Solve for Happy

Not life changing. Nor did it impact me very much. But it was interesting to read nonetheless.

11 min read

Happiness is the absence of unhappiness & happiness is your default state.

We have the ability to unlearn and reverse the effects of what went wrong along our path; to remove what makes us unhappy.

We have always been trained and taught that we have to go striving for some happiness that is outside us.

Happiness is not the result of being successful. You can work hard your whole life and be very successful, but not happy.

So remember: Success is not an essential prerequisite to happiness.

But instead, while success doesn't lead to happiness, happiness does contribute to success.

A study has been conducted that found that being happy made people 12% more productive and more likely to get ahead.

So while a reasonable level of success is common in our society, those who achieve the highest levels of success often have one thing in common, one thing that differentiates them from the pack. They all, almost compulsively, love what they do.

Like Malcolm Gladwell says in the book Outliers; if you spend ten thousand hours doing something, you become one of the best in the world at it. And what's the easiest way to spend so many hours on one thing?

By doing something that makes you happy.

Mo Gawdat recommends that you make a Happy List. You simply document every instance where you felt happy.

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 also true: unhappiness happens when your reality does not match your hopes and expectations.

From this, the Happiness Equation is derived:

Happiness >= Your perception of the events - Your expectations of how life should behave.

Which means that if you perceive the events as equal to or greater than your expectations, you're happy - or at least not unhappy.

BUT: It's not the event that makes us unhappy; it's the way we think about it that does.

So then, if the events remain as they are, but we change the way we experience them by changing the way we view them, we would become happy simply be changing our thoughts.

Without pain to help us navigate dangers, we would inadvertently do all sorts of things to hurt ourselves, and we'd never have survived.

So as much as we hate it, pain and the discomforts of life are useful.

Sort of like: you feel pain if you touch a hot stove. Now you won't do it again.

Heres the thing about pain: once the pain is no longer needed, it naturally fades away.

But that's not the case with suffering.

We let our suffering linger as a form of self-generated pain.

All the thinking in the world, until converted into action, has no impact on the reality of our lives. It does not change the events in any way. The only impact it has is inside us, in the form of needless suffering and sadness. Anticipating awful things in the future or ruminating about awful moments from the past is not the useful, instructive, and unavoidable experience of everyday pain. This prolonged extension of pain is a serious bug in our system because:

Suffering offers no benefit whatsoever. None!

Happiness starts with a conscious choice.

A wise use for fun is as an emergency off switch to allow for momentary intervals of peace so that you can get the voice in your head to chill.

But an unwise use is to use fun as an escape, because when you're finished partying and doing all the fun things, all the negative thoughts come rushing back.

The ultimate state to reach is one of joy.

And true joy is to be in harmony with life exactly as it is.

Mo Gawdat now tells us that there are 6 grand illusions, 7 blind spots, and 5 ultimate truths. He tells us to bust the 6 grand illusions, fix the 7 blind spots, and hang on to the 5 ultimate truths.

The 6 Grand Illusions


We all have this voice in our head. Often, it causes a lot of unhappiness, pain, and sorrow. But the thing is, the little voice in your head is not you.

If you stopped thinking for a moment, would you then cease to exist? No; because that voice is not you.

Thoughts are simply something presented to you. If you think a naught thought, that doesn't mean that you are a naught person. Naughty thoughts are simply presented to you for your consideration; that's what the brain does. What you do with these thoughts is up to you. You don't have to obey.

You are not your thoughts. Those thoughts exist to serve you.

So what Rene Descartes should have said is: I am, therefore I think.

What does your brain do?

At its most basic, the brain's core task is to ensure the safety and survival of your body.

The more something matters, the more incessant thought will be left out of it.

Your brain can be the leader when it comes to mechanical operations, but when it comes to thought, you should be in full control.

Your brain's job is to produce logic for you to consider. When the thoughts are presented, you should never lose sight of the question: who is working for whom?

You are the boss. You get to choose.

All you need to do is take charge and act like the boss.

So to correct Descartes even further: I am, therefore my brain thinks.

To function well in the modern world you need to differentiate what's working for you and what's working against you.

There are three types of thought that our brains produce:

  • Insightful (used for problem solving)
  • Experiential (focused on the task at hand)
  • Narrative (chatter)

These types are so different from each other that they occur in different parts of the brain.

We need a lot of attention to the present when we perform tasks, and we need problem solving. Those are very useful functions. What we don't really need is the narrative component of thought, the useless, endless chatter - the part that makes us feel a bit crazy and keeps us trapped in suffering.

When our ancestors recognized a threat in the hostile environments they inhabited, it triggered a physical fight-or-flight response. In the modern world, most of the events we encounter represent a threat only to our psychological well-being or to our ego.

Frequently no proper survival mechanism can protect us from such threats. In the absence of a satisfactory response, our brains tend to bring the unresolved threat back over and over in a constant stream of incessant thought.

As per the happiness equation, the repetitive loop of thinking of an event, comparing it unfavorably to our expectations, leads to suffering. Our inability to take action triggers the recall of the thought over and over in an endless suffering cycle.

We can disrupt this suffering cycle by neutralizing the negativity at each of its nodes. Thought -> Suffering -> Inaction -> Repeat

Taking the best possible action, regardless of the result, is an obvious way to disrupt the cycle.

Another way is to stop the thought from turning into suffering. This can be achieved by fixing our blind spots to ensure that the events are seen for what they really are, not what our brain makes them appear to be.

Now the term controllable devices is introduced, To explain this with an analogy;

You cannot control your heart; you cannot just force it to stop. Your muscles however, you can partially control. Sometimes they act on their own (reflexes), but most of the time you can control what you want to use them for (say, lift weights etc.)

Now, your brain is a controllable device because you have partial control over it.

Them Gawdat introduces four techniques that help you control your brain. They're to be mastered in order - so one at a time.

  1. Observe the dialogue.
    1. Now that you know the thoughts are not you, it's much easier to keep from getting bothered or annoyed. Observe each thought as it comes - then let it go.
  2. Observe the drama
    1. It's not possible to let go of every thought. When you can't, simply start by acknowledging how you feel. Don't solve the problem, but try to understand it.
  3. Bring me a better thought
    1. Remember that your brain can be primed. Tell it to think happy thoughts.
    2. We often believe that we need a solution for our unhappiness to go away, but often the reason we're unhappy isn't justified, and therefore there is no real solution for it, just as there wouldn't be for a false premise. So the easiest way to become happy is to just be happy. Remove the unhappy thought, replace it with a happy one, and let the rest take care of itself.
    3. Happiness is always found in the positive side of every concept. This means that instead of thinking about not being unhappy, think about being happy. Instead of thinking about a job you hate, think about a job you would love.
    4. Try to always look for the good side of things.
  4. Shut the duck up
    1. For the brain, multitasking is a myth. You can't, for example, read, and count numbers at the same time.
    2. When you want to shut the duck up (shut a thought up), just start to observe everything.


Who are you?

You are not your body.

You are not your emotions.

You are not your beliefs.

You are not your name.

You are not the tribe you belong to.

You are not your family tree.

You are not your achievements.

You are not your possessions.

So who are you then?

You are the observer.

You are the one who sees.

This is a good thing. See, if you are not your wealth, then if someone steals your money, the lack of money can't touch the real you.

This is honestly an amazing chapter in the book, but not one that is easily conveyed without copying the whole chapter. Therefore, I really urge you to read the book for yourself - as I do with every book that you can find on my website.

Notes will never replace the real thing, they're mostly meant to get an overview and remember quickly if you already have read a book - not as some kind of TLDR of the book.

I occasionally get in to the habit of trying to capture everything in my notes, and I've come to realize that that isn't possible. It's not possible for me, and you wouldn't truly understand the book without having read it yourself. So I try to only write short sentences or keywords that help you and me recollect what the book said.

Trying to constantly get approval for your chosen image is a losing battle because the real you isn't what the ego pretends to be. This makes us unhappy since we're always searching for the next thing to make the image complete in the hope that people will believe that's who we are. This will never work.

Be yourself no matter what they say.

Love who you are.

Everything is both good and bad. Or perhaps everything is neither.


We know a lot of things. There are things that we know that we know, things that we know that we don't know, and things that we don't know that we don't know.

The last one is the most dangerous.

Every question you'll ever as is governed by a refinement cycle called DDAA: Discovery, Debate, Acceptance, Arrogance.

Every now and then we stumble upon incredible discoveries. The new knowledge drives debate and disagreement until one side is proven right by what seems like undeniable evidence.

This leads to acceptance of the new knowledge as fact. Comfort with our knowledge inevitably leads to periods of arrogance.

We truly don't know that much after all.

