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Life-Affirming Lessons on the Road to Happiness


If the ultimate purpose of life is to be happy, as Socrates submitted more than 2,000 years ago, then motivational speaker Neil Pasricha has apparently snagged life’s golden ticket as the “Pied Piper of Happiness.” Before you stop reading because you have better things to do than read about someone who believes he has found the secret to happiness, pause a moment and prime your brain for a simple, sharable and short exercise.

“It’s easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking rather than to think your way into a new way of acting,” Pasricha said in his closing keynote speech on Wednesday at the 2019 WorldatWork Total Rewards Conference and Exhibition.

The argument, Pasricha posited from the onset of his mixed media presentation is that “happiness is a game worth playing.”

Given that most of us, on average, are awake for 1,000 minutes every day, Pasricha implores us to dedicate 20 minutes a day (2% of your day) to one of the following three activities. He said that he found the key to happiness by reading and distilling 300 studies on the science of happiness (positive psychology).

  1. Go on a brisk nature walk (“forest therapy”).
  2. Write the things that make you happy in a journal — for example, having a superb meal or seeing a good friend — and then read your recollections to replay them. (This exercise lights up area 17 of your visual cortex and sends strong, positive connective energy through your being.)
  3. Read 20 pages of fiction from a book. “The (wo)man who reads lives a thousand lives before they die, while the (wo)man who doesn’t read lives only one.” (Start or finish your day with a book.)

Of course, this sounds way too simplistic a solution to feeling down and out, but take it from a Harvard MBA grad and the author of The Happiness Equation and The Book of Awesome series: Career and life success both come from first being happy. You can’t do great work until you’re happy. Only then is big success possible.

We live in the most abundant time in the history of human civilization and, for some reason, our happiness quotient has not budged since the 1950s, said Pasricha, who is the director of the Institute of Global Happiness and the former director of leadership development at Walmart, where he worked in HR for 10 years.

About one-third of people say they’re happy and about one-third of people say they’re not happy, according to Pasricha. Happy people, he said, are 40% more productive at work.

Pasricha wasn’t always this happy. His pursuit of happiness started with a sudden divorce from his first wife and the devastating loss of a close friend to suicide three days after his wife filed for divorce.

He began a blog, “1,000 Awesome Things,” while recovering from these life-altering events.

So, what should bring happiness to people, Pasricha asked. “Because we trust the water that comes out of our taps. [Because] we feel safe when we walk out our front door.”

He credited his father, who immigrated from India to Canada in the 1960s, for teaching him an affirmative life lesson.

“Never forget how lucky you are,” he said. “Never forget how good you have it.”

About the Author 

Dan Cafaro is the editor-in-chief of publications at WorldatWork.

About WorldatWork

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