The Happiness Equation: Is It Easy to Be Happy?

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.

Never Retire

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.

Overvalue You

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.

Create Space

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.

Be You

“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!

Consolation to Helvia: Seneca on the Perception of Misfortune and Grief

Consolation to Helvia is a letter that Roman philosopher Seneca wrote to his mother while he was exiled in Corsica by Emperor Claudius. He ended up exiled for eight years after being accused of adultery by the new empress Messalina. His writing explains how he can take grace from his life situation, and gives his mother advice on how to deal with his ongoing absence.

Even though this it was meant as a private letter, it is filled with wisdom that is still applicable to modern life.

Seneca starts by acknowledging his misfortune, but understanding that his situation does have at least one advantage. It reminds me of a quote by ex-Navy SEAL Jocko Willink on why he says the word ‘good’ even when things seem bad: “It means you’re still alive. It means you’re still breathing. And if you’re still breathing, that means you’ve still got some fight left in you.” Seneca writes:

“Everlasting misfortune does have one blessing, that it ends up by toughening those whom it constantly afflicts.”

Seneca explains that there are different ways to deal with pain, and that one way is more desirable than the other:

“But just as recruits, even when superficially wounded, cry aloud and dread being handled by doctors more than the sword, while veterans, even if severely wounded, patiently and without a groan allow their wounds to be cleaned as though their bodies did not belong to them; so you must now offer yourself bravely for treatment.”

Seneca posits that happiness comes from within, not from the accumulation of material possessions:

“It was nature’s intention that there should be no need of great equipment for a good life: every individual can make himself happy… Prosperity does not elevate the sage and adversity does not depress him. For he has always made the effort to rely as much as possible on himself and to derive all delight from himself.”

Seneca explains that often the destruction that misfortune can bring to one’s life is proportional to how unexpected it was. He not only recommends to expect the misfortune, but to also be unattached to the riches fortune brings when things are going well, so that when things turn for the worse, strength of spirit still stays intact. He writes:

“Fortune falls heavily on those to whom she is unexpected; the man who is always expecting her easily withstands her… Never have I trusted Fortune, even when she seemed to offer peace. All those blessings which she kindly bestowed on me – money, public office, influence – I relegated to a place whence she could claim them back without bothering me. I kept a wide gap between them and me, with the result that she has taken them away, not torn them away. No man has been shattered by the blows of Fortune unless he was first deceived by her favours… But the man who is not puffed up in good times does not collapse either when they change.”

Seneca goes on to explain that his place of exile is not so undesirable – people move to Corsica of their own free will! He writes:

“You will find no place of exile where somebody does not linger because he wants to… Yet more foreigners than natives live here… Even this place has enticed some people from their homeland.”

Seneca champions the ability of humans to be able to adapt to changing circumstances, just as the rest of nature:

“How silly then to imagine that the human mind, which is formed of the same elements as divine beings, objects to movement and change of abode, while the divine nature finds delights and even self-preservation in continual and rapid change.”

Seneca poses that the two fundamental parts of existence are nature and the human mind, and that these two factors remain unperturbed no matter what happens in life. He also explains that there is no such thing as exile:

“The world you see, nature’s greatest and most glorious creation, and the human mind which gazes and wonders at it, is the most splendid part of it, these are our own everlasting possessions and will remain with us as long as we ourselves remain… There can be no exile within the world since nothing within the world is alien to men.”

Seneca then says that poverty can be a blessing in disguise for people who are seemingly addicted to their vices. This act of going ‘cold turkey’ isn’t out of choice, but at the end of the day it still stops the behavior. It’s to this point that I feel that the reason why the rich and famous get caught up in scandal so often isn’t because a lack of collective character, but simply that average people don’t have as many opportunities to engage in scandal as famous people do. Seneca writes:

“If he longs for [banquets], poverty even does him good: for against his will he is being cured, and even if under compulsion he does not take his medicine, for a time at least his inability to have those things looks like unwillingness.”

Seneca highlights that perception is paramount to contentedness. This is why some people that seemingly have it all commit suicide, leaving others perplexed as to how someone with so much can feel so bad that they end their own lives. Seneca goes on to explain that humans don’t need much to satisfy our nature, but by adding in greed we will never feel sated. He reassures his mother that he has more than enough in Corsica to support himself, even though he is exiled. He writes:

“How then can you think that it is the amount of money that matters and not the attitude of the mind? [Apicius] dreaded having ten million, and what others pray for he escaped by poison… Nothing satisfies greed, but even a little satisfies nature. So an exile’s poverty brings no hardship; for no place of exile is so barren it cannot abundantly support a man.”

Seneca writes of the phenomenon that people will always normalize their level happiness to their situation after time passes. Research has shown that the happiness of lottery-winners and quadriplegics both level off within three years of their respective life-changing event. Seneca writes:

“It is his fault, not nature’s, if he feels poor. Even if you give back all he has lost, you’ll be wasting your time; for once he is back from exile he will feel a greater lack compared with his desires than he felt as an exile compared with his former possessions.”

