“Happiness. Life’s holy grail. It is both the ends and the means…the destination sought by each of us rambling travelers” a riveting introduction to a much more engaging orator’s book co-authored with Gina Vild The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose — and Live a Happier, Healthier Life from Dr. Sanjiv Chopra, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a world-renowned public speaker. As I witnessed Dr. Chopra spill the secrets of happiness, health and wellness during his keynote address at the ICC Wellness Conference, I decided to write the following blog about the four common factors to happy people, also aiming to showcase a few ideas from the book which inspired this talk. I believe his four-fold mantra for happiness should be incorporated in our daily lifestyle and in his own words, happy people have friends, they live for-others, they forgive, and practice gratitude. Putting your self into behavioral patterns of happiness makes happiness a programmable trait, as brain plasticity i.e, brain’s ability to learn and change behavioral patterns, has been time and again leveraged for improving learning outcomes. But really, what kind of framework enables happiness? Let’s find out more from the happinovator and wellnovator himself!
Dr. Chopra is a leading innovator in the space of happiness and wellness, his ideas capture as much the science behind happiness, purpose, and health as they distill the reality and philosophy of life itself. Dr. Chopra’s book title has been inspired by a quote from Mark Twain but delves far more deeply into the secrets of happiness.
Ever more people today have the means to live, but no meaning to live for — Viktor Frankel
In his book, Dr. Chopra iterates that feeling happy and purposeful in turn catalyzes growth.
Having a purpose in life reduces stress, which, in turn, reduces substance abuse, anxiety, and depression. A sense of meaningfulness can even help manage pain.
Reflection, meditation, journaling and prayer which are suggested by Dr. Richard J. Leider, author and CEO, Inventure Group, as helping create a positive mental outlook are all precursors to uncovering purpose in life. In summary, finding your purpose is critical to your happiness and wellness.
Yoga can be included in the above list as well. Timothy McCall a physician who became a worldwide advocate of yoga as medicine highlighted the following benefits which are integral to the framework of happiness, wellness, and longevity:
2. boost immunity and reduce cortisol levels
3. lower blood sugar and improve sleep
4. balance digestive system and reduce pain
In keeping with all the research that has shown that the acquisition of expensive objects will create transient happiness, children are the modern-day philosophers, Dr. Chopra says. The four-year-old trips, he bruises his knees, crying, a friend, gums, hugs them, consoles him, and 32 seconds later he’s back in the swings. This is bliss. I think if we want to witness bliss, all we have to do is go to a playground and see the children playing, coming down a slide on a swing. We can learn so much from children. Bliss is the experience of intense joy but anchored by a sense of connectedness to others and with nature.
You’re walking on the street, somebody comes out of a coffee shop smiling, you can sense they’re happy. Joy is much more transient and exuberant. Anything which is pleasing, and gives us an immediate thrill, conjuring up a set of images of events and things that give us a quick thrill is pleasure.
Happiness is the road you walk on, joy is the beautiful landmark yo see along the way, and bliss is being grateful for the journey and conveying that gratitude to your grandchildren, lover or those who share your path.
“ You’ll be happy if you move into a huge mansion in Beverly Hills or you get a wonderful luxury car for a few months but you get used to it wanting more. This phenomenon is called ‘hedonic adaptation’. In contrast, much more meaningful things that will give you lasting and durable happiness are taking part in charity events or meaningful experiences.“ Dr. Chopra says. Lottery winners, in general, a year later are less happy than they were before they won the lottery, he adds.
We don’t have to travel that far. We can go to a local coffee shop. We can go see a play. We can take part in a charity event. We can break bread with friends….they are much more meaningful.
“Top managers at Google were asked if they prefer a $100,000 bonus over a trip to Costa Rica with team members along with their significant other, everything paid, where they get to forge friendships, bring a significant other, everything paid for. And when asked, what would you prefer in future years?
The overwhelming majority said a trip like the one we went to in Costa Rica. They forged new friendships. They met people they had only met by email. They connected, they bonded. They had a wonderful time out in the sun whether visiting of bird sanctuary or playing a round of golf.
Victor Franklin once said, happiness cannot be pursued. It must ensue as the unintended side effect of dedication to a cause greater than yourself. It’s an amazing saying.”
Albert Schweitzer once said — Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.
“We think if we get that next promotion, next job, move into a bigger house, get a new car, we’ll be happy. Join the country club. You’d be happy for a while. Again, hedonic adaptation takes over, but with you’re happy friends, forgiveness, and ability to serve others, with a feeling of gratitude, you will flourish. You’ll be more creative, you’ll be healthier, you’ll sleep better, you’ll have better interpersonal reactions.” reiterates Dr. Chopra
Why did God do this to me? Why I didn’t deserve this? Why did God do this to me? Why I didn’t deserve this?
Superman, Christopher Reeves, an accomplished equestrian took part in a competition, suddenly the host buckles, he goes over the horse, breaks his neck, and for the first two or three months, initially, experienced victim mentality. But he had an amazing wife, a totally dedicated wife, great friends, and here is what he said before the year was over. He said:
I’m not living the life I thought I would lead, but it does have meaning, purpose, there is love, there is laughter, there is joy.
Human beings are amazingly resilient. He probably had a better appreciation of the sunrise, the sunset, the birds chirping, the music, visitation from friends than you and I have. We take things for granted.
In narrating a concept which his granddaughter shared with him, Dr. Chopra fondly recalls the idea “thorns, buds, and roses”. She’s now 12 and as he sat down for dinner during their visit to Boston she says, “Nana, before we have dinner we are going to play a quick game.” He said, “Mira, what’s up?” She goes, “It’s called thorns, buds, and roses. So my thorn for today is my cousin was coming for a play date. Her father got busy, couldn’t bring her, that’s my thorn for today. My buddy, she’s coming tomorrow to spend the whole day with me and my roses. You took us this morning for breakfast. Then you took me to Barnes and nobles. You got me three books and after dinner, you are going to tell us some really fascinating stories. You’re a pretty good storyteller.
