What Four Hamburgers Taught Me About Happiness

by @deanyeong | Sign up to weekly newsletter here

Imagine I presented to you four different hamburgers.

The rotten beef burger. This first hamburger is something doesn’t taste good (and doesn’t look good) and going to cause future detriment on health. I’m pretty sure that no one will ever want to eat this burger unless they are forced to.

The double cheese deep-fried chicken burger. This second burger is insanely tasty, even just from the look of it. Most people can’t resist it, however, it’s not really good for your health and body. It makes you feel ill after you had a few of them, and it makes you fat over the long run.

The tasteless vegetarian burger. This burger is for those who have unbelievable willpower and self-control, to sacrifice the craving and fulfillment on the taste bud for future health. Consistently having this burger requires tons of motivation and self-discipline toward your goals. It never tastes good, but it is going to positively contribute to your health in the future.

The healthy fish burger. This last burger tastes good! The fish and vegetables are fresh and the dressing paired perfectly with everything in it. It has the balance amount of all the nutrients you need. It satisfies your mouth now, and it makes you healthier.

Which one are you going to pick now? Take sometimes consider about this.

What do These Hamburgers Mean?

Time’s up! Now, let me know your answer.

The healthy fish burger! (Dean, you’re asking a silly question, again. Are you trying to make a joke here?)

Great! It’s simple right, a huge majority of us will definitely pick the healthy fish burger unless you’re having an allergy to fish. But that’s the idea, every single one of us will pick the one that tastes good now, at the same time, make us healthier over the long run.

But what about things in our day-to-day life? What about happiness?

If you haven’t noticed the pattern, these hamburgers do two things – (1) make you feel good on the taste bud now, or the opposite, (2) positively contribute to your health in the future, or the opposite. Putting this is the context of happiness, these hamburgers are basically everything we do in life.

The rotten beef burger. The activities make us feel bad now and cause future detriment in our life which is going to make us feel even worse.

The double cheese deep-fried chicken burger. The things we do now because they make us feel good. They provide us the instant pleasure and reward, but they are going to make our life worse in the future.

The tasteless vegetarian burger. These are the activities that make us feel bad. They are exhausting, they are breaking us down, they are tough, they require a heavy load of motivation and willpower. However, the rewards are there waiting for us in the future after the sacrifices we have made.

The healthy fish burger. And finally, these are the perfect activities we all choose to do, these are the things that make us feel good now and also bring us future benefits and lead us to future fulfillment. The question is, are you doing enough of these?

The Happiness Quadrants

These four types of hamburgers or activities made up four quadrants called the Happiness Quadrants, from the book Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar. Looking at these four quadrants, it’s clear that why some people are happy and some are depressed. Your happiness is directly affected by what you’re focusing on.

Happiness Quadrants

To achieve true happiness, here are a few steps you can take.

Focus on the healthy fish burger. Just like how you pick the perfect healthy fish burger, happiness is a matter of focus. Focus on the activity that makes you feel good now and will also benefit you in a long run. This is also why do what you love and love what you do (DWYLALWYD) is crucially important. When you DWYLALWYD, you’re having the healthy fish burger every single day.

Take some time off meat. I’m not talking about going vegetarian (you can try, it never hurts). What I mean by this is there are times when we need to eat the tasteless vegetarian burger, in order to achieve a certain goal and leap forward to the next level, eat it! There are times when we need to sacrifice leisure time to build our business, when we need to cut sodas for long-term health, and when we need to turn someone down and leave someone behind to move forward. Do it!

It’s okay to have the double cheese deep-fried chicken burger. Sprint through all the works you need to get done for the week? Cool! Let’s have a 2-hour session of Netflix. Stick to your new workout routine and intermittent fasting plan for a month? Nice! Let’s celebrate with some pizzas! These activities are essential because they made you feel good, they are the occasional treats to fire up your spirit, and they teach you to enjoy the present. However, they are not good for your future if you do them consistently. So, find the balance and practice self-control.

Be conscious when eating the first rotten beef burger. The fact is, we’re human. There are times when we feel down, stuck, upset, and depressed, at the same time, not able to drag ourselves out from that emotional state. It’s fine. However, I think we all should be more aware and conscious when these happens.

How to Start

It’s almost impossible to shift your behaviors and daily habits in a day or two. Achieving true happiness is similar to hitting your ultimate business goal and exploring your greatness self. They all takes time. The best way to approach this is by shifting your identity to focus on changing your lifestyle. Then, consciously take tiny steps to change your behavior and thus your happiness level.

Start by listing down activities that will bring you joy now and benefits in the future, then, commit to doing them every single day. Then, clarify your goals so you get to find out what you need to sacrifice now to achieve those future goals.

By focusing on the first two quadrants, you can dramatically reduce the time and energy you spend on the last two quadrants that lead to the future detriment of your happiness. However, they still happen sometimes. The best solution is to pay close attention when they did, figure out the source of these behaviors, and quickly break the pattern.

Two More Lessons

The Happiness Quadrants provide another layer of clarity to what we do in our day-to-day life for our happiness. It’s not about achieving a certain set of goals, it’s not about getting promote and making more money. It’s about what you do at a particular moment, and how is that make you feel now and in the future.

At the same time, it also taught me a few lessons that I like to share with you here.

#1 – We have a choice. When things went wrong and time is tough, it’s easy for us to learn helplessness. We start to think that things will never change no matter how hard we try. It’s true sometimes. You can’t change the fact that your business is failing, you can’t change the fact that no one is buying your books, and you can’t change the fact that you’re getting older. However, you still have a choice. You have a choice to adjust your position, pivot your approach, and navigate your direction. Happiness is never about what had happened to you, it’s about what you do and how you react when something happens to you.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is a choice. – Haruki Murakami

#2 – Don’t look at the rear mirror. You may have noticed that the Happiness Quadrants come with a timeline. The questions that centered the Happiness Quadrants are – (1) Is what you do now make you happy now? (2) Is what you do now make you happy in the future? It never asks you about the past and the reason is simple and clear. Because you can never change what you do and how you feel in the past. To achieve true happiness, learn lessons from the past, take whatever insights there are with you, and leave the rest that. Never dwell on what had happened and never live in the fantasy to change your past.

Dean Yeong

Writer. Reader. Lifting weights & drinking coffee.