How to be Happy, #1: Tim Urban of Wait But Why

“How to be Happy” is a new series as part of my wider happiness project, collecting theories on happiness whenever I see or hear them from clever people around the world.

Tim Urban is the man behind Wait But Why, a phenomenally success website full of throughtful, intelligent, deep content.

Many of his pieces have been shared thousands of times on social media (such as this on the future of the brain), and all have some presence of stick figures – a signature move of Wait But Why.

He spoke to Tim Ferriss in a live Q&A that was recently published on The Tim Ferriss Show podcast. (Listen to the full Tim Ferriss interview with Tim Urban here, or download on your favourite podcast listening service.)

One segment focused on how to be happy.

Asked how he defined or viewed happiness, here’s what Tim Urban had to say:

There’s two kinds of happiness and you have to deal with both.

One is micro happiness: are your Tuesdays good? Are you generally having a good Tuesday?

Then there’s macro happiness, [where you say] “I’ll dig into this current life for 20 years, I love it.” Or are you like I was for nine years after college, which was like “I’m doing this now but I really want or I should be doing ______.”

I think you have to worry about both.

But the most important thing to get right at the beginning is macro happiness.

If your macro happiness isn’t there, you’re gonna feel frustrated, you’ll have a cloud over you.

[Once you get that right] you can work on micro happiness and lifestyle. Focus so hard on really crushing a Tuesday.

All life is is literally a Tuesday again and again and again until you die!

The thing that’s hard is a lot of time we assume that it’s the external world.

We have to succeed. We have to get this relationship. Et cetera.

But [instead you need to be] messing with your internal expectations.

It’s getting your mind in the right place.

Seeing reality. What is your ego? What is your fear? Why are you worrying about judgment?

A lot of the perceived risk isn’t really dangerous. A lot of the perceived reward isn’t really gratifying.

It’s all there in front of you if you can just look past your primate self with your very rational intelligent self.

The happiest people get very clear how to work themselves out.

We often spend lots of time trying to get to those happinesses with the primate self in charge and they usually doesn’t get us there.


There’s a treadmill and the obvious way to get off it is to obsess over gratitude.

What I have versus what I want.

If you keep looking up all the time you’re going to be really unhappy. The mountain keeps growing underneath you but you’re not even looking at it, if you’re just looking up all the time it’s going to seem like everything sucks.

But if you look down you’ll be saying “Look at this mountain, it’s amazing, look at all the things I have”, then you’re going to be really happy.

So the gratitude thing is real. And psychologists say it’s real.

The reason it’s good it’s that it trains your brain to be all day thinking, “what’s good?”

For tips on how to be happy, and lots more thoughts on the journey from depression to happiness, make sure to sign up to my happiness newsletter here.

Food as medicine, and the Rich Roll podcast in Ireland

During my journey of positive life choices, food and nutrition – the idea of food as medicine –  just keeps coming up.

There are very many advocates worth keeping an eye on, and one of the best is Rich Roll.

If you’re not familiar with Rich Roll, you’re in for a treat. I was introduced to him earlier this year by one of the new friends I’ve discovered through my journey in 2017.

Conor Devine, Tyrone man based in Belfast, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis more than a decade ago. In the past two years he has successfully reversed his MS symptoms by ditching conventional medicine and committing to a 100% wholefoods, plant-based diet – and taking part in Ironman triathlons along the way.

He has banged the Rich Roll drum to me repeatedly but good-naturedly.

I’m a daily podcast listener, so it was no big stretch to hit subscribe on a new podcast feed.

Rich is an American extreme endurance athlete, writer, speaker, podcaster and full-time wellness & plant-based nutrition advocate. Coming up to his 40th birthday, 50lbs overweight, going nowhere in life and out of breath after climbing a staircase, he decided to take action for the sake of his own health.

Within two years of embarking on a plant-based diet for the good of his health, Rich was a top finisher at the 2008 Ultraman World Championships in Hawaii, a 3-day, 320 mile double-ironman distance triathlon considered by many to be one of world’s most gruelling endurance races on the planet.

Rich and his wife Julie Piatt were in Ireland earlier this year to meet the guys behind The Happy Pear, Greystones twins David and Stephen Flynn, and take part in a live event at The Smock Alley Theatre in Dublin.

The audio of that evening has just been posted on the Rich Roll podcast, and it really is worth an hour of everyone’s time. (Link at the bottom.)

The entire show is based on an audience Q&A, and for Irish readers, the tone of the questions (how do I convince my large Irish family to eat less meat? how do you justify not including dairy in your children’s diet? where do you get protein if you don’t eat meat?) will be so recognisable.

But by far the most powerful question/story from the audience came from Kevin Kiely Jnr, an actor whose IMDB page includes credits from major Hollywood movies such as The Dark Knight Rises and World War Z.

Kevin’s words resonated with me deeply.

He said that at a time when outwardly he was most successful, inwardly he was most unhappy.

Kevin seems to have examined all the choices in his life, culminating in a new business serving vegan food in his home city of Limerick.