That little voice in your head is not you!

Review: Solve for Happy – Engineer your path to joy – by Mo Gawdat

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This book was introduced into my life through a podcast from The School of Greatness with Lewis Howes – a podcast I would highly recommend. I am self-confessed information addict, attracted to any method of self-development I can find. This book, therefore, appealed to me for various reasons. Firstly, Gawdat’s story-telling voice was perfect for easy-listening; and since I needed a new audiobook for my long journeys, I was sold. Secondly, as a very successful business man with an engineering mind, he offered a new approach to happiness – simply put, by looking at happiness as an ‘algorithm’.

Mo Gawdat is the Chief Business Officer at Google [X] whose goal is to ‘develop new technologies to reinvent the way things are’. However, this book was a project driven by a huge life altering event. Gawdat begun this book project seventeen days after his son died. Therefore, this book is the product of a therapeutic journey of a man who lost his 21-year-old son, that he utterly doted upon.

I know what you’re thinking – happiness is an unusual subject for someone who is grieving. However, throughout this book, you can clearly understand how he learnt to put things in perspective. He has fully considered how to put into practice tried and tested methods of ensuring lasting happiness, no matter what obstacles encountered along the way.

This book may appeal to those who like to base their learning on facts and logical conclusions, driven by a variety of research. Although, at the end of the book, it does steer onto the topic of faith: it is worth the read for the insight you receive into the logical side of happiness.

There is so much I could talk about from this book, yet so much I have forgotten and would need to re-read for it to stick. There are also many activities suggested throughout, communicated via countless approaches to solving the happiness equation. But, for the purpose of this blog post, I have chosen one key aspect that has stuck with me the most. Hopefully this will help you too, or at least inspire you to read a copy for yourself.

The 6-7-5 Happiness Model

The book is separated into 3 parts; identified as 6-7-5. This is based on what Gawdat describes as the Happiness Model: the 6 Grand Illusions, the 7 Blind Spots and the 5 Ultimate Truths.

Gawdat explains: “since the day I started working, I have enjoyed a great deal of success, wealth, and recognition. Yet through it all, I was constantly unhappy.” His goal: to emphasise that the foundations that people believe hold the key to happiness, are not necessarily the actual sources of happiness.

But I found that the more fortune blessed me, the less happy I became

We’ve heard this before right? Rich and successful, but depressed. I have heard this a thousand times. Yet, this book highlights the problem of searching for happiness in all the wrong places, while giving you the tools and the insight of how else to restore your inner happiness.

Happiness in the modern world is surrounded by myths. Much of our understanding of what happiness is and where to find it is distorted. When you know what you’re looking for, the quest becomes easy. It may take time to unlearn old habits, but as long as you stick to the path, you’ll get there.

That is what this book aims to do. It highlights not only how to install more happiness in your life but, more importantly, how to reduce unhappiness. He encourages you to reflect upon your own experiences, and reminds you that – in the past, you didn’t always need a reason to feel happy, “all that you needed was no reason to be unhappy.”

Happiness is the absence of unhappiness

The Illusion of Thought:

The predominant lesson that I gleaned from this book was the importance of controlling your thoughts. There is a quote sitting alone on a blank page near the beginning of the book; this quote, you learn, was the wording from his sons’ tattoo. It read: “The gravity of the battle means nothing to those at peace.” Apparently, this tattoo was something that Ali (Mo Gawdat’s son) lived by: “Nothing could disturb his uninterrupted calmness. He rose above thought, and there he found joy.”

This idea of rising above your thoughts is something that I found integral to my happiness. I can, at times, feel completely helpless to my thoughts. I am sure you have experienced this too. You have a doubt, a worry, and it replays incessantly in your head until you feel consumed by that negative thought. Everything in your life then only seems to justify that negativity and the thoughts simply compound until you are desperately unhappy or driven by anxiety to react. This book reminds you that you are not the voice in your head. It reminds you that you can control those thoughts, and it is up to you how you choose to act upon them.

If there is one thing that will change your life forever, it is recognising that the voice talking to you is not you!

This first illusion, the illusion of thought, did completely change my perspective. Gawdat elaborates on this point, explaining that if we stop thinking – which we all do at times – we do not cease to exist. If we do not cease to exist without thoughts, then the thoughts cannot be you. The thoughts are internal chatter; this chatter may be part of your bodily functions, but it’s a part of you that can be controlled – by you!

The ‘inner dialogue’, as it is referred to, is a natural survival function. It is natural dialogue that the brain presents to you for consideration. This deliberate, incessant dialogue is prominent as you go through your day. Gawdat explains: “Thought engages to add an extra layer of protection when the brain plans ahead to keep you away from possible danger.” This ability keeps us alive, but also presents to us every possible scenario that could go wrong.

In order to control this dialogue, you need to understand a) your thoughts are merely a product of your brains survival system, b) your brain subjectively filters information and inevitably exaggerates, and c) you can prime your brain to focus upon positive thoughts.

Another fascinating point is his exploration of the relationship between your thoughts and suffering. If you truly reflect on the power of thoughts, you will realise: it’s not the actual event that causes suffering, it’s your thoughts about that event. Pain and suffering are two separate responses. Pain has a time-limit; it can be controlled or eventually it will stop. Suffering, however, can continue throughout your life. Why? Because suffering is created in your mind; it is controlled by your perception of your environment and circumstances. Control your thoughts, control your suffering.

Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional – Buddhist Proverb.

For me, the main and most difficult obstacle to happiness is becoming the boss of my own thoughts. If you too struggle with this, I suggest reading this book. Rather than believing “I think therefore I am”, you need to remember “I am, therefore my brain thinks”. Your thoughts are not you – you have the power to stop them at your will, replace them for positive thoughts and recognise when they are irrational and counterproductive to your happiness. The key is having awareness of these thought patterns and then regaining control.

Next time your brain delivers a negative thought, simply acknowledge it, let it go and replace it with its positive counterpart.

Example
Negative thought: “I hate work so much”
Replace with: “I have learnt so much during my time here” or “This money is helping me save for a home that I can call my own”.
Important Takeaway:

Don’t resit the thoughts that’ll pop up. Instead, keep watching them as they roll on through. Observe a thought – then let it go and remind yourself that this thought isn’t you. Thoughts come and go. They have no power over you unless you give them power.

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