459: The Happiness Equation with Neil Pasricha
Have you ever felt apathy, depression, fear, or uncertainty about your future? Today’s guest, Neil Pasricha, will give you the simple ways in which you can transcend those feelings and replace them with ones that’ll make you happier.
Neil is the best-selling author of seven books that sold over 2 million copies and spent over 200 weeks on bestseller lists, including The Book of Awesome, The Happiness Equation and Two-Minute Mornings. His first TED talk, The 3 A’s of Awesome, ranks among the “10 Most Inspiring of all time,” and his latest book, Our Book of Awesome: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together, just released.
In today’s conversation, Neil shares his super simple framework you can use to be happier, the life-changing power of gratitude, and why the perfect day always starts with the perfect morning.
- The two-minute morning routine and how it can change your life.
- The power of vulnerability in creating deep relationships.
- The way you look at the world determines how you experience it.
- Why our brains are hardwired to seek problems, and how we can rewrite the stories they tell us.
- Appreciating the small stuff is a skill. With practice, you’ll get better with time.
- You might be practicing gratitude wrong. Here’s how to do it.
- Why you need to learn how to be happy so you can be successful.
- Readers are leaders! Learn how Neil manages to read 100+ books a year.
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- Neil Pasricha on Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | YouTube
- The Institute for Global Happiness
- 3 Books
- Our Book of Awesome: A Celebration of the Small Joys That Bring Us Together by Neil Pasricha
- The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything=Have Everything by Neil Pasricha
- The Book of Awesome: Snow Days, Bakery Air, Finding Money in Your Pocket, and Other Simple, Brilliant Things (The Book of Awesome Series) by Neil Pasricha
- The Book of (Holiday) Awesome (The Book of Awesome Series) by Neil Pasricha
- Two Minute Mornings: A Journal to Win Your Day Every Day (Gratitude Journal, Mental Health Journal, Mindfulness Journal, Self-Care Journal) by Neil Pasricha
- Awesome Is Everywhere by Neil Pasricha
- 1000 Awesome Things
- 8 Ways to Read (a Lot) More Books This Year by Neil Pasricha
- International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences
- Robin Sharma
- The How of Happiness: A Scientific Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Sonja Lyubomirsky
- Ed Diener
- Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney
- The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion by Jonathan Haidt
- The Coddling of the American Mind: How Good Intentions and Bad Ideas Are Setting Up a Generation for Failure by Greg Lukianoff, Jonathan Haidt
- Glow Kids: How Screen Addiction Is Hijacking Our Kids – and How to Break the Trance by Nicholas Kardaras
- How to Break Up with Your Phone: The 30-Day Plan to Take Back Your Life by Catherine Price
- Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention–and How to Think Deeply Again by Johann Hari
- The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
- Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel by Zora Neale Hurston
- There There: A novel by Tommy Orange
- Huberman Lab
- Alie Ward
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Hal Elrod: Hello, my friends. Welcome to the Achieve Your Goals Podcast. This is your host, Hal Elrod. And if one of your goals is to be happier, today’s episode is for you. This is a discussion with my new friend, Neil Pasricha, and Neil and I connected a couple of years ago when I was going through the darkest time in my life and somebody connected us just as he’s the expert on happiness. He wrote The Happiness Equation. He wrote The Book of Awesome on gratitude. He wrote a book called Awesome is Everywhere on mindfulness. He wrote a book called Two Minute Mornings about habits. He has a new book out called Our Book of Awesome that just is coming out December 6, 2022. And it started for him in his late twenties when his wife left him and his best friend took his own life. He’ll actually go into more detail on that story today. And in an attempt to cheer himself up and find meaning in his life, he started a blog called 1000 Awesome Things.
And for the next 1,000 straight weekdays, he posted a short essay about one small joy in life. He was kind of trying to train himself to see the good, to find the joy, the gratitude in the mundane so he could overcome these devastating experiences in his life. And the blog started with his mom, grew to his mom and dad, and eventually had millions of readers. And one day, Neil received a phone call, letting him know that he had just won the Best Blog in the World Award by the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences, and he was since invited to give a TED Talk. He got asked to teach America to be happy on The Today Show, and he was flown to Abu Dhabi to speak to the royal family. He’s a New York Times bestselling author of those five or six books that I just mentioned that have sold over 2 million copies. And today we talk about, well, you’ll see Neil talks fast. He kind of is like me. He might even talk faster than I do but he’s a wealth of knowledge and resources and information. I mean he quotes more studies in today’s interview than I’ve quoted since this podcast began. That’s not my style.
But anyway, so Neil was brilliant and we touched on, really, the focus today is about how to be happier. That’s the real underlying focus but he talks about his journaling process. He talks about what prevents people from being happy. He talks about the power of two-minute mornings and his personal morning ritual that as a Miracle Morning practitioner, if you are that, that will resonate with you. You can incorporate that into your Miracle Morning. He talks about why it’s important to be happy first thing in the morning, how that statistically is proven to improve your productivity as well as your mental and emotional well-being, and a heck of a lot more. So, this is a fantastic conversation. I will tell you the quote that I wrote down that just resonated with me. I had him actually repeat it in the interview, in the conversation. He said, “If you can be happy with the simple things, then being happy will be simple.” I love that. And I hope you walk away from today’s episode with new ideas, new strategies, new mindset, new consciousness where you can make being happy simple, just part of your everyday life, even if you’ve got challenges that you are facing, as we all do.
Before we dive in, I want to take just a couple of minutes to thank our sponsors for bringing you this show every week. First and foremost is our newest sponsor, CURED Nutrition. I take three of their products every day. They’ve got dozens of products but every morning I take Rise that helps me with lion’s mane and CBD and bacopa, and a couple of other ingredients but helps me to focus in the morning. I take Aura after my morning smoothie and that’s for gut health and immunity. And then before bed about 30 minutes before I fall asleep, I take Nightcaps, which is a combination of CBN and CBD oil and I’m sleeping like a baby, waking up feeling great and relaxed, and rested. Head over to CUREDNutrition.com/Hal and then use the code “HAL” at checkout and you’ll get 20% off your entire order as a listener of this podcast.
And then last but not least, is our long-time sponsor, Organifi, who makes the highest quality whole food organic supplemental powders that you can put in your smoothie, put in a glass of water, a cup of orange juice, whatever floats your boat, and they will help you to lose weight, to feel better, to have more energy, to sleep better, you name it. Organifi has got a variety of products that kind of span the gamut of helping you to improve your physical, mental, emotional well-being. Head over to Organifi.com/Hal and then use that same code, HAL, at check out and you will get 20% off your entire Organifi order. I hope you find something there or at CUREDNutrition.com/Hal, one of those two, that you absolutely love and enhances your daily life.
All right. Without further ado, let’s talk about happiness and the happiness equation with Neil Pasricha.
Hal Elrod: Neil, you said it, man. This is the first time we’re actually seeing each other. We’ve talked on the phone but we’re finally seeing each other.
Neil Pasricha: I know. Now, I’m feeling a little bit self-conscious because you have such rippling biceps. I’m like, I hit some dumbbell curls this morning. I had to pick up those weights to keep up with you here.
