High above the Pacific Ocean, Neil Pasricha’s life took a dramatic turn.
He’s the Toronto author who hit it big a few years ago celebrating life’s little joys — new sheets, do-nothing days, the smell of freshly cut grass — in his bestseller Awesome books and popular blog, 1000awesomethings.com. This time he was on the flight home from one of life’s large treats, a honeymoon in Southeast Asia.
His wife, Leslie, returned from the plane’s washroom and told him, “I’m pregnant.”
The surprised newlyweds — she’d bought a pregnancy test during a layover — were delighted. And before the plane even landed, he started thinking about writing a love letter to his unborn child.
“For three years I hadn’t written, but I started to feel the urge, the itch,” says Pasricha, 36. “The letter was meant to be my collected research and wisdom over the years on how to live a happy life.”
The letter to his child — the gushy, personal language edited out — evolved into his new book, The Happiness Equation, a how-to guide outlining nine secrets to achieving this much-vaunted state of being.
The pursuit of happiness is now an industry. Thousands of books have been written and scientific studies undertaken. What can this young father known for his observations of petite pleasures add?
“Do I have all the wisdom of the world? No,” says Pasricha, a Harvard MBA who did a stint in New York as a comedy writer. “But I have the years of research I’ve collected and my years of crazy experiences.”
In 2008 Pasricha started his bright-side-of-life blog on ordinary delights — smelling bakery air, popping bubble wrap, turning to the cool side of the pillow — to cheer himself up as his first marriage floundered. The blog took off, getting about 100,000 daily hits and winning a Webby award, the Internet’s Oscars.
In 2010 he wrote The Book of Awesome, followed closely by two more books, selling more than a million copies in total.
He spoke in front of corporate honchos, at a Toronto TED talk, on CNN and BBC, even to the royal family in Abu Dhabi.
“The sad truth is that as the books skyrocketed, it would be difficult for me to say I was actually happy,” says Pasricha. During the day, he was a human resources manager at Walmart Canada, eventually promoted to director of leadership training. At night, he was cranking out the blog and books and gobbling down takeout.
Then he met Leslie. “She slows me down. She’s naturally a meditative type person.”
On a snowy morning, he’s sitting in an Annex café near his home enjoying eggs Charlotte. Out of a pocket, he pulls a well-marked and underlined copy of On the Shortness of Life by the Roman Stoic philosopher Seneca, and he talks about savouring time. He shows cue cards that he keeps in his wallet for scribbling down thoughts and study references.
Happiness research shows that 50 per cent of your outlook is genetically predetermined and 10 per cent is due to circumstances, leaving 40 per cent for intentional activities and attitude shifts, he explains. “That’s a huge lever you can control.” His book lists the seven things to do, such as brisk walks, random acts of kindness, being grateful.
Happiness is not the product of great work and big success, he insists. Rather it’s the primary ingredient that leads to great work and big success. “Our model for thinking about happiness is totally backwards.”
His book offers nine secrets to being happy, and Pasricha is trying to practise what he preaches. He vows he won’t obsess about the new book’s success, because it was a labour of love he wanted to write (Secret 2, “Do It for You”). After 10 years, he recently left Walmart to gain time for his new venture, The Institute for Global Happiness, offering support to organizations, and his family — a second child is due soon (Secrets 5 and 6, “Overvalue You,” “Create Space”).
The proud papa shares the photos on his phone of his nearly 2-year-old son Hudson on their early morning walks hunting for the moon and greeting neighbourhood friends. The snow is still falling and Pasricha will soon pick up the child from daycare.
“It will take a half-hour to walk home because he’ll want to play in the snow,” says Pasricha with a smile. “He’s kind of right. Isn’t that life?”