So now notice among one thorn, one bud, and three roses and three roses are very important.”, Dr. Chopra says. This has been called the Losada ratio named after Marcial Losada, an economist and his research showed that negativity is very heavily weighted.” Marcial Losada on applying differential equations from fluid dynamics to human emotions argues that the ideal positivity/negativity ratio lies between 2.9013 and 11.6346 and people who can create such a ratio in their personal and professional lives flourish heavily in life.
Which means to negate one negative action, you need many more positive actions. “If you say one negative thing, you need to say three positive things to make up. If you say one negative thing to your wife especially you need to say six positive things”, chuckles Dr. Chopra..
Neuroscience studies have shown that the signature of social pain creates a longer memory than physical pain such as a punch in the gut. Behaviors leading to stress, inhibit the brain’s production of oxytocin, hence reducing the desire to work with others.
Does everyone have the right to be happy and can we consciously aim towards it? Socrates argues as much. So what are the key common factors shaping happiness? Based on a lot of research, talking to many people, talking to a few Nobel laureates, talking to my kids, my grandkids, that the happiest people on this planet have for traits in common.
Rabindranath Tagore wrote a series of poems, Gitanjali in 1912 in his native language Bengali. The year after he translated it himself into English and he got the Nobel Prize in literature.
There’s this whole concept now of servant leadership. Leaders are there to serve. One of the best ways for us to be happy is to make others happy.
Albert Schweitzer, there was a physician, theologian, humanitarian, Nobel laureate. He got the Nobel Peace Prize in 1952 and talk about humility at the ceremony at Osteo he said, “Now I have to go earn it.”
Schweitzer once said,” I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve. ”
The Harvard Grant Study is still ongoing. It started almost 80 years ago. They took 600 22-year-olds, 300 went to Harvard. The others went to poor parts of Dorchester and Roxbury in Boston. Follow them every year as of last year, 19 were still alive. At 91 years of age, detailed physical examinations, blood tests, functional MRI visits to the home were made, interviews with the spouses were conducted. Now a cohort of their children is being followed.
And the major conclusion of that study is that loneliness is toxic and that your satisfaction with relationships with friends — and of course, your family can be friends — at age 50 this is a better predictor of health, happiness, and longevity. Three decades later at age 80, your friends and relationships are a better predictor of your health than your blood pressure, cholesterol risk factors for heart disease, functional MRI.
If you’re holding a grudge against an ex sibling, a parent, a neighbor, a boss colleague, get rid of it. It holds only holding you back forward. Dr. Chopra iterates that the moment you make that decision, in his personal experience, you’ll feel this enormous weight come off your shoulders. It’s not easy to forgive, he acknowledges.
The prime example he quotes is of Nelson Mandela who spent 27 years in prison. After he’s released, he’s asked a question,” Mr. Mandela, do you harbor resentment against your captors?” And he gave the most eloquent answer.
He said, “I have no bitterness. I have no resentment. Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies. Resentment is like holding a hot coal with the intent of hurting it and somebody who offended you, that person’s moved on. Meanwhile, you’re burning your hand.
Gandhiji once said,
The word gratitude is derived from the Latin root ‘gratia’ meaning grace gracefulness. It’s a highly prized tenet in all the major religions. Dr. Chopra defines gratitude as something positive gained, coupled with the realization that somebody else was responsible for that gain.
Dr. Chopra recommends practicing meditation as a precursor and tool to develop gratitude: I strongly believe that gratitude and compassion can be cultivated. And one of the easiest and automatic ways to do it is by the practice of meditation. If you don’t meditate, you should learn.
When you learn meditation, you’ll likely have one regret. I should have learned it earlier. I was saying you should meditate once a day and if you don’t have time to do that, you should meditate twice a day.
Another simple way to cultivate gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. “Very simple thing. Have a notebook, put your name, call it the graduate journal, you journal in it every Sunday. As you’re reflecting on the coming week, what’s in store, reflect on the last seven days. Write down what you’re grateful for. Your kids can do it. Grandkids can do it. We can all do it there or talk about another very important study about the importance of gratitude.” Dr. Chopra suggests.
In referring to a landmark study called the Catholic Nun study of 180 nuns at the Notredame convent where, 60–70 years later, based on handwriting samples when they were 23 years, on correlating it to their handwritings (classified as with and without gratitude), it was revealed that nuns who expressed gratitude in their handwriting patterns when they were 23 lived 10 years longer.
In effect, Dr. Chopra’s book The Two Most Important Days talks about a life in flourishing, not just a life of happiness, but that of purpose.
where every day you wake up, will be the day where you become even better, which in turn will transform the people and the world around you
Your inner light will be brighter and you will radiate happiness. In indicating the science behind a life of happiness, Dr. Chopra highlights the science of joyful purpose which is a much more holistic approach to happiness and eventually wellness.
Before closing, a few thoughts on the neurochemical building blocks of happiness as a framework. The neurochemistry of happiness engages the following molecules:
It is a profound fact that everything needed for the biological experience of happiness is present in your body and mind at all times
Dr. Chopra’s book, in exhaustive detail and engaging-anecdote format, coupled with easy-to-do hands-on exercises iterates that everyone is capable of realizing a happy, fulfilling, flourishing and purposeful life. Hope you get your copy soon and enjoy applying the concepts in this book as much as I did..
I would like to leave you with a few takeaways from the book: