When a tragic event happens in your life, how are you meant to pick yourself up and rediscover happiness?
It’s a question that’s plagued all of us. Is it therapy? Meditation? Getting on with life?
One man says he has come up with a mathematical solution.
Mo Gawdat was miserable throughout his 20s and 30s, despite his high-flying job as an executive at Google and a happy family around him.
Determined to turn his life around, he created an equation for happiness.
A couple of years later, his theory was sorely put to the test when his 21-year-old son Ali died unexpectedly in what should have been a routine operation.
He has now revealed his formula for being happy in his new book Solve for Happy.
The story of Mo Gawdat
In an interview with The Independent, he explained what circumstances led him to creating a formula for happiness:
“My theory was I was born happy and the more I engaged in life the more unhappy I became,I was very unhappy, I was complaining about everything and I was constantly trying to control the world down to a tee…I bought cars, spent money and tried to fill the gap in my soul in any way and it was just not working.”
He was a trader in the stock market in Dubai where he made a “ton of money” but whatever he bought, it never seemed to be enough.
He later became an engineer, while being married to his college sweetheart and with two adult children. However, still, he was miserable.
He knew he was in a mental rut and decided that he needed to get out of it. He was an avid reader but found it difficult to relate to wellness and self-care manuals. Gawdat said it took him roughly 7 years to figure out his solution.
He listed “data points” of everything you can think of in life – no matter how small or big. Then he attempted to find a common trend between them.
Gawdat says that the “one thing that is common across all those moments, put smply, is that we are happy when life seems to be going our way.”
The equation for happiness
Happiness is equal to or greater than the events of your life minus your expectation of how life should be.
According to Gawdat, the reason so many of us are unhappy is because we are trained to look at the events of our life in a way that is not truthful.
This led Gawdat to the ‘675 model’. The model states that there are 6 illusions that blur our view of the world. Thought (believing you are your thoughts), self (believing you are your body, emotions, beliefs, name, achievements, family, possessions), knowledge, time (thinking too much about the past or the future), control and fear.
Next, there are the 7 blind spots that make us not see reality clearly: filtering, assuming, hunting, memories, labels, emotion and exaggerating.
Gawdat says that if we fix the 6 and 7, we remove the reasons for your unhappiness. “When you do that long enough, you start to realize it is simply because life mostly meets our expectations.”
The 5 truths we must accept in life
Finally, Gawdat says there are 5 truths we must accept in life. They are that now, change, love and death are all real as is the last truth: grand design, the belief that nothing is random and life generally follows patterns, laws, rules or science.
If we consider these truths, even when life events are harsh, they are expected because they are simply truths of life.
“That realisation is truly at the core of every happy person you have ever come across. That, sometimes, life is harsh but in those times there is nothing you can do to reverse the harshness. The only value that your incessant value brings is it makes you suffer.”
There’s a difference between pain and suffering
According to Gawdat, “losing a child is incredibly painful”. But he says that pain is what protects you from further suffering and is the “body’s mechanism to keep us alive”.
Suffering, on the other hand, is not useful, and instead a cycle where a thought just causes further suffering by feelings of guilt. It’s not useful thinking.
“The minute I feel the pain of Ali’s death, which I feel every time I miss him, I think what can I do about it? How can I make the world slightly better even though Ali is not in it?”
While Gawdat says everyone can take this approach, however, acknowledges that for people with depression and mental health problems it is definitely not that simple.
“Depression and mental health problems are beyond my skill set. We have to acknowledge that mental health is very real. I don’t think of it as a defect: It is just a different wiring. If you take a piece of code written for your iPhone and put it on your Android it will not work.”
If you’re looking to follow Gawdat’s formula, he warns that you have to want to become happier. He likens it to going to the gym for the first time in a bid to get fitter. After going through the muscle pain of the first few days, you come used to it and soon enough it becomes part of your daily routine.