Monday I returned from a British Columbia road trip, face planting onto my bed, feeling nearly crippled by anxiety, rather than being relieved to be home. I took several big breaths, attempting to re-gain normal breathing, while mentally cycling through the next 15 days – what I consider one of the most important personal and work months of the year. Overwhelming feelings and anxiety set in, thrusting me into this feeling of fight, flight, or freeze. Yet I don’t do any of those. Instead, I put on my headphones and Chuck Taylors and run out the door, with the expectation that I’m not coming back until those feelings of anxiety have been replaced with contentment. An hour and a couple miles later and I’m sitting on the floor of a map store, previously undiscovered, with maps laid out all around me, bobbing my head to music while I plot out my next big adventure. It’s then that I feel a tap on my shoulder. “Sir, I’m not sure if I’ve seen someone older than 5 in here with such a look of contentment, but nonetheless, it’s time to close up shop.”

It was about a year and a half ago that I had hit something of a ceiling. Much of my work had become humdrum, I was starting to get restless after not traveling abroad for nearly a year, and I was starting to ask questions again about the story I wanted to be writing for my life. It was then, at the beginning of 2012, that a seed was planted to start doing things even more unconventionally than I had already been doing. 2011 had seen me just returning from a year of living and traveling abroad, which had changed my life. Yet as inherent as travel was to me, something told me that it wasn’t just travel that could change my life. I began disrupting my day-to-day life with things that whether big or small, weren’t part of my life before, but things that I hoped would bring greater challenges, happiness, and purpose to my life. Months later I’m still doing many of those same things and the following is a little bit about what I’ve been doing and learning from this pursuit of happiness.

West Maui

1. Take an unplugged vacation at least once per quarter. I've been doing this now for a year and a half and there's nothing more important that I do during the year than this. I go completely offline (No phone, computer, texting, calls, etc.). Sometimes it's with friends, while other times solo, yet its impact is far-reaching, as I come back refreshed, with new perspective, and often pages of notes and ideas that help shape the coming weeks.

Mendocino California Beach

2. Take a daily walk. Every day in which it's not raining, I take a walk, sometimes with headphones in my ears, but always with something to write with. It's typically at dusk and doesn't replace physical exercise, but has rather become a mental exercise. Similar to above, it spurs creativity. Sometimes I return without having written a single thing down, but having just taken a brief mental vacation. Other times I've got pages of notes, such as this blog post, which was written on one of those walks this week.

Washington Vietnam Veterans Memorial

3. Partake in activities as an adult that I did as a kid. Sometimes this is spending an evening at the map store, while other times it's going to a playground, and other times it's going to Best Buy and playing video games. There is a childlike wonder that has existed in me as long as I can remember, and I may not get carded as much any more, but I'll be damned if I'll let being an adult get in the way of doing the things I want to do.

Hawaii Island Sunset

4. Watch the sunset. Some people like flowers, others like mountaintops, and still others like the rain. Well I like sunsets. It blisses me out, giving me a reverence for the natural world that nothing else does. So any time it's not cloudy, I try to head for a window or go outside for a view. My most frequently searched item on Google: "Time of sunset in __________."

Sonoma winery

5. Make friends with people who are better than me. This is my best friend Matt and his entire little troop, who I consider family. He and his wife are extremely talented, ambitious, and delightful to be around, inspiring me and giving this divorced dude hope. There isn't a photo big enough to fit all of my friends, each of whom I feel indebted to. I've resolved to making friends who are better than me, because they ground me, while also inspiring me to be a better brother, a better friend, a better worker, and a better human.

Maui sunrise

6. Take one short trip per month. This is typically at least a weekend, if even just an in-state road trip. I don't travel for travel's sake or for the sake of respite, but rather I travel for change of place. As the philosopher Seneca is quoted as saying, "Travel and change of place impart new vigor to the mind."

Paragliding Maui

7. Do one thing per month that scares me. Recently this has included learning to surf, flying an aerobatic plane, paragliding, and dipping my hand into online dating (Yes, online dating, and it was miserable and I hated it, but I did it). The more I've done this, the more I've noticed a couple things. One is that it's given me more tolerance, as I don't have the same fears and level of fears that I've previously had. Secondly, it's helped me embrace challenges and problems.

Downtown San Francisco Overlook

8. Say "No" to work that doesn't leave me satisfied and "Yes" to work that combines my passion, skills, and purpose. I've worked hard for five years, doing many menial tasks and part-time jobs to reach a sense of contentment and place in life where I can be more picky about my work. But now that I'm doing work that satisfies, yet challenges me, I don't want to ever go back.

Sunset over Ghent, Belgium

9. Take one big trip every 6-9 months. As satisfying and refreshing as the short trips are, there's nothing better than those longer trips that immerse me in a new culture and help me see life and the world with new eyes. Travel is the best version of myself and the more I travel, the more it shows me how little I know about the world, and how much I still have to learn.

Lake Okanagan Wine Country

10. Take at least one day off per week. I take at least one 24-36 hour break from the computer, work, and life every week, be it a full day on Sunday or from lunch on Saturday until dinner on Sunday. This seems like such an easy task, but in the technology-driven world that we live in, I find myself always gravitating toward some form of busyness. At the end of days, I'd rather say that I spent too much time enjoying my way through life than working my way through life.

Flying over Maui Hawaii

11. Do a timed life list. This is the most recent addition, a 30 at 30 list I started on my 30th birthday three months ago this week. Now three months in and I've done 13 things that I've never done before. That means I'm on pace to do 50 things this year. I find that bucket or life lists are just too open-ended, while this has given me more defined goals and urgency to do things I've always wanted to do, yet never done.

Listen, I’m not saying I’ve got it all figured out. All this is coming from a guy who got the feathers of an arrow stuck in his finger when shooting a bow and arrow last weekend (<<I’ll save that story for later). I’m no Katniss. The thing is that life doesn’t always pan out like we dream. But if we believe that life can in fact come pretty close to how we imagine, then sometimes it does. Well here lately, it feels like it’s come pretty close for me. And yet this week I can’t help but feel like I’ve just scraped the surface, like I’m on the cusp of something. Something big and groundbreaking for me. It’s as if my response is, “Why stop now?” And so, there’s no slowing anytime soon.

These things I’ve done to create a life of happiness might not work for you. In fact, none of them might. But find whatever it is that does. You won’t find happiness like I do, nor should you. Finding purpose and happiness isn’t an out of the box solution, because life isn’t a problem with an exclusive solution. Life is a reality to be experienced. In the words of Butch Walker (Not to be confused with Butch Cassidy), “For once, once in your life, won’t you do what feels right instead of waiting for the next big compromise.”

What have you learned from your own pursuit of happiness?