My guest is Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at the McCombs School of business at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the author of, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? And he is the author behind one of the most popular, massively open online courses ever created. A course on Coursera called A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment that has been participated in by more than 250,000 students. It’s available to you online at no cost right now. Raj explains consumption behavior through themes from psychology, behavioral science, decision theory and marketing. He talks to the smart and successful, that’s who he’s writing for. People who have already accomplished a lot, people who are intelligent but maybe don’t yet experienced the level of happiness that they want or they don’t experience it as easily and as often as they’d like. We go deep on the topic of gratitude, something that can be trite, feel like something on a hallmark card. But Raj gets into the how and why it works, why it matters and how we can use it more effectively. In a final part of the interview, he talks a little bit about procrastination, how to overcome it, and how to overcome inertia that might keep you stuck. So I think you’ll find something that you can implement into your life and your creative endeavors. Enjoy this wide-ranging conversation with Raj Raghunathan.
00:03:04 – Raj explains what life’s about.
00:08:16 – Why does the world need a book on happiness?
00:18:07 – The genie exercise.
00:27:48 – Is it really that simple?
00:52:24 – The link between generosity and happiness.
01:05:33 – Alternative definition of happiness.
01:17:54 – Lightening round.
01:41:54 – Raj’s lightning krkyptonite.
01:53:34 – The book proposal.
02:11:56 – Procrastination.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? by Rajagopal Raghunathan
A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment Coursera Course
Happysmarts.com – Raj’s website.
Bryan: 00:01:15 Hello my friends today, my guest is Raj Raghunathan, a professor of marketing at the McComb School of business at the University of Texas at Austin. He is also the author of, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? And he is the author behind one of the most popular, massively open online courses ever created. A course on Coursera called A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment that has been participated in by more than 250,000 students. It’s available to you online at no cost right now. Raj explains consumption behavior through themes from psychology, behavioral science, decision theory and marketing. He talks to the smart and successful, that’s who he’s writing for. People who have already accomplished a lot, people who are intelligent but maybe don’t yet experienced the level of happiness that they want or they don’t experience it as easily and as often as they’d like. We go deep on the topic of gratitude, something that can be trite, feel like something on a hallmark card. But Raj gets into the how and why it works, why it matters and how we can use it more effectively. We also talk a little bit about a Hindu concept called Lila. The concept of life as a cosmic play. Raj talks about leading a healthy lifestyle as the foundation for happiness. In a final part of the interview, he talks a little bit about procrastination, how to overcome it, and how to overcome inertia that might keep you stuck. So I think you’ll find something that you can implement into your life and your creative endeavors. And this wide ranging conversation with Raj Raghunathan, Raj Raghunathan.
Bryan: 00:02:59 Raj, welcome to The School For Good Living Podcast.
Raj: 00:03:02 Thank you. Thank you very much. Honored to be here.
Bryan: 00:03:04 So Raj, what’s life about?
Raj: 00:03:09 It’s a very broad question and I don’t know if I have the answer to it, but I do think that you stop thinking about that question in a way that disturbs you. If you find out what your purpose in life is. Okay. In a sentence, what you’re asking me is what’s the purpose of life and I don’t know what that is, but you find your purpose in life. And uh, the way to find that out is to have experiences that uh, this a researcher called Csikszentmihalyi , he called flow states, flow experiences. Where you get so immersed in an activity that you forget. Um, you lose track of time and perhaps you and forget yourself. Lose the sense of self consciousness. If you know your purpose in life, then you stop asking that question in a way that’s frenzied and feverish and desperate. But you might ask the question out of curiosity perhaps. Yeah. I’ve lived a lot of years frenzied and fevered and desperate. And I think some people might tell you that I still do. Not, It’s not totally up to me I suppose.
Raj: 00:04:13 You don’t look it right now.
Bryan: 00:04:15 Well thank you. When you meet someone, and I realize this question, the answer to this question might change depending on context, situation, a situation, who you meet, where you are, whether you’re speaking or not. But when people ask who you are and what you do, how do you like to answer that question?
