Life is now and now is amazing
A happiness must read. Mo Gawdat’s wonderful book ‘Solve for Happy“.
Mo has a back story. He is a Chief business officer with Google with two children Ali a 21-year-old young man and Aya his younger sister. In the Summer of 2014 Ali returned to Dubai where Mo and the family lived from College in Boston where he was studying, for a short visit. Within 4 days Ali had died from a punctured femoral artery in a routine appendectomy. Mo’s beloved son and best friend was now dead. Seventeen days later Mo began writing his book on Happiness ” Solve for Happy”
Through Mo’s grief he began to understand that we inhabit 5 different states.
The State of confusion
This is where the beliefs that we have learnt in our formative years mask the reality of a situation. Our beliefs that we are not popular, engaging or intelligent can affect the way we see the world. It’s Saturday morning downtown and we see our friend Sally on the other side of the street, we wave and say hello. She doesn’t respond and walks on.
If I have a belief that people don’t like my company because I am awkward or boring then this scenario cements that belief as Sally obviously has no interest in being around me. I have no evidence that this is true or not other than what my belief is informing me.
The State of suffering
Sally has ignored me and now I am sitting at home wondering what I have done that has led to her ignoring me. I ruminate about the recent conversations and interactions with her. Did I say something inappropriate last time we met. Has one of my kids fought with her kids at School? I might even check social media to see that I haven’t made a comment that she might have disproved of. I spend a lot of time thinking about what happened last Saturday morning and my conclusions are not good. I feel worse every time I revisit it. Our beliefs cause illusions and our thoughts create suffering.
The following week I bump into Sally at the Supermarket. Uh oh here she comes I am really nervous and don’t know what to say. Sally opens here mouth first.
Sally: There you are. I haven’t seen you in ages
Me: I saw you last Saturday morning on the main street.
Sally: Really? Oh Don’t talk about last Saturday… I dropped Sean down to football practice and he forgot his boots so we had to go home to get them and I had a hair appointment for 11am downtown for my cousin Margaret’s wedding in the afternoon and stupidly I locked my keys in the car. I had to dash to get the hair appointment before trying to get David to drive in with a spare set of keys before I could get to the laundrette for my dress. I was all over the place on Saturday morning. Sorry,I never saw you at all.
Sally : But it’s great to see you now. If you have some time free now why don’t we catch a coffee over there and I will tell you all about the wedding?
Me: Yes , That would be lovely.
The event has not changed. Sally still did not reply to me last Saturday. But the way I think about the event has changed. My thoughts caused the suffering not the event.
Our ancestors ability to create worst case scenarios have kept us alive for years. When our ancestors looked over the plains of Mozambique or Siberia they where not admiring the view or the sunset before us. They looked for threats,danger, predators, hostile tribes and strangers. The sound of a rustle of a nearby bush took all the brain’s focus because it focusses on threats and did not see the beautiful skies or the way the sunlight danced with the leaves of the trees. The Brain is hardwired to look for negativity. It’s our development of this fight or flight response over millennia that has allowed us to thrive as humans. We no longer require the need to hunt for food, finding parking at a supermarket carpark is as stressful as it gets when feeding our families. Yet it’s our thoughts that affect the event not the event itself.
It’s our thoughts that cause us suffering.
My Daughter borrows my car and is involved in a car accident. My car is totalled but the safety features of the car kicked in and she is safe and unharmed. My thoughts are “Thank God she is safe.. I am so relieved” My expectation was the worst but the reality is a relief.
My Daughter borrows my car and drives to a beach parks the car and goes for a walk. The tide comes in and washes my car out to sea. My immediate thought is “How could she have been so stupid what was she thinking etc. I possibly might bring the washed out to sea car scenario up every time I get angry with my daughter over some other issue.
The event is the same. I lost my car in both scenarios, but my thoughts were different. It’s our thoughts that cause us suffering. So often our thoughts lead to unhappiness.
The State of Escape.
We are really good at this. How many of us spend our week looking forward to Saturday night only to dread Monday two days later. It’s even reckoned that the day of the year we feel worst is the 22nd of January, after the splurge of Christmas, the January weather and the lack of funds why wouldn’t we be. Personally I quite like the 22nd of January. We escaped for Christmas and this is the price we pay.
You might feel so happy at Christmas but what happens when it is no longer Christmas? You meet a young 20 something on holiday in a popular party destination, Ibiza or Magaluf on a Tuesday of a week-long holiday and ask them how happy they are and the response out of ten is most likely to be quite high possibly a 8/9 out of 10 if not higher. Meet them in the airport departures lounge after a week of partying the following Sunday and you might receive a completely different response and that happiness score may have dropped quite dramatically. Meet them three months after their week long holiday and ask them have they retained the heightened sense of happiness on that Tuesday in Ibiza and the response might not be positive.
