Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy
March 28, 2017
Mo Gawdat's new book is about how to achieve happiness by ceasing the chase of it.
Mo Gawdat, from an outsider's perspective, met the definition of success a long time ago. He had a healthy family and a great job. Helping Microsoft and then Google expand their global footprints as a leading technology executive had made him wealthy enough to be able to order two vintage Rolls-Royces on a whim. But the day his two Rolls Royces were delivered, he felt his mood unmoved—rather than being uplifted, he was deeply unhappy. So, in 2001, he embarked on a new engineering project—himself. He had always believed that there would be a day he achieved happiness through high achievement, and it just wasn't coming:
Which led me to simply work harder and buy more toys on the misguided assumption that, sooner or later, all this effort was going to pay off and I'd find the pot of gold—happiness—thought to lie at the end of the high-achievement rainbow. I'd become a hamster on what psychologists call the "hedonic treadmill." The more you get, the more you want. The more you strive, the more reasons you discover for striving.
This is not one of those misguided stories about how hard it is to be rich. Solve for Happy is a story about how hard it is to be human, about the Grand Illusions (Mo names six) and Brain Defects (there are seven) we must overcome to find joy in five Ultimate Truths.
There is a great story about about how he reframed his thoughts about the sound of noisy children that was especially poignant for me as a father of two very noisy kids: he noticed that the annoyance he felt when hearing loud children in a store or coffee shop stemmed from his own embarrassment when he couldn't contain or quiet his own children in public settings—a feeling I'm sure most parents know. That understanding gave him empathy for other parents, and now, when he hears the sound of rambunctious children, it reminds him of those times, of life with young children, and brings him joy instead of annoyance.
Solve for Happy is about how to achieve happiness by ceasing the chase of it. But oddly, for a book about happiness, he doesn't talk directly about happiness all that much. What he addresses most is removing human suffering.
Life doesn't play tricks; it's just hard sometimes. But even then we're given two choices: either do the best we can, take the pain, and drop the suffering, or suffer. Either way, life will still be hard.
For Gawdat, the choice was easy:
I choose not to suffer.
Perhaps I should say simple instead of easy. Because he put in a lot of work to strip away the excess illusions and defects, to quiet his thoughts, or at least let them go, and reach a state of simple happiness. And he would be forgiven for making a different choice.
In 2014, Gawdat lost his son Ali to human error on the operating table during a routine appendectomy. Ali was a young man just striking out into the world, and Mo's words about him paint a portrait of a kind soul, wise beyond his years—a best friend and personal example to his father in so many ways. Mo was obviously devastated, in real pain. But he was not unhappy. He was able to rely on the system he had developed for his own happiness, to be able to take the pain and let it go—to honor Ali by embracing the blessing he was, not dwelling on the loss he endured. And he began writing his new book, Solve for Happy, seventeen days after his son's death to share it with the world.
Today, Gawdat is the chief business officer of X, an offshoot of Google that aims for tenfold improvements in the world—moonshots. Mo's personal moonshot is to make ten million people become happier.
For as long as I live, I will make global happiness my personal mission, my moonshot for Ali.
And it begins with this book, Solve for Happy.
We have 20 copies available.