The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha is a hugely readable, enjoyable and informative book on one of humanity’s biggest conundrums: “How can I be happy?”
At the end of the day, all people want in life is to be happy, and this is by far the best book on happiness that I have come across. It is written in nine different chapters filled with short sub-sections, and an easy-to-remember one-liner to finish off each section.
Here’s my summary:
Be Happy First
A lot of people get caught up on thinking, “If I achieve/do/have this, I will be happy”, and don’t realize that happiness is a mindset. Pasricha describes that the composition of happiness is 10% circumstances and 90% everything else. There are no guarantees that the end-goal will make you happy, and even if it does bring joy at the end, you’ll be spending the whole journey stressed and unhappy. If we were to imagine the happiest people we know, it’s not always the wealthiest, most successful people. So if we can switch our mindset to happiness as a default, not only will our lives be more enjoyable, we could even reach our goals faster too.
“Happy people don’t have the best of everything, they make the best of everything.”
Do it For You
One of the greatest inhibitors of happiness is a lack of self-confidence. Pasricha splits a graph into four quadrants, with “Opinion of self” and “Opinion of others” on each axis. Self-confidence is when both opinions are high. We see ourselves and other people as competent, moral, of good character. If someone has a low opinion of others and a high opinion of himself, he is considered arrogant. On the other hand, if he has a high opinion of others and a low opinion of himself, he is considered insecure. Finally, if he has a low opinion of both himself and others, he is classified as cynical.
Probably the most pervasive of the four conditions is the one of insecurity. One of the biggest reasons we may feel insecure is when we act as people-pleasers, or when we are searching for external validation. When we inevitably fail to please someone or our hard work ends up falling on deaf ears, it can be miserable.
So how can we make ourselves immune to criticism or lack of recognition? Do it for you. If the primary motivation for doing something is just because you want to, it’s known as internal validation. This means that it no longer matters what the outside world thinks or says, because you’re just doing what you want to do, and you like yourself for it.
Remember the Lottery
This is another way of describing how lucky you are to even be alive. What are the chances that the universe created life on Earth, and created you? The fact that only one in 15 of every person who has ever lived is still alive, and you being one of them, is a blessing. So no matter how bad it gets, you’re still lucky enough to be breathing. Not every person has the privilege of doing that.
Pasricha starts off the chapter with the story of a teacher at his college that reluctantly retired and within a few days fell ill and died. He attributed the death to the lack of purpose that set in for him soon after retirement.
He goes on to highlight that on the Japanese island of Okinawa nobody retires, and almost everyone lives to over the age of 100. They all have an ikigai, a reason for waking up in the morning that gives them joy or meaning in life.
It turns out that retirement is an entirely invented concept, relatively new to the world. The concept was put into action in Germany less than 150 years ago, and it could be argued that it doesn’t work.
Work brings more benefits than just a monthly paycheck. Most work is social – a place to make friends, connect with people and work in a team. It also adds structure and routine that is so important in living healthily. The stimulation that work entails is a good physical and/or mental exercise. Finally, work can sometimes add extra purpose and meaning to life if the role especially helps other people, or works towards a better world.
Pasricha invites us to calculate how much we make per hour. Most people get paid on a salary, and they can stray away from the usual 40-hour workweek. Interestingly, traditionally high-paying jobs like lawyers end up getting paid a very similar hourly wage to lower-paid jobs simply because they work way more hours. I’m not entirely convinced about the point Pasricha makes, but there could be some level of truth to it.
The main point of the chapter is to stand back and ask whether you are spending your time in the way that you want to, and whether your hourly wage justifies the job you’re doing.
Pasricha points out that we all need space in our lives devoid of thinking and doing, otherwise we can suffer from burnout, or stress-related illnesses. But how do we create that blank space in our calendars?
Pasricha argues that multi-tasking is impossible and that people are better off separating tasks and doing them one by one, with minimal distractions. He also brings up the idea of making shorter deadlines. People almost always leave projects until the last minute, so why don’t we squeeze out the time usually reserved for procrastination by bringing forward the deadline?
The amount of decisions we need to make on a daily basis can also affect how effective we are. By reducing the number of small decisions we need to make, we can free up our brainpower for larger, more important decisions. President Obama only had suits in two different colors, while ex-Navy SEAL Jocko Willink writes down what he’s going to do that day the evening before.
Just Do It
So much of our lives are spent thinking instead of doing. It can lead to the very real condition of ‘paralysis by analysis’.
Pasricha describes the relationship of being able to do something (can do), having motivation to do it (want to do), and doing it (do). Instead of viewing it as a linear relationship i.e. “I have to be able to do it, and want to do it, before I do it”, we can imagine it as a circular relationship that feeds back into itself. Therefore, we can start at any of the three conditions to get the momentum going. However, the one that is under our control the most is “Do”. By forcing yourself to do something even if you don’t want to or don’t think you’re able to, it actually makes the other two more likely to come true. This can be related to cold showers, training for a competition, or going to the gym.
“There’s nothing more satisfying than being loved for who you are and nothing more painful than being loved for who you’re not but pretending to be.”
Happiness can’t be achieved without authenticity. It’s so easy in the modern world to wear a mask, and be what people want you to be. But as Gandhi once said, “Happiness is when what you think, say and do are in harmony.” This may sound extremely difficult, but it’s actually quite simple if you forget about what other people will think of it.
One of the most impactful parts of The Happiness Equation is when Pasricha shares the The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, a book by Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse from Australia. Here they are:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.
I wish I had the courage to express my feelings.
I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
I wish that I had let myself be happier.
Hopefully we can learn from the dying by not making the same mistakes. In a nutshell, authenticity removes regret.
Don’t Take Advice
Customer: What’s the best dish on the menu?”
Waiter: The fettuccine alfredo.
Customer: I’ll go for the pizza please.
Why do we do this? We already know what we want, but we still ask for advice. Sometimes we take the advice instead of doing what we want, and we regret it. There is so much conflicting advice everywhere we look. What’s the healthiest diet? Should I buy an old car or a new one? Do I need to take supplements?
Pasricha highlights that there are conflicting clichés that we accept as true. Good things come to those who wait. But the early bird gets the worm. He who hesitates is lost. But look before you leap. There are countless other examples.
In the end, a combination of our heart and common sense will probably tell us what to do.
What was the biggest takeaway from this summary of The Happiness Equation? Let me know in the comments below!