving money, etc.
  3. Forgive yourself. The past you has probably done a lot things that haven’t helped the present you, too; eaten too much, exercised too little, spent too much, saved too little, etc. Forgive yourself. Today is a new day and the present you just needs to have no more zero days. No more excuses.
  4. Exercise and books. The last rule is shorthand for “improve yourself;” exercise your body and your mind every day.

Ryan’s advice resonated with a huge number of people. It can serve as motivation to keep working towards a goal, if you have one. It also is a reminder not to get too caught up in inevitable setbacks along the way. Feeling accomplished (even in little things) and feeling a sense of purpose (working towards a goal) are certainly linked to happiness.

The Japanese call that “sense of purpose” ikigai or reason for being; the French call this the raison d’être. The Japanese believe that this sense of purpose leads to life satisfaction. The following picture demonstrates the scheme graphically:

Take a minute and study the diagram. Think about the questions the diagram would ask. What do you love? What are you good at? Can you get paid for those things? Does the world need those things? Maybe the world doesn’t need what you have to offer, but someone probably does; find them. Maybe you can’t become rich doing what you love, but perhaps you can make a living at it. A poor person doing what she loves is probably much happier than a rich person doing what she hates.

Maybe you need some serious life changes to move closer to the middle of the diagram. That’s okay. Maybe you need to change your perception a bit to appreciate that you are already in the center of the diagram. That’s likely. Both of these bring us back to ‘No More Zero Days.’ What’s on your NMZD List? Choose the things on that list wisely. They should contribute to getting you closer to the middle of the diagram. Life can be very satisfying and fulfilling as long as you are making progress to getting there (or getting closer to realizing you are already there).

Here are some suggestions:

  • Put some things you love on that list (not just family but also things you love doing).
  • If you put something non-selfish on that list, then you will also be doing something that the world needs (not just things that you need).
  • Make sure that there is something on that list that helps you get better at what you love (even if you are already awesome).
  • The better you are at it, and the more your passion is needed, the more likely it is that you will be able to make a living doing it (and if you can’t, don’t worry – doing something else for money and spend that money on the thing you love).

The most important thing about your NMZD List is that you are always making progress towards something that will make you happy. Exercise and education are obvious choices, but I’m sure you can think of some very specific things. Whatever it is, start doing it and stop making excuses. Make it a habit. You will feel more in control of your life, happier, more fulfilled, and more needed.