Raj: 00:04:32 So I go with what I might call the conventional answer, um, which is I just tell them my name. Uh, I tell them my, uh, designation or position at the university where I’m a professor and, uh, which department I belong to. Um, so as you know, I, uh, I’m in the marketing department, but I teach a class on happiness. I don’t quite get into that, you know, because that, then raises a whole new set of questions. What? Really. Your in business school teaching happiness, how come and so on. So I just give them a conventional answer. But it’s interesting that he asked me this question because in the back of my mind, almost always when I ask this question of somebody and when somebody asked me this question that is this element of, you know, who am I really? You know, I mean other than this idea of having an identity with a name, with a certain role to play, ah, who am I kind of a thing. So I don’t let that distract me too much because I’m assuming that they’re coming at it from a conventional angle and I just give them the conventional answer.
Bryan: 00:05:30 So if you were ever in a situation where you might share with someone and unconventional answer to that question, what might that look like?
Raj: 00:05:40 Yeah, so that’s something that I don’t have a whole lot of clarity on. I just think that, um, despite that there is anything at all and that we have such a thing as life and that we are floating around on this piece of rock around a big ball of fire and that we don’t kind of, you know, freak out. Maybe freak out is the wrong word. But I mean, you know, just step back and say, what the hell is going on? I mean, the fact that we don’t seem to get caught up in that, uh, as often as I think we should is sometimes a little bit surprising to me that, you know, people just go about their life and, you know, I find myself also getting caught up and, you know, just this is regular life. Um, so if you were to ask me, uh, from that perspective of, you know, deep down or you know, when you step back from your roles. What is the answer to the question of who am I or who are you, um, how would you introduce yourself etc then I would say that right now I would say that my, the full position, although I don’t have any proof for it, you know, I, I feel a little tacky referring to this word called consciousness. But, you know, I’ll still say it, but, uh, it seems that what I feel quite confident about is that, um, I can see things, I can perceive things. Uh, I, it seems that this thing called I exist, this ability to perceive etc, obviously assumes that there is something that is able to perceive and observe. So that thing seems to exist. And I am also somehow are right now wedded not wedded, but I mean I’m, I think, I believe that, uh, this thing that is perceiving, I’m calling that thing consciousness is, is something that has been around and is not going to die when this body dies. And so there’s going to be a kind of a continuation of this deep down reality of who I am. And, um, you know how I got to believing this, I can talk about it later. But, uh, that’s what I would say. I am, you know that I’m consciousness. So are you, and we are all, you know, in existence and we’ve always been and we always will be, but just temporarily, we have occupied this vessel called the body and see things in this narrow, limited way and uh, once this body perishes and you die quote and quote die. Um, that, that’s when is one of the moments of truth when you realize that you are consciousness that always existed, that will continue to exist and, but then might come another cycle of birth and so on. So in a sense, I guess I would reveal that I’m a subscriber to a reincarnation. To that answer.
Bryan: 00:08:16 I share, I think I share your perspective as I hear you articulate it. And um, part of what I love about your book, If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? Which I want to ask you about in just a moment, is knowing that, that kind of the worldview that under that underpins, you know, what you share. I love wicked smart people. And when we met, I had the sense that you were one and now reading your book and seeing not only are you incredibly intelligent, I believe, but also you’re very studious. You’re very researched and looking at this topic of happiness. And you know, one of the questions I thought to ask you is, you know, why did the world need another book on happiness? Which may be, I’ll ask you that, but before I even go there, let me just ask you if you will, will you share this book? Why? Like who did you write it for and what did you want it to do for them?
Raj: 00:09:15 Uh, do the question. Who did I did, I did for a, I would say that I wrote it for me who are, um, the kinds of people that, um, I hang around with because of my role, because of my job. Um, as I mentioned, I’m a professor in the marketing department in a business school, so, and surrounded by very smart, very ambitious people who are already successful. Many of them are bound for a lot of success, like my MBA students and undergrads. Um, but I also know that they’re probably not going to be as happy as they think they’re going to be given what they are going to achieve. I think that assumption is that, yeah, if I do all these things and I’m going to show me, be very happy, but I know that that’s probably not what’s going to happen. They’re going to, um, be just as happy as the average person, maybe even somewhat unhappy because, um, they’ve acquired a bunch of traits and worldviews and aspirations that undercut their happiness. And so that’s who, the book is written for.
