I read 46 books in 2022. 90% of which I read in the first 4 months of the year, before I got super burnt out and lost all motivation and momentum for any habits/routines, including reading.
I initially set the goal of reading 100 books, over-zealous about the whole ‘switching to a Kobo’ thing. It was a ‘shoot for the moon to land among the stars’ idea, but it backfired hard.
Still, 46 is a good number!
Out of these, a few stuck out as memorable and impactful for me, and I might explore some ideas from them in future blogs.
But for this entry, I want to focus on just one.
Solve For Happy, by Mo Gawdat
I was reading this book while travelling in India and Pakistan, and I couldn’t have picked a more perfect book for the trip.
Being way out of my comfort zone, feeling lost and unsafe, facing disruptions, scams, etc. I had so many reasons to be unhappy.
In many ways, the trip was like a ‘final exam’ for my 2022 - a crucible of tests; an opportunity for Life to see if I had indeed learnt the lessons it had been trying to teach me throughout the year.
Probably the major overarching lesson had to do with Happiness.
If you’ve been following my 2022 blog posts, you’d notice my general unhappiness and negativity oozing through the paragraphs. And I told myself I never wanted to feel that way ever again - the despair, hopelessness, anger, frustration. So naturally, at the tail end of the ‘unhappiness rut’, a book about happiness made sense to read.
I wanted to be happy. (I still do, of course.)
In other areas of my life - career, wealth, health, fitness.. - I’ve been able to build good habits and systems to set me up for success (of course factoring in luck, discipline, and good people too). But habits for Happiness? Nah. Neglected for a long long time.
And so, finally acknowledging that I have much to learn here, I sought answers to the following:
Could I learn to rescript myself for happiness? Learn to develop habits, automatic functions to increase and maintain happiness? Can I learn to be happy even in the most painful, unfair, situations?
My sharing here will definitely not do this book justice, but I hope to give a good enough teaser to inspire you to read it too.
As the title suggests, Mo is ‘solving for happiness’, as in like solving a math equation: he approaches the concept of happiness in a scientific, rational way - first examining the various factors and data related to it, then bringing all the pieces together to build frameworks for what makes someone happy.
The kind of happiness we are trying to solve for isn’t the immense joy when you get the job/school/promotion you want, or when you achieve something, or won something. It isn’t the feeling of being madly in love, or making love.
What we are solving for is a baseline level of happiness. Something sustainable, attainable in each and every moment of life. It is a mild, gentle, calm, peaceful kind of happiness.
And I love that.
That is the kind of happiness I’m searching for, after all.
Happiness as a habit, rather than happiness as an event.
What got me hooked on this book was Mo’s story. He'd lost his son in a truly tragic way - and he had every reason to blame himself, blame the doctors who made the mistake that killed his son… he had every reason to be unhappy, to be remorseful, full of regrets, anger, cursing at the world.
But he was happy. He was at peace.
And it was because he had a system for happiness. A system that was put to the ultimate test - the death of your child - and proved its effectiveness through it.
I had to learn this system too.
My key takeaway was the idea that ‘happiness comes when the world goes according to how you expect it to.’ It sounds simple. ‘nah, that can’t be it’ you might be thinking. Well, I did too. When I first began that section of the book, I was skeptical. But as Mo elaborated more, it clicked.
If you expect perfection from your colleagues, your bosses, your family or your girlfriend - you will be miserable. Its as MJ says in Spiderman: No Way Home - “If you expect disappointment, then you can never really be disappointed.”
Of course, we don’t see it as grimly as that, but the idea is there.
If your expectation of the world is exactly matching how the world truly is, you will never be unhappy.
When something ‘bad’ happens, and the wave of negative thoughts and emotions start to well up inside us, if you pause to ask: ‘is this true?’ a couple of times, you will find that the situation is simply going as expected. It is realistic.
So if you say ‘he betrayed me, this is the worst day of my life!!’ you ask ‘is that true?’ ‘no, he didn’t betray me, he simply did xx… and it isn’t the ‘worst’ day, we have endured and overcome worse.’ and you slowly peel back all the layers of exaggerations, labelling, assumptions, fears, judgments that we stack on top of the truth, to discover that actually, the issue at hand is much, much smaller than we initially imagined.
‘Is it too much to expect?’
Crypto markets crashing from their peak? Yeah its a normal part of market cycles. Sometimes we have bull markets, sometimes we have bear markets. Its on me for choosing to invest in volatile things.
Getting scammed in India? Sure, they charged significantly higher for something than they normally would, but its on me for not doing due diligence, prior research, and not saying no to a bad deal. Should I now get upset about it? Is it too much to expect that I would get scammed under these circumstances?
And that’s all it is - moving our perception of the world closer to reality, closer to the Truth.
Because if you lived in alignment with Truth, you will never be unhappy. You would look at life as though you were looking at anything in Nature - a sunset, a forest, a lake, a squirrel - with acceptance. With joy. Awe. Wonder. With a gentle, natural happiness. We don’t look at a wave crashing against the beach and say ‘How come this wave wasn’t as high as the previous one?? What a terrible wave!’ We simply don’t. We know instinctively that this is how waves are: they rise and fall, each wave different from the rest.
And so, happiness is when we see the world as is, when we live in harmony with the way things are.
Other notable ideas:
You are not your thoughts, your emotions, your achievements, your labels - you are simply the observer of these things. Detaching your identity from these is a powerful foundational exercise in solving for happiness.
Committed Acceptance: take the responsible action first, but release the need to control the outcome. Let go of your attachment to the end result. I love this idea - a way to reconcile Acceptance with Ambition.
Clock time vs Brain time. There’s a difference between using time as a coordination tool - planning meetings, dates, etc. versus living in the past or future. Many times we justify our ruminations or projections by saying ‘oh but if I was living totally in the present, I wouldn’t be able to function in society’, not realizing that the two are separate things.
A Tale of Two Trips
I’m someone who gets lost in his own head a lot. Like ALOT alot.
Most times I'm ruminating over negative things.
And this happens more often when I don’t feel safe or secure.
So if someone like me could stay happy throughout my India trip, then it speaks to how impactful and truthful the book’s teachings are on Happiness.
Don’t underestimate that last sentence.
For context, my previous solo trip was to Kota Kinabalu, to climb Mt. Kinabalu. I couldn’t stand myself during that trip. Its like the saying: ‘wherever you go, there you are.’ Exactly. I thought that by taking the holiday, I could escape the negative emotions from home, but the emotions just followed me anyways. I couldn’t sit still with my own thoughts - I was constantly seeking distractions, stimulations, to take my mind off things.
The India trip was more than twice the duration of KK, and the environment even harsher, even more uncomfortable. But the internal state was SOOO different. I loved myself!! Like I actually was happy being with myself - having alone time, without distractions, without needing music or podcasts, or anything really. Just me and my thoughts, walking the streets of India/Pakistan and enjoying each moment.
2 solo trips. 6 months apart. A 180degree shift.
And I am certain that this book played a major role in that.
I hope it continues to play a major role in my life moving forward.
These are lessons, ideas, tools that I intend to keep with me and apply in daily life forever. Forever ever.