Why 2017 Was the Happiest Year of My Life & How to Make This Your Best Year

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2017 was the happiest year of my life. This was not an accident. I made a dramatic life change and spent most of 2017 nomading through Asia while running online businesses. I also spent a significant amount of time this year learning from my favorite life optimizer and redesigning my habits and mindset to improve my happiness.

I made deliberate adjustments that created dramatic results. I’m excited to share my learnings with you with the hope that you will pick up some actionable ideas on how to improve your life!

Cheers to designing a 2018 that will be the happiest year of all of our lives (until 2019, that is)!

1. Embraced Gratitude and Minimalism (Yes, They Are Related!)

More is not necessarily better. At times this year I’ve lived in conditions that most people would consider terrible. Despite my surroundings, I’m happier than I’ve ever been! Why? I’m grateful that I get to live a life of freedom and control, because I remember how unhappy I was when I was working for other people and not traveling. Embracing gratitude has a compounding impact on my happiness because every day I wake up feeling lucky and blessed to be in charge of my own life.

I’m thankful for all of the challenges in my past (and there were quite a few) that have led me along the rocky path to where I am today. I’m grateful for all of the negative experiences this past year because of the important lessons that I’ve learned. I believe in continual improvement and optimization, and I choose to view negative experiences as pointed lessons on how to improve.

Related to my gratitude is my new life of minimalism. I used to be a maximalist: I compulsively and excessively ordered things on Amazon, overstocking my apartment. I viewed acquiring more things “things” as a way to improve my life. I now live out of a 50-liter backpack and love the simplicity of carrying my world on my back. I currently only travel with six shirts, two pairs of shorts, one pair of pants and two pairs of shoes. I’ve found that living a minimalist life is less stressful and significantly easier.

Owning fewer things brings peace and provides mental clarity–there is less to be concerned with If my basic needs are met: food, an apartment with A/C, a roof, a real bed, and wifi. After that everything else is a bonus. A simple, inexpensive lifestyle has made me appreciate basic things that I used to take for granted. I live on a budget of about $1,200-1,700 USD per month, and I fundamentally believe that incremental spending would not increase my happiness.

Even if you don’t plan to sell everything you own and live out of a backpack, I believe that embracing simplicity and appreciating what you own can have a positive impact on any level.

2. Lived My Own Life and Stopped Comparing Myself To Others

Because I’ve taken important steps to make myself happier, including taking an unconventional path by nomading, I no longer compare myself to other people. It’s very liberating. Because I used to be intensely focused on achieving personal success, I spent more time than I should have feeling envious of those who achieved success faster than I did. It was a negative and wasteful mindset that I have eliminated. Now that I’ve shifted my focus toward living a unique lifestyle that makes me happy, I actively root for everyone to win, which has created its own wave of positivity.

3. Started Meditating

Meditation is scientifically proven to decrease pain, inflammation, depression, anxiety, stress and loneliness while increasing positive emotion, social connection, compassion, focus, attention and memory. Need I say more?

I decided to start meditating in March using Headspace, a helpful meditation app. The concept of mindfulness/meditation is to become more present and aware in the moment. By being present and hyper-aware in each moment, you can dramatically improve your life. Presence allows you to appreciate good moments, to control your reaction to challenges, and take note of where you can improve.

I’ll admit that I’ve been very on and off with my meditation consistency (I’ve meditated every day in 2018 so far though!) but I’ve been much happier when I’ve consistently meditated. I feel lasting effects from my practice. For example, I’ve experienced a heightened sense of mind, an expansive feeling of gratitude, and more compassion for my fellow beings.

4. Exercised More

I spent two months surfing in Bali to begin my worldwide trip, and realized how challenging it is to be unhappy when you’re exercising and spending time outdoors. Since then I’ve gotten into a fairly consistent routine of doing seven-minute daily workouts plus other long forms of exercise such as running.

I notice a significant negative change in my happiness and mental clarity when I deviate from a regular exercise schedule. I consider consistent exercise to be one of the biggest keys to productivity and happiness. It can be challenging to start an exercise routine, but once you push through the first few weeks, you’ll truly wonder how you lived without it.

5. Listened To Lots of Happy Music (And Started Dancing!)

I got really into tropical house music in 2017, which is an upbeat genre with extremely positive vibes. When I want happy music, I listen to tropical house and when I want chill music, I listen to reggae. It might sound silly, but I now spend most mornings and working hours jamming out and dancing around the room. It’s hard not to be cheerful when you spend your time like this – I dare you to try it!

Here’s a playlist of my favorite tropical house songs from this year:

Do you have a favorite happy playlist to share? I’d love to hear it!

6. Nomading = Freedom = Happiness

I don’t think that I can express this better than what I wrote in May. Here’s my post about how I feel about building businesses while traveling the world:

Currently writing this from my $275/month epic apartment in Chiang Mai, Thailand. At no point in my life have I ever had this much freedom and independence, and I LOVE IT. I have much more control over my life now than I did when I lived in the U.S. If I’m unhappy about anything, it’s on me to fix it.

If I don’t like who I’m surrounded by, I can easily move to a new city. If I’m unhappy about the weather, I can get up and move. If I want to surf every day, I can go somewhere that has surfing. And the success of my businesses falls 100% on my shoulders and can’t be sabotaged by anyone else. The combined ownership levels of being an entrepreneur and a nomad are incredible.

When I was an employee, I relied on other people to care as much as I did and to put in the same amount of work. When I had an apartment lease and got tired of where I was living, I had to stick it out for a couple of months until my lease ended. Time is now much more within my control than it ever has been before.

I firmly believe that this digital nomad lifestyle comes with more freedom and ownership than any other lifestyle in the world. What else gives you 100% control over where you live each week, how you spend each day and everything else about your daily life?

Nomading is a life-changing experience, and I can’t get enough of it. Will be tough to go back to any semblance of a normal life after being exposed to this. This is hands down the happiest that I’ve ever been.

For ideas on nomadic jobs: http://christhefreelancer.com/digital-nomad-jobs/ and https://remoteok.io/
For ideas on where to live/travel: https://nomadlist.com/

Actionable Steps:

  1. Find one thing to feel grateful for. (I’m grateful I get to drink clean tap water in the U.S.)
  2. Do one act of minimalization. (Gather a few items of clothing you don’t wear and donate.)
  3. Download headspace and meditate for five minutes.
  4. Think of one thing you love about yourself that is unique to YOU (without comparing yourself to anyone else.)
  5. Go for a run and see how amazing you feel afterward.
  6. Listen to a song that lifts your vibes when you wake up.

Final Thoughts

I hope this is helpful to anyone who is seeking ways to make positive changes to be happier in 2018. The formula varies for everyone, but I do believe in the power of all that I’ve mentioned for increasing happiness. I would love to chat more about tips on what works for you. Feel free to comment or message me (FacebookTwitterInstagram)!

I've been building digital businesses, wandering the world, and writing about optimizing life for freedom since early 2017. My mission is to lower the barrier for people who want to live with more freedom: whether that be as an entrepreneur, a digital nomad, an early retiree, or just as someone who wants to live a happiness-driven life.