I was catching up with a friend and he asked how things were going. “Better” was my response. “Nice!” he said. “What’s changed?”

I thought about it. I started saying no to things at work. In doing so, I am focusing on fewer projects that I can impact instead of trying to be everything to everyone. I am actually really proud of something a small team and I accomplished last week. I’ve done the same with my friends. I have deepened my relationships with a few good friends – including opening up about some personal issues that I’ve been keeping to myself – instead of maintaining a massive book of contacts who I can call at a whim. It’s the opposite of what I thought would make me happy. And to be honest, it didn’t work at first.

When I said no to a project at work, I felt insecure about it for an entire week. Will people think I’m lazy? Not a team player? But I find myself putting more in and getting more out of the projects I am working on. The same happened with my friends. This might sound weird, but I felt like I had to have a backup. If my two good friends are busy, then what do I do? Having lots of relationships felt like the solution. But it’s the idea of being surrounded by people and not feeling like any of them know the real you that creates the phenomenon of loneliness in a place as crowded as New York City. Deepening my connection with a few friends has given me the feeling that I am supported even when I don’t have everything together.

The point I have realized (and need to continue realizing) is that happiness will not come from instant gratification. Saying yes to a project and seeing your coworker breathe a sigh of relief is instant gratification. Having plans with lots of different people every night is lots of instant gratification. But happiness is a long term investment.

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