Book notes: Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat

Solve for Happy by Mo Gawdat book summary review and key ideas.

Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Happy by Mo Gawdat

Synopsis:

“Mo Gawdat is a remarkable thinker and the Chief Business Officer at Google’s [X], an elite team of engineers that comprise Google’s futuristic “dream factory.” Applying his superior skills of logic and problem solving to the issue of happiness, he proposes an algorithm based on an understanding of how the brain takes in and processes joy and sadness. Then he solves for happy.

In 2001 Mo Gawdat realized that despite his incredible success, he was desperately unhappy. A lifelong learner, he attacked the problem as an engineer would: examining all the provable facts and scrupulously applying logic. Eventually, his countless hours of research and science proved successful, and he discovered the equation for permanent happiness.

Thirteen years later, Mo’s algorithm would be put to the ultimate test. After the sudden death of his son, Ali, Mo and his family turned to his equation—and it saved them from despair. In dealing with the horrible loss, Mo found his mission: he would pull off the type of “moonshot” goal that he and his colleagues were always aiming for—he would share his equation with the world and help as many people as possible become happier.

In Solve for Happy Mo questions some of the most fundamental aspects of our existence, shares the underlying reasons for suffering, and plots out a step-by-step process for achieving lifelong happiness and enduring contentment. He shows us how to view life through a clear lens, teaching us how to dispel the illusions that cloud our thinking; overcome the brain’s blind spots; and embrace five ultimate truths.” -Audible


Opening thoughts:

I’m not sure how this ended up in my list, maybe from Audible recommendations. But I also saw it recently in Tim Ferriss’s weekly Friday newsletter after I had bought this book, so it was an interesting coincidence. I figured while being in isolation it’s a good thing to read about happiness to hopefully hedge off any feelings of sadness, loneliness, and isolation.


Key notes:

Part One

Chapter 1: setting up the equation

  • Everyone seeks happiness as much as they seek air to breathe
    • It’s that feeling where everything seems right and you wouldn’t mind if time stood still
    • We search for happiness when we realize it has always been inside us, a design feature
    • Success is not an essential prerequisite to happiness
  • The easiest way to spend 10,000 hours doing something to become great at it?
    • Doing something that makes you happy
    • Whatever it is we do in our lives should directly solve for happy
  • Document your own list of things that make you happy
    • “I feel happy when….” (complete the sentence)
    • Writing this list actually makes you happy, and he does this weekly to reinforce an attitude of gratitude 
  • Happiness happens when life seems to be going your way
    • You feel happy when life behaves the way you want it to
    • The opposite is true. Unhappiness is when your reality does not match your hopes and expectations
    • Happiness => your perception of the events of your life – your expectations of how life should behave
      • It’s not the event that makes us unhappy, it’s the way we think about it that does
      • When we choose to let our painful thoughts and suffering to linger and ruminate in our kind, the more we make ourselves needlessly suffer
    • Happiness starts with a conscious choice

Chapter 2:6-7-5

  • Fun is a painkiller because it mimics happiness by switching off the excessive thinking that overwhelms our brains for a while
    • With no thoughts, we rerun to our default, childlike state: happiness
    • Fun, gratifying things we seek to give us that painkiller leads to us always striving for more extreme painkillers
    • Set a daily quota of fun, positive activities as a happiness supplement
  • Joy is when thoughts are no longer even needed because the analysis has ended and the equation has permanently been solved

 “The gravity of the battle means nothing to those at peace”

tattoo on his son’s back
  • True joy is to be in harmony with life exactly how it is
    • Joy is attaining uninterrupted happiness
  • Eliminate 6 illusions, fix the 7 blind spots, and hang on to 5 ultimate truths

Part Two: Grand Illusions

chapter 3: that little voice in your head

  • The Illusion of Thought: you are not your thoughts
    • Those thoughts are there to serve you, and up to you to act upon
    • You are the boss who tells you what to do, not your thoughts 
  • Three types of thought that our brain produces:
    1. Insightful – used in problem-solving
    2. Experiential – focused on the task at hand
    3. Narrative – chatter 
  • Observe the dialogue of your thoughts
  • Your brain can be primed just by bringing a thought into your consciousness
  • The easiest way to become happy is just to be happy
    • Remove the unhappy thought, replace it with a happy one, and let the rest take care of itself 

Chapter 4: who are you? 

