Great Work Podcast

The Great Work Podcast

Neil Pasricha on Can You Find Happiness?

Neil Pasricha on Can You Find Happiness?

neil-pasrichaYou probably know Neil Pasricha from his amazingly successful Little Book of Awesome series, or perhaps his fantastic TED Talk. He’s just released a new book called The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything.

In this conversation, we got into a pretty interesting discussion about how he manages his own happiness. Including:

  • The three-S triangle from which you can get motivations
  • The wars between your “more” and “enough”
  • How to engage with Neil’s new book
  • Where to find free resources for creating a happier workplace
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Full Transcript

Michael: I think you’re going to really enjoy this interview. I’ve managed to grab Neil Pasricha. Now, you probably know Neil from his amazingly successful Little Book of Awesome series, where what started off as a little blog just celebrating the small but awesome things in life just blew up and sold millions of copies and really catapulted him to a real level of fame. And TED Talk is fantastic. But he is just one of the most delightful people I know. He’s actually based here in Toronto with me. And so we were able to really quickly in this conversation get into something pretty interesting about how he manages his own happiness.

He’s just got a new book out. It’s called The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything. Nice little equation. But I have to tell you, I found the book really practical and insightful. And I found the conversation with Neil extremely enjoyable. So if you’re looking to go, “How do I up the ante on getting happy myself,” I think you’ll enjoy this conversation with Neil now.

Neil, mate. So here we are. And we are talking about your book. It’s not out yet, but it’s really close when we’re—when we’re doing this interview. And when I was reading through the book, one of the chapters is—one of the kind of key principles of insight and being happy is about doing it for yourself. You don’t do it for the others. You do it for yourself. And you actually tell the story about getting kind of entangled in your—your series of Awesome books.

Well, you know, it’s not a blog. That’s great. People started reading it. That’s nice. You get a book deal. That’s nice. But then suddenly something changes and, like, now you’re hunting the number one New York Times Best Seller. “Oh, you’ve got that? Okay.” You’re hunting the 5000 weeks on the New York Times Best Seller. “Oh, you’ve got that?” Now you’re hunting the—with the—had the cover of the book projected on to the moon, just so people know how important you are. So you learn something from that.

But I’m curious to know, how are you doing now because—because you and I are both in this sort of pre-book launch flurry right now. How are you doing?

Neil: Well thanks for the question. It was an honest question. I’m going to answer you honestly. You know, in a way, Michael, the Book of Awesome was really written for myself, you know? I was going through a tough time and here’s this sort of medicine for me, these simple pleasures. And the fact that other people liked them, great. And then of course I became obsessed with that as I share in—as I share on The Happiness Equation. But once again, this new book is in some way written for myself.

And so when I’m saying do it for you, I’m not saying, “Ah, here’s what I’ve learned.” It’s, “Here’s what I’m trying to learn.”

And so reading that secret number two, you know, and the total logic on intrinsic motivation versus extrinsic motivators, how they—you know, if you have an extrinsic motivator, it kind of clouds your own perception of why you’re doing something in the first place. All kinds of studies show that.

I shared my personal story. It sounds like I just sort of figured it out. But I think as your a question correctly points out, I’m still struggling with that, obviously.

And it’s a daily practice, to try to remember to do it for myself. The advantages I have now that I didn’t have with the Book of Awesome are—I have a wife … who’s at home, asking me why I’m checking my cell phone at dinner. I have a son who’s not quite two, who’s saying, “Daddy, no work. Daddy, no work.”

And those visible visceral pleasures and, you know, the family, it’s, like, that’s what I didn’t have before. So I’m staying up late going—going crazy until two or three in the morning. I can’t do that right now.

And so I have some—some parameters around that. But, yeah, I still get, you know, I still get pretty wound up about all these numbers and everything.

Michael: Well you—in the book you actually share a triangle, the three-S triangle around where you can get motivations from.