Hal Elrod: It’s fair, dude. I’ve been doing a lot of biceps. What was I going to say? There is something. All right. I already forgot what we’re talking about. No. Oh, that’s what I was going to say is, dude, when you and I talked, you talked to me literally during the lowest point in my life, mentally and emotionally. I had been on chemotherapy for three years, roughly. They call it chemo brain but basically, you’re poisoning your brain and my cognitive abilities had declined. I felt like, it’s funny, I was yesterday or today, maybe this morning, I was driving and feeling I just realized, “Wow. I’m feeling like myself. Thank God.” Because at that time, I described to my wife, it felt like someone had taken over my brain and I didn’t have control. I guess that’d be my doctors, if you will, and what they were prescribing. But anyway, the point is someone introduced us and said we should interview each other or something along those lines. And I just said, “Dude, I’m not in a good place,” and I was just kind of open kimono.
And you sent me one of the most valuable, I think it was a text message. I don’t know if it’s a voice text or a text message but whatever it was, I typed it out and it went into my daily affirmations and you just kind of took pressure off and you’re like, “Hal, look, whatever you’re going through, man, you’re supposed to be going through it and the world needs you at 100%. So, take your time as long as that takes. You don’t owe anybody anything.” I’m paraphrasing, but yeah, dude, your brief text message wisdom became really a shift in my consciousness. So, thank you for that. It’s the first time I’m ever telling you that, I’m sure.
Neil Pasricha: I’m flattered. But I do remember it. And the reason I remember it is I think because in the world that we’re in or the world anybody is in these days, when you start relationships off, they typically start if you’re both out, like on a superficial level, right? You know, there is a transactional element to them whether that’s connecting with somebody on LinkedIn or whether that’s following somebody on a social media channel. In this case, yeah, it was over text but still, I knew you’re born the same year. I knew our books have like almost the same titles, right?
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Neil Pasricha: Like, they both have the word “equation” in them. They both have the word “morning.” I’m like, “This person seems like a kindred spirit.” But then the conversation, transactionally, starts off superficial. And so, for you to be vulnerable and to share what you’re going through, it made me kind of want to do the same thing. And so, I question, I always have that operating. It’s like how do you get relationships into that sort of second kind of gear quicker? And so, I guess one way is to take in an intimate, emotional text that you exchanged two years ago and then translate that into seeing each other for the first time on your podcast, which is what’s happening now.
Hal Elrod: That’s literally happening in this moment. Now, I’m with you. You know, Robin Sharma has a great quote, a fellow Canadian, Robin Sharma, of course, and he’s your Tony Robbins of the north, up north.
Neil Pasricha: He’s the reason I don’t have a shaved head, by the way, because I am walking down the streets in Toronto and people are like…
Hal Elrod: They would think you are Robin, “Robin! Oh, you’re not Robin. Never mind. You’re just Neil. Never mind.”
Neil Pasricha: What was his quote?
Hal Elrod: “When you’re vulnerable with people, they fall in love with you.” And for me, I know a lot of people struggle with vulnerability because either they’re going to be viewed as weak or whatever it is. I don’t know if it’s my brain damage, my car accident, but I’ve never had a problem being vulnerable. I just blah like whatever I’m thinking, feeling, experiencing, I just share it. And so, I kind of do that by default but I think that to your point, how do we go to second gear in a relationship? How do we get past the superficial bullsh*t and actually have a meaningful connection with another person? The thing is you can do it quickly. And I think you do it quickly. I think those are the two. It’s one, be vulnerable, just be totally authentic. Be yourself. Don’t try to impress. I would say don’t worry about impressing people. Try to add value to their lives. They don’t care about how impressive you are. They care about what can you do for them. I mean, right? Selfishly, what can you do for them? But going to second gear that being vulnerable and then looking for ways to serve.
And so, it’s like you and I both played the dance, right? Like I was vulnerable. You selflessly looked to serve a person that you had just met and immediately, right, there was a connection established and now, yeah, two years later, I think it’s like we’re finally face-to-face on Zoom. But yeah, man, I’m excited to have a conversation with you.
Neil Pasricha: Me too. And I think that I agree with both those things, be vulnerable, lean in. That’s how relationships overall all the same at the end of the day.
Hal Elrod: Let’s do this. I had a question I was going to ask you about Two Minute Mornings. You wrote a book called Two Minute Mornings. And I wrote a book called The Miracle Morning, obviously, and how important you talked about it is to be happy in the morning. I want to get to that, but I actually want to start with your origin story. I found it fascinating and real and authentic and just, yeah, anyway, I don’t want to give away much. So, yeah, talk about your origin story, man.
Neil Pasricha: Sure. My mom was born in Nairobi, Kenya. My dad is born outside of Amritsar, India. They had an arranged marriage in England, where my dad asked my mom on their first date, “Do you eat a hamburger?” My mom said yes and their second date was their wedding. He didn’t want to marry a vegetarian.
Hal Elrod: Get out of here.
Neil Pasricha: Yeah. In 1966, they came to Canada. My dad was the first high school physics teacher in the school board outside of Toronto, and my mom was an accountant working for General Motors in the GM towns where I grew up. My sister and I were born in Canada. And we have a pretty quiet, safe, comfortable childhood. We had running water in our tap, free schools across the street, we got hospitals down the road. My dad would look us in the eye and he’d say, “Never forget how lucky you are. Never forget how good you have it.” But, Hal, like anybody, well, how could we possibly compare it to his childhood or my mom’s childhood? Like, we never knew what life would be like without heat or to have a hospital down the road. So, I’d say we took it for granted. I didn’t hit the skids, I didn’t hit the rocks in my life until my late twenties when I had a couple of things kind of happen all at once.
First of all, I was in a relationship with a woman who I was madly in love with. We’ve been together four years. We’ve been married for two. We just bought a house. We’re talking about having kids. And I drove home from work one night to find her on my front porch crying, confessing that she’d fallen in love with somebody else. And although it broke her heart, she said, “I just think we need to get a divorce.” And I was in shock. Like, I thought my life was set. I was like, I have this, I’m working at a 9-to-5 job as a manager of leadership development inside Walmart. I just bought a house. We’re talking of having kids. I mean, this is kind of how it’s supposed to be, I just thought. And then on top of that, something even worse happened, which is my best friend, Chris. Chris and I went to Harvard Business School together from 2005 to 2007. He went on to become a vice principal at a charter school outside of Washington, D.C. And we talked on the phone three or four times a week, I mean, all the time. And three days after my wife told me that bad news, I talked to Chris for what turned out to be the last time. His sister called me at work the next morning to tell me that my best friend, Chris, had very suddenly taken his own life.
And we need to talk about suicide more in this country. And I say this country, I mean, your country and my country. It’s the number two cause of death for people right now under age 29. Our suicide rates are triple our murder rates, meaning we are three times more dangerous to ourselves than anybody else does it to us. And so, I was a wreck. I was a mess. I was lost. I lost 40 pounds due to stress and everybody in the hallway at Walmart was like, “You look great.”
Hal Elrod: You look great.
Neil Pasricha: “What’s your secret? Yeah. Was it keto? What’s going on here?”
Hal Elrod: “It’s divorce and suicide. I don’t think you want to go down that path.”
Neil Pasricha: Yeah. And I kept saying, like, it’s just no food, no sleep. You know, I wasn’t as open and as vulnerable as we’re advocating today. And we all have this thing in our brain, Hal, called our amygdala, right? It’s the size of a walnut. Secretes butterfly hormones all day. Well, it turns out when you’re going through something bad, you’re also seeing he bad things everywhere, news media, social media. I’m doom-scrolling. I’m endlessly oriented towards seeing the negative. So, it took a leap of faith one night to come home from work and type in “How to start a blog” into Google. This was June 2008. Ten minutes later, I started a little website called 1000AwesomeThings.com. And for the next 1,000 straight weekdays, I forced myself at midnight every night like literally, the post went live at 12:01 a.m. every single night, to write and post one thing that made me smile. And that’s it. That’s what I call awesome. My mother all the time called everything awesome, “That’s awesome. That’s awesome.” That’s what came to mind.