Bryan: 00:10:11 How do you know that? Like, I mean, is this personal experience as a southern research, how could you be so sure and then be confident that this book could help address and resolve that issue?
Raj: 00:10:22 Okay. So, uh, I thought your question was how can I be so confident that they’re headed for not so much happiness?
Bryan: 00:10:27 Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, that’s right.
Raj: 00:10:29 That part of it actually. There’s quite a bit of research, uh, on, you know, in the area of happiness on the relationship between life’s external circumstances. Like the amount of money you make and fame and power and wealth and success and, um, you know, who you marry and so on, and, uh, your happiness levels. And it turns out that all that together, perhaps I’ve gone for about 10, maybe 15% of your happiness. Okay. Um, so, uh, it’s not a big amount. And yet if you look at people and if they’re unhappy and if you ask them, okay, so what are you going to do? Most of them pin their hopes on external circumstances and trying to improve those circumstances. Get a better job or get more money, you’ll get more famous or whatever. And they really think that that’s going to make them happy. And there reasons we can get into why those are not sustainable sources of happiness a little bit later on maybe. But the second part of your question is, you know, why am I so confident that my book is going to help them? Tell you the truth when I wrote the book I, I was, I wasn’t so confident. Um, because you know, uh, a you have to first be conceptually clear about the things that the research has documented as improving people’s happiness levels. And you’ve got to kind of believe that. And that takes a lot of work. Uh, you know, it’s a new field. Positive psychology is a new field. And so we still kind of replicating a lot of the results and who knows if many of these results are still going to hold maybe 50 years from now it looks like they might and they will. But there is that element, but and then comes the tougher part, which is that even if conceptually all these things that we know or we are finding lead, uh, increases your happiness, um, even if conceptually we have confidence in them, people actually have to use them and apply them. And we know that, you know, often that’s where we have a lot of feelings. You know, if out of hundred people who make a new year’s eve resolution, maybe about 15% stick with it. Right? So even if you know what to do, will you have the ability to actually do it? Right. So when I wrote it, it was more that I won’t want to put these ideas out there for this group of people that in a sense, the happiness, um, you know, literature tends to ignore in the sense that we tend to think that, okay, let’s address the depression of the really sad people. Or let’s address the kind of unhappiness or really poor people. And of course that’s very, very important, right? Uh, but, um, you know, nobody really talks about the unhappiness of really rich and famous people because they think that they only have all these things. They’re probably happy. So why should they be even even happier? Right? So I felt that this group, the happiness of this group was important to me. And so I wanted to kind of, um, uh, write the book to them.
Bryan: 00:12:56 I think you refer to this group as the SNS, the smart and successful. Which, um, you know, it makes me think about something a friend of mine talked to me about. Um, she was actually the first guest on my podcast, a really beautiful spirit and named Lynne Twist, who wrote a book The Soul of Money. And she shared in this book was, the first time I, I heard this, and she has since talked with me more about it, but she talks about when she was young, going to Calcutta to find Mother Teresa and wanting to serve with her there. And she finally, you know, she waited her turn and she met Mother Teresa and Mother Theresa actually, you know, she listened to her story and heard what her motives were and, and all this. And Mother Teresa actually said, you know, go home to the United States where the rich have their own form of poverty, but it’s a spiritual poverty and your work is there. And so it’s like, who’s going to turn down a directive from mother Teresa, right? And she spent this her lifetime now doing that as a philanthropist and a, and a teacher and humanitarian. And, and so what one of the things that I like about your book is, you know, I think you’re right that the, the wealthy have their own form of suffering, but it’s not. In my experience is, it’s not the easiest thing to talk about because it’s like cry me a freakin river, this kind of thing. But as you point out, once we have, uh, our basic needs met after that, you know, of corresponding increase in wealth or status does not bring a corresponding increase in happiness and your book starts to open up some things that are truly useful.
Raj: 00:14:30 Yeah. Yup. I agree. Uh, and you know, it’s done quite well. It’s been translated into 13 languages. And, um, now that the book has been out for a couple of years, um, and my course has been out for even longer for three years, um, I know that it is, um, coming in handy and many people around the world are finding it useful. So, you know, if you maybe start out with a hundred people, maybe in the end only about five people actually kind of see a big uptick in their happiness levels because out of a hundred people who buy the book, maybe 50 actually read it and then maybe 20 actually do something with it. And then, you know, maybe only about five actually sustain it over a long period of time, uh, for it to have an effect. But I’m happy that it’s, it’s, you know, five is better than zero, right?
