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How To Be Happy: Thoughts From A Modern Day Philosopher

June 01, 2020

A frame sign on the street

This blog post was written by Saint Belford Co-Founder Tom Stanford and largely inspired by arguably one of the greatest thinkers of our time—Naval Ravikant. 

Naval Ravikant is largely known as a dominant force in Silicon Valley’s start-up investment community. Lately his wisdom and knowledge on wealth and happiness has led him to become widely considered as one of the greatest thinkers of our time. Naval has a podcast and blog here. You can follow Naval on Twitter @naval.


Most "how to be happy" blogs will give you a bunch of techniques. 

Get more sunlight. Exercise. Smile more.

These are great, but for today we're going to dive deeper into happiness by talking about desire, peace and truth.



Pointing to old Buddist wisdom, Naval states “Desire is a contract you have with yourself to be unhappy until you get the thing that you want.”

Something outside of myself will make me happy. The common misconception we’re all guilty of subscribing to. The car. The house. The man or woman. That dress that’s on sale or the new release sneakers. 

Eventually, we do get these things, and it feels great. But not for long. Our brain adapts to the new normal and we find ourselves at the same place we were before.

Isn’t it funny? We’ve proven to ourselves over and over that external things won’t fundamentally make us happier. Yet, we continue to chase them.

Of course, lack of external things can make us unhappy. But plenty of research suggests that once you earn around $70k per year, more money isn’t the answer to a happier life.

Once we have our basic needs covered, more things just don’t cut it.




Naval’s advice?

Have desires. Just not too many.

“Have one overwhelming desire to suffer over. Let all the little ones go.”

There’s nothing wrong with wanting the car, house, man or woman. But if you had to choose just one for now, which would it be?

You need a goal to keep moving. Instead of wanting everything, try choosing one major life goal, and maybe one or two smaller ones to focus on.

In Curation (our yearly planner), we intentionally restrict the amount of goal setting pages so you can focus on the ones that really matter.

A happy person looks at the world through a lens of “all in all, everything is pretty great right now.” 

If you’re constantly suffering over small desires like

I didn’t get enough sleep last night...
Agh, ran out of milk, have to go to the store...
I want my hair to look like hers...

Then, don’t expect happiness to come easily. 

Practise letting go of the little things and finding peace in each moment.



Naval says when we want to be happy, what we really want is to find peace.

We often say “peace of mind” but a more appropriate saying is “peace from mind.”

Peace from mind can happen when we’re working out, laughing hysterically, riding a roller coaster or having sex.

But the greater goal should be to obtain peace from mind when we’re not doing these things. When we’re bored. When we’re not embarking on adventures or overly stimulated. 

Naval says “Peace is happiness at rest; happiness is peace in motion.” 

A peaceful person can find happiness in almost any moment. 

A peaceful person can find happiness right here, right now, reading these words. 

And if you’re not there just yet, that’s okay. 

The first step is realising it’s possible.

So how does one become more peaceful? 

Back to Naval. “You cannot achieve peace directly or even work toward it. Rather, you can work toward understanding. When you understand certain things and they become a part of you, you naturally become a more peaceful person.”

Think of a small child who doesn’t yet understand patience. They’ll kick and scream and cry while waiting for a parent to complete a task. 

Telling the child to “be patient” doesn’t work yet, as the child doesn’t understand what that means.

Eventually the child will grow older, have a greater understanding of the world around them and naturally become more peaceful.

This is easy to see in a child but harder to see in ourselves as adults. We have blind spots, biases and bad habits that constantly work against us.

We’re also constantly distracted. Screens, long to-do lists, stimulants, work and other people. 

"All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone," wrote the French philosopher Blaise Pascal.


“The search for peace is really the search for truth. Try to see the advantage of understanding things by discovering the truth rather than by practice.”

We all know someone who’s had a life changing talk with their doctor. The doctor warns they’re at risk of an early death due to high blood pressure. At that moment, they decide to make a change. The bad habits disappear.

Through understanding, we naturally improve ourselves.

“Truth is the offspring of silence and meditation.” said Isaac Newton. 

Newton discovered laws of optics, gravitation, and calculus while sheltering from the Black Death.



The search for truth is no walk in the park, so be patient. Be curious. Look at your desires. Then start exploring peace. See what you can discover about yourself and the world around you.