Can happiness be solved like a math equation?

If you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know that I’ve been listening to Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat for the last couple of weeks. Let me start by saying that I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much by listening to an audiobook before.

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Solve for Happy came about from Mo’s own search to be happy when he found that all the things he’d accomplished and acquired so far during his life left him unfulfilled. He began to pursue his personal quest for happiness analytically like the engineer he is. Not as a psychiatrist, or a self-help guru spouting things that he has yet to experience, but as a scientist seeking his own answer. What he found led him to share his findings with his friends, who reported back with similar results. He started to feel that he was finding the answer and began to fine tune it.

A few days, less than a month before he started writing the book, his son told him to never stop working, that his mission wasn’t finished. Seventeen days before he started writing, his son went in for emergency surgery, a routine appendectomy, and did not survive.

As a parent, it was easy to put myself in his shoes as he spoke of taking his son to the hospital and learning later about the small, but fatal incident which took the life of his son. The raw emotion of it played in his voice and I couldn’t help but to cry for him.

This is exactly the reason I don’t attend funerals!

I’d say that I was too empathetic to what people are feeling, and maybe I am, but I’ve also been told that I can be as unemotional as Spock. I don’t know. I can say that I know I do cry way too easily. And I hate crying. It makes me angry. Long story.

So when I’m barely a chapter into this book and trying not to cry at the gym, I wasn’t certain I’d be able to finish this book. But I really wanted to listen to it. And I did. And I continued listening to it at the gym. I figured if someone saw me and asked me what was wrong, I’d just blurt out, “I’m learning to be happy!” *LOL!*

But no, I didn’t cry through most of the book. Much of what he said made sense. Sometimes I think he pushed too hard even in trying to prove his theory – but that might have been my unemotional Mr. Spock side. I know many people have not liked that fact that I can look at something logically and without letting things get tangled up in feelings and emotions. That’s a lot of what Mo did too, so I got it.

He does spend a lot of time talking about death, and probably rightfully so. It’s a subject that makes people uncomfortable, and I can say that it will make most people uncomfortable. I think I have a new understanding of the Steve Job’s quotes about death. He really is right: death has a way of putting things into perspective. Mo furthered this.

Now he spends a lot of time trying to prove that there is a designer (a word he sets up to get rid of all the connotations of God, Creator, Supreme Being, etc.) and he leaves a good section of this journey up to the reader to discover.

One thing that has always amazed and mystified me is how someone who loses a loved one is suddenly (and  I do mean suddenly, spur of the moment, pow! kind of turnabout) religious. I have watched people who would never set foot in a church for fear that they’d light on fire experience the death of someone close to them and suddenly they are attending services three-four times a week, start wearing crosses, and think they know the bible inside and out. Why is this kind of reaction so common? Why the sudden need to believe? Why do they suddenly cry for salvation? It’s like they want to be told that it’s okay, that they are okay, and that their loved one if fine (now give me your tithing so that I can make sure you go to heaven). That’s honestly what it feels like to me. And it worries me even more when they start to feel like they are here on earth to be tested and judged by an “Ever-loving God” all because some human (be it a male or female who leads the congregation) convinces them that this is the meaning of their pain and sorrow. To me, none of that equals and it’s playing with people’s emotions to influence them. It’s no different than yellow journalism. It’s like some people want to be spoon fed their spirituality instead of going out and finding it for themselves. But that might be me being Mr. Spock again.

My father’s death did throw my personal beliefs for a bit of a loop. I found which of my beliefs were weak. Fortunately, my core beliefs held strong, so I had no need to go seeing someone to tell me what to believe now that I was in a tumultuous storm of emotion. Mo’s thoughts on the designer and death helped me to solidify my beliefs, since he was going me a new angle to consider without it being preachy.

Now, he does tell you early in the book that he won’t tell you how to be happy, and I understand why: you have to discover and define your own happiness. He does give a couple exercises, several tools, and he has his own life examples to share. You will not be given steps — this is no program that will walk you through. He merely explains how it works and makes you go find your own answers.

I will be listening to this book again sometime in the future. I know that I didn’t get the depth of everything in one listening. I don’t think I’ll ever look at the print copy of this book. Honestly, without his voice talking to me like a friend as I walked, I’m not sure I would have continued. I think the print book would have bored me and I would have put it down. Listening to this book made all the difference.

Do I feel happier after listening to this book? Yes. I have been implementing many of the tools he shared into my life. My favorite one is asking my brain to bring me a better thought. I’ve found it works quite well.

On a final note, there is a video game called Portal. I will never again be able to watch the game or listen to the Portal song again without thinking about this book.

Now, go be happy.

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