The Happiness Equation

"Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony."

- The Happiness Equation, page 243

Neil Pasricha, blogger and best-selling author of The Book of Awesome, realized one day that the people he was working with and coaching were often extremely successful yet not very happy.  Then it struck him that he wasn’t really happy either. He went on a quest to discover the answer to the age old question “What’s the secret to a happy life?” The result is The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything.

The book is a combination of inspiring quotes, research data, stories, thought-provoking ‘scribbles’, and lots of actionable ideas. Pasricha distills his years of research and personal reflections into nine ‘happiness secrets’ – three for each element of his happiness equation. Sadly (for you), I won’t reveal what those nine secrets are in this summary – even the book’s table of contents doesn’t do that!  I will, however, happily share three of my actionable takeaways, which indirectly hint at three of Pasricha’s happiness secrets.

The Big Idea

The Big Idea: The biggest takeaway from the book

Happiness is Intentional

"90% of our happiness isn’t based on what’s happening in the world. It’s based on how we see the world!"
- The Happiness Equation, page 17

Put another way, only 10% of our happiness can be linked to what happens to us. The promotion. The new car. The trophy-size fish. And often, this kind of happiness is fleeting, temporary. The other 90% is comprised of our genetic predisposition and our intentional activities. The things we do (or neglect to do) to improve our situations and by extension, our happiness. Happiness then, is not simply an outcome – something that happens outside of us – it’s a state of mind, an internal process.

This is not a new insight. Consider the following advice:

  • Speaker Dale Carnegie: “When life hands you a lemon, make lemonade.”
  • Singer Bobby McFerrin: “Don’t Worry, Be Happy”
  • Author Stanley Gordon West: “Smile and the world smiles with you.”

If you desire a happy life you need to be intentional about it. Pasricha gives us a cue sheet for this by identifying seven research-supported things we can do to ‘train our brain’ to be happy. Here they are:

  1. Walk – at least 30 mins, three times a week
  2. Write – 20 minutes about a positive experience
  3. Do five random acts of kindness each week
  4. Completely unplug to recharge
  5. Hit flow – do an absorbing, time-melts-away activity
  6. Make time for two minute meditations
  7. Identify five gratitudes – things you are thankful for

Seven small, actionable activities guaranteed to boost your happiness quotient. Pick a couple that feel doable for you and commit to doing them for two straight weeks. Once you’ve trained your brain to be happier, you are ready to tackle insight #1.

Insight #1

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

Find Your Ikigai!

"Instead they [the Okinawans] have the word ikigai (pronounced like 'icky guy') which roughly means “the reason you wake up in the morning."
- The Happiness Equation, page 102

Ikigai! What a fun word! It conjured up childhood memories of fishing with my father and brothers (threading worms on the hook was the icky part for me – but oh the smiles when a fish was caught)! But I digress.

The men and women of Okinawa apparently have a lifespan roughly seven years longer than Americans and a lifestyle that does not include the concept of retirement. Instead, they have an ikigai – a purpose for living. Organizations have an ikigai too – although they are usually referred to as vision and mission statements. No matter what we call it, knowing what we are striving to achieve and why it is important can help us push through the challenging moments and savour the small victories along the way.

Pasricha liked the concept so much, he made ikigai cards for him and his wife at Christmas (brightly coloured construction paper folded in half). They each wrote down their ikigai and placed the cards on their bedside tables where they could see them each morning. Why? With an ikigai card when you wake up…you know where you’re going.

So, grab some paper and markers and have some fun! Make yourself an ikigai card and place it where you can read it every morning (and night) to remind yourself why you get out of bed each day.

Insight #2

An actionable way to implement the Big Idea into your life

It’s Easier Done than Said!

"We think we must have the ability to do something, and then the motivation to do it, before we can successfully do it. Otherwise we fail!"
- The Happiness Equation, page 220

This seemingly counterintuitive bit of wisdom – that it’s easier done than said – is one of the tougher pieces of advice we need to wrap our heads around. That’s because for years we have been telling ourselves that the way to get things done is to: Think we CAN DO it, remind ourselves we WANT to DO it before we actually DO it. Pasricha calls this the “Do Line” and it is linear thinking at its worst. Players in the game of life know things more often resemble a Snakes and Ladders game – there is rarely a straight path to the finish line!

Pasricha’s realization that the “Do Line” was a faulty process came after his first swimming lesson – an adult learn-to-swim experience motivated by love. That’s when he discovered he could turn the “Do Line” into a “Do Circle”. As you know, circles are infinite – they have no discernable beginning or ending. You can start at any point on the circle and easily return to where you started.

Because of a somewhat traumatic childhood experience, Pasricha had convinced himself that he couldn’t swim and didn’t want to swim (steps one and two in the “Do Line”) therefore he never swam (step 3). When he found himself in a situation where he wanted to be able to swim (#2), he signed up for lessons and before the first class ended, he was flutter-kicking around the deep end of the pool. By acting/doing (#3), he realized that he could learn to swim (#1) which reinforced his desire to continue with the lessons (#2).

So the next time you find yourself rationalizing why you aren’t doing something, try swapping your “Do Line” for a “Do Circle”. It doesn’t matter if you start with wanting or doing. Both will build your confidence that you can, in fact, do it! You’ll discover first hand that it is easier done than said!

The Happiness Equation is an easy to read, upbeat book written in a friendly, conversational tone. The basic equation is comprised of three parts:

  1. To want nothing (contentment).
  2. To do anything (freedom).
  3. To have everything (happiness).

Most math equations have only one correct answer. Pasricha reminds us that there are different variables that contribute to happiness and different combinations of actions will yield different results. My happiness equation might look different from yours. That’s OK! Being intentional, having an ikigai and taking immediate action are just three things that will add up to more happiness in our lives. Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)!


What are your “secrets” for a happy life?

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Dianne Coppola

ABOUT Dianne Coppola

I am passionate about leadership development, change management, community collaboration and…reading! I’ve been writing for the Actionable Book Club since 2014 and love to share my book insights with folks like you...
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