The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha originally started as a letter to his unborn child about how to be happy. He reviews 9 “secrets” that will make you happy, which I paraphrase below:
- Be happy first: hard work and success won’t bring you happiness, you have to actively do things to create it for yourself.
- Do it for you: setting external goals will always leave you wanting more as there will always be someone else who set the bar higher; forget them, and focus on doing things for your own reasons.
- Remember the Lottery: be grateful you even exist in this vast universe with all the amazing technological comforts of our time.
- Never Retire: all of us, no matter what age, need a reason and purpose to get up in the morning.
- Overvalue You: learn to value your time more than anything else, and then spend your time wisely, doing the things that matter to you.
- Create Space: re-evaluate how you spend your time, cut out most things and focus only on what matters, make sure to leave space to do nothing, that’s often when our best ideas and moments happen.
- Just Do It: forget motivation and desire. Just get up and do something, the motivation and desire will come later.
- Be You: you need to be authentic and genuine to yourself in order to be truly happy
- Don’t Take Advice: even clichés contradict themselves, just follow your gut.
As a trauma therapist I often talk about our body’s survival system: the fight, flight, or freeze response. I also spend a lot of time talking about how anxiety keeps us focused on problems and minimizing the good. I often work with patients to help them learn how to challenge and change those negative thought patterns and shift their mindset towards creating happiness. The very first chapter in the book was a refreshing take on this same area of research. Neil was able to use fresh language, not mired in psychobabble or trauma, to show us how our body’s survival system prevents us from being happy. He then gives advice on how to be happy first (advice that is common to most therapies that use behavioral activation). The second secret of “Do it for you” was a great summary of why self-worth and intrinsic values are so important. I recommend this chapter to anyone needing some extra help in challenging negative thoughts of self-worth. Neil’s chapters on creating space in our lives are a topic that has been written about in more depth in McKeown’s Essentialism. He also reviews the research on the science of making choices and how keeping our options open and having more choices can actually make us less happy. This is a topic I feel was better addressed by Burnett and Evans in their book Designing Your Life in their chapter Choosing Happiness. The other section in the book that really stood out to me was the Just do It “secret” to happiness. This is often at the core of cognitive behavioral therapy for depression and anxiety. We can sit and talk all we want in therapy but unless you actually get up and do something in your day to day life, nothing will change. Doing things, regardless of whether you feel like it, is vital to getting unstuck and moving forward in your life. Mel Robbins also addressed this in her book The 5 Second Rule when she explains why we will “never feel like it” and that we need to interrupt the bad habit loops in order to change. In depression treatment we call this behavioral activation; in anxiety treatment we call it exposure. Neil did a great job summarizing the importance of just doing things without the psychobabble that us therapists often get mired in.
Overall Neil’s book is a quick read that kept me engaged the whole time. Just the right amount of storytelling balanced with summaries of existing research on the topic. His writing style took some time for me to adjust to. He likes to start with the background story first and then lead up to the point he’s trying to make. Often naming his chapters with the classic click bait titles you see on social media. This does make you feel like you really “get it” when you finally get to the point, but I often found myself getting frustrated at not knowing where he was taking me, the reader. Overall I recommend this book as a refreshing take with a simple to follow guideline of what to do to create more happiness in your life.
I encourage you to check out the book from your local library! In fact many libraries even have the books available as ebooks for download! All of the books I have reviewed here I borrowed from my local city and county libraries.