Mo Gawdat is CBO of Google X and author of the transformative book "Solve for Happy"
Interviewed by Veronica Farmer for @madebeautifulbyscars
What is happiness? Is there a way to find happiness and remain there? These questions consumed my life when I was searching for a solution to cure my own desperate unhappiness. Finding the answer to these questions has transformed my life and if my moonshot goes to plan, I hope to see more than 10 million others transform and find their happiness too!
Looking back at my life and the time when I was suffering from desperate unhappiness, there were no obvious reasons for me to be this way. It wasn’t financial, I had all the trappings of a highly successful man, working as a Director during the day and making serious money as a day trader on the stock market at night. It wasn’t my family, as I had a beautiful wife and loving children. I was healthy and strong, but happiness eluded me.
With my engineering background, I was well versed at searching for solutions when a problem arose. I was good at it. I knew that as a younger man I had experienced moments of great happiness, and here I was, somewhat older with none of that happiness left. So I figured that if I could just calculate out what part of the internal machinery had gone wrong, maybe I could make that happiness cog in the system work again.
I read and watched everything I could find on happiness. Being Middle Eastern, therapy was not an option for me and neither was disappearing off to an Ashram or another alternative program for an extended period of time. So to dig myself out of my misery, I dove into research. For the first couple of years, none of it made sense but I kept going. After studying this topic for nearly a decade I finally came up with a simple, easy to action solution, an equation that worked.
What I found was that there was some confusion in our world between happiness and fun. Happiness is a place of contentment, a peace with how life is, in the moment. Whereas, fun is where you lose yourself in an activity that provides escape and forces the mind to switch off from unhappy thoughts. I focused on that contented place of happiness as the ultimate solution. I had come to realize that this peaceful state was our natural blueprint for lasting wellbeing if we could just uncover it and remain there.
In searching for a solution, I found something that was common across all people. We are happy when life goes our way. My equation was simple, that happiness is equal to, or greater than, the difference between the way you see the events of your life, and the expectation of how you think life should behave.
The reason I uncovered was that most people are unhappy, not due to the events playing out in front of them, but the way they think about those events. What happens for us in the modern world is that we are taught to be critical. Happiness is not about what the world gives you, happiness is about what you think about what the world gives you. If you think about it properly you will see that there is always something to be grateful for and something to be happy about.
Illusions and blind spots often blur our view of the real world and when you learn what these are and remove them, you begin to see that life mostly meets our expectations.
I also uncovered five core truths that would allow happiness to be present most of the time – accepting Now, Change, Love and Death, along with the understanding of Grand Design, the belief that nothing is random and life generally follows patterns, laws, rules or science.
I put the system to the test and it worked. To make sure this equation was replicable, I shared it with a large number of friends and colleagues from different backgrounds and all around the world. I received feedback from them that it worked for them as well and this excited me. I was on to something.
Stress from losing a business deal or bad customer service couldn’t trip me up as I practiced my Happiness Equation. Even travelling to the United States post 9/11 and being held for three hours by Homeland Security on the back of a 14-hour trip, couldn’t activate a negative response in my machinery. I had done it. I had found a solution for being happy.
And then tragedy struck. A tragedy that tested my theory and inspired me to improve the world by spreading the message of how to be truly happy in a way I could never have thought possible..
It was 2014 and life was good. My son and best friend Ali had just turned 21 years old. I loved spending time with him. In between travelling and his time away at school we would have long conversations on the meaning of life, play video games, listen to music and watch comedy shows we both loved.
In the July he came home to see us, and we were excited about planning a family holiday together. But only four days after Ali arrived, sudden acute belly pain meant that we had to rush Ali to the local hospital. The doctors told us he required a routine appendectomy.
My wonderful son Ali, my beautiful, wise, kind and handsome son and friend was about to leave us. The last words my son left me with, I saw through his scrubs, on the way to the operating room. As he sat up, I saw his tattoo for the first time. The words I saw were magnificent truth.
The gravity of the battle means nothing to those at peace
In surgery, a needle was inserted too far and punctured Ali’s femoral artery. This was not noticed in time and led to a series of further mistakes that meant the death of my precious son in a matter of hours.
Losing a child, they say, is the hardest scar anyone can endure. It certainly rocks a parent to the core and it feels like you have lost a part of your heart. Losing Ali at such a sacred age, when he had all of life ahead of him, so unexpectedly and due to preventable human error, there are no words to describe that unbearable pain. Even now more than two years later, it remains indescribable. It is something that you carry.
In those early days, I knew that if I chose to forget all I had learned and became consumed with rage or malicious thoughts, or if I chose to lock myself in a room crying for the rest of my life, neither of those things would bring him back. I saw that I could either choose great suffering or I could choose to accept life as harsh as it had now become, and try to make life slightly better each day.
Losing Ali was a call to action. I had learned so much about happiness from my son. We had developed our happiness model together and I decided that an incredible legacy would be to reach as many people as I could. I decided on a target. If I could reach out to 10 million people and give them his message of peace, then a world where that many people were happier would truly be a wonderful thing...
THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM MO'S FULL STORY... To read more of his story, join our mailing list below to make sure you know when the book is out! "Made Beautiful by Scars" BOOK ONE will have more than 30 powerful human stories that inspire!!