Happiness Summit Recap: Featuring Mo Gawdat

At the end of March, I attended the World Happiness Summit, an international conference that brought together leading researchers, academics and entrepreneurs in the well-being industry to talk all things happiness. May is mental health awareness month, so I wanted to this month’s blog update to be the first of a 3-part series featuring 3 of my most impactful influencers from the summit. 


First up, Mo Gawdat. Formerly the chief business officer of Google, Mo turned his life on its head to become somewhat of a happiness missionary. Mo suffered the unexpectedly tragic loss of his son and he began to question the way he had been leading his life. He had achieved incredible career success, travelled the world, and owned 17 cars, but was increasingly unhappy. To honor the memory of his son’s positive outlook on life, Mo quit the rat race and began researching the true meaning of happiness. As an engineer, he redefined his own happiness formula using simple mathematics principles, which led him to write an amazing book called Solve for Happy. He's since committed to exposing as many people as possible to what he learned. In my five years of studying happiness, Mo has brought me refreshing inspiration, and is now my new favorite thought leader of the industry. 

Here's my summary of Mo’s top 3 tips:

1.    Expectations vs. Reality: It’s easy to be happy when things are going according to your plan. But what happens when things don’t go our way? This is where the true personal development ‘work’ begins. Mo says that most of the time, we become unhappy because what’s going on in reality doesn’t meet our expectations of what we want. So we end up feeling disappointed. Our brain is constantly comparing moment-by-moment events to our expectations of how we expect them to be. This happens approximately 60,000 times per day! If you always have high or unrealistic expectations for certain people, scenarios or events in your life, you may be in a perpetual state of disappointment, which leads to an overarching feeling of unhappiness. To get out of this cycle, we can use tactics like mindfulness to re-adjust our filters so we can actually see life as it unfolds instead of wishing it were something else. Mindfulness teaches us the power of objectivity. When we see things exactly as they are, without attaching our biases, judgments or our labels, we are freed to be curious and interested in what’s going on just as it is. This frame of mind opens us up to learn from reality, instead of getting caught up in the emotion of why there isn’t something better.

2.    Suffering Machines: ITS NOT OUR FAULT! We are built to suffer. Every 7 seconds the human brain scans for threats, what’s not working or what’s going wrong. In his book, Solve for Happy, Mo quotes Rick Hanson from UCBerkley who famously says, negativity sticks like Velcro to your brain, while positive experiences slip off like Teflon. This fact alone is powerful, because it shows us that the reason we get angry, annoyed, anxious or frustrated is because it is our autopilot biological nature to do so. But those who do nothing to work against that are choosing to remain in that state of suffering. We must build consistent habits around acceptance, gratitude and optimism if we want to override the autopilot. 

3.    Choosing Happiness: Doing things that make you “happy” are typically the simplest things. Happiness doesn’t have to be some unattainable mecca, which we often think it must be. Mo says he realized he was happiest when he has the ability to express himself clearly, drink a quiet cup of coffee, and spend time with people he loves. He realized those things are simple and more importantly, repeatable. So the he created his “happy list,” and carved out time each day to do those things. 

These nuggets are a small sampling of life lessons from Mo. He realized the chase of money, status and contrived career moves wasn't intrinsically meaningful. And so he dug deep to solve the questions that so many spend a lifetime trying to answer. That type of awakening is life changing. But it takes commitment and daily practice to be able to challenge the illusions we've created for ourselves. While our stories and paths are vastly different, I relate to Mo's ability to question everything he knows - and that is why he is now one of my most influential mentors. Mo’s passion to live in this new way has taken him on a mission to help show one billion people how worthwhile it is to find their own happiness. You can visit his website, onebillionhappy.org for more info.

Stay tuned for the second of my top three happiness influencers from the World Happiness Summit, coming out in my June update.

Like what you've read? Want to learn more about the science of happiness? 

Click here to register for my new workshop at Torc Yoga featuring many of the happiness concepts that Mo discusses. How to be Happy will review the latest research from the World Happiness Summit and help you decide what practical happiness habits you want to incorporate into your life! Even better, Snap Kitchen is partnering with us to provide a healthy lunch!

The Deets:

Saturday, June 16

1 – 3 p.m. 

Torc Yoga (31 S 2nd St. Philadelphia, PA)

$25 early bird rate until May 31