Bryan: 00:15:15 Yeah, yeah. Well, and it was very resonant with me as well because as an Undergrad, you know, when I finished my degree in English and in Asian Studies and worked inside our family business for a few years before, I thought, you know what got to be missing something about business. I didn’t have this background in finance or accounting or marketing or whatever. And I thought, I’m going to go back to school and get an MBA even though, you know, business wasn’t alluring enough to me to make it my undergrad. And my dad actually counseled me against it. He’s like, just do what I did. You know, he was a college dropout and he said, uh, just roll up your sleeves and go to work, have a great attitude. And he’s like, that’s what I did. And I got it. But you know, of course I’m so smart, I didn’t listen. I got a year into an MBA program and I was miserable. I hated it. Not only because of the subject I think, but partly because I didn’t really feel like I connected with the other students who I saw as there to get a degree that would help them get a good job or maybe develop this powerful network of people and, and earn a lot of money. And what I saw was like, in a way, I’m blessed to already have those things or to have a certainty of those things just by virtue of the family. I’m a part of an and, and so with that, I thought, you know, I know that working like this, climbing this ladder, what’s that saying about before you climb the ladder of success, makes sure it’s leaning against the correct wall. You know? And so in a way, part of my work and why I’m grateful to have this conversation with you today is because, you know, having watched my dad die at 64 years old, largely from overwork, you know. He built something really phenomenal before he passed, but he paid a very high price in his spirituality, his health, his relationships. And I could see, although he did die at peace, and I’m grateful for that. Part of what I see is I want to get up at the top of that wall people are trying to, climates they like enjoy the climb, you know, like look around, like, you know, yeah, it’s not so great. It’s nothing so great here. And I don’t mean to say like I’m all high and mighty or something, but that’s obviously you’ve devoted your life to a similar kind of message.
Raj: 00:17:19 I think that is, it’s a incredible, from my vantage point, what you’re doing and what you’ve done is so unique that really, I mean, you know, hats off to you because, uh, most of the people in your position would have been, um, would have found it very difficult to, uh, be able to kind of resist the seductive power of the kinds of things that you would call upon to do. I mean, conventional people would have looked at it and said, you know, I can’t give up this, you know, I have to a and then make it, you know, a hundred times this and so on and so forth. But for you to get to step outside of that, uh, you know, in, in a sense, you like the Buddha, right? Born a Prince and, uh, ended up saying, no, I’m interested in why is there suffering in the world? And I want to get to the root cause of it. And that’s, that’s really incredible.
Bryan: 00:18:07 Well, no, thank, thank you. Um, so I want to ask you about the structure of your book because again, it’s easy to talk about some of these things as concepts, you know, happiness concept. Before we even get to the structure, I want if you will, to talk a little bit about the genie exercise that you invite students or others you speak to to do as it relates to happiness. And what’s so interesting about that?
