People Place Thing

I’m in Iceland spending the day at Startup Iceland 2012. Amy and I are having a great time in this fascinating country.

At dinner last night, I got into a long conversation about what makes for a fulfilling life. My answer was:

Spend as much time as possible with PEOPLE you love in a PLACE you want to be on a THING you are passionate about.

I believe it’s that simple. What do you think?

  • Simple and Exactly on Point

  • Phil

    i use to say: don’t spend time w/ people on things you don’t like. But now that I see how you phrase it, I do prefer the positivistic way of looking at it

  • ,,pursuing a purpose you believe in.’

  • Yep, I think this is why even when my work is really hard, I’m happy, happy. Work everyday on my passionate thing (food), with the one I love (co-founder = fiance), all in a world-class city (SF). And I think it really clicks when you’ve got all three going.

  • Russel Cheng

    A long time ago, like around 1993-94, General Magic organized their tools in “people, places and things.” I still have my Mac folders named like this.

    I guess it can apply to your answer at dinner too.

  • That’s pretty solid. I’d add “Appreciate what you have instead of focusing on what you don’t.” That’s always re-centered me and made me feel very grateful and fulfilled.

  • That’s 80% fulfillment. I’d say you’re missing the 20% that make you appreciate those 80%: novelty.

    Allow yourself to meet new PEOPLE in new PLACES that will make you consider different THINGS you might become passionate about. Or, simpler, Hustle a bit.

  • Sounds simple but seems impossible to reach for so many people.

  • Alana Muller

    Ain’t that the truth. Thanks for the reminder.

  • And study Probability


  • Stephen

    Very close, but that “ThIng” needs to somehow benefit others for it to be fulfilling.

  • Good answer, but the data shows that PEOPLE (the quality of your social relationships) is by far most important aspect to happiness and fulfillment. Unless you are the unibomber, the priority should be in the sequence you mentioned.

  • Yes, I love it. For a period in my like that I refer to as the “off the spiritual deep end” period, I thought it didn’t matter WHAT you did. I thought… as long as you were present in whatever you were doing you could be happy. I know… it sounds ridiculous but I believed it. I have since come to see that WHAT we do, WHO we do it with, and WHERE we do it… well, MATTERS. Yes, being ourselves and present in the moment IS important but our external life needs to support who we are in order for us to have a fulfilling life. So, thanks for making this profound truth clear with your brilliantly simple statement.

  • It seems those sorts of thoughts/statements/epiphanies usually come after the long conversations ..hence the “journey not the destination” thing 🙂

  • I would add that you need to be present or the other things don’t really matter.

  • This is similar to what i heard when i was in my 20’s which was that you have (1) your living situation; (2) your significant other; (3) your job. I was told that in my 20’s that i would never be happy with all three at the same time, which i found to be mostly true.

  • I agree, in that order as well. Even a mundane task is more enjoyable with people you love in a place you want to be. Conversely, working on something you love around people you hate in a place you detest can wreak havoc, at least on my own personal happiness meter.

  • I think you got half and missed half. Striking a perfect lasting high note of “people, place, thing” is nigh impossible. The idea that happiness or fulfillment can be a result of putting together the right puzzle pieces has truth to it, but doesn’t take into account the fact that life is also an ongoing barrage of change that constantly shifts the puzzle pieces out of place as soon as we think we have them where we want them. In fact, I think that one of the reasons why we’re not happier as a country is that we approach happiness too systematically, believing that if only we can create the right set of circumstances, everything will fall into place. One of the happiest and most fulfilling moments of my life was a night spent exhausted, cold, hungry and alone under a tree in Zurich, Switzerland. The 50% you left out is opening to and accepting present experience in all that it has to offer/teach, regardless of if it’s perfect or pleasant or matches a conceptual ideal (people, place, thing, for ex).

    50% of life is working towards balance, and 50% is accepting the fact that you’ll never fully find it. In the end there is no such thing as balance, there is only the ongoing process of balancing.

    • Pravesh

      I agree completely. A lot of people now a days take happiness as a gazette that can be purchased or a problem that can be resolved by a smart algorithm. It is surely not. I think I am happy when I am in the zone, in present. Also, when I find myself in a difficult situation, I try to see it as a third person and I find much relieved when I detach myself to the situation. Doing my “karma” (as they say in India) with a lot of detachment is the ultimate recipe. Oh wait, then you dont even care whether you are happy or not. Even though you are!

  • I like it, it reminds me of a quote from an old Heinlein book: “Happiness is being blessed to work hard for long hours doing whatever it is you think is worth doing.”

  • Bingo. I’d only add that you are grateful for having found all three.

  • Agreed.

  • I couldn’t agree more Brad.


    You need to add “Make as much money as possible!”
    Right now you’re probably thinking “money can’t buy happiness” and all the other adages that are used to distract people from wanting what they deserve. But, I say this:
    There is a pile of money on the table. There are two people sitting at that table. The owner of the table says the person on the left is a good person who helps others and the person on the right is a bad person that does no good. The owner then says each of you gets a turn to take one coin from the table then it’s the other person’s turn to take one. You can stop taking coins and leave anytime you want.
    If you are a good person, you’ll probably take a fair share of coins and leave. But, in that case you would also be a foolish person. Because every coin you leave to the bad person will be used for bad things. The mark of a successful person is when they not only become happy themselves but they also try to help others to be happy. Even a simple man isn’t happy if everyone around them is unhappy.
    Just some thoughts.

  • Ricardo Diz

    Agreed. IMHO, the exercise of understanding the three variables is already an important part of getting there.

    Life is dynamic, there are a lot of cool / interesting things to fill our life’s with, and our time / choices are limited. In my view, knowing what you really want of your life is fundamental to achieve the right balance and happiness in life.

  • You’re right of course about the people/place/thing. But I’d argue there’s nothing simple about achieving that 😉

  • Davis

    Thank you, Brad. That is an absolutely poignant sentiment and I agree on many levels, although at times lost by secondary motivations.

  • Thanks for the wonderful dinner, although I didn´t have the chance to get involved with your philosophical speculations I enjoyed the dinner conversation with your wonderful wife Amy. Our end of the table talked about various subjects and many of them involved people´s happiness.

    I couldn´t agree more with you Brad. Being around people you love gives you a certain fulfillment, an assurance you are in the right place. Most common problem people face is the feeling of not belonging. If you don’t know where you belong and where your ideal place in life is you´ll fall in a pit. For many of us our life is the journey to finding our places and our people that makes us happy. Most journeys are long but if you find your people on the way the journey becomes an adventure.

    • Well said. I’ve really gotten a strong sense of that philosophy here in Iceland, which is great.

  • I like the phrase, “Life is about making stories and telling stories.” Seems to match your answer quite well.

  • Emily Merkle

  • love the statement. Also, having spend my honeymoon in Iceland two years ago – I have fond memories. The people are clever and entrepreneurial in so many ways

  • Dan Barry

    I couldn’t agree more. I’ve had that “what’s the secret to happiness” conversation several times and I’ve tried to distill my answer to a single word… hobbies. It sounds a little simple to most people, but the key qualities of hobbies are such that you will undertake them for the sheer personal satisfaction you derive from them. Hobbies harness the sincerest form of self motivation. Many of us have been lucky enough to discover that the work we do is our ultimate hobby. Adding in the people we like/love and the place we want to be, surely is a winning formula.

  • Pingback: Why you should be optimistic about the future | Startup Iceland()

  • this is one of my favourite quotes. I had it favoured on twitter for a while and today on I got a chance to share it 🙂

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