I’ve had a lot of people ask, “Amit, are you crazy?”
It was my first job out of college. I was a wall-street consultant, living in Times Square, traveling around the country for free, learning valuable skills, and on track for a promotion. And then… I quit.
I went from a base salary of $70,000 to $0.
And you know what? I don’t care – I am crazy.
I believe in what I’m doing, and that matters to me more than how much money I’m making.
But how did I go from consulting to positive psychology? It was a completely non-sequential leap.
Alert! Alert! Something Doesn’t Make Sense
It started out as a small feeling of unease, but gradually grew into something I couldn’t ignore.
Why am I working so hard?
I didn’t need the money – I had friends making half as much as me, but who seemed just as and sometimes even more happy.
I didn’t believe in the cause – pharmaceutical revenue management consulting? Good for the economy… I guess.
I found the work interesting, but not so much that I’d want to spend 60% of my waking time doing it.
I should have felt happier and more satisfied than my ‘lazy’ friends, but I didn’t, which made no sense.
I had done everything ‘right’, so why did it feel like something was wrong?
I decided to switch careers, but what to do next? Another start-up, something more relaxed, finance, economics, IT?
According to my college career counselor, if I picked a job with work I’d find interesting and which plays off of my strengths, I should end up happy and satisfied.
That advice had already failed – obviously it was wrong and too simplistic. But then… what criteria should I use?
Vacation time? Average hours? Commute distance? Industry? Salary?
I had no idea.
The more I looked for an answer, the more worried I got. All I kept getting were surface answers, based on theories which sounded good but were empirically untested.
I wasn’t about to make one of life’s most important decisions based on a catchphrase, like “follow your passion” or “do what makes the most money.”
So I read as much as I could – some psychology, some philosophy, some self-help.
Of everything that I read, positive psychology was the most useful.
For the past ten years, I had thought that the world hated me – doctors had barely seemed to try; my parents had continuously given me bad advice.
I was wrong. My family did care, and my doctors had tried to help.
It’s just that… correct thinking about hard problems is difficult.
Don’t Worry, I’ll Make You Better
When I was 13, my wrists started to hurt. My parents took me to my primary care physician. He told me he knew what was wrong, “Wear wrist braces for a few weeks, and you’ll get better.”
I got worse.
I went to an orthopedic hand specialist. He told me he knew what was wrong, “You’ve got a bone abnormality. I’m sorry, unless you’re willing to risk surgery, there’s nothing you can do. You’ll have to stop playing tennis and the piano. Then you’ll get better.”
I got worse. I quit my favorite two hobbies, but even then, the pain got worse, spreading from my wrist to my hand and forearm.
I went to see a few specialists – a neurologist here, a rheumatologist there. They ran lots of tests. The neurologist suggested I might have muscle dystonia, and prescribed me with muscle relaxants and anticholinergics. The rheumatologist thought there might be something wrong with my immune system, and prescribed me steroids. “These drugs will get you better.”
I got worse. The pain spread to my upper arms, neck, legs and chest. I was taken out of gym class. The steroids had to be discontinued because they were triggering panic attacks.
I saw another doctor, who came up with another wrong answer.
I got worse. Hypersomnia, chronic headaches, acid reflux, alternating diarrhea and constipation.
I saw another doctor, who came up with another wrong answer.
Skipping the somnologist, the gastroenterologist, the immunologist, the urologist, the hypnotist, the acupuncturist, the chiropractor, the Chinese herbal doctor, the Indian herbal doctor, neurologist #2, somnologist #2, neurologist #3, gastroenterologist #2, the trigger point specialist, and all those other doctors I’m forgetting, I heard the same thing, over and over again, “I know what’s wrong, my treatment will make you better.”
Before the age of 17, I was exposed to hundreds of different medical tests (an MRI, ECG, muscle biopsy, colonoscopy, sleep study, scratch test, X-Ray, echocardiogram, CT scan, barium swallow, cystoscopy, etc…) and prescribed all sorts of drugs, from the mild to the dangerous. I was promised improvement over and over and over again.
I’m 13, then 14, then 15, then 16, and with each new year, I meet new doctors who make new promises which they don’t keep.
It’s a sad thing when a teenager is forced to realize that they can’t rely on the adults.
Humans Are Not Rational
But despite all the pain that I experienced and the lingering symptoms which I’m still dealing with, I’m happy that I had that experience. When most people are introduced to the idea that humans are irrational, they disagree or accept that idea at a high-level, but fail to apply the lesson to the minutea of their life.
I had first hand exposure to irrationality – really smart people with really good educations making really stupid decisions. Once I took full responsibility for my own health and started running self-experiments, I made rapid progress with my fibromyalgia.
So when positive psychology suggested that humans are irrational, and that that fact is keeping us from reaching high levels of well-being, I believed.
We are very smart, and have and will continue to accomplish amazing things. But in certain ways, we can also be very dumb, and have and will continue to believe stupid things.
For most people, a confident word from a friend or family member is enough. For me, I won’t believe without evidence.
For lots of questions, it’s okay to be wrong, it’s okay to be easily convinced. So what if you mistakenly think cold weather causes colds? Wearing a sweater won’t hurt.
But for lots of other questions, complacency kills. “My grandparents, the expert, everyone else says that it’s true, so it must be so.”
Work hard, save a lot, buy a house. You’ll be happy.
Watch TV, play video games, relax. You’ll be happy.
Circumstances matter more than personality.
Exercise, eat healthy, sleep well? Sure, if you want to live longer, but they’ve got nothing to do with happiness.
Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.
Money can buy happiness, but offers a terrible ROI.
TV and video games are entertaining, but are not the most effective methods for increasing mood.
Due to hedonic adaptation, changing your circumstances has a questionable impact on happiness.
The modern human is held hostage by a mind designed for simpler times.
Most of the advice we’ve been given on how to life a happy, fulfilled life is wrong.
Over the past year, I’ve taken what I’ve learnt from positive psychology and applied it to my life. I’m happier than I’ve ever been.
But there are still hundreds of millions of people in this country missing out, holding on to limiting beliefs.
I want to change that. I want to help you become a happier, stronger you.
So now that you know about me, I’d like to learn more about you.
I’d be super grateful if you’d introduce yourself and tell me your ideal outcome when it comes to your self-development. Don’t feel pressured to produce a novel (although if you do that’s totally cool!), I just want to get to know you a bit.
P.S. If you want to learn a little more about me, I recently did an interview with Adiba Osmani of Bidushi.com, where I expanded on some of the things I talked about here.
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