Seneca beautifully describes in a metaphor how the man longing for more and more possessions isn’t doing it out of need, but has in fact infected his soul with the disease of greed. He writes:

“Though he piles all these [possessions] up, they will never sate his insatiable soul; just as no amount of fluid will satisfy one whose craving arises not from lack of water but from a burning internal fever: for that is not thirst but a disease.”

Here’s another reminder from Seneca that our wealth is created by perception. One man’s rich is another man’s poor:

“So the man who restrains himself within the bounds set by nature will not notice poverty; the man who exceeds these bounds will be pursued by poverty however rich he is… It is the mind that creates our wealth.”

Seneca even suggests that the poor may in fact be happier than the rich, and that circumstances like travel and war acts as an equalizer for the gap between rich and poor:

“First consider that by far the greater proportion of men are poor, but you will not see them looking at all more gloomy and anxious than the rich. In fact, I rather suspect that they are happier in proportion as their minds have less to harry them. Let us pass on to the rich: how frequently are they just like the poor! When they travel abroad their luggage is restricted… When they are serving in the army, how little of their belongings do they keep with them, since camp discipline forbids any luxury!”

Once again Seneca mentions that misfortune is a teacher that can strengthen the soul for subsequent challenges in one’s life:

“If you have the strength to tackle any one aspect of misfortune you can tackle it all.”

So strong was a man like Socrates, Seneca explains how his grace transformed reality itself:

“Socrates went to prison… and his presence robbed even prison of disgrace, for where Socrates was could not seem a prison.”

Seneca also affirms the importance of self-love, and that hate is only validated if it is believed:

“No man is despised by another unless he is first despised by himself.”

Pretty much any worthwhile story is one of the protagonist conquering fear and displaying courage. Seneca knew this:

“For we are naturally disposed to admire more than anything else the man who shows fortitude in adversity.”

Seneca recognizes that embarrassment can be perceived worse than death itself. He highlights the importance of dying in a dignified way:

“I know some people say that nothing is worse than scorn and that even death seems preferable. To these I shall reply that exile too is often free from any kind of scorn. If a great man falls and remains great as he lies, people no more despise him than they stamp on a fallen temple, which the devout still worship as much as when it was standing.”

Seneca segues into his view on how to mourn and grieve. He describes the story of Rutilia and her son Cotta, which he hopes that his mother can emulate:

“They did not prohibit mourning but they limited it. For to be afflicted with endless sorrow at the loss of someone very dear is foolish self-indulgence, and to feel none is inhuman callousness. The best compromise between love and good sense is both to feel longing and to conquer it… Nor was [Rutilia] ever seen to weep after [Cotta’s] funeral. She showed courage when he was exiled and wisdom when he died; for nothing stopped her showing her love and nothing induced her to persist in useless and unavailing grief.”

Finally, Seneca reminds his mother that grief is better to be conquered than deceived through distraction:

“Sometimes we divert our mind with public shows or gladiatorial contests, but in the very midst of the distractions of the spectacles it is undermined by some little reminder of its loss. Therefore it is better to conquer our grief than to deceive it.”

Seneca’s writings always pack a punch in the thought-provoking subjects he brings up on how to live.

What was your biggest takeaway from Consolation to Helvia? Let me know in the comments below.

How Solskjaer Has Used a Navy SEAL Management Strategy To Lead Manchester United to Success

A hero’s return

In the last two months Manchester United have gone from European laughing stock to a team that is genuinely feared by each opponent it faces. On December 18th 2018, Jose Mourinho was sacked as manager after a disappointing run of performances, epitomized by the embarrassing defeat at the hands of arch-rivals Liverpool. Former United legend Ole Gunnar Solskjaer was appointed until the end of the season and since then the team have won 11 matches, drawn one, and lost one. This is title-winning form. United have beaten Tottenham, Arsenal and Chelsea away from home – all formidable opponents.

Pundits from all over the world have speculated on what has happened behind the scenes for this dramatic shift in fortune. Common quotes like “he’s put smiles back on the players’ faces” and “he has got the best out of Paul Pogba (widely considered the best player in the team)” are true, but how has he actually done that? Here is what I think is a key change in the way the team is managed.

Has Solskjaer been studying US Navy SEALs?

Decentralized command has been made popular in recent years by the book Extreme Ownership by former US Navy SEAL Officers Jocko Willink and Leif Babin. It is a leadership and management technique whereby more responsibility is placed upon individuals lower in the chain command to achieve success in a particular mission. On the other hand, centralized command (which Mourinho preferred) places the responsibility on one leader to make sure that everybody does their job correctly. In decentralized command, the team is split into several smaller teams, giving the chance for individuals to take more control and find effective solutions themselves. These individuals become empowered by the responsibility, and the resulting sense of importance adds more drive to achieve success in their mission. Any idea that is believed to be their own will be executed with vigor, conviction and wholeheartedness – nobody likes their idea to result in failure.

Mourinho the control freak

“I was thinking for him, when to close inside, when to open, when to press the opponent, I was making every decision for him.”