And one is sales.One is social and one is self. And self, you don’t have the intrinsic motivation piece, and probably you and I, and probably a lot of people listening in kind of know the theory about how intrinsic motivation trumps extrinsic motivation. And they also know the seduction of external motivation. So let me ask you this. Of those two, the social or the sale here, the approval or the kind of—the cash, the numbers, that thing, which one—which one do you get hooked on? And what are your strategies for untangling yourself from it?

Neil: That’s a great question. I mean, I do—I do love this little anecdote that I share in The Happiness Equation about the movie The Hurt Locker.

You know, and I share in the book how The Hurt Locker won Best Picture at the Academy Awards.

Michael: Alright. It’s the best picture ever.

Neil: Yeah. It’s the best picture. There’s no higher social award for a movie. But that same year, it made $19 million at the box office and, taking another example, Alvin and the Chipmunks. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Squeakquel made $219 million.

Sort of winning the sales award, but didn’t really get nominated for any Academy awards, you know, except maybe, I don’t know, if there’s a category for Best Animated Movie starring a trio of people, or something like that. But—but anyway, I—I share that example because, you know, sometimes sales comes without social and sometimes social comes without sales. For me, with the Book of Awesome, I always had the sales success.

It ended up hitting the Best Seller list and so on, and flying and blah, blah, blah. But never having the social. I was never reviewed by the New York Times Book Review. I was never nominated for the Giller or the Man Booker or any—you know what I mean? It was—so I never—I never got to taste to that type of success. So ask—when you ask me, “Which one do you end up getting hooked on?” It’s only sales, because I’ve never had the social.

I’ve never been at those literary festivals where, you know, I’m between Yann Martel and Alex Monroe. And …

Michael: And for our—and for our American listeners and beyond, those are the—those are two great giants of Canadian literature, so nice—nice little Canadian shout out. I didn’t say this in the introduction, and I should have. Neil and I are both Toronto-based, so it’s, like, we have a bit of Canadiana going on here for sure. But, sorry Neil. I introduced—interrupted you.

Neil: No, no, no. No problem. So it’s the sales stuff. You know? And I get hooked on that, because, I don’t know if it’s me being a guy or me having immigrant parents who came to Canada. It’s, like, I feel like if I don’t make money from whatever I’m doing, I’m going to be living out of the sewer the next day. It’s an—it’s an unrealistic worry, you know? Because that’s not the case.

And it sounds silly when I say it out loud, but I have this worry that if the book doesn’t sell, and I’m not working a full-time job in the background, you know what? It’s—I’m two steps away from ruin, you know? And it’s that primal sort of thing that drives the obsession with wanting to make sure the book or any—any new project is a sales success.

Michael: So—I’m being nosy here. But—so how are you framing success for this book? You know, it hasn’t launched yet. But when people are listening to this, it will have launched, most likely. But we’re still, like, two—two and some weeks away from the launch. How are you thinking about success?

Neil: Thank you for asking. You know, you get—you get these good questions. Just go at—I like this. It’s good

Michael: It’s, like, just-just get into it, man.

Neil: Okay, okay. So quick background on the Books of Awesome. You know, five years ago they came out. They end up shipping a million copies, you know. Ranking on Best Seller lists. Okay, that’s done.

That seems like, you know—it reminds me of this interview with Diablo Cody, who wrote Juno. And she said, “Hey”. They said, “Hey Diablo, your first movie, Juno, ended up being nominated for Best Picture and winning, you know, Best Screenplay at the Oscars. How are you going to top that?” And she said, “I’m not.” And, “I know I’m not.” And, “I never will.”

So actually, the fact that I’ve done it once, relieves me of the internal obligation to do it again. So maybe that’s why, Michael, after the Books of Awesome came out in 2010, 2011, 2012, I didn’t write. I didn’t write in 2013. I didn’t write in 2014. I was not writing. I was actually dating and meeting people and getting out there again.

Michael: Wow, look at you!