Raj: 00:18:31 The interesting thing about the genie exercise is that it actually, you know, before I talk about the interesting thing about it, let me just mention what it is, right? Because some viewers may not be aware of what it is. So I call it actually the genie question. And the genie question goes like this. Imagine that a genie similar to the one in Aladdin’s story appears in front of you and grant you three wishes. What three wishes would you make? And then I have people tell their wishes and then I look at the wishes and you know, aggregate them across different categories. Don’t doubt that, you know, around the world, 50% of the wishes give or take a have to do with money or things related to money, you know, more um, you know, bigger house and in a materialistic things. And then another good 20, 25% have to do with success. And you know, the accoutrements of success, you know, that you get recognized or you’re powerful, you’re in control and so on and so forth. Um, and very very few people, only about five to 6% of the people actually ask for happiness. Right? And then I turned around to these people who have not asked for happiness. It’s not number one, number two or number three on their wishlist. And I asked them, hey, you know, you have all these things, you know, what about happiness? Isn’t happiness important for you? And the first response they typically get is, yeah, it is very important. In fact, it’s the most important thing, but these things will lead me to happiness. Then I turned around and asked them, well, if happiness is what you ultimately want, why not ask for it directly. Why do you want to ask for something that is going to lead you to happiness? I mean, it’s like saying, okay, I want to get to Delhi from New York. Uh, let me get a ticket to London, you know, because it happens to fall under the radar. Then why not get a ticket to Delhi? Right? Then they come around and they say, no, no, no. You know, I mean, I, uh, I don’t think that I could be happy unless I have this, you know? So then I asked him, how do you know that, you know, what makes you so convinced that you have to have money to be happy? What makes you so convinced that you have to have power and success and all that to be happy? And so it starts kind of like, you know, uh, peeling the layers of the onion, this exercise. Then I ask a separate group of people the same question, but then I remind them that, look, I told you that the genie’s all powerful, all knowing. You can ask her anything, including happiness. And then suddenly the proportion of people ask what happened is actually shoots up. Okay. So the genie exercises, we means to me that people actually do want to be happy. Uh, do think that that’s the most important thing, but they forget all about it as they’re going about their daily lives. And why does that happen? I think that happens because we get distracted by other things. We get distracted by power, we’d get distracted by money, we get distracted by theme and all these extremes, extremes of things. And that in turn makes us commit what I call the fundamental happiness editor or fundamental happiness paradox, which is that although happiness is most important to us as you observed people going about their daily lives, they often sacrifice happiness for the sake of other things like power and money and fame and all these expensive things. And um, and that’s, uh, kind of sad because, you know, we know what we want. We have the clarity about it. If we were to kind of step back and think about it, but then, uh, at the same time I think you do, I think social conditioning and observing other people chasing all these things, I think at some level, uh, that’s a more powerful message that seeps into our system, that, uh, routinely kind of, you know, trips us up and derails us from, uh, prioritizing what is actually more important to us. So that’s in a nutshell, the genie exercise. Yeah.
Bryan: 00:21:57 If you ask someone, would you rather be successful and unhappy or unsuccessful and happy, which of course is a false paradox, right? Because you don’t, but I think in a way, this question about just why not ask for happiness, it occurs for people. It’s funny because if you say like what weighs more a pound of feathers or a pound of bowling balls and they’re like, well, of course it’s a pound of bowling balls, right? But it’s the same. And I think people just, it doesn’t, it doesn’t occur for us in this way, but, um, your book starts to open up some of this insight. So that’s where now I want to ask you about the structure because it would be one thing. I mean, you could have written this book and a lot of different ways you could have just written it as a collection of like great thoughts or you could have, you know, presented as a really academic tome or you know, it could have been a person in a lot. There is a lot of personal stories in it, which makes it very readable. I enjoyed, I think you’re writing is very funny in many places. Um, but why would you tell us a little bit about how you’ve structured it and why.
Raj: 00:23:01 Yeah. Are restructuring a is because of the target audience that I mentioned some time back, you know, these are successful, smart people and you know, the MBA type. And because you, did you ended up finishing your MBA.
Bryan: 00:23:15 I did not. I did not.
Raj: 00:23:19 All right. Right. Uh, but uh, you probably know what I’m talking about. You know, the MBA type, they want key takeaways at the end of the day and the end of every class they want. Okay. Here are the seven things that you need to retain. I know you that you learned that we talked about key takeaways, very important, right? Um, and so I knew that that there was going to be the mindset of the smart and successful people. So I wanted to kind of give them a framework to hang all the concepts around. You know, if I talked about gratitude, I talked about compassion. If I talked about, uh, the needful mastery, mindfulness and so on, but as separate concepts, I thought that maybe the chances that people will retain these would be less than the chances are that people would think that this is, the value would be less because of the type of people they are. So I came up with this framework, which as you know, I call it the seven seven seven framework. Basically I talk about seven deadly happiness sins that become at is seven habits of highly happy and the seven exercises, um, that mitigate the sins and nurture these habits. Okay. So I thought that, you know, the seven, seven, seven and also using the seven sins, which is kind of like, you know, because of religious, uh, messages. Uh, it’s a kind of a phrase that people are familiar with, seven habits maybe because of Stephen Covey people are familiar with. So I wanted to kind of piggy back on some of those things as a marketing ploy to, so it’s that thinking that led me to that structure.