Don’t get me wrong fun is good and should be incorporated daily into our lives. Do I enjoy Bungee jumping and Jumping out of planes on occasion. Yes I do but am I unhappy once I am not participating in these activities. No.
That is why happiness is found outside of escape its bigger than a Saturday night with the guys, it’s a greater constant.
A State of Happiness
If you wanted to know how happiness could be contained in an equation. The answer is here and it is really quite simple.
Happiness is ≥ Expectation(event) — Reality
Simply put if the reality of my situation meets my expectations then I will be happy.
If might be nervous about travelling on holiday to Italy because I have never been before, I know none of the language and I think the people might be unfriendly and the food expensive. When I arrive I find the people wonderfully friendly and open and the food realistically priced and full of flavour leading to a great holiday then I am feeling happy.
Alternatively if I go to Iceland expecting reasonably priced food and drink, an abundance of my favourite restaurant McDonald’s to feed me for my slim budget and days on the beach in balmy summer sun. Then I might be surprised to find that food and drink is very expensive, the last McDonald’s left Iceland a few years ago and 14ºC and cloudy is a normal summers day in Iceland. My expectations where not met and now I am unhappy.
Unhappiness is ≤ Expectations — Reality
I always wondered what the world of a perfectionist feels like because they are constantly having their expectations dashed. If your expectations from Life are that you want to be surrounded by wealth and success to experience happiness than you may struggle because relying on the hedonic treadmill for your happiness is not the answer.
Happiness comes from accepting what you have in life and being grateful. We live in a world of comparisons. We spend our time comparing ourselves more than ever with others. I may be worth €20 million(I’m not by the way) and live quite a content life with my fortune until I am introduced to Maria at a dinner function and am informed that she is worth €125 million. Suddenly I may feel envious of Maria and possibly inadequate regarding my financial situation and feel that my $20 million is no longer enough.
As Mo Explains in” Solve For Happy” we should not spend our lives looking up because “what we don’t have is infinite“. We should spend more time looking down. If today you bought a cup of coffee for a couple of euros , be grateful because more than 3 billion people in this world live on less than $2.50 a day and more 1.3 billion people live on less than $1.25 a day. Just think of how lucky you are.
“When you see the truth of your unfolding life and compare it to realistic expectations of how life actually unfolds, you will remove the reasons to be unhappy and realise, more often than not, that everything fine, and so you will feel happy” Mo Gawdat
what we don’t have is infinite“.
But we don’t stop here.There is further to go and it’s….
The State of Joy
Those who reach a state of joy are completely immersed in it. They have cracked it that the Joy lies in the present moment. Anxiety is based in thoughts about the future. Will my relationship work out? Will My job be still there in 5 years? Will my health be good? etc, The past throws up guilt, shame and regret. So the present is all we control.
Those who experience Joy are accepting of life as it actually is. Supermarket queues can be long. Car parking spaces can sometimes be hard to find. Our partner is sometimes annoying, our parents pass away. It’s the way we think of it that matters. The queue is long because the shop is busy beacuse it’s a popular place and sometimes that happens but it’s really great that I can get all the food I needed conveniently in one place. Parking is taking time today but there are millions in this world who have never even sat in a car let alone tried to find parking space. My partner can be annoying but that is far outweighed by all the other wonderful qualities she has that make me feel happy to have her in my life. My parents may have passed away but what wonderful parents they were to me when they were here, so supportive and loving. I am glad that I had them to show me what being a good person looks like. We all die.
It is that acceptance of life that stops us from fighting life. If You have ever read Benjamin Hoff’s “The Tao of Pooh” Where Hoff looks at Pooh bear from AA Milnes Books and discovers a bear that just let’s life happen. The uncarved block who lives the principles of Taoism. While Eeyore Frets… and Tigger bounces…and Owl pontificates…Pooh just is. Winnie the pooh never worries about where his next jar of honey will arrive from. He is aligned with the flow of life and somehow it does.
While Eeyore Frets… and Tigger bounces…and Owl pontificates…Poooh just is.
Flow is important for Joy as Mihaly Csikszentmihalyidiscovered in the 1970’s. It’s an ability we achieved quite easily through play as a child, no sense of time and being very present. Artists and musicians enter this estate quite readily. Completely present and lost in time. As I am writing this article I am in Flow and I have not moved for hours as I right to you. Its joyous and it’s very present.
Joy allows us to set realistic expectations of life. At times my life will be harsh and at others it won’t. I have no expectation that my life will be always easy. But I have an expectation that when it is not I am somewhat prepared for it because I know it is expected. Toast falls Jam side down some days and in the end we all die. I can’t fight that but Joy is the knowledge that in-between that there will be magic. Life is now and now is amazing. Thank you Mo.