Reader’s note: To sum up the section, he’s basically saying that our ego and identity is tied up to our perceived image to the outside world. And we tend to fight to try and hold onto that identity that we’ve cultivated due to suicidal expectations and pressures

  • The happiness equation malfunctions completely because the expectation others will buy into our fake image is never satisfied and we feel unhappy
  • Analogy: life is like the coffee that people want, but they focus so much on how good-looking the cup is that they stress themselves out if they don’t have a fancy cup
    • If you want to live a stress-free life, ignore the cup and just enjoy the coffee
  • Like a Russian doll, you need to remove the layers one by one, trying to distinguish the real you from the roles you’ve assumed over the years until you find your pure self
  • As much as you might think so, you are not the star of the movie
    • Most of what happens around you isn’t about you at all
    • Events are neither good nor bad in the context of the larger perspective
    • There are infinite numbers of other movies, you were just a supporting actor
      • It will really help your happiness if you start to look at life this way

Chapter 5: what you know

“Real knowledge it’s to know the extent of one’s ignorance”

Confucius
  • Be an explorer, a seeker of the truth, always ready to admit being wrong in order to continue the quest

Chapter 6: does anybody know what time it is?

  • Time is relative per the Theory of Relativity
    • Einstein says time and space are connected in a 4-dimensional structure called Space-Time
    • The pull of gravity actually slows time down, so passing by a black hole will slowdown time significantly
  • Time is experienced differently by different people and different cultures
  • Time plays a big role in perpetuating and creating unhappiness
    • Happy emotions are mostly anchored in the present moment
    • Every unhappy or stressful thought exists outside of the here and now, while every observation of the here and now eases you into a peaceful place
      • When you remove the timestamps from your thoughts, there will be nothing unhappy left to think about
    • If you want to be happy, live in the here and now
      • Whatever you’re upset about is rooted in a past you cannot change or a future that may turn out to be completely different from what you expect

Chapter 7: Houston, we have a problem

  • With so many things out of our control the two things in our control are our actions and our attitude
  • Movie reference: Life Is Beautiful

Chapter 8: might as well jump

  • Everyone is afraid of something
    • Fear is the granddaddy of all illusions
  • Pain is just a thought, and your brain can ignore it
    • You can learn to suppress it or enjoy it like muscle soreness from working out
  • The first step is to acknowledge our fears and face them
  • What keeps us alive and propels us forward is not our fears but our actions
  • Taking action will reduce your fears
    • Ask: what is the best that can happen?

Part Three: Blind Spots

Chapter 9: is it true? 

  • Worrying is the brain’s default position
    • The evidence shows that most of us tend to be negative most of the time
  • What we perceive is mostly filtered, allowing us only a tiny sliver of the truth
  • Blindspots:
    1. Filters
    2. Assumptions
    3. Predictions
    4. Memories
    5. Labels
    6. Emotions
    7. Exaggeration

Part four: Ultimate Truths

Chapter 10: right here, right now

  • Schedule in “me-time” for yourself
  • When you’re feeling busy and overwhelmed, just stop
    • Practice awareness and noticing things around you in your life
  • Timeless time: give yourself the luxury of a timeless experience at least once a week
    • Take yourself to a quiet spot where you have no access to anything with the time
    • While doing an activity, put your full attention and awareness into that activity

Chapter 11: the pendulum swing

  • Try reframing ambition so that the focus is on the goal of becoming a better person regardless of how you compare to others
    • Even better, look down instead of up and be grateful at how lucky you are
  • Gratitude is a sure path to happiness