A thousand seem like a small enough number and I started running about wearing warm underwear from just out of the dryer, getting called up to the dinner buffet first at a wedding, playing on old dangerous playground equipment, waking up and realizing it’s a Saturday. These simple little joys that kind of we’re trying to slowly kind of chiropractic adjust my brain towards looking at things from a brighter side. Nobody read this website except for my mom, although when they sent it to my dad, my traffic doubled. And then one day it got bigger and bigger and bigger, 10 hits, 20 hits, made the cover of Fark.com, made the cover of Reddit.com, made the cover of a Dig.com, you know, just to throw some words out there for the old school Internet people out here. And I know you’re my vintage. You remember Dig and Fark and all of that. And as a result, I started getting 5,000, 10,000, 50,000 hits a day. It won an award for Best Blog in the World from the International Academy of Digital Arts and Sciences. I never heard of it before but like David Bowie was the chair of the board.
Hal Elrod: Nice.
Neil Pasricha: And I fly out to New York. I’m walking in a red carpet. I got Sarah Silverman on my left, Martha Stewart on my right. I go on stage and I accept the award. It’s just out of the screen here. I could go grab it. It’s right here for Best Blog in the World. I come home. Ten agents are waiting to turn my blog, 1000AwesomeThings.com, into a book called The Book of Awesome. The Book of Awesome comes out in the spring of 2010. And you wouldn’t think that I would sell many copies of it because it’s literally just my blog printed out and stapled together. It’s free on the Internet, everybody, right? They printed 6,000 copies. That’s what the publisher of Penguin was like, “6,000 copies. That’s our goal with this puppy.” And it went on to sell over a million copies. It changed my life completely. I got invited on The Today Show and in my most embarrassing moment of my life or one of the most, Meredith Vieira, the host at the time, says to me, in front of 45 million Americans and they don’t give you the questions in advance, she says, “So, Neil, how do you teach all of America to be happy like you?”
And remember, I’m a guy who’s now living in a 500-square-foot shoe box in downtown Toronto. I have no dishes. I’m like, I’m eating over the sink. I’m writing about warm underwear to cheer myself up after working each day. And she wants me to explain to all of America how to be happy. I have no answers. And that question has haunted me and inspired me for the next ten years. And that’s partly why, Hal, from then until today, I have oriented my life towards thinking more deeply and more broadly about what we do from a tactical behavioral habit-based approach in order to live our most happy and intentional lives. And that now ten books and journals later flash forward to the year 2022, I have gotten remarried to my beautiful and lovely wife, Leslie.
Hal Elrod: Congratulations.
Neil Pasricha: Thank you. We have four little boys under 8 years old, and we are constantly like everybody, trying to figure this thing out. And so, our Book of Awesome is coming out now. That is the first Book of Awesome I’ve written in ten years, just my return or my fall back to the original stuff that I started with, which is trying to find simple things that make us smile in a world that is rife with the opposite.
Hal Elrod: It’s beautiful, man. It’s so important because it really highlights that the way you look at the world determines your experience of the world, you know? And when you find the awesome in the mundane, right, then your experience of every moment can be extraordinary. And that’s what you wrote about.
Neil Pasricha: If you can be happy with simple things, it will be simple to be happy.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Ooh, I like that. Say that again. Say that again. So, for everybody in the back.
Neil Pasricha: If you can be happy with simple things, then it will be simple to be happy. And it doesn’t mean being happy with simple things is easy, but it does mean that there’s a muscle in your brain you can work on. The neural pathways in your brain, Hal, you know this, responsible for negative thinking. Those are like superhighways, right? It bleeds, it leads. There’s no good news in the newspaper. We want to see blood, murders, devastation. Our brains are looking for problems. Why? Over 200,000 years, we’ve been evolving to fight the sabretooth tiger hiding in the bush. We’re good at finding problem, solving problems. That’s why when you get a math test back and you’re a teacher, you look for the question you got wrong. When you got a blood test back and you’re a doctor, you look for the high cholesterol. We look for problems. And sometimes that’s all we see. The neural pathways in our brains responsible for positive thinking, they’re covered in bushes and brambles. We got to practice. We have to think of gratitude like a practice. I didn’t realize but by writing those 1000 Awesome Things that was still to this day, I will tell you, that is still the hardest thing I’ve ever done creatively in my life.
Because how many times that I want to quit? Like, every other night, I’m like, “This has got to be the last one. I got 12 on my list. Total 1,000? That’s going to take forever.” It took me four years of doing this every day. So, it is a muscle we can build. We have to train for it. We have to remember that we live in the most abundant time ever in human civilization, ever in history. We live like kings lived 100 years ago. And those simple things I talked about, like being able to feel safe when you walk out your front door, if you’re lucky enough to feel that way. Being able to marry who you want, being able to live where you please, these collective set of freedoms have not been widely available until pretty recently. And so, now it’s about training your brain to find small joys in order to live a life of greater happiness.
Hal Elrod: I love this. I want to go back to my initial first question.
Neil Pasricha: Yeah. The first, first question.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, the second first question. So, you wrote a book titled Two Minute Mornings. There it is on the screen. So, you talked about how important it is to be happy in the morning, right? So, the episode today, I really want us to talk about how to be happy, help people do that, especially in the midst of challenging times. Like, I think most of us, I have a belief that says we’ve all been conditioned to think that when good things happen, I feel good and when bad things happen, I feel bad. And the paradigm that I’m trying to introduce that I’m hoping you’ll help support and drive home is that no matter what happens, I choose how I feel.
Neil Pasricha: Yeah. And you know, we don’t even have to say Hal said sad or Neil said. We can just go to Sonja Lyubomirsky’s worksheets. She’s been studying positive psychology for 30 years, graduated from Stanford, now teaches at University of California, Riverside. And in her book, The How of Happiness, she poses a model, Hal, which echoes exactly what you said. She said 50% of our happiness is genetic. There is a genetic set point. Parents who has more than one kid who’s listening to this, you know this to be true. Okay? Everyone’s got a genetic set point. And then this is the interesting thing about like what she says and what you say, 10%, a mere sliver of our happiness is based on our circumstances, what is happening inside of our world. And 40%, the remainder, is based on our intentional activities, that means the simple happiness tools and behaviors you do in your life in order to cultivate a more positive mindset. Just one more time. 50% genetic, 10% circumstantial, 40% intentional activities.
Now, I’ve heard Sonja Lyubomirsky speak recently and she says, “You know what, I want to kind of take those numbers off the model.” That’s fine. Let’s be aware of those three points, and let’s also be aware that what you do has a four times greater effect-ish. Everyone’s different, but -ish. Then what happens to you? Right. And so, I completely agree. And like I said, we can go to this woman who’s been studying positive psychology since before Martin Seligman and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi I invented positive psychology in 1998.
Hal Elrod: Oh, wow.
Neil Pasricha: So, like, she’s ten years earlier than them. She’s been studying happiness for 30 years, pretty much the longest person. Her and Ed Diener are the two original psychologists who studied that.
Hal Elrod: The two OGs.
Neil Pasricha: Yes.
Hal Elrod: Okay. So, then you talk about how important it is to be happy in the morning specifically. And so, I want to know. So, two questions. What is a two-minute morning? And why should we care about being happy in the morning specifically?