Neil: Yeah, yeah. I tried to get on my own two feet again. And eventually when I met Leslie—you know, she’s a teacher, also lives in Toronto—you know, we fell in love. We ended up moving in together. We get married. We go on a honeymoon. We come back. On the plane—I don’t think you know this story, but she—she ends up not feeling well on the plane. We have a layover in Malaysia. We didn’t spend time there, but we had a layover there. She goes to the pharmacy. You know, we’re worried. It’s a twelve-hour flight.

Last thing you want to do before a twelve-hour flight is feel, you know, nauseous and sick and stuff. So get on the plane, brace ourselves for this twelve-hour flight home from our honeymoon. She goes to the bathroom on the plane, comes to me in our seats and says, “I’m pregnant.” On the airplane.

Michael: Congratulations.

Neil: On our honeymoon. And so that’s when the urge to write something struck me after me not writing. And that’s when, when I came home, I start writing the 300-page—it turns into a 300-page word document called Nine Secrets to Living a Happy Live For My Unborn Child.

I ended up handing it in before she went into labour. Like, she gave birth four days after.

Michael: I like that. It’s, like, one chapter per month.

Neil: Yeah, you know, I never thought about that before. You’re right. One sort of—one of the happiness secrets per month. And you know what? She also gave birth four days after her due date.

Like, she was kind of keeping the baby in until the book was done. And that ended up being nine months to the day after our wedding day.

Michael: Wow.

Neil: It was, like, all this mathematical stuff. And then that letter is the book. So when you ask me which of the three types of success …

Michael: I love that.

Neil: … I’m thinking about—I’m trying desperately to be focused on the self-success, the idea that I have created something for my child on how they can live a happy life. But of course, in times of book launch, in the energy of doing media interviews, you end up thinking about, “I want this thing to do well.” And, oh yeah, sure the first review on Amazon that sort of says, “One star.” What does this guy know? That kills you.

Michael: That does kill you.

Neil:Even though you know it shouldn’t hurt—it should hurt me. But you can’t let it not somehow. So I still—I’m trying to make it a self-success book. But of course I do think and hope it does well on top of that.

Michael: But I think you—I know for all three of the books that I’ve written with—actually, all the books I’ve written, I’ve gone through a process of wanting approval for them, being disappointed by the approval that I failed to get. And then at a certain point going, “Screw it. I’m just writing this book.” I mean, with my new book, The Coaching Habit, you know, I spent basically two and a half years going back and forth between the publisher who published Do More Great Work trying to get them to like my book and like my idea. And felt like, “Oh, well we love it but we don’t LOVE it.”

Neil: Sounds like—oh. They don’t love love it.

Michael: Yeah, exactly. So I then started trying to write the book that I thought that they might be liking if they liked books like this, which it turns out they don’t actually publish business books. So it was—I was—and I just found myself down that rabbit hole of misery trying to get somebody’s approval for some—for something. And then finally getting to a point where I’m going, “I’m done. And now I’m writing the book that I really can see and feel.” And I just want to be able to say, “I love this book.”

And I love this book.

Neil: And for your listeners that haven’t read it, I have. I’ve been lucky enough to read it and to know it’s a fantastic book. And so your pure, true self came out and you care so much that you cared about all the little corners and the size of it and the colours. And the flow. And you can feel that love when you read it.

Michael: Well, I—first of all, I appreciate you picking up on my not-so-subtle, “You need to plug my book now.” So thanks for that. But I’ll tell you what. But I just know exactly what you mean. I know people listening in will as well, which is, I—you have that freedom going. I know who this serves. This serves my child, this serves my family. This serves my impact I want to have on this world. And there’s always that undertow of other stuff pulling you out there.

The kind of, the sales or the social, that kind of … You just need to—you can’t avoid it. You just need to keep watching it and be aware of it.

Neil: Well also, I—I don’t know if you’re familiar to that point of, like, there’s this thing you sometimes see in, like, an old school gym. It’s like a wobble board. You stand on it. And as one side’s down, the other side’s up. And when one side’s up, the other side is down. And, you know, it’s meant to be, like, a core exercise.

