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

Tim Urban of Wait But Why on Happiness

“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.