Neil Pasricha: Okay. Right now, we got a problem in our bedrooms. 95% of people are sleeping within five feet of a cell phone. And when I ask people what they’re doing before bed, Hal, they say, “Well, I check on my cell phone, what’s going on in my fantasy football team. Anyone comment on my Instagram post? One of my bosses e-mailed me, blah, blah, blah.” What are you doing when you wake up in the morning? “Well, I got to check what’s on Twitter. I got to see the Hang Seng Index.” You’re on the phone. I’m like, “Everyone just stop for a second.” If you drank a bottle of wine before bed every night, slept within five feet of a bottle of wine, and drank a bottle of wine when you woke up every morning, what would we call you? There’s no judgment, but you’re an alcoholic. Right now, we’re phonaholics now and we don’t even notice it. I want people to go and buy an alarm clock like an actual alarm clock. Get an alarm clock. Put it on the other side of the room, as you tell people to do, and then get the phone out of the bedroom and instead, when you wake up, I want you to do a two-minute morning practice.
Here’s my argument. You are awake for 1,000 minutes a day. That is the average waking time per person, per day, 1,000 minutes. For those trying to do the math at home that’s 16 2/3 hours. Okay. So, could you take two of them? If I told you that based on, again, the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky, if you could prime your brain to be happy in those first 2 minutes, you’re 31% more productive, you have 37% higher sales if you’re in a sales role, you’re 300% more creative, you’re 40% more likely to get a promotion next 12 months. And according to the Nun Study at the University of Kentucky, you’ll live ten years longer. So, how do you do it? Well, you grab a pen and a piece of paper. Yes, I wrote a journal, but my journal, Hal, is just the same three things over. You don’t even need my journal. You just grab a pen and piece of paper. The three prompts are: I will let go of, I am grateful for, and I will focus on.
Let’s start with the top one. I will let go of. Catholics know this. Catholic confession chamber, “Bless me, father, for I have sinned.” It’s about confession, about letting go. It’s not just Catholicism. Buddhism, Mormonism, Judaism, Islam. Did you know almost every world religion has a form of confession baked into the religious practice? Thousands-of-year-old doctrines across the world we all think that this is important. But what’s the fastest-growing religion right now in the United States and Canada? It is none. According to National Geographic, the fast-growing religion in this continent is none. In fact, Canada and the U.S. are just passing over the 50% secular threshold, joining countries like the Netherlands, France, UK, New Zealand with having more than half of our population not ascribed to a particular faith. I don’t have a judgment or an opinion one way or the other, but what I will say is look at the science. Dr. Brassen wrote a report in Science Magazine called Don’t Look Back in Anger.
It says the same thing. You can crystallize and eject a regret, something you’re stressed about. You’ll live your life with more contentment. So, what I argue is when you wake up if you’re like me and I know I may be a bit more anxious or wound up than the average person but I do believe most people wake up with something subconsciously bothering them. I will let go of… Comparing my podcast to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. I will let go of the 5 pounds I gained over the holidays. I will let go of the thought that I never got to say goodbye to my dad. I will let go of the fact that I’m in this nasty argument with my sister. It’s all my fault. I will let go.
Once you’ve cleansed your brain of the thing that’s been bothering you, the research shows it takes it out of your mind for the day, after you shammy the black words, try to write with some nice, crisp chalk, “I am grateful for.” Research from Emmons and McCullough shows that if you can write down ten gratitudes a week for a ten-week period, you’re not just happier, but you’re physically healthier. They compare the two test groups out, writing down hassles and running out events. The people that wrote down gratitudes were not just happy, but physically, this is amazing. You don’t even have to go to the gym. This is a bicep curl. You want arms like Hal’s? You just got to write down gratitudes.
Now, the research says it has got to be specific. Most people that write down gratitudes, you know what they do? My husband, my kid, my dog. That ain’t going to work. You have to try to trigger a part of your brain called your visual cortex. There’s an area in there called area 17. It lights up again that they can actually remember the specific thing you’re talking about. So, don’t write down, “My husband.” Say, “Well, my husband, Hal, put down the toilet seat.” Don’t say, “My daughter.” Say, “When my five-year-old daughter, Sonya, learned how to write her name.” Don’t say, “My dog.” Say, “When we rescued a puppy we got in the pandemic, stopped peeing on my wife’s pillows.” Whatever it is but make it specific and something that actually happened to you.
Finally, my third prompt is I will focus on. You know this, I know this, we all know this. We suffer from decision fatigue today. The less decisions we can make, the stronger cognitive flow we can carry for the remainder of the day. Because when our decision-making energy is gone, it’s gone. You can only replenish it two ways, glucose and sleep. If you want to go deeper on this topic, I recommend the book Willpower by Roy Baumeister and John Tierney from the University of Florida. So, what’s the solution? Every morning I write down one thing I carve away from my endless could do, should do list, one thing I will do, and I make it the most annoying thing on my list. Like, the car that needs the oil change for three months. The dentist appointment that needs to be called. Whatever it is that’s been bothering me or hanging on, cleaning this horrible messy home office where I have been meaning to do that for a while, filing your taxes, whatever it is. Together, these three prompts take arguably 2 minutes. I will let go of, I am grateful for, I will focus on, and they help prime your brain for positivity for the other 998 minutes of the day.
Hal Elrod: I am taking notes. I’m almost done. I love that. I have a similar scribing practice, but that to me everything that you said, what I love about the way that you share, Neil, is that you’ve done so much research and you remember it all. I, on the other hand, have done a lot of research and I don’t remember any of the details. So, I always go…
Neil Pasricha: I’ll tell you how to remember it.
Hal Elrod: Oh, okay. All right. There’s some coaching I need.
Neil Pasricha: Okay. Well, just because I was in the exact same boat. I just cracked it. Here’s what you do. You take half an hour one day, Hal, you know all the studies because you look them up. They’re in your books and you talk about them with the people. Grab a bunch of 100 pack of blank cue cards or note cards from a dollar store. On the front, I write down the highlight word, right, like confession. On the back, I write the name of the study, Dr. Brassen, Don’t Look Back in Anger, Science Magazine. And you know what, man? I just leave that pile of cue cards and then I flip through them and I see if I can guess the back.
Hal Elrod: Nice.
Neil Pasricha: That’s it. I’m not saying it’s rocket science.
Hal Elrod: No. That’s pretty damn close to rocket science to me.
Neil Pasricha: It’s just a simple way to remember the studies when you’re trying to.
Hal Elrod: I love it. So, you wrote a book, The Happiness Equation. Again, so you wrote Two Minute Mornings, Miracle Morning, Happiness Equation, Miracle Equation. You’re the expert in happiness. I’m the so-called expert in miracles or whatever. So, what is the happiness equation? And I want to say this, without giving much away, the subtitle spoke so deeply to me. In fact, when I share this, this is just another thing that we have in common of so many so far, the subtitle of the book is Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything. When I was in my twenties and I started studying enlightenment, my motto was, “Want nothing. Enjoy everything. Love all.”
Neil Pasricha: Wow.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. And so, very similar.
Neil Pasricha: Listeners are hearing us fall in love right now. We have so much in common.
Hal Elrod: That’s right.
Neil Pasricha: You live in my favorite city in the States, too.
Hal Elrod: There you go. Nice. Yeah. This is called author love.