If you use your abs, keep it balanced. Well the whole point of the success triangle was, I was picturing an—a wobble board and I was saying, you know, “Yeah. One type of success prevents the other one because that alone is the relief.”

That—that line alone relieves me of the obligation. For example, if you’re in the New York Times Book Review, you might not sell. And if you sell like crazy, you might not be in the New York Times Book Review. And if you work really hard on it, you might not even publish it.

The story I tell in the book of the woman who asked me that question originally, she was writing all these memoirs about her grandmother, and after we talked about this, she’s, like, “You know what? I don’t even want to publish them.”

Michael: Is that right?

Neil: “I just want to keep a record of her life.”

Michael: Exactly.

Neil: “For myself.” And that’s, like, “Well, that’s great.” That—then you definitely don’t have to sell any. Like, if you don’t care about it. So I think of it like a wobble board and that though alone relieves me. I can—I can find relief in that because now I—even if I want them all, I can’t have them all. That helps me.

Michael: And, you know, that’s part of the kind of underlying theme to the book, I thought, which is just sitting with the messy, imperfect lives that we have, you know, that’s the way lives are. So be with that rather than striving for something shiny and perfect and unobtainable can make all the difference. And in fact connects really nicely to the third secret you talk about, which I’m going to—the title is Remember the Lottery, right?

Neil: Yeah.

Michael: Well, that’s the kind of, the tagline to remember it. And unpack there. I mean, why do we need to remember the lottery? I mean, we’ve just had the Powerball in the U.S., you know, where—I don’t know what they’ve got up to. Like, $1.5 billion or something ridiculous like that. So why do we need to remember the lottery?

Neil: Sure. Well, I mean, I—I—you know—I think I titled that one, you know, The Three Words That Will Save You on Your Very Worst Day. And I share in the secret that we’re all fighting two wars every day.

The first war is one that’s well-documented, Michael, with—you know, your listeners are all kind of, you know, super well-read. So the war between the amygdala… You know, and your brain, and your pre-frontal cortex. You know, the idea that your—part of you is still thinking you’re going to get attacked by a tiger. And the other part of you is, like, “Okay, I’ve got to do a presentation for the CEO on Friday. Like, I’m going to be on top of this. I’m going to make my three key points.” Like, that’s a war. You feel the both stress and the sort of rational thought at the same time.

The other war I think we’re fighting is this war between more and enough.

Michael: I love that, yeah.

Neil: Is this war between more and enough. And so I was able to do a ton of research, and I found out that, you know, it’s really at the turn of the century, not of the last century, but the century before, late 1800’s, early 1900’s.

When mass production finally afforded people the ability to have things like access to washing machines, refrigerators, stuff that was taking a huge disproportionally high amount of our time each day to scrub clothes the clean, go to the market every day, you know.

And—and so then we sort of shifted. There’s a famous article written in Harvard Business Review, Paul Mazur, Lehman Brothers—I can say it because, you know, the company’s gone now. Lehman Brothers saying, like, “We must move society from a needs to a desires culture.” It’s, like, printed in our—this idea to shift people. And now we’re living in this day and age where it’s always about more. We rarely think of enough.

Despite that—the famous Kurt Vonnegut poem about Joseph Heller sort of saying, “I have enough,” and the—you know, “All the billionaires and hedge fund managers around me will never have that.”

“So I have so many of that.” And so those two wars are present, the war in your head and the war between your more and enough. So as a result, it’s pretty easy to get pretty stress—it’s pretty easy to get stressed out. I’m there. You’re there. Your listeners are there. We all get that—to that place. The three words “remember the lottery” are just a simple opportunity circle exercise.

Michael: Yeah.

Neil: Where you just keep reminding yourself of everything you have. And you keep that going forward and forward. So the first example I make in the book is that, you know, just taking a step back, when you use the amount of where we are in the universe, and you realize that of everywhere we’ve ever checked, this is the only place you can live. We happen to be here with the perfect amount of oxygen and water and everything like that. You sort of, like, you’re, like, “Oh yeah.”

