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

This book was introduced into my life through a podcast from ‘The School of Greatness‘ with Lewis Howes – a podcast I would highly recommend.

As some will know, I am an information addict; attracted to any method of self-development. This book appealed to me for various reasons:

  1. Gawdat’s storytelling voice was perfect for easy-listening. Since I needed a new audiobook for my long journeys, that was key.
  2. As a very successful business man with an engineering mind, Gawdat 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’. Mo begun this book project seventeen days after his son died. This book is the product of a therapeutic journey of a man who lost his 21-year-old son; a son he utterly doted upon.

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 in to practice tried and tested methods of ensuring lasting happiness, no matter what obstacles are 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 into the topic of faith; it is worth the read for the insight you receive into the ‘logical‘ side of happiness.

There are many activities suggested throughout the book to the reader, countless approaches to solving the happiness equation, but for the purpose of this blog post, I will choose 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 convey to the reader 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 highlighted the problem of searching for happiness in all the wrong places, while giving me the tools and the insight of how else to restore my 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 of such monumental importance. I can, at times, be completely helpless to my thoughts. I am sure you have experienced this too.

You might have a doubt, a worry, and it circles around and around 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 in fact change my life. 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 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 when there is not an immediate threat that requires reflex reactions. 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.

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 an 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 forever. 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 your own thoughts. Rather than “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.

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 resist 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.

Call to Action

Comment below! Have you read this book? I would love to hear your thoughts!