Neil Pasricha: Yeah. Well, here’s the Happiness Equation origin story. You asked me for my origin story and I told you about my wife leaving me and my best friend taking his own life. Writing this blog, trying to find some salvation and some solace through seeking out simple pleasures. Very difficult thing to do. I often didn’t have anything. Many of my posts on that blog were duds. I mean, I wrote ducks. They could walk, fly, and swim. Ducks through humans too. Awesome. I mean I had lots of them that didn’t make the book is what I’m trying to say. Well, I kept cultivating that positive idea and that turned into like a litany of kind of Krusty the Clown type sequel, The Book of Even More Awesome, The Book of (Holiday) Awesome, the Journal of Awesome, five paginated Calendars of Awesome, I mean, App of Awesome. There was a whole awesome explosion and I thought to myself, “Imitation rule is not too far behind.” So, I stopped the blog. I wrote all thousand. I stop writing awesome things and I had to work on myself for a few years. What does that mean? I mean, I started dating. I mean, I started dating and I didn’t do very well at it because my confidence was low and I was going to therapy twice a week.
I was like, just trying to work on all my stuff because what happened when my wife left me was she was right. We shouldn’t have been together. She just called it out first. She was right. I would have kept going through a loveless, sexless, intimacy-less marriage because I thought like, this is how it’s supposed to be.
And thank goodness for her courage. I owe her a tremendous amount of gratitude because then I started having my personal reckoning with my therapist. It’s like I was uncovering all kinds of issues, confidence issues, issues around race. I mean, I had a lot of baggage that was unprocessed.
So, I spent years working on myself. Of course, dating is a great test of your own comfort level with yourself because you put yourself out there and you’re not you yet. You find out pretty quickly. And I did find that pretty quickly because the whole first year I was dating, no one called me back.
Another year goes by, I finally get my first ever second dates with a woman named Leslie. She’s a downtown Toronto inner city schoolteacher. We have a great, strong connection that takes off like a rocket. We start dating for a year. We move in together. We live together for a year. I get down on one knee, I ask her to marry me.
The wedding is a beautiful, wonderful day in July in Toronto, in Scarborough Bluffs for anyone that knows it, that’s like overlooking Lake Ontario. And then we go on a honeymoon. Honeymoon was great, Southeast Asia, two weeks. Neither of us has been before. Neither of us has been there since.
Until the flight home, Hal, when she’s sick on the plane on a layover in Malaysia. And we have an hour to find the pharmacy, to find a place for her to lie down. Why a pharmacy? Because that was where she wanted to go. So, we get on the plane for a 13-hour flight home from Kuala Lumpur to Toronto.
And on the plane, she goes to the tiny airplane bathroom at the front of the airplane. She comes back to her seat a minute later, she says to me, “I’m pregnant.” She wasn’t feeling well because she was pregnant. She took a pregnancy test in the airport. She bought the pregnancy test in the Kuala Lumpur airport. She did the test in a tiny airplane bathroom at the front of the airplane, 50,000 feet over sea level.
So, now, we got a whole other thing happening in our lives, which is that we’re immediately– like, we just got married. We’re immediately having kids. And I thought to myself, Hal, for the last few years I’ve been working on myself, yes, the therapy, but also endless reading, and I’ve been doing speeches about awesomeness and gratitude. And so, I tried my best to coalesce everything I’d learned into a 300-page letter for my unborn child on how to live a happy life. That letter is The Happiness Equation. The Happiness Equation, my book that came out in 2016 is the letter I wrote to my son, I didn’t know it was a son before he was born. So, I wrote it in the nine months of my wife’s pregnancy.
And there’s something about that book I’ll tell you today. I know we’re talking on the eve of Our Book of Awesome coming out. But that book has got some legs in it that none of my boss has ever had, and perhaps, it’s the energy that was just in it at the time.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, Miracle Morning is the same way for me.
Neil Pasricha: Right. There’s something– if you’re an author, you’ve written about stuff, you don’t know what’s going to sell, what’s not. Nobody can predict any sales trajectory. Anyone who tells you they can is lying.
So, it’s almost a surprise to authors. Look, The Book of Holiday Awesome is out of print. So, The Book of Holiday Awesome, I love it, on the bestseller list every year at Christmas. Well, the problem is that we can’t carry a book that doesn’t sell for the other 11 months. It’s canceled. So, I’m like if I knew it, you guys not print that, like I’m one of the worst authors on it.
So, that’s the thing, you don’t know. But The Happiness Equation, that’s the origin story. And what is it about all the underpinning of that book is that the model for how we think about happiness is totally backwards. We grew up being taught that great work leads to big success, leads to being happy.
Every parent says this to their kid, come on, if you study really hard and you’ll get straight A’s, and if you’re India like me, you’ll become a doctor. Great work, great success, be happy. But it turns out the models reverse, that reviewing over 300 studies of positive psychology is not great work, great success, be happy. It’s the opposite. You got to train your brain to be happy first, then you do great work. Why? I just mentioned it, 31% higher productivity, 37% higher sales, 300% more creativity. So, you show up happy.
We know this. We like happy bosses. We like happy peers. Guess what? Then you do great work. And then guess what happens? The big success, two forms of success, career success, that’s what you’re after. Happy people are 40% more likely to get a promotion in the next four months, and a life success. Down in Kentucky, there is a very famous study. When you look at nuns, nuns are perfect lab rats. All right. Same gender, same religion, same clothes, same…
Hal Elrod: Hey, no offense to any nuns listening. Okay, continue.
Neil Pasricha: I love nuns. But I’m saying if you’re going to pick a test group to study and nuns will be the people that are all the same gender, in the same religion, in the same clothes, in the same food, in the same building. You’re up, you’re holding every other variable constant.
Hal Elrod: That’s great.
Neil Pasricha: Right?
Hal Elrod: Yeah.
Neil Pasricha: So, when the researchers looked at these nuns’ autobiographies, they categorized them into two piles. The one that use a keyword like looking forward, eager joy, or bless of life, they call those happy nuns. I’m looking forward to entering the convent. I have a pretty blessed life so far. It’s with eager joy that I accept the privilege to join this convent, whatever. Twenty five percent of the nuns use one of those three key phrases or a derivative of. They did a language analysis and they checked in on them, the 2000s, the ones that were happier in the convent lived an average of 10 years longer. Man, life is short.
If you’re listening to this in North America, your average lifespan right now is 30,000 days. So, if I could tell you, you could press a button called happiness, lived 3,000 more, 3,000 more sunsets, 3,000 more bold ice creams, 3,000 more kissing your kids’ goodnight. Once you do it, the principle of the happiness equation is I hope you would, and if you are into it, then the other nine chapters of the book explore ways and ideas in order to bring this to life.
I have some ideas in there that are very controversial. Like never retiring, I’m a big advocate of no such thing as retirement, instead I say, change the four S’s – social, structure, stimulation, and story, and we can talk about those if you’re interested. And I also have things about not taking advice and things about authenticity, and so, it’s everything I could come up with. They are my mid to late 30s. At the time, there is a lot that I want to sound like it because I was paranoid. This is not a healthy thought and anxious thought. I was like, what if I die? What if I die? What if I die before the kid is 12? Well, then I won’t have a chance to tell him all this stuff. So, this is my attempt to do that. And that’s what the book is.
Hal Elrod: Beautiful, man. Beautiful. What an authentic place for the book to emerge. And then you share it with the world.
Neil Pasricha: And then with all subsequent kids, no time to write anything.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, that’s true. Very good point. Unless you do the Miracle Morning, you wake up and you write it first thing in the morning, of course. What would you say prevents people from being happy? With all the work that you’ve done, I would imagine you’ve got to have some clarity around that.