Like, the world—I keep this picture of, you know, all the galaxies. And I’m, like, look how lucky we are. And I was reading—I read an article about Jerry Seinfeld doing the same thing on the set of Seinfeld, you know.

Looking at this poster of the outer space, sort of saying, “It doesn’t really matter, but we’re lucky to be here.”

Michael: Well, let me throw two things into the mix. Because I do something similar. The first is a book you may have recalled by Bill Bryson, called A Short History of Nearly Everything. And he—he just makes science accessible. But part of what he does is—is, like—is just insane how unlikely it is that we’re actually here.

I mean, it’s just insane. And then the other thing that I have, just over there in my office, is the famous picture called Blue Dot. And this is—as I think the Voyageur satellite kind of exiting our universe. And it’s looking back on Earth, and just through some lucky moment, a beam of sunlight catches the Earth.

And it is literally one blue pixel in the entire photo.

Neil: Wow.

Michael:And it just makes your head go, kaboom, because it’s, like, that’s it. We are almost entirely irrelevant. And at the same time, we—it is miraculous that we are—we are here. So what I love about that, and I think you’re pointing is, on the one hand, everything matters a lot, because it’s—this is your one and precious life. On the other hand, nothing really matters at all, because it’s, like, you know. It’s just—we’re just this tiny, tiny spec, and a tiny spec and a tiny spec. As you said in the book, “14 out of 15 people who’ve ever lived aren’t living anymore.”

Neil: Exactly.

Michael: Right. So it’s that—that moment of going, “If we’re appreciating this moment we’re alive on this planet that can actually hold life, when is enough?”

And so that’s—this is a very long introduction to a question asking, so, how do you connect to what enough actually is? Where do you find that wisdom?

Neil: Well I keep going to that memory, that thing we were just talking about first of all. I keep saying things like, “Less than a half people in the world have Internet access. Less than 7% of the people in the world have post-secondary education.” You know, you keep going through that line of thinking. Soon you’re thinking, “Okay, I—here’s average world income, $5000.”

You know? If you’re above $50,000, you’re in the top 0.5% of income around the world. The 1% is most of us, you know. That’s how it turns out.

Michael: 1% is North America.

Neil: Yeah, exactly. So how do you think about what enough is? Well a couple of exercises I use in my life—here’s a couple. One is, I have—I’m not going to share it, because I didn’t—I didn’t chat with my wife beforehand, but we try to keep on top of our annual cost of living.

So that’s one number we keep in our heads. Like, we know what that number is. And …

Michael: Just nudging in under $9 million a year.

Neil: Well that’s the—that’s the goal, actually, is to try to get that number as low as possible, right?

And then suddenly take a look around and realize, you’re fine. Right? You’re fine. And then also experimenting with testing those waters. So, you know, when my son was born, we ended up going—the three of us, my wife, myself and my son, on a Caribbean trip thinking ourselves as incredibly progressive parents who take their baby on an airplane and go to an island. And we’re souped. “Look at us, we can do it.” You know, we came home, Michael, and we said, “That was a waste of money.”

Because we couldn’t both go swimming. Because one of us has to be with the baby. He couldn’t be in the sun. Forget the beach kind of completely. By the way, dinner was served, I don’t know, let’s say the restaurant hours at the all-inclusive were, like, seven o’clock pm. Oh, that’s his bedtime.

So we need to get, like, a pre-order of mac and cheese.

Michael: Funny.

Neil: And we’re tiptoeing to our, like, like, you know, the Caribbean sort of room in the hotel, at, you know, past the gigantic crib in pitch blackness and reading with, like, little headlights, our books. And we get home. And I said to my wife—she said to me at the exact same time—it was, like, a) that was a waste of money; but b), you know, you live and you learn.

You don’t—you win some, you learn some. So we’re, like, “Okay, now we know. We don’t need that cost in our annual number.” We can chop that out. Travel is now reduced to going to the park.

