In the most recent “Ask Me Anything” on Reddit, Microsoft cofounder Bill Gates was asked a host of humanitarian-related questions ranging from topics like climate change to the future of education.
About 30 minutes into his live session, questions shifted to the personal life of Bill Gates. Gates, now 63, was asked two compelling questions: “Are you happy?” And shortly after, “Through it all, what makes you happy?”
To the first question, the world’s second-richest man responded: “Yes! When I was in my 30s, I didn’t think people in their 60s were very smart or had much fun. Now I have had a counter-revelation. Ask me in 20 years and I will tell you how smart 80-year-olds are.”
To the second question, Gates said, “Some recently said that when your children are doing well it really is very special, and as a parent, I completely agree. Sometimes following through on commitments to yourself, like doing more exercise, also improves your happiness.”
Gates’ “counter-revelation” of happiness in his 60s versus that in his 20s or 30s is an interesting one. In his 30s, things were unquestionably “fun” from the business standpoint of relentlessly driving Microsoft’s original mission to put “a computer on every desk and in every home.”
But that mission was fulfilled, at least in the developed world. Things have since shifted for Gates. He recently shared in aFacebook post: “When I was in my 20s and early 30s, I was fanatical about software. I didn’t take vacations or weekends off and I wasn’t interested in getting married. (Obviously, that changed when I met Melinda!)”
He is now enjoying the fruits of his labor through his family- and personal-life ambitions, as well as fulfilling his larger-than-life vision of ending the world’s extreme poverty and hunger through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
But before you say, “I’m not Bill Gates: I don’t have the same luxuries in life,” you don’t have to be a billionaire to achieve the happiness of which he speaks. Paraphrasing his new revelations in life, here’s how anyone can achieve the same level of happiness as Gates.
1. Follow through on your commitments
How people become smarter as they age is not so much about increasing intellectual knowledge or accumulating more wealth (although both will happen by virtue of making good choices). It’s about intentionally choosing and following through on what matters most — following through on your commitments, as Gates said.
Maybe you feel stuck in a dead-end job, chose the wrong career, or feel that you were made for something else —something more significant.
While it’s totally normal to question your career direction or motivation to do your job, what is not normal is for these feelings to reside permanently in the deepest crevices of your mind when you know you were made for something bigger.
If you grapple with thoughts about “what if,” start the beginning of your journey with this question: Am I doing what I want — what most matters to me?
At some point, a person needs to break the cycle of swallowing his own voice to speaking into his truth faultlessly about what matters.
When you ask yourself what you want, and you hear from deep down inside your gut, “This is what I want,” that discerning voice is the voice of truth to which you should commit wholeheartedly.
2. Have a mindset of giving
The late motivational guru Jim Rohn said, “Only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.” Through his generous foundation, Gates has achieved this on a scale most of us reading this article can’t fathom.
In 2006, his close friend Warren Buffett, now the third-richest person on the planet, signed papers that gave $31 billion of his fortune to fund the Gates Foundation’s work in fighting infectious diseases and reforming education.
Closer to home, consider giving for your own well-being. Science has confirmed that giving makes us feel happy, is good for our health, and evokes gratitude. One Harvard Business School reporteven concluded that the emotional rewards are the greatest when our generosity is connected to others, like contributing to a cancer-stricken friend’s GoFundMe campaign.
And you needn’t restrict your idea of giving to financial generosity. Consider as well the positive effects of giving your time, mentoring others, supporting a cause, fighting injustice, and having a pay-it-forward mentality.
3. Treat your body like a sacred temple
Gates said that exercise leads to happiness. He is an avid tennis player. And according to research, he’s dead on. Exercise has been shown to improve your mood and decrease feelings of depression, anxiety, and stress.
Conversely, if you cringe at the thought of having to fight for a treadmill at a crowded and sweaty gym, your mood can benefit from a simple exercise no matter the intensity or length of it.
One study of 24 women diagnosed with depression showed that exercise of any intensity significantly decreased feelings of depression. In fact, it reduced depressed moods 10 and 30 minutes following the physical activity.
4. Put family first
As he suggested, Gates’ priorities shifted to more focus on family life and the special feeling of seeing his children excel in life.
The choice not to place family life on equal par with, or even ahead of, career priorities can be costly. Scientific analysis of the causes that lead to death in the workplace listed, among other things, “long hours/overtime” and “work-family conflict” as common sources of workplace stress destroying the health of U.S. workers.
If work-life balance is a struggle of guilt because you think your business or career will suffer, the solution is simple: Set nonnegotiable boundaries around your family priorities first, and then use the same rigor to place strict boundaries at work.
Having solid lines around each area of life will ultimately make you more focused, efficient, and effective at work. And your kids will love that daddy or mommy comes home on time to watch a ballet recital or little league game.
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