Happiness happens in the present. That's where your mind has to be to find it.
What led you to write this book?
Ten years ago I was diagnosed with a slow-developing but incurable form of cancer. I gave up my work and quickly discovered that the blank calendar I thought was a blessing was an incredible curse. Escape was not the answer for me. I soon became passionate about discovering what enabled certain people to live joyful, meaningful lives, even in the face of tremendous difficulties, which in turn led me to teaching and writing about the subject of happiness.
Is there something wrong with the way people chase happiness today?
I think most of us fall into several traps in our pursuit of happiness. The classic trap is trying to buy happiness. It can’t be done. Don’t get me wrong, money certainly helps; it's no fun to be poor. But material goods alone can’t give us the quality of happiness we want. We also seek happiness through pleasure. Pleasure is wonderful, but it's a lousy substitute for happiness. When we pursue pleasure too vigorously, it quickly leads to more sorrow than happiness. Finally, we tend to put our happiness off to some point in the future: “I will be happy when I get promoted,” “when I get married,” “when I have the second home,” and so on. The truth is: Happiness is now. Waiting for someone or something to make us happy puts happiness off forever.
Are some people more open to luck and opportunity?
The old expression “luck is when opportunity meets preparation” is probably true. The happiest among us prepare for the future, but they also know they cannot control the future. How they adjust to the diversions that the future will invariably take and move on, rather than lament on how “unlucky” they are, sets them apart from those who are less happy.
What is the most surprising thing you discovered in researching and writing this book?
Positive psychologists have determined that our sense of joy is the result of three things: set point or our genetic make up; circumstances or what happens to us such as divorce, illness, winning the lottery; and finally voluntary choices or how we choose to respond to our circumstances. The amazing thing to me, and probably most of us who study this subject, is that circumstances account for only about 10 percent of our happiness. Circumstances can affect our happiness for short periods of time, but we are incredibly adaptable, meaning most circumstances—both good and bad—don’t lead to large changes in our ongoing level of happiness.
What is the most important point you want to get across?
Happiness is a skill that can be learned and better-practiced. The happiest among us practice a set of skills (often subliminally) that enable us to live with joy, even during times of turmoil and challenge. These skills give us the ability to move through and beyond the difficult challenges that each of us unavoidably face. Those skills can be developed by each of us.
Who would most benefit by reading this book?
Anyone interested in living with greater joy. At DePauw University, I teach the course “The Skill of Happiness” to students ages 18 through 22. I also teach at Canyon Ranch, where I work with adults mostly in their 50s, 60s, and 70s. My message to both groups is the same. Everyone wants to be happy and the skills that lead to happiness are ones we can all become better at practicing. We can become happier, and the research suggests that the happiest among us do better in almost every conceivable measure of successful living. We do better at work, have better relationships, are less likely to harm others, have better health, and we even live longer.
What is the most profound thing you learned about yourself when it comes to happiness?
I have a lot to learn. I am probably better at teaching and writing on this subject than I am at practicing many of the skills, but I certainly practice them better than I did before. I think I am happier at this point in my life than I have ever been, and I think studying this subject has led to my increased sense of joy.
If you had one piece of advice, what would it be and whom would it be for?
Live in the present. Most of us spend an inordinate amount of time agonizing about and regurgitating negative things from our past or worrying about what the future might hold; thus we end up missing all the opportunities for joy in the present. Happiness is found in the present, but we have to be there to find it.
What would you like to see happen as a result of this book?
That readers find this book enjoyable to read and that it helps them better practice the skills that lead to happiness. If they are happier as a result of reading this book, they will be better parents, friends, partners, sons, daughters, leaders, teachers–they will be better people. Because all profits I receive from the book go to cancer research, I also hope it helps researchers find cures or better ways to manage this devastating illness.
About THE AUTHOR SPEAKS: Selected authors, in their own words, reveal the story behind the story. Authors are featured thanks to promotional placement by their publishing houses.
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Happiness: The Art of Living with Peace, Confidence and Joy