Michael: Right.

Neil: You know, I mean, for the current foreseeable future. So we keep that number in mind and we’re looking at ways to whittle that. We’re always looking at ways to sort of think about that, that number. We’re not trying to, you know, wear one article of clothing for, you know, four weeks straight and live out of a backpack. I can’t profess to being that guy. But we are conscious of our spending and aware of it. So we’re in the process now of trying to go from two cars to one car, just as an example.

Because I left my day job and we’re driving downtown more, trying to use the car sharing more. So we’re just—we’re trying to keep thinking about stuff like that.

Michael: Yeah. My wife and I did something similar a few years ago. We called it the year of buying nothing.

Neil: Wow.

Michael: Which kind of turned into the year of finding loopholes about the year of buying nothing. Because we were, like—yeah, it’s, like, obviously we can buy food and the like. But it was just trying not to put purchases of wants rather than needs, making them non-automatic, you know, and non—kind of, like…. Because we hit a point where we had enough wealth in our lives that we didn’t have to count every penny.

When we met we were students, and we had no money and we were a little bit in debt and stuff. So we had to be really conscious before, and we kind of lost that. So, again, it’s not—it’s not about a place of denial, but it’s just a place of being clear about, well how much do we really need to spend and for the sake of what? And are we—are we being conned here into thinking that we need it rather than we may not need it after all?

Neil: Mm-hm. I love that. I love that. And even just the—it doesn’t matter if you do it or not. The idea that you created a philosophy that you want to experiment with.

That alone is enough. And so, one thing I learned, and it’s in a different part of the book, but it kind of relates to the way I live my life today, is, like—I have this theory that you fill whatever space you have.

So our home is fairly small, and we have one child and another one—another one coming. And, you know, our—well, you know, the—whatever. The point is that, like, I have this theory. You know, you fill whatever space you have.

So we’re always thinking, rather than find more space, what can we do without? And sort of experiment with, like, what can we pull out of this house or what—you know, the classic Mary Collins. What doesn’t give us joy?

And keep trying to experiment with that, because I do feel—like, I grew up in a bigger house and it was a mess.

Michael: Right. Yeah.

Neil: It was full of junk. You know, there was—like, there was that room we never sat in, you know? Because that’s just the way they built the houses, right? You had a living room and a family room.

Michael: A living room that nobody ever enters into, yeah.

Neil: And then you’ve got a dining room, you know what I mean? So …

Michael: For all the dining that happens, exactly.

Neil: Exactly. And so we’re trying our best to just be conscious of it. But I will say right away, you asked me, I’m struggling with it. Like, I’m still trying to figure out ways to be more aware of it. And I think reading some of the stuff I researched for the book made me realize how much stuff we already live with that we don’t truly need. I mean, fashion is a great example.

Fashion’s just a great example. Everything sort of changes colours every four months and—you know? You sort of—that’s just such a cool look. But what about that sweater you had for, like, eight years ago? It’s still good. And you stop when—you know, I’m 36 years old. I stopped changing size maybe ten years ago.

So I can still pull out stuff and fit—it fits me now, like, for the first time in my life from a long time ago.

Michael: I’ve got good news. When you hit your 40s, you start changing size again. Just in the wrong direction. Now you—so you should definitely enjoy those clothes that you can still fit into, because that may be a passing phase.

Neil: I can borrow my wife’s maternity clothes for my expanding waistline.

Michael: You know, this is a conversation that could take hours. And I know you and I are going to go and hang out and just spend some time just chatting through stuff, because we enjoy each other’s company. But here’s a question I want to end with, which is, what’s your suggestion on how people actually engage with your book? Because you say it in the book somewhere, and I’ve said it many times, which is, you know, when people have said, “What’s your advice then? Wrap it up for me. What’s your advice?”

