Most of us will know Paul O Donovan for his gold medal rowing achievements as well as his honest and oftentimes very funny interviews.
But behind the easygoing manner is a very finely tuned mind, with a great understanding of what’s important in life.
In an interview a week before he won gold at the Tokyo Olympics, in 3 short paragraphs, O Donovan absolutely nails what happiness is all about.
“I was doing a bit of thinking there earlier in the year when I had a bit of time,” he says. “It was like from my experience of winning World Championships and even the last Olympics silver medal, there’s almost a ceiling on how happy you can be for winning medals.
“If I really didn’t enjoy rowing and found it hard and miserable every day, knowing from the experience I’ve had of winning other medals I don’t think it would be worth it day to day. Really, if you’re not enjoying the rest of the stuff, I don’t think it’s worthwhile to go chasing Olympic gold medals.”
“It’s always nice to win medals,” he says. “But I just think... D’you know, I’m not rowing to get a big collection of medals. I’m just rowing because I enjoy it.”
OK, so this isn’t rocket science. What O Donovan is saying here is something most of us know to be true: happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey and to be truly happy, you need to enjoy the journey.
When you are doing something you enjoy, something that challenges you and brings out the very best in you, something that is intrinsic to you, then you have purpose.
Having purpose is what’s important here and it gives Paul O Donovan a huge amount of happiness. The end goal of winning medals is simply the big cherry on the top.
The happiness we get by adding purpose to our lives not only has a positive impact on our well-being, it also significantly improves our health.
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Research published in 2016* from 10 studies shows that having purpose is associated with reduced risk of mortality and cardiovascular events, such as heart attacks or stroke.
So why aren’t more of us adding purpose to our lives?
Why do so many of us find ourselves in our mid thirties and forties feeling that life is bypassing us?
Why do we believe it’s too late or we’re too busy to add purpose to our lives?
The reason why many of us are reluctant or fearful to add purpose is because of misconceptions as to what purpose is and how it can be achieved.
For example, we believe that purpose is a rare thing, hidden away like an endangered orchid, and only a very small number of people manage to find it.
And we also mistakenly believe that purpose is just one huge thing, like building a big business, or winning an Olympic gold medal or becoming famous for something specific.
We look at people in the public eye, be they entertainers, sports stars or famous entrepreneurs and we believe they are the lucky few who have found their one true purpose.
This, of course, is nonsense.
Purpose can be found in whatever challenges you, makes you feel better about yourself and gives your life value.
So this could be anything from bringing up great children, to growing vegetables in an allotment.
Purpose can be found in starting a new hobby, or launching a side hustle.
It doesn’t have to be something huge.
Furthermore, you absolutely can, and should, have more than 1 purpose.
So how can you find and add purpose to your life?
There are a few techniques that I teach in my course, but perhaps one of the quickest and easiest methods is what I call “The eighty-year-old self” exercise.
In this exercise I ask you to imagine your 80-year-old self looking back on your life.
Based on your life up to now, what regrets would your 80-year-old self have?
When I first did this exercise many years ago, I had the following regrets:
- I wish I had spent more time with my kids when they were growing up
- I wish I had appreciated my wife more
- I wish I had committed more time to my wellness project
- I wish I had gotten to know my neighbours a bit better
- I wish I had spent more time with my mother as she got older
- I wish I had done more with my passion for hill-walking
This is such a powerful and sobering exercise.
Each of these regrets can be turned around.
So that’s what I did.
I developed what I now call small happy goals and big happy goals to help me address each regret.
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Each goal gives my life purpose, they challenge me, they make me feel better about myself, they add value to my life, they give me a natural sense of optimism, and ultimately, they make me happier.
I recommend that you have 1 big happy goal and then a few small happy goals.
The goals change, evolve and can be enhanced with time.
For example, on foot of the 80-year-old self exercise, when I first planned my goals, my 1 big happy goal was to commit 100% to a wellness project I was working on.
This goal has now evolved into a big happy goal to make 1 million people happier.
And once this goal is achieved, who knows what my next big happy goal will be? It may be something completely different, like making a documentary or travelling the world.
I haven’t given any thought to it yet as I still get so much joy out of my current big happy goal.
My small happy goals are centred around building better relationships with the people who are closest to me, as well as doing things that I enjoy like reading and hill walking.
I call them small happy goals because they are smaller tasks and as such, they are easier to add to my life.
However, the time and effort that I put into these goals, combined with the amount of happiness and value they add to my life, makes them every bit, if not more important than my 1 big happy goal.
And I know, some of you might be thinking “I’ll never find the time to do any of this, my life is just too busy.”
First of all, memorise this mantra: You’ll never find time, you have to schedule it.
And secondly, how can it ever be too late to work on building better relationships with the people who mean the most to you?
How can it ever be too late to do things that challenge you, that are intrinsic to you, that add purpose to your life and ultimately make you feel alive and much, much happier?
Because when it comes down to it, we all just want to be happier, or in the wise words of Paul O Donovan: “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence”- (only joking, it was Aristotle who wrote that).
Get Lite Mind for free: To show you how amazing the Lite Mind exercises are, simply click here to get a free, breakthrough happiness exercise.
About the author
Caemin O Connor is a business owner, a husband and father to 2 beautiful girls.
After years of practicing and teaching meditation, he got frustrated and a little bored with it.
So he started researching and developing new techniques.
He focused on happiness, as he realized the real reason why people try meditation, or any form of self improvement, is because they simply want to be happier.
Caemin spent years studying happiness and the various techniques involved in harnessing it, from gratitude, to compassion, from mindfulness to savoring nature.
The end result is Lite Mind, a breakthrough technique for developing long term happiness.
Simply click on the button below to get a free Lite Mind exercise.