Neil Pasricha: Well, I will say it’s a pretty challenging time and place to be alive right now with what’s happening with the upfront of technology. We’re not talking about this enough. I do think that there’s three big problems with cell phones, Hal, and they get in the way of our happiness. I’ve already talked about getting them out of the bedroom. I’m not saying that’s easy, but I plug my cell phone into the furnace room of my house. That is the dustiest, cobweb-filled. There’s like centipedes, like they’re in that room because it’s the dingy room. I’m going to like plug in there, so it creates some friction between me and my phone.
But there’s three pieces of problem to solve. Number one is psychological. We compare our director’s cut life with everybody else’s greatest hits. No matter how good that microwave burrito you made at lunches, you maybe just slice some avocado. Maybe you put some good salsa on there, maybe you slice the piece of cheese. You go on Instagram, and someone’s at a lobster buffet and your lunch suddenly stinks. You’re always a loser on the Internet. You never have enough likes, enough followers, enough friends. And we do not yet know.
As Kevin Kelly would say, you know what? This is only 5,000-day-old media that we’re consuming. We do not yet know the ramifications of never thinking you’re the best at anything, but someone could beat Mario World in seven minutes on YouTube. Somebody just free throws behind their back from half court on YouTube. When I was a kid, you could aspire to be the best basketball player of a high school team. It’s no longer possible. Psychologically, we’re always in fear. That’s the first one. It starts with letter P – psychological.
Second one is productivity. D-Score which is US market research firm says that we touch our cell phones over 2,000 times a day. It’s more of a constant fondle. And what’s happening is there’s a report suggesting that we’re spending 31% of our time on our phones, bookmarking, prioritizing, and switching. You know this effect on you. You call your partner downstairs watching a Netflix show at 9:30. What are you doing at 10 o’clock? You’re deciding what to watch, though. You’re looking at Rotten Tomatoes, you’re looking at YouTube, you’re looking at Trailers. It’s overwhelming. It’s overwhelming eventually. And every single thing on our phones is competing with everything else to get your attention. Every text, every notification, every alert is actually a productivity drop. How often you pick up your phone, you can’t remember why five minutes later, right?
Then the third one, I think this is really important, is physical. Research from Australia is now suggesting that if you look at a phone within two hours of bedtime, your brain does not secrete the melatonin required for a deep restful sleep. That would be the pineal gland, and your brain does not– why? Because you think you’re looking at the sun. In fact, some evolutionary biologists are saying you get a jolt of energy when you turn your phone off. Your body wants to build a fire instead of the cave.
So, there’s three pieces of problems yourself. And you ask me what’s getting in the way of our happiness, a big one is our cell phone addiction. And I believe that news media and social media has been outed as a huge disservice to our society. These are for profit businesses seeking to get your attention, use you as a product, and feed you ads. The ultimate purpose of news media and social media is to feed you advertisements. And that business model is fracturing our attention.
There’s a wonderful piece on this. I’ll cite it now. You can put it on the show notes, a cover story that was just written by a guy way smarter than me named Jonathan Haidt, H-A-I-D-T. He’s a professor at NYU. He’s most well known for his books, The Righteous Mind and The Coddling of the American Mind. He’s got a new book coming out in 2023 called After Babel. And the root of that book is this title story, cover story of The Atlantic called How Social Media and Cell Phones Are Fracturing the Mortar of Society.
So, we need to put the genie back in the box. Don’t tell me you can’t do it. I’m telling you how. You plug the phone charger in the basement. You get the screen out of the bedroom. You start with your practice or my practice in the morning and you are consciously turning your phone from a push device to a pull device or when you go off of airplane mode is by choice and with intention and you delete all the apps on your screen that take your attention away.
Hal Elrod: I love that. Yeah, I mean, that obviously could be– there are many books written about just about the problem with cell phones. You ever heard of the book Glow Kids?
Neil Pasricha: No. I thought you were going to say How to Break Up with Your Phone, which is another one.
Hal Elrod: That’s a popular one. I’ve not read that one.
Neil Pasricha: How do you spell glow?
Hal Elrod: Glow, G-L-O-W. And the reason it’s called that is on the front, it’s got a picture of a kid holding a device. I think it might be an item. It’s a phone or an iPad, and their face is glowing there in the dark. And it was written by a neuroscientist on the impact of our children using technology, and essentially that as their brain is developing and they’re using this device designed to addict you, right?
Neil Pasricha: Exactly.
Hal Elrod: Their brain is developing into that of an addict. And then when they come to any other stimulus, whether it’s alcohol or drugs or television or anything else that is potentially addicting, they now have trained their brain to need the dopamine and the serotonin releases. And so, they’re more likely to go back to the alcohol, just like they go back to the phone. Anyway, so we have no phones for our kids in our house. After I read that book, I was like, all right, we got to have a talk.
Neil Pasricha: How old are your kids?
Hal Elrod: My daughter’s 13 and my son is 10.
Neil Pasricha: At what age do you plan to keep that policy in place until?
Hal Elrod: So, right now, there’s a tentative, telling my daughter that we will consider at 14. I personally would like, like 18, or 16 might be the balance, so.
Neil Pasricha: That’s one of the points that Jonathan Haidt has in the articles that these ages that we prevent people to go on social media at 12. Age was coined in the 1990s, far before all the technology was actually invented. So, he’s saying at the minimum, it should be 16.
And auto scrolling is another dangerous tendency because this infinite scrolling, which was invented by the guy who serves, are now sort of turned from a heel to a baby face is the guy who’s co-founded the Center for Humane Technology. He’s now saying this is something I wish I never invented because our brains are searching for stopping point.
You watch a TV show till it ends. You read a newspaper till it ends. You’re picking up berries in the wilderness till you’re full. Like now, our brains are endless. How do you feel at the end of the all-you-can-eat Chinese buffet? That’s what’s happening to your brain now with anything that’s endlessly scrolling, you can’t turn it off.
Hal Elrod: I love that analogy of the buffet. That’s great. Yeah, go ahead.
Neil Pasricha: Yeah. It’s like you feel good at the end of the all-you-can-eat buffet because everything on your phone is now an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. I call it like a social media coma, where you’re scrolling and you don’t even know– you’re unconscious of it. And then all of a sudden, you shake your head, you’re like, where was I? What I’ve been doing the last 10 minutes?
Neil Pasricha: So, Stolen Focus by Johann Hari is another book that’s come out on this topic. There’s a lot of kind of reason for the problem that people have a fractured attention that they can’t read them. It’s like recommending a book these days, it’s sort of like saying, could you watch a 12-hour movie? It’s a hard suggestion to do.
And so, that’s probably why I’m jealous of your podcast being so short. You keep your podcast so good. My podcast is almost three and a half hours and I’ll be wondering why there’s not more downloads because the thing I’m offering is too big.
Hal Elrod: Why are people only getting through the first two hours? What am I doing?
Neil Pasricha: Exactly. So, there’s a lot here, but I will say it’s worth looking into what technologists do with technology at a minimum. The fact that Steve Jobs didn’t let screens inside his house is kind of an interesting point.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. You don’t even need to know the why beyond that to go, oh, I’m just going to trust that there’s probably a pretty good reason that the guy that invented the technology won’t let his kids out of it. I mean, it’s either because he hates his kids and the phones would really benefit them, which is not likely, or it’s because he loves his kids, right? And yeah, because he’s torturing them, no.
Neil Pasricha: His conversations are important and we’re right at the point where they’re like, we’re at risk of missing the conversation right now because it’s become so ubiquitous.