And I’m always, like, first thing. Be really wary of anybody else’s advice. Because it’s often wrong and it’s made up or it—you know. So be careful of following the advice. So—I mean, but yours and my books are books full of advice. Let’s face it. So how—how—if you were to give guidance or coaching on how people might engage with the new book, what would you suggest?

Neil: Well, I would hope or suggest that people engage with it the way I’m trying to engage with it as I was writing it now and now that it’s kind of coming out. And that is that it’s just kind of with you. I flip through it. It’s nine secrets. So it’s structured in a way that you are meant to read it in order, but of course, you can grab any one of them and they’re not—it doesn’t—you don’t have to have read the one before to read the one after. And …

Michael: That’s right. They’re all independent.

Neil: They’re all independent. And—and yet you can pick out one that you need a reminder on, and it’s meant to take you through a way of thinking that at the end of it, you’ve just had a guided meditation, becoming comfortable with the thing you’re stressed with. And I hope that’s what it does give to people. And then of course with the models, because the book is peppered, you know, with these—with these little drawings, which it was a hor—you know, the pub—that was a separate conversation with the publisher on, like, me drawing, like, little marker drawings …

Michael: See, I was curious about that. Because—and for those who haven’t picked up the book yet, I mean, Neil has literally hand-drawn a bunch of things. Circles and two-by-two matrixes, just ways of framing how you see your life, depending on what the chapter’s about. And it’s really unusual to see a kind of scrappy, hand-drawn, non-fancy model in a book. But it immediately makes the book feel warmer and more human and more accessible. And, like, you could actually do this on the back of a napkin yourself rather than—this has been prepared by a Wharton/Harvard/whatever academic. So I’m sure there was a battle between your publisher, going, “No, no, it’s not posh enough.”

Neil: Yeah, less pictures, you know what I mean? And I wanted more pictures. Maybe that’s because of my own attention span or whatever. But I was—I’m hoping that people carry it with them. They take it on a plane and they leave it under the pillow. They have it beside the bed with them. The Book of Awesome, some people say, “Oh, I leave it on my bed,” or, “I leave it on the toilet.” Actually, one of the first reviews came out and said, “I leave it on the toilet.” I’m, like, “This is my first business book. It’s hardcover. It’s $30. What do you mean?” And then they’re, like, “Because I want to just flip through it for a little” —like—is it the Calvin and the Hobbes cartoon? And is it the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling that you—kind of jumps out to you? Is it the little, you know, is it something about the bench test or Saturday morning test that you want to remind yourself to do to find your own an authentic type of work?

You know, I don’t know what will stick out to each peo—each person. So I hope that it’s just—it’s one of those things that just sort of kicks around the house.

When I was growing up, we had some books that just kicked around our house. We had Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff. We had Life’s Little Instruction Book. We had, you know, books like that. They just sort of kicked around the house. Like, even once everyone in the house had read them, we didn’t put the book away.

It was just meant to kick around the house. And I hope The Happiness Equation could maybe become a kick around the house type of book.

Michael: So if somebody is looking to kind of add to their toilet reading or just a kick around the house, where would people find more about you? More about the book? Where would they go?

Neil: Sure. Well I think if you type Neil Pasricha into Google, you’ll get a quick glimpse. You might grab my old TED Talk, you might see my blog. You might see my new project, which is the Institute for Global Happiness at

And of course, the book is wherever books are sold. So if you want to support your local independent bookstore or go to a big chain, like, like—well I don’t have to name all the big chains. But we know all of them. Amazon, Barnes and Noble or Indigo or whatever, then they’re all there. And I think the place that I keep coming back to on books, Michael, for me personally, is Goodreads.

You know, I keep going back to Goodreads because I feel like it’s book lovers. Really passionate book lovers. And the conversation gets to a level of depth. And by the way, I say I go back to Goodreads, but you should read the first Goodreads review of the Book of Awesome. It trashes me. But I keep going back there, because it’s, like, these people, thousands of them.

Michael: Yeah.

