Saying No is Saying Yes
And Saying Yes Can Make You a Lot Happier
When you say “no” to one thing, you say “yes” to something else. A simple, obvious, and underemployed statement.
When you say “no” to going out and drinking, you say “yes” to reading the book you’ve been wanting to read, or getting up to hike a mountain the next morning. When you say “no” to a customer whose values do not align with yours, you are reserving time and energy to say “yes” to support the customer who does. It’s not always that one is clearly better or worse—When you say “no” to getting up early to go hike a mountain, you say “yes” to catching up on your sleep. It’s simply that the choice is never between doing something and not-doing something; it’s between doing one thing or doing another thing.
There’s no way to do nothing. “Doing nothing” doesn’t exist in this experience of space and time. What does “doing nothing” mean? Sitting on the couch watching TV? That’s an activity. What’s doing nothing? Sitting in a cross legged position and trying to observe your thoughts without judgement as they occur? That’s meditation, arguable one of the healthiest activities human beings can do for themselves. What most people really mean is “doing nothing” valuable.
How do you decide what is valuable? How do you say “no” to something which might be really fun in the moment but does not contribute to your long term well being and happiness? By asking, “what is it for?” and then thinking about the deeper “yes” underlying the “no.”
Sometimes this is obvious when we take the time to do it. Like “I want to eat these french fries.” What’s it for? Immediate satiation. Do I eat food for satiation? No, I eat for vitality and health. How can I say yes to vitality and health? Eating something that gives me energy and increases my health. “No” to french fries is “yes” to something
else—long term health.
There are layers to unravel. Long term health leads to long term happiness—which in the short run may be apples or may be salad. Long term happiness may not even be my goal, but a byproduct of living my life to grow and share awareness and love. My short term goal, in service of that long term goal, is to say yes to that overarching purpose when I decide anything. And when I can clearly make that connection, saying “no” to something out of alignment with my purpose
As an enthusiastic millennial who likes to keep my options open until the last minute—”Just call me when you get there and we’ll make a plan then (even though that’s about ten minutes from now)”—this is a challenge. As someone who likes to make other people happy, this is a challenge. As someone who does not want to disappoint others, this is a challenge. As someone who is excited about everything, who made a list of twenty classes he wanted to take each semester and had to whittle them down to five, this is a challenge. As someone who loves to spend time with others, but also loves to meditate and journal and spend time by myself, this is a challenge, simply because I do not have enough time in one day to say yes to it all.
But the point is that I am learning about the deeper yes in all of those constraints. Saying “no” to making people happy is saying “yes, you’re okay even when you’re sad,” which I believe is a greater gift for both of us.
In the end, all nos are also yesses, and all yesses are also nos.
Which would leave us very confused except we can always ask “what is it for?” You decision will sometimes appear inconsistent from the outside, because the decision will change by the shifting contexts. But I believe that when we connect to our deepest purpose in life, and choose the yes/no combination that best supports that purpose each time, the result is an unshakeable happiness and a boon for everyone around us.