Even our words, which we use to communicate, can't capture the whole of something.

Confucius: "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance."

Realize that you are often wrong. Be an explorer; seek the truth.

Sometimes when you stray off your track, life nudges you hard... and that's not bad!

Shakespeare: "Nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so".


At the start of this chapter, Gawdat details a lot of complex concepts about time.

Time is experienced very differently across human cultures. There may be a better way to deal with time than what we're used to.

Most of our unhappy thoughts are actually about the past or the future.

And actually, happy emotions are mostly anchored in the present.

When we're focused on the past or the future, we're living in our thoughts, and not in reality.

If you want to be happy, live in the here and now.

There is a difference between clock time and brain time.

Clock time is, for example: for how long will this meeting last, how long is my commute, when do I have to pick up my friend and so on.

Brain time, however, tends to get caught up in thoughts about the past and the future. For example, getting lost in endless scenarios of how the future might turn out.

In this very moment there is absolutely nothing wrong at all.

Life is now and now is amazing.


Between black swans and butterfly effects, nothing is under your control.

Two things are under your control, though: Your actions and your attitude.

Take the responsible action first, then release the need to control.

Choose your attitude!

"It is all going to be fine in the end. If it is not yet fine, then it is not yet the end" - Oscar Wilde.


Six steps:

  1. Admit that you're afraid
  2. Understand what fear is
  3. Name your fear
  4. Understand your brain's fear games
  5. Make the vow
  6. Take the leap

Safe models:

Layers of unnecessary fear that we suffer from due to a brain mechanism called Safe models.

Basically, if you have a fear of public speaking, it may be like this:

Fear of public speaking is really a fear of missing expectations. That is just a fear of ridicule, which is just a fear of rejection.

So there is an apparent fear, with layers of protection, and then the core fear.

There is no safe model. The harder you try, the more you will fail.

"Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate, and hate leads to suffering" - Yoda.

How are elephants kept in captivity? By a small chain. They had this chain as young elephants, and tried to break free - unsuccessfully. Now they could easily, but don't because they think that they can't. We too exaggerate our fears and stop trying to break free.

The only thing life wants is to be experienced.

There are no positive aspects to fear. It's your actions and not your fear that keep you safe.

You would not have been here if your present matched your past fears, would you?

If you can afford the brain cycles to worry about the future, then by definition, you have nothing to worry about right now.

Commit to facing your fears.

Ask yourself: "so what?"

Ask yourself: "What will happen if I do nothing?"

Ask yourself: "What is the best-case scenario?"

The 7 Blind Spots

  • Filters
  • Assumptions
  • Predictions
  • Memories
  • Labels
  • Emotions
  • Exaggeration

Ample research has shown that we tend to think negative, self-critical, pessimistic, and fearful thoughts more often than positive thoughts.

We also tend to give greater weight to negative thoughts when we make decisions. (And we also dedicate more of our brain resources to negative information)

Most of us tend to be negative most of the time.

Our brain tend to criticize, judge, and complain more often than not.

Life is almost entirely made of positives.

Ask yourself: "How much of the constant stream of thoughts in my head is true?"

The picture we see of the world is always incomplete because our brain omits parts of the truth in order to focus on what it deems a priority.

The story your brain tells you is always incomplete.

An assumption is nothing more than a brain-generated story. It's not the truth.

Predicting something will happen often lays the path to make it happen.

In the absence of context, labels very often cover up the truth.

We are not as rational as we think. Our perception of the truth is often distracted by our irrational emotions.

Most of the time the only thing wrong with our lives is the way we think about them.

The 5 Ultimate Truths

Every truth happens exactly as expected, even when you least expect it.

When nothing is certain - and nothing ever is - choose to be happy.

The truths:

  • Now
  • Change
  • Love
  • Death
  • Design

Being fully aware of the present moment considerably increases your chances of being happy.

You don't need to do anything to be aware. Your default state is awareness. To reach it you need to stop doing.

You don't DO aware. You BE aware.

Be aware of the journey. This is where all of life happens.

No effort is needed to keep any system at its equilibrium. When everything you do feels effortless, you'll have found your path.

Only when we look down do we realize how fortunate we are.(As is; things could be worse.)

Gratitude is a sure path to happiness.

Unconditional love is real. It's the only emotion that's not generated by a thought in your head.

The true joy of true love is in giving it.

How can you love anything, or expect anything to lvoe you, if you don't love yourself?

Love yourself for doing your best.

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