Neil: And so there’s a flood and a conversation and a real kind of mess of dialogue about the book that I find really interesting. And so that’s kind of where I start on The Happiness Equation. As for me and in terms of what I’m actually—my fingers are touching every day is probably my Twitter feed more than anything else.

That’s just I—you know, when you switch your focus in life, Michael, they don’t let you switch your Twitter handle. I’m at 1000awesome forever.

Michael: Forever. You are. Hey, before we go. Just give us a little bit about the Institute for Global Happiness. Because that’s a relatively new project for you, right?

Neil: Yeah, yeah. It’s new.

Michael: So what are your—what are your hopes for that?

Neil: Here’s my 30-second kind of 60-background on it. It’s that you type in “how to be” into Google. The first dropdown is “happy”. Okay? Like, we want that more than anything. And by the way, number two, three and four are “rich”, “pretty”, and “real estate agent”. So we all want to be, like, a rich, pretty real estate agent, second. But first of all we want to be happy. You add to the fact that, you know, corporate exit surveys are finally showing that people want happiness more than wealth for the first time ever, and then you sort of ask yourself these questions, like, “Well, are we?”

And Professor—I’m blanking on the name. Hope College. Professor Morris, I believe it is, did the largest longitudinal study ever, from 1955 to today. And it shows that we are no happier despite the fact that our wealth has gone up and our mobility has gone up and our food has gone up. We’re not any happier. Then you do—see another study from Dr. Matt Killingsworth at Harvard. He shows that the place we are the unhappiest is also the same place we’re spending most of our time. What a terrible finding.

Michael: It is a terrible finding. Yeah.

Neil: It’s work. The place where we are the unhappiest is the place we’re spending most of our time. And so the Institute for Global Happiness has a one-line mission statement, which is, to increase happiness inside organizations. As you—as you know, I spent ten years doing that at Walmart.

Michael: That’s right.

Neil: I was the Director of Leadership Development there. I, you know, I designed—I was lucky enough to design on-boarding for our CEOs and our executives and I worked directly for a couple of our CEOs. And so I feel that I have something to offer and to learn about increasing happiness inside organizations. And I’m meaning for the work I’ve done on The Happiness Equation to let me build up things like free workshops, free articles, free, you know, tools online to experiment. Can you as a manager of 20 people download my 20 for 20 Happiness Challenge, which you can download right now, and have—you have the PowerPoint slides. I give you the facilitator’s notes. And I give you all the worksheets you need. And you can—you can conduct a session with your 20-person team on how can—how we can be happier.

And by the way, I don’t think there’s enough high-quality of resources like that out there. That are free. And so I’m trying to do that. And I’m hoping that doing all of that helps pay for the parts of the website that are expensive, like having me fly out to your company and speak about this stuff.

And so that’s the goal of the organization and it’s been fun so far. We’re already getting, like, a lot downloads and great traffic and a real dialogue. And so that’s at

Michael: Brilliant. Yeah. Worth checking out. And really interested to watch that. You know, you and I work parallel pars on that. Our commitment is to help busy managers across the world be more coach-like, because we think it’s one of the most foundational skills that drives engagement and impact and happiness. And we’re trying to figure out ways to do the same, which is how much can we give away and how much—and where do we earn a bit of money to kind of fund all the stuff that we’re giving away? So it’s a similar—it’s a similar par. Neil, look, this has been awesome. Thank you.

Neil: No, thank you.

Michael: I look forward to seeing the book. Just to say, I’m going to be very disappointed if this book isn’t on the New York Times List for 400 weeks. I don’t want you—I don’t want you to let me down like that, okay? So please step up, because there’s a lot of people—lot of people who are relying on you to not let them down here. Kidding. Neil, it’s been a pleasure. I’ll talk to you again.

Neil: Thanks, Michael. You too.

One Response to Neil Pasricha on Can You Find Happiness?

  • Heather Saldanha

    I really enjoyed this talk. I recently saw and heard Neil at a Hospital in Toronto, but I have not read any of your stuff. I’ll look into some of it soon.

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