Chapter 12: love is all you need

  • Love, true love, is real. All other emotions are temporary
    • They appear when a reason triggers them and disappears when that reason goes away
    • Relationships suffer because they are built on conditional love in an ever-changing world
  • There’s no happiness without love. True love delivers lasting joy
    • There’s no taking in true love
      • With nothing to take, there’s nothing to expect and none of the suffering that results from the missed expectations from conditional love
  • The true joy in true love is in giving it
    • The more love you give, the more you get back

Reader’s note: For a book that is seemingly very logical and its approach to finding and identifying happiness, it also has a refreshing the spiritual side to it. Now that it’s on the topic of love and energy in the universe giving back what you give

  • The Law of Conservation or Multiplication of Love: Love never goes to waste
    • The more you give it away, the more loved you will feel
  • Even the most annoying, seemingly hateful people you meet, when you see behind the egos, fears and thought-obsessed behaviors, you will find peaceful children who just want to be loved and appreciated
    • Once loved, most of them drop the masks and turn real
    • Gently remove the mask of ego and love what you see underneath
  • Love yourself. How can you love anything or expect anything to love you if you don’t love yourself?
    • Nothing causes more unhappiness in the world today then the widespread deprivation of self-love
  • Jott down everything about you that’s positive or admirable
    • Force yourself to write at least one thing per day that you’re proud of
    • Write down every compliment you receive, who said it, and when
    • Go back and revisit whenever you feel you’re not good enough
  • Be kind. Giving to those you love often feels even better and keeping for yourself
  • The ultimate form of giving is forgiving

Chapter 13: L. I. P.

  • The physical world, the world around us, is observer-dependent
    • Life must have existed before the big bang in order to observe it into existence
  • The physical self is an illusion. Life is not the body that is subject to the limitations of space-time
    • The real you is the observer, not the physical form that represents you. That is what life really is

Reader’s note: Holy crap this chapter goes deep. It is very scientific, philosophical, and spiritual at the same time

  • Death scares us because we are comfortable with the familiarity of this life
  • Our mortality ironically is a life coach
    • Before you die, you might as well live a happy life
    • Let’s learn to find happiness despite death, or even because of death
  • Like every other truth, accepting that will set you free
    • But first, it will really piss you off
  • Three lessons that teach us how to live a worthy life:
    1. Death is inevitable so accept it
    2. Life is now. Birth and death are like the covers of a book, but what really matters are the stories that fill the pages in between
      • How would you live if you knew today was your last day?
      • More importantly, why are you not living that way today when you know that it may well be your last?
        • Every day, a version of you and everyone else dies and never returns. Don’t let any of them pass unappreciated
    3. Life is a rental. Everything we have will be left behind so why do we focus so much on our possessions?
      • Nothing is really yours, then nothing can be lost
        • Find freedom in that
      • Letting go and allowing things to leave from your life allows for space and new things to come in
  • LIP = Live In Peace
  • Life is like a game in which the difficulty makes it fun, whereas easy would make it boring
    • Life is similar to a game in that we enter this level through a portal called birth and then leave it through death where we enter the next level
      • Could this life be one level in a larger game?
      • Most religious and spiritual teachings seem to believe this to be true, in that death is just a portal to another life, and we never really die just our physical form

Chapter 14: who made who?

  • There is no scientific way to prove something does not exist, such as a designer of the universe.
    • You cannot prove a negative
  • Since neither side of the Grand Design debate cannot conclusively prove they’re right, it’s all a matter of probability
    • It is a question of which side is more likely to be true
  • Doing the math, it takes way more time and possibilities to create the universe than its age, almost impossible without intervention
    • Factoring in entropy in which things have a tendency towards chaos, and it decreases the odds
  • Similar to how it’s possible an Audi could appear randomly with enough chances, but it’s not probable
    • We cannot think the car would be produced by evolution alone. If the universe had infinite time to try, then maybe. But that is a myth
  • Age of universe since Big Bang is about 13.7 billion years. Earth = 4.5 billion. Primitive Life = 3.7 billion years ago
    • It’s very short for a task like creation
  • Ultimately the math is clear, nothing is random. We’re all a part of a grand design
  • The designer doesn’t run the show, his equations do
    • But you don’t have to worry about the all the equations
    • Focus on your happiness equation as it’s the only one you can fully control

