The landscape of the human experience is vast, but I’ve always found it peculiar that so many, including my past self, tread the tortuous trails of self-inflicted pain when the vast plains of happiness lay just a detour away. A lot of this, I’ve realized, boils down to a deceptively simple word we often shy away from: “No.”

Years ago, back in the frenetic haze of my SEAL days, I encountered people who, despite the adrenaline-pumping operations and life-on-the-edge moments, seemed to carry an air of discontent. I pondered why someone would voluntarily march into the heart of chaos, and not just the life-threatening sort, but the emotional quagmire of poor relationships, unsatisfying job roles, and yes, even those dreadful meetings with no purpose that suck the very soul out of you. Was it the allure of the familiar, no matter how miserable, that kept them trapped?

When you dive deep into the psyche of these adventurers of agony, you realize it’s not the chaos they’re addicted to. It’s the avoidance of that tiny word and the vast power it wields. “No” is not just a rejection; it’s an affirmation of one’s values, a marker of boundaries. It’s the lighthouse guiding you away from the rocky shores of mindless commitments.

I recall a mate, let’s call him Dave, who’d been dating someone entirely wrong for him. Everyone saw it, perhaps even he did on some level. Yet, there he was, getting drowned in the turbulent seas of their relationship, all because he couldn’t muster the strength to say “No” to another chance, another futile attempt at mending the unfixable.

I’ve often mused on this — is it the fear of emptiness that keeps us saying “Yes”? The dread of the void that might open up if we cut loose from that job we despise, that partner we’ve outgrown, or that endlessly rescheduled coffee chat we never really wanted in the first place?

Sometimes it’s social pressure, I was set up recently in Lisbon on a brunch date and kept rescheduling until I realized,

Fuck the social pressure, I just am not interested in this person.

Why waste their time and mine? So, I compassionately declined and felt like I could breathe again.

There’s a wild kind of freedom in embracing emptiness, in letting go, to make space for something new, something better.

I call it defaulting to happiness.

When we silence the cacophonous demands of the world and tune into our inner symphony, we discover a strange truth. The universe doesn’t default to chaos; it defaults to order. To happiness. When you make choices that resonate with your true self, when you honor your desires, needs, and boundaries, life has a funny way of aligning itself.

By the time I transitioned from sniper scopes to entrepreneurial scopes, this truth became clearer. Here, amidst the mad dance of start-ups, business pitches, and corporate wrangling, the power of “No” became my most trusted ally. By saying “No” to ventures that didn’t align with my vision or to partnerships that felt off-kilter, I was saying “Yes” to my peace of mind, to growth, to happiness.

It’s important to identify purpose and life goals because that often is a good checklist to refer back to if you’re stuck on a decision. Just ask yourself, “Does this meeting, person, trip, date, or thing, align with my purpose and goals?”

If not, the answer emerges very clearly from the fog of thought.

In the end, happiness isn’t some grand destination at the journey’s end. It’s in the choices we make along the way, in the detours we take or avoid. So, next time you find yourself at the crossroads of a decision that feels like a rock in your shoe, remember you have the power. Embrace the word “No.” After all, the road to happiness is often paved with the choices we decline, as much as the ones we accept.