I hated winters in Boston, but this picture of Baker Library at Harvard Business School fills my heart with nostalgia. HBS was magical in the winter with its snow-covered trees and blanket of white. My 1st year dorm (Hamilton Hall) was to the right of this snowman. You can’t see my dorm in this picture, but I walked this path every day to classes. I was dirt poor at that time; my parents were penniless and homeless. And my father eventually abandoned us. (In my 2nd year, my mom secretly lived in my tiny dorm room at Morris Hall against school policy because she had nowhere else to live). Before I enrolled at Harvard, my mom said that it was up to me, the oldest son, to bring the family out of poverty. I had a ton of fire in my belly and I was full of so many crazy dreams. Even though I had to survive on only $4 a day while I attended Harvard, I had some of the happiest days of my life there. Time flies so fast in life. Cherish every moment. Cherish every friend. Cherish every adventure. Before you know it, some of the best days of your life will be gone.
I have been blessed in my life to experience both poverty and wealth; and I am full of gratitude for this unique dual perspective. Through my suffering in poverty, I learned what no textbook can teach. Through my freedom in wealth, I learned what no amount of money can buy. one thing that I can tell you is that true happiness has nothing to do with the external world: a large bank account, a big house, fancy clothes, and luxury cars. True happiness has everything to do with what is in your heart: love, family, friendship, hope, gratitude, adventure, and dreams.
Without further ado, here are my 10 Essential Rules For A Happy Life:
- Live with gratitude. I discovered the power of gratitude when I was living in poverty. Every time I started to feel bad about my situation, I would focus on how lucky I was that things were not worse. I would focus on everything that was going right in my life (instead of everything that was going wrong). I eventually trained my mind to count my blessings in life every time I started to focus on negativity. Often, it would snap me out of any negative energy I had and it made me feel blessed and lucky. Happiness became immediately accessible to me even in the toughest moments of my life. Despite my poverty, I had so many blessings like my health, my acceptance into Harvard, my work ethic, my loved ones, my true friends, my martial arts training, and so forth. When things are going bad in your life, it is easy to focus on all of the bad (instead of how lucky you are that things are not even worse). For me, gratitude has become my magic fountain of happiness.
- Fill your life with love. We all have 24 hours in a day. For me, one of the recipes of happiness is to fill as many of those hours with love, be it people, passions, or even pets. Love fearlessly. I try my best to do what I love for as many hours possible every day. I love entrepreneurship. I love martial arts. I love my loved ones. I love my dogs. I love movies. I love reading. I love traveling. It is no surprise that you will find me doing all of those things in a given year with people I love. We cannot control many things in life, but we can control how much love we embrace in our lives.
- Find your purpose. I didn’t find my true purpose in life until I was 37 years old when I retired as a global hedge fund manager. Everyone I knew thought I was crazy to pursue my dreams in martial arts. When you find your true purpose in life, everything starts to make sense. You stop living for the weekends. You stop thinking about what you are going to do after work. You stop getting the Sunday night blues. If you examine the happiest people in the world, there are no artificial boundaries between their personal life and their work life. Life is just life. There are no boundaries. There are no limits. For as long as I can remember, I have always had two true great loves in life – martial arts and entrepreneurship. I love investing in the stock market too, but it was not a true great love. That being said, I found purpose in different situations at different points in my life. When my parents lost everything in life (including their home and life savings) and we were barely surviving, my purpose in life was to bring my family out of poverty. When my father eventually abandoned us, my purpose in life was to take care of my mother and younger brother so that their futures would be secure. Today, I have a very clear personal mission in life and it is one that ignites my soul. My mission in life is to unleash greatness in everyone through the power of martial arts and to alleviate the inequalities of income, gender, race, and education throughout the world.Deep in my soul, I know that I have been put on this Earth for this mission. Martial arts changed my life and took me out of poverty. Martial arts helped me to achieve the life of my dreams. And I know that it can unleash greatness in everyone.
- Stop comparing yourself to others. When I was much younger, I would often compare my level of success with my friends, with people I knew, or even with my heroes and role models in life. I am embarrassed to admit it today, but it is the truth. I would compare how much money I was making, how happy I was, how much my net worth was, how prestigious my job was, how fast I was progressing, and everything else. I will tell you that it brought me nothing, but misery. You see, I have learned that what others are doing in life has absolutely NOTHING to do with YOUR happiness. True happiness comes from unleashing your true greatness in life by doing what you love with people you love. It is evolving into the best version of yourself. Each person has a different destiny. We are all on different paths. We all have our unique gifts, talents, and opportunities. Happiness cannot be measured by bank accounts, big houses, or fancy cars. Happiness is within, not without.
- Practice forgiveness every day. As I get older, I realize that inner peace is one of the greatest treasures in life. For me, forgiveness is the elixir of the soul. Forgive yourself. Forgive others. No one is perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fall down. We all fail. Forgive. It takes strength to forgive. only the weak cannot forgive. Ironically, when we carry negative energy in our hearts towards others, we can never fully be happy. Let go of everyone who has wronged you. Let go of everything that has brought you misery. Let go of those negative emotions. Embrace the lessons and look toward the future with hope.