Main ideas / Themes:

  • Everyone seeks happiness as much as they seek air to breathe
  • The easiest way to become great at something is to do something that makes you happy
  • Whatever it is we do in our lives should directly solve for happy
  • Happiness => your perception of the events of your life – your expectations of how life should behave
    • True joy is to be in harmony with life exactly how it is
  • The easiest way to become happy is just to be happy. Remove the unhappy thought, replace it with a happy one, and let the rest take care of itself 
  • Life is like the coffee that we want. If you want to live a stress-free life, ignore the cup and just enjoy the coffee
  • As much as you might think so, you are not the star of the movie
  • Time plays a big role in perpetuating and creating unhappiness. If you want to be happy, live in the here and now
  • The two things in our control are our actions and our attitude
  • Acknowledge your fears and face them. Taking action will reduce your fears
  • Schedule in “me-time” for yourself. Give yourself a “timeless experience” without access to anything with the time
  • Gratitude is a sure path to happiness. Look down instead of up and be grateful at how lucky you are
  • There’s no taking in true love. The true joy in true love is in giving it
  • Law of Conservation or Multiplication of Love: Love never goes to waste. The more you give it away, the more love you will feel and get back
  • Behind the mask, even the most seemingly hateful, annoying, and egocentric people are just peaceful children who just want to be loved and appreciated
  • Love yourself, as you cannot give or receive love otherwise. Most unhappiness in the world comes from a widespread deprivation of self-love
  • Be kind. The ultimate form of giving is forgiving.
  • Our mortality ironically is a life coach
  • Accepting the truth of death will set you free
  • Letting go and allowing things to leave from your life allows space for better things to come in
  • Life is a game in that the difficulty makes it fun, whereas easy would make it boring

Closing thoughts:

I loved this book a lot. During the week I was listening to it while walking around my neighborhood, I had to periodically stop and pause for thought. I kept thinking about the concepts I just heard about and apply that new lens to my own life.

For example, I stopped several times to evaluate my own happiness in my life today, and analyze what factors contributed to it. Then it brought it back to how the author says our unhappiness comes from things like comparison, expectations vs reality, and time. Also, it was a great reminder to not ruminate on things out of my control or about people who are simply acting in their own self interest, and not necessarily to hurt or spite me. It was a good reminder to focus on gratitude, live in the present, and realize what’s really important. I can’t control external circumstances, but I can control my actions and my attitude in response to what happens.

Overall, I highly recommend this book to pretty much everyone. I know I say that a lot, but this one particularly so because it deals with happiness. As the author says, everyone wants to be happy, but we our default state seems to be worry and stress. Of course our brains were designed this way to keep us alive, however, in this new world, it’s so important to constantly solve for happy.


One Takeaway / Putting into practice:

There are so many great takeaways that if the reader implements even just one, they’re sure to see a dramatic improvement in their lives.

My one takeaway that I want to start implementing (more) is:

  • Whatever it is we do in our lives should directly solve for happy

I think this is a great reminder of prioritization (similar to the book Essentialism that I read recently), that doing what matters most is more important than just doing things. However, the focus here is to do things that actually make you happy. For me, that’s spending time and connecting with my loved ones, laughing and spreading joy, being creative, and constantly growing/learning new things. If I just do those several things and not compare my life with others, I’ll be happy.


Nutshell:

After losing his son, Mo Gawdat uses his engineering mind to “solve for happiness”. Everything you need to know about happiness and how to be happy.


Similar books:

Side note: Wow, it seems like there are a lot of books I’ve read that relate to happiness, haha.


Rating:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

5/5


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