How to be happy consists mostly of saying “no” to a great many things. Things that make unnecessary demands on your time and on your life.

Why is this so important?

The complexity of modern life, as measured by the sheer volume, scale and pace of activity (interactions with people, media and technology) can easily drown us. Not only are these demands on our attention relentless, they are not even supportive of our own wellbeing.

It’s not as if sorting through your inbox is about trading-off one health and joy enhancing activity for another. Much of it is just about keeping negativity and brainwashing at bay. Just think of sterile big corporate life, mainstream media and pop culture, and the never-ending pressure and consumerism that they promote.

Far and wide

This web of conditioning is far-teaching. Even those closest to us (friends, family, colleagues) will be caught deep in it, unable to see their plight and to break free. And, they may pull us in deeper!

This is why saying “no” is so important. First and foremost it is a mental stance – a stance of defiance and determination that is mindful of the realities of life. Of how we can get dragged into a sea of sh*t that is deeply harmful. This mental stance can then translate into action around how we organise our lives.

At least neutral

While we may not be sure about what will definitively make our lives better, at least removing the unnecessary garbage keeps us in a neutral position. A position of ease and freedom from which to explore and discover what we might specifically wish to dedicate our time and attention to.

Saying “no” is also part of ancient philosophical and spiritual traditions. For example in Buddhism, liberation is about removing “maya” (false narratives and unnecessary suffering), rather than trying to positively create a liberated state. Apophatic Christian traditions similarly seek to know God by excluding all that is not-God, following the principle of via negativa.

How to be happy

If you want to be happy, first focus on removing the crap in your life. Say “no” more often. Take time to reflect on yourself and on your life. Take time to consider what is truly important to you.

And, even if you miss some “good” things by saying no as a heuristic, this is still a strategy that is overall positive for your mental health and wellbeing, as it cleans up the toxicity that would otherwise poison you.


Harsha is an executive and life coach based in London. He empowers people to find more clarity, confidence and focus in their lives. Find out more about Harsha’s work.