5 Questions to Help Make Positivity Predictable

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We are desperate to be happy. Americans invest millions of dollars each year on books, classes, experiences, goods and more, all promising to make us happier. It turns out we’re making the wrong kind of investment. It’s time to learn how to invest in ourselves.

In this 5 Questions With, Growing Bolder checks in with Neil Pasricha, a New York Times bestselling author, one of the most popular TED Talks presenters of all time and an expert on happiness.

Did you wake up happy today?

Actually, no! I’m on a book tour and my first interview was at 5:20 a.m. But that’s sort of the point of the book — happiness is a choice, and you need to invest in it. So, I did my daily 10 minutes of meditation, and then I was happy. It’s just about doing the exercises.

On the cover of “The Happiness Equation,” you lay out the formula: Want nothing (contentment) + Do anything (freedom) = Have everything. How did you come up with that?

Every year for the past few years, I’ve been invited to be a guest speaker at this incredible conference for the highest potential 15- to 17-year-olds in the country. I used to get questions like, “How do I get into a good school?” Or, “How do I make more money?” Now, they ask me: “How do I reduce my anxiety?” “How do I find balance?” “How do I get more space in my life?” “How do I become a better friend?” Their values are shifting. The equation on the front of the book reflects our shifting values system. We want freedom. We want contentment. Those are the two big things that help our happiness.

In the book, you remind everybody to remember the lottery. What do you mean?

There are 115 billion people who have ever lived. You get to be one of the 7 billion people alive today. That means 14 out of every 15 people who’ve ever lived will never have a bowl of chocolate ice cream again, they’ll never kiss their kids goodnight, they’ll never see another sunset. You’ve already won the lottery. You get to enjoy any or all of those small pleasures. We only get, on average, 25,000 sunsets in our lives. So, I’m saying, enjoy it. If you make more than $5,000, you’re already exceeding the world average income. If you’re in the United States, you’re in one of the happiest countries in the world, although I know it doesn’t always feel that way. Remembering the lottery is about taking a step back and remembering how lucky you are to be alive.

You’re not a big fan of retirement. Why not?

I call retirement “the dream we all have that is completely wrong.” Listen, retirement was invented out of the blue in Germany in 1889 when Chancellor Otto Von Bismarck had a youth unemployment issue. He said, “I have an idea. If you’re 65 years or older, you can leave if you want; and we’ll pay you a little bit of money until you die.” Well, the average lifespan then was 67 years old. Now we’re living longer, and we want to retire earlier. The problem is, we don’t actually want to do nothing. We actually want the four “S”s — social, stimulation, structure and story. I don’t care if you’re making money, but you have to be doing something you love. The average lifespan in Okinawa is seven years longer than ours, and they don’t even have a word for retirement.

One of the words they do have is “ikigai.” What does that mean?

It’s a Japanese term that means “the reason you get up in the morning.” They have more 100-year-olds in Okinawa than anywhere else in the world. Last Christmas, I gave my wife an ikigai card. It cost 10 cents. It’s a piece of paper folded in half, and you leave it on your bedside table. She’s a teacher, and she wrote down “to educate leaders who make a difference in the world.” As a writer, I wrote down “to spread happiness throughout organizations.” When you open your eyes in the morning, your ikigai card tells you where you’re going. If you know where you’re going, you feel more productive and happier throughout your day.

Neil Pasricha is a New York Times bestselling author. His first book, “The Book of Awesome,” was an international bestseller and inspired three follow-ups. Pasricha is also one of the most popular TED speakers of all time and holds an MBA from Harvard Business School. He became director of the Institute for Global Happiness after a decade running leadership development inside Walmart. One of the world’s leading advocates of positivity and simple pleasures, Pasricha is now presenting a formula for a happy life in his book, “The Happiness Equation.”