Bryan: 00:24:39 Yeah, no. And, and I love it because it kind of looks at it from every perspective, you know, here’s what people do. And then there were times that I’m like, oh my gosh, I think, you know, I do that sometimes and here’s a way out. It’s not just like a pointing out, you know, a certain thought, uh, you know, pattern that I’ve been running or something like that. Like you were talked about. I love the thing you said about, um, I think you called it maximizing, uh, I want to say maximizing minimums, but I don’t know that that’s right.
Raj: 00:25:06 No, the maximizer mindset.
Bryan: 00:25:08 The maximizer mindset.
Raj: 00:25:10 Medium, maximization.
Bryan: 00:25:10 Medium maximization that’s it. So I get focused on what is the means to an end and not, and, and it gets kind of like the happiness thing. You talked about the genie thing, but, but I do that. Will you talk, because that to me, I think that falls into one of the seven sins, right?
Raj: 00:25:25 So actually the first sin is a de-prioritizing happiness, right? Older sacrificing happiness for the sake of other things. Um, and one of the reasons why we do it is because of media maximizations. So medium maximization as an explanation for why people get distracted away from happiness, which they deep down knows what they want to kind of ultimately want out of life. Um, and, and end up pursuing the means to happiness and maximizing the means or maximizing the medium. By the way, that’s not my term. Um, it’s a term that, uh, occurred in a paper that, uh, one of the people that I respect a lot, his name is Chris Hsee. H S E E. Chris Hsee is a professor at Chicago, University of Chicago. So in his, one of his papers or they use that term medium maximization. Okay. So I think the best way to explain medium maximization has to think about the most prevalent medium, right? Which is money. Now when it comes to money, you know, if you don’t have a lot of money, obviously it’s, some money’s going to help, right? I mean, if you are living below the poverty line, uh, getting money is going to help you meet your basic needs and get food on the table and so on. It’s definitely very, very good to pursue money at that point. If you or somebody at that point, then you know, you’re going to discover that money makes your life better or money makes you happy, right? And so you’re starting to associate money with happiness. And what happens though is that, you know, you grow to let’s say earning about a hundred dollars a year as a household you know, four people, you’re the breadwinner for the family and you’re earning that much. At that point, everyone’s basic needs are being met, you know, more money is not necessarily going to make you, uh, you know, meet basic needs more. And it turns out that after that point, the relationship between how much money you have and how happy you are going to be, it kind of starts diminishing. And perhaps even kind of plateauing it out. And in some cases even going down a little bit. Okay. But because in your early experiences, more money did make you happier, you’re kind of like deep down in the subconscious, recesses of your brain, this association between more money and more happiness is so strongly entrenched that you can’t help but chase money, you know, more money, more money, more even if it’s making you less happy, you can’t kind of like in a stop yourself from doing it. And that is medium maximisation, that’s maximizing what ought to be the medium for getting the end. You ought to be maximizing the end, but you’re, you’re stopping and maximizing the medium. Uh, that’s, so, that’s one of the ways in which you get distracted away from happiness and, uh, into prioritizing other things.
Bryan: 00:27:48 And when you point out that, you know, beyond basic needs, happiness really isn’t that complicated. Right? But maybe one of those things that’s simple, not easy, maybe. But you’re talking about these three things about great social relationships, a sense of purpose and a positive, positive attitude toward life. Now, what’s, what’s your view on that today? Because you wrote this book a few years ago and you did the Coursera course and I’m sure there’s things that you’ve learned since then, which I want to know about. But is it really that simple? Does it really boil down? I mean, once the basic needs are met to great social relationships, having a sense of purpose and maintaining a positive attitude is it, could it be that easy?