Mourinho was an egoistic puppet-master while managing at Manchester United. If they won, he would take the credit for masterful strokes of tactical artistry. If they lost, he would simply blame his players for not being good enough to follow his instructions, complaining that he needed more skillful and obedient puppets. The thing that Mourinho failed to understand is that the volumes of instruction and excessive micromanagement he was giving the players was overwhelming and paralyzing them. They played in a confused and fearful manner, unable to see the bigger picture that the overall mission was simply to win a game of football. They were bogged down in whether to attack or defend, press or sit deep, and whether they were in their correct defensive positions. I was alarmed in April 2017 when Mourinho told the press of an example of this excessive micromanagement of left-back Luke Shaw: “I was thinking for him, when to close inside, when to open, when to press the opponent, I was making every decision for him.” Mourinho gave no freedom to his players which came back to bite him – there was no-one else to blame for the defeats because he controlled everything his team did. On top of that, his players took no responsibility for their moves on the field because Mourinho gave them no freedom to find their own solutions. “I just did what you told me to do boss”, they would think as they trudged back to the changing rooms after another defeat. The disjointed performances led to lots of goals conceded and not many scored – a recipe for disaster, and a managerial sacking.

Ole’s at the wheel… or is he?

“They are good players and it’s up to them to use their imagination, creativity and just enjoy playing for this club”

What Solskjaer has done differently is give control back to the players. Players are now given the freedom to find their own solutions on the pitch. They now attack each game with enthusiasm, as opposed to the dread which filled the chests of the players each time they took to the field under Mourinho. This is where the “smiles back on faces” quote that every pundit is saying comes from. Solskjaer is giving the chance for each player to be a leader by splitting the team into smaller units. Smaller units like the combination of Martial, Pogba and Shaw on the left side has led to more cohesive combinations on the ball, while the defence looks improved under the new increased responsibility of each player to contribute to the collective mission. With Solskjaer, the mission is clear – win the game simply by scoring more goals than the opposition team. The players are trusted to create their own ideas on how to win the game, and to own these ideas. The players are much more invested in these ideas because they were the ones that created them instead of the manager, and therefore they are trying much harder to make them work – it will be their fault if they don’t. There is no coincidence that Manchester United went from the team with the least to the most distance covered per game in the Premier League once Solskjaer came in as manager. The execution of decentralized command is visibly shown on the touchline at Manchester United matches now too. Solskjaer spends the same amount of time – maybe even less – in the technical area than his assistants Michael Carrick and Mike Phelan, demonstrating that he has used this strategy with his staff too. When United score now, the whole matchday staff team jump and celebrate in unison because they all know that they contributed their own ideas and creativity to the success. Solskjaer has shown humility by looking up to the United Directors’ Box for advice from Sir Alex Ferguson, something Mourinho never did in his two and a half years in charge. Last month Solskjaer was quizzed by the media about the squad at Manchester United – the same squad that Mourinho would publicly criticize with worrying regularity. He said: “They are good players and it’s up to them to use their imagination, creativity and just enjoy playing for this club”. Contrary to the song all the United fans are singing, Solskjaer is letting his players take the wheel.

United have the mentality of a top team now.

Under Mourinho, Ander Herrera was used in matches against Chelsea as a man-marker for the dangerous opposition winger Eden Hazard. His instruction would simply be to follow this player on the pitch for 90 minutes. This strategy was worrying for many reasons. This sent a message that United thought that Chelsea’s players were better, and also it was too simplistic to think that just by stopping Hazard, it would lead to a United win. It would only take one individual duel that Herrera lost to potentially result in a goal too, and the role as a man-marker took away from Herrera contributing more to the game when United were in possession. In the same fixture under Solskjaer, Herrera was an influential member of the team – making tackles and interceptions, passing the ball and scoring a brilliant goal. Now under Solskjaer, it is the United players that are being man-marked. Paul Pogba was marked by Calum Chambers of Fulham recently – Pogba ended up still scoring two goals in a 3-0 win.

No, Paul Ince couldn’t have done it.

It is important to note that Solskjaer has not just simply turned up and told the team to play football, and sat back to watch the wins come in (like a certain ex-United and Liverpool player may think). Solskjaer has used clever gameplans in his various matches in charge. Against Cardiff, Huddersfield and Bournemouth his team dominated possession and attacked quickly, mainly on the inside left channel where Pogba is positioned. Against Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea he opted for the counter-attack strategy employing wide strikers and was happy to concede more possession of the ball in order to defend more compactly. He has identified weaknesses in certain areas of opposition teams such as the left side of Chelsea, where the attack-minded Alonso would vacate space in behind for midfield runners like Herrera and pacey attackers like Marcus Rashford. Unlike Mourinho, Solskjaer is not obsessed with details, but places the correct amount of importance to them. The most crucial point of all is that his players have bought into the vision that Solskjaer has championed – winning.


How can you implement the above strategies to get more out of your team and your life? Let me know in the comments below!