Hal Elrod: It is. I mean, honestly, I get a little bit, I don’t know if sad is the right word. Where was I the other day? I was in public somewhere. We had a theme park. No, where were we? Oh, I was at a place called– not High Five. What is it? Urban Air. It’s a trampoline park. And then they’ve got some video, all of this. And I was watching these two girls that were my daughter’s age. I mean, I was sad watching the entire– everyone there was just either on their phone or drinking soda and Icee. I’m such a health freak. I think that I have a little OCD around that.
But I’m going, why are you putting that red dye and blue dye 40 in your body and I’m just watching these young kids just slurping up these big 40-ounce Icees that are horrible for us. And that made me a little sad. But I’m watching these two girls specifically because they were my daughter’s age, and like they have their phone in their hand the entire time while they’re jumping on the trampoline, the phones in their hand, and then they get off it because they’re like, okay, we’ve been jumping for two minutes. I need a dopamine fix. And then they go over and they’re pointing at each other’s phone and there’s– and I’m like, what kind of insane society are we perpetuating that human beings are connecting with their technology more than each other? And it concerns me.
Neil Pasricha: Yeah. So, I’m a preacher in a parish on this stuff. I have kids in my house who mimic me and they hold a hand up in front of their face pretending that they’re dad. So, I want everyone listening to know that this is coming from a place of, like, I’m addicted, so I’m working on it.
Hal Elrod: Me, too, yep.
Neil Pasricha: But it’s partly why that the bent for me has gone towards reading books because when Leslie and I started dating, she was like, where’s all your books? I was like, oh, who’s got time to read? Who’s got time to read? Honestly, Hal, five years ago, I spiked my reading rate of books, from five books here at most to 100. And I’ve kept that up now for five years, over 100 books a year.
Hal Elrod: Wow.
Neil Pasricha: Why do I do that? How do I do that? Well, I wrote an article for Harvard Business Review, which you can link to called 8 Ways to Read a Lot More Books This Year. And you know what? My stuff was kind of simple, like all my stuff is. Put a bookshelf at the front door, cancel your magazine subscriptions, delete the social media app on your phone, tell people what you’re reading, like sign up for an account at Goodreads or on Twitter. Or like in my case, I started up an email list where I have a book club, and every month, I have to tell people what I read so that it applies a little bit of positive pressure.
And I kept that going to the point where that’s why my podcast is called 3 Books. The whole point is to ask people around the world, which three books most changed your life. And I have found that the biggest and most resonant phrase from this entire kind of work or journey I’ve been on to switch my attention from, if you’re an addict, you need a different fix. I’m trying to make books my fix. It is this idea of no book guilt, no book shame.
Part of the problem when you introduce people back into the world of reading books is I’m going to say you’re going to be a wonderful operator. After an hour on social media, you feel like crap. After an hour of reading a book, you feel more intelligent, you feel more informed. But to get to that place, you got to stop judging yourself. I don’t care if I read a book front to back, left to right. I don’t care if you read the whole thing. You can pick a random chapter, you can pick the index, you can read comic books, you can read young adult, you can read picture books.
If you hold on to this idea and principle of no book guilt, no book shame, it frees you to re-enter the world of books from a place of love, as opposed to a place that were taught in elementary school. Read The Grapes of Wrath cover to cover. Well, that’s not a good way to get people to love reading.
Hal Elrod: Yeah, sure. Now, mentioning reading and you talk a lot about happy habits in your books. That for me is a happy habit. I find that when I’m in an emotional kind of in a funk, kind of feeling off, it’s almost always when I haven’t read for a meaningful period of time. There’s always some sort of correlation.
And then when I pick up a book and I start reading and I go, oh, wow, oh, that idea is brilliant. All of a sudden, there’s a dopamine release that’s not from a, like on social media. It’s from a, I now have knowledge, I now have information, I now have awareness that can improve the quality of my life, that feels good and that is sustainable.
So, as I’m reading, it’s like more and more of that is coming up for me and I go, oh, I feel happy again. So, it’s an external stimuli, but one that’s empowering, that is sustainable to read, learn, grow, and continue to improve. Any other happy habits? What are your other– I know you’ve mentioned some.
Neil Pasricha: Yeah. Well, since you love studies, I might throw a couple on there. 2011 Annual Review of Psychology says that only reading fiction opens up the mirror neurons in your brain responsible for empathy, compassion, understanding. My last job at Walmart, the world’s largest company, was Director of Leadership Development. My job is to grow managers to directors, directors to VPs, VPs to SVPs. The number one derailer, Hal, across all leaders at all levels was empathy, compassion, understanding. It is actually the EQ skills that prevent you from going off, even if you’re technically savvy years out, solid organization.
So, you’re awesome at your job, but nobody likes you in the meeting, you’re not going to get promoted to VP in general, unless it’s a toxic culture. So, why am I mentioning that? Because reading actually is wonderful for investing in your leadership skills, too. And according to the American Time Use Survey, 57% of Americans read zero books last year, zero, none. So, let’s just encapsulate that into a happy habit. If you’re going to open your day at two in the morning, I want you to end your day with turning your phone off, putting it in the basement, and going upstairs and reading a few pages of fiction from a real book.
Why fiction? Well, as George R.R. Martin said, our reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one. Opening yourself up to other genders, religions, times of the world, places of the world. Look, I got books beside me right now, Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Have you ever been a slave in Alabama in the 1800s? No. No one listening to this has, just by the nature of the time. But when you read that book, you feel like you’re there.
There There by Tommy Orange, a wonderful entry point into the American native or indigenous experience. I could go on and on and on down the book, probably. It just exposes you to a range of emotions that isn’t otherwise accessible.
And books still are the single greatest compressed form of wisdom available on the planet. You know this from reading because instead of watching an 18-minute TED Talk, what do people do? They read the three-minute transcript. See, so reading is still a much part of us still. That’s why I don’t think Clubhouse will take off because it’s too slow. We want to get more stuff just reading. Now, you said, other happy habits. Yeah, okay, so…
Hal Elrod: Just give me your favorites, your number one happy habit.
Neil Pasricha: Okay. Here’s one I haven’t talked about before. Birdwatching.
Hal Elrod: I did not expect that.
Neil Pasricha: I know you didn’t expect it because I haven’t talked about it before. But here’s the thing about birdwatching, look, Andrew Huberman has been doing a lot of research and he’s got a wonderful podcast called Huberman Lab, which he advocates people spend 2 to 10 minutes every morning looking outside at the sunrise. Why? Because when your pupils dilate, guess what happens? Your whole body relaxes. Your adrenaline, cortisol, these things go down.
Everybody knows that by controlling your breath or mimicking kind of a long, deep breathing, you can actually kind of reverse engineer your body into a position of relaxation. You can do the same thing by dilating your pupils. Guess what’s great for dilating your pupils, Hal? Looking at birds.
Why else is it great? Well, because when you go outside, you’re in nature. What happens when you’re in nature? First of all, you’re fighting against NDD, which is nature deficit disorder. Kids these days now spend 7% of their days outside, the lowest level in recorded history. You multiply the 7% times seven days a week, Hal, that’s 49%, which means an average kid takes a whole week to spend, not even half a day outside.
Hal Elrod: Wow.
Neil Pasricha: What’s the benefit? Many benefits. Many benefits. Many benefits. One of which, I’ll just highlight quickly, is that trees release a chemical called phytoncides, P-H-Y-T-O-N-C-I-D-E-S. What’s that chemical do? It lowers all your stress hormones, less cortisol, less adrenaline. If you are running through the day, struggling through the day, running through the day, feeling in the middle of the day like you are a little bit too pent up and anxious, that you send an e-mail you suddenly regret, then guess what? Just come outside. You don’t get to have the binoculars handy, like I advocate, which is getting outside to the closest kind of– as my friend Alie Ward, who’s host of Ologies says, huff some bark. That’s her phrase.