- Surround yourself with happy people. It might sound harsh, but I quickly eliminate negative people from my life. We all know people who complain about how unlucky they are, how they have been wronged by someone, how the world is unfair, or how their life is horrible. I am sorry, but I have zero empathy for negative people. Negative people find a way to blame others for their problems. And 99% of the time, they are their OWN worst problem and the direct cause of their problems. Negative people do not belong at my companies and they certainly do not belong in my life. Life is too short for negative people who cause you problems. I believe in the Law of Attraction. If you allow negative people in your life, you will become negative and attract more negative people in your life. The opposite is true too. Surround yourself with happy people who live with gratitude and you will see that your life will be happier too. When you are happy, you attract other happy people. Happiness begets happiness. Positivity begets positivity.
- Never lose your inner child. As children, we are full of love, innocence, wonder, dreams, goodness, and possibilities. Nothing is impossible to children, and no one is evil. Yet, somehow when we become adults, we lose that magic. My close friends and family will tell you that I am still just a kid at heart. I made a conscious decision a long time ago never to let life’s problems and woes change me or my inner child. I love pranks. I love adventure. I love dreams. I believe in the goodness of people. I believe nothing is impossible. To be sure, I have had more than my fair share of bad luck, horrible people, misfortune, and failure. However, I choose to protect my inner child and live as freely as possible. It would be sad if we all let the bad things and bad people in our lives destroy our inner child and belief in the goodness of the world. Life is beautiful.
- Don’t chase material things. It might sound odd to most people, but I have very few material possessions in life. I haven’t owned a watch for 10+ years. I own only one car because it is all I need; it takes me from A to B. If I wanted to buy ten Ferraris or Lamborghinis tomorrow, I could do so. However, I already know that it will not bring ME true happiness. (To be clear, there is nothing wrong with owning a sports car if you love it and it is your passion). I just know that that stuff will not bring me happiness. You see, when I was poor, I learned the difference between happiness and pleasure. Happiness is true inner contentment and spiritual peace. Pleasure is fleeting and empty. When you buy a new toy, it brings you pleasure for a few days until you need the next new toy. It is an endless cycle of chasing fleeting things. I prefer to spend money on experiences with my loved ones. Memories are forever.
- Do good. Give more than you take. I believe in doing good in the world. When we do good, it fills our hearts with happiness. People often ask me why I donate so much of my time, money, and resources to various charity organizations. The short answer is that I have not forgotten my past. My days of surviving on $4 a day in poverty and watching my family suffer after my father abandoned us will forever lie indelibly etched in my soul. I am fully aware that my life could have turned out very differently if I had not been blessed with a mother who believed in me and if I did not have the power of martial arts to help me conquer adversity in life. My mother gave me love, hope, and belief when I had none. Martial arts gave me a warrior spirit, courage, and work ethic when I had none. In my small way, I want to do the same for those who need it most. It is the circle of life that my late Muay Thai teacher, Kru Yodtong Senanan, taught me a long time ago. And in the words of one of my favorite singers Bob Marley, “In this great future, you can’t forget your past.”
- Live in the moment. It is hard to do, but I try my best to live in the moment, to savor every minute of life. When onE Championship had its 1st event in Bangkok earlier this year, I remember standing by myself at one point, looking up in awe at the stadium, and thinking how blessed I was to receive so much love and support. I lost myself in that moment. I was in a state of bliss because I was living my dreams; in that moment, I was momentarily free of my worries and problems in life. For me, the evening was punctuated though by a single mom and her two young daughters who rushed over to have their photo taken with me. The mom said with tears in her eyes how my life story inspired all of them to work hard for a better life too. They had never heard of MMA, but they came to the event because they wanted to meet me. I almost never cry, but I had tears in my eyes. Life might be full of suffering, but it is also full of beauty and love. I don’t want to miss those moments in life.
For me, happiness is not a destination. It is not something to pursue. Don’t wait for happiness. Don’t save up for happiness. Don’t chase happiness. Happiness is a choice to see the beauty in every day. Happiness is a conscious celebration of the precious gift of life and all of your blessings. Happiness is a journey.
Please note that my Happiness List is by no means an exhaustive list. I am certain that some people will disagree with different parts of this list too. I am not an expert on happiness; this list is simply a compilation of my personal experiences and my reflections on life. Happiness is an individual thing, but I hope that you can learn some lessons and apply it to your life and your happiness. Ultimately, I simply want more happy days than sad days.
Chatri Sityodtong is a self-made Harvard MBA entrepreneur from Thailand. His rags-to-riches life story has been profiled around the world on Bloomberg TV High Flyers, CNBC Entrepreneur Asia, BBC News, Harvard Business School, Sports Illustrated, and other major media. He is currently the Founder and Chairman of onE Championship, Asia's largest sports media property in history with a global broadcast to over 1 billion homes across 118 countries around the world. Sityodtong's business holdings include companies in sports, media, technology, beverages, and real estate industries. His businesses have been featured across the globe on CNN, Wall Street Journal, CNBC, Forbes, BBC News, Bloomberg TV, Reuters News, Fortune, Yahoo!, Fox Sports, Time, ESPN StarSports, Channel NewsAsia, New York Times, and many other media. He is also an Entrepreneur-in-Residence at INSEAD, Europe's top business school.