Hal Elrod: Is that the new hug a tree?
Neil Pasricha: Yeah, huff some bark. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Hal Elrod: Now, I know. So, actually, I do birdwatching every day. It makes me really happy. Not in the way you’re talking about, I don’t think, because for me, it’s chickens. We have 20 something chickens and they free range all over our property. I mean literally, like we have a pool in the backyard and I’ll be laying out after lunch, getting some sun, some vitamin D, and there’s just chickens, just all walking around me. And the chickens make me so happy. And I found that I am not alone and that most people that have chickens, they are such a source of joy. And I don’t know, if they’re birds and dinosaurs, it’s like a cross between a bird and a dinosaur.
Neil Pasricha: Absolutely. Part of the problem with the pandemic is that we insulated ourselves so much from the natural world and connecting with birds, dinosaurs, chicken. Common loon is 90 million years old, or trees that have been here longer than any of us. What it does is it reduces your ego. There’s even been studies that show that people who walk around more in nature are more likely to take pictures that don’t include their face. You become more selfless when you’re oriented towards the wider and the vaster history of everything instead of just being focused on you and your problems.
Hal Elrod: Yeah. Agreed. I agree. I think that nature, that’s God’s television, right? You think about how fascinating nature– I mean, millions, billions of species and plants and bugs and flowers, you name it, it’s like you could spend your entire lifetime just focusing on trying to spend time in nature and not see it all, not even get a fraction of it.
Neil Pasricha: 100%.
Hal Elrod: You mentioned, you talked a lot about books earlier. I don’t want to end this episode without hearing about your new book. So, the newest book is called Our Book of Awesome. Why this book? What’s it about? Who’s it for? And why now?
Neil Pasricha: So, look, I found, during the pandemic, my old demons of anxiety and depression kind of rising up again. It’s not just me. The National Institute of Mental Health said that we went from 13% of people claiming to have a depressive symptom to 43%. Dr. Jean Twenge at San Diego State University says that one in three college students now has clinical anxiety. Or she says one in three, that actual study doesn’t come from her, it comes from a New York Times Magazine cover story. I don’t want to miscredit her. She’s doing a really great job about rising value rates. We’ve got loneliness at an all-time high. The search in general is talking about how 40% of people live alone now and loneliness rates have never been higher, not to say there’s a direct correlation. You can be alone and happy.
Hal Elrod: Sure.
Neil Pasricha: But we’ve also never had the highest percentage in history of people living on their own. And we know social skills and social connections are part of what makes us happy. So, what did I do during the pandemic? I started writing for the first time another 1,000 awesome things. Every single day since March 2020, I have been sending out an awesome thing every night at midnight, again, to a small email list because I just said, I’m going to be doing this if you want to get a daily email from me. How do you want another daily email? It’s going to 5,000 or 10,000 people getting this email.
Hal Elrod: Nice.
Neil Pasricha: And so, what I’ve done with our Book of Awesome is I’ve looked into the inbox that I set up back in 2010 to collect other people’s suggestions around the world. There are over 10,000 submissions waiting there. So, I take the awesome things I’ve written for the last few years, things like carrying the ice cube tray from the sink to the freezer without spilling, adding a gift note to yourself on your online order, when your kids don’t hear you opening a bag of potato chips.
Hal Elrod: Now, I didn’t get that one. I need an explanation real quick on that one.
Neil Pasricha: When your kids don’t hear you opening a bag of potato chips?
Hal Elrod: Yeah, why is that awesome?
Neil Pasricha: You get to eat all the potato chips.
Hal Elrod: Okay, got it. See, now, I don’t eat potato chips, which is why it just didn’t click for me. My wife will buy your book just for that. She is a potato chip fanatic, and my kids will eat them all if she lets them, so yeah.
Neil Pasricha: In my house, a full large bag of potato chips on average lasts less than five minutes. It’s pretty crazy.
Hal Elrod: Got it.
Neil Pasricha: Texting your husband to do something when he’s upstairs and you’re downstairs. And then I have something like poignant ones, like seeing your parents dance. And so, what I’ve done is for each of these awesome things, I’ve written two or three pages, I’ve collected awesome things from the community, and I try to take myself out of this book.
So, if you want to buy this book, it comes out December 6, Our Book of Awesome. You’ll notice there’s no picture of me. There’s no bio of me. There’s no about the author. There’s no acknowledgments. There’s no dedication.
Hal Elrod: Wow. I love that.
Neil Pasricha: I took all of that out because what I’m trying to do is have it feel like our book. There’s comments from other people, but the end of the book is a cacophony of awesome, yell that from people from all over the world. So, the font gets smaller and smaller and smaller, the text gets blacker and blacker and blacker, and there starts to be this litany of hundreds and hundreds. And then the book just ends like that.
I got there, yeah, there’s no about the author, there’s no acknowledgments, there’s no dedication, there’s no picture of me. It’s just, it’s Our Book of Awesome. It’s meant to be an antidote to the toxic culture we live in, reminding us how much we have to be grateful and thankful for, and a jumping off point for you to begin or continue your own brand-new practice.
Hal Elrod: I feel like that’s needed now, arguably more than ever.
Neil Pasricha: I think so. Based on all the mental health data that I quoted at the very beginning of this conversation, anxiety is at an all-time high. Depression is at an all-time high. Loneliness is at an all-time high. Suicide is at an all-time high. I haven’t seen levels of suicide this high in 70 years.
Hal Elrod: So, the book, Our Book of Awesome, is available for preorder now, correct?
Neil Pasricha: Yes, it is.
Hal Elrod: Okay, on Amazon.
Neil Pasricha: It’s coming out from Simon & Schuster and available everywhere books are sold.
Hal Elrod: Awesome, brother. Well, anything else you want to share with us, Neil, before we wrap up?
Neil Pasricha: I mean, I think of the people that make it to the end of the podcast as part of an exclusive community I often referred to as the end of the podcast club. So, if you’re interested in connecting, my email address is email@example.com. Again, that’s my personal email address. No one else uses it. I have no other accounts. I mean, I have another older personal– I mean, this is my email address, again, no one else uses it. If you want to draw me a lot of feedback, thoughts, questions…
Hal Elrod: Say it again, N-E-I-L, neil at what?
Neil Pasricha: GlobalHappiness.org. And I’m holding up a card. I don’t know if this thing’s on YouTube or not, but…
Hal Elrod: I think it’ll be on YouTube, yeah.
Neil Pasricha: There’s my everything, Neil.blog, and @neilpasricha is my handle on all this social media thing.
Hal Elrod: This conversation was two years in the making, and I’m so grateful that we finally made it happen.
Neil Pasricha: Thank you very much, Hal, for having me on. I really love the work you’re doing, and keep doing it, man. It’s wonderful. Thanks for making the world a better place.
Hal Elrod: Hey, did all, brother. Appreciate you, man.
Hal Elrod: Hey, goal achievers, thank you for listening to today’s episode. And I did not until now realize that you are part of the end of the podcast club. Thanks to Neil bringing that to my attention. But it is true, those that actually listen to the end, it is a special group because you’re like, no, I’m committed to getting the most out of this podcast. And so, I appreciate you if you’re still here. And I love you so much, and we’ll talk to you next week.
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