Raj: 00:28:25 Um, I think it is, uh, actually that easy. Um, but like you said, I mean it may be simple but not easy. Um, so yeah, so, you know, maybe I, that’s why I should say that I, I do think that it’s that simple, but perhaps not that easy. And what makes it particularly complicated, um, is that, uh, you know, the relationship part, I think most of us get okay. And most of us have ample opportunity for it. And you know, even if you’re not, you’ve not been raised in a particularly loving family, I think that you kind of intuitively get that having relationships is important. And, and, and, and no, I think we all have opportunities for that. Then come to the kind of, I call it mastery. Uh, so having a sense of, okay, this is my field, this is right. I want to be good at, you know, you’re obviously good at conducting podcasts and interviews and, you know, I’m good at my own gig. Everyone’s got their own gig. And so that too, I think there’s not much complication. I think that’s the attitude part. That’s, that’s really tough. I mean, it’s one thing to say that, you know, have a great attitude towards your life. Uh, have a positive attitude in a look at the positive side of things. Be be resilient, be optimistic, have hope. Um, and another thing entirely to actually be able to mimic those characteristics, particularly when you know, things are going badly for you, right. When things take a turn towards the south to be able to kind of, you know, be resilient, be optimistic. That’s tough. And I think the reason, a big reason for that is that we are surrounded by a lot of negative messages. Oftentimes if you look at the news for example, you know, there’s a lot of negativity there, right? And, um, if you’re looking at what your boss tells you or what your peers might tell you, if you fail at a task, again, I mean, you know, there’s a bigger chance it’s negative. And the fact that we are also leading pretty, um, phonetically paced lives where there’s so much going on and I don’t think technology is helping us, uh, although, you know, on paper it ought to, right? Um, it just giving us a lot of information without helping us figure it out, which is important and which is not and how are we going to read through all that. So I think that in the end we are, we are stuck in a place where we feel that we have a lot of potential, a lot of opportunities, and we ought to be leading happier lives than our ancestors did. We have, look how much going for us. And yet the reality is that we don’t experience that goodness feeling of centeredness, harmony, welling up from inside of us. If anything, I mean, we feel fragmented. We feel on unhinged we fill frenzied. Um, you know, there’s a term that, uh, one of the, um, uh, authors of a HBR, Harvard Business Review article, uses attention deficit traits, attention deficit trait a, it’s like ADD the traits of ADD, but, uh, it’s not something that’s genetic it’s due to the environment. You feel frenzied. If we impatient, you feel irritable, you feel like there’s too many balls up in the air and you can’t handle all of it. Very, very common phenomenon. You know, I was just talking about this concept with my MBA’s and undergrads and I just threw a show of hands. Ask people, how many of you guys have ADD right now? And like 80% of the hands went up, right?
Bryan: 00:31:33 Like, not just like in general, but you’re like,
Raj: 00:31:36 So, um, you can, you can see that, you know, maybe simple. I mean, at the end, yeah. You know, this is all we need really to be happy. It’s like coming home, right? I mean, you circle all around the world, looking for golden keys and they were always there in your house.
Bryan: 00:31:50 The classic story and the hero’s journey and always returning home. I mean, I have this, I have this theory, I’m not even sure if it’s fully formed enough to deserve to be called a theory, but you talked about the technology just a moment ago. And, and in your book you use these terms, time, scarcity, time, abundance, you know, this, this kind of thing. And, and so my theory is that we are creating tools, you know, obviously in the form of technology that are helping us to see aspects of ourselves, right? So that we can become more fully formed or whatever you might say, more, more complete as beings. Um, and, and some of these, while they seem to encourage us to further fragment our attention or to, you know, intensify the hurry, the sense of hurry, the hurry sickness that maybe our culture has, like all this kind of thing. At the same time, what I wonder is, were those things always there? And now the tools in this situations we create in which to use them just become the clearings in which that becomes evident. I know that’s a very conceptual thought, but just to take it one step further and then attempt to turn it into a question is if, if that makes any sense to you. And if you see it at all that way, what’s like one of the things that’s been totally transformational, transformational for me was to, to realize or come to believe that I can feel any emotion at any moment. It’s possible. Now the situation and environment and all of that might not be conducive to feeling something like peace or you know, centeredness or whatever, but it’s available. So then what that implies is not only greater awareness but greater mastery, right? Greater responsibility over there. But do you find that that people who experience greater levels of happiness are more, more conscious and more responsible in shaping their response to the situations? Or is it like, is there a certain trait or, or are we just, you know, kind of subject to whatever life throws at us and you know, we’re happy in a certain time and place doing a certain thing or not? That was a really unwieldy question.
Raj: 00:34:05 I think there are two or three parts to it and I think you began with this idea that maybe we have within us the potential to be frenzied and distracted and the, um, availability of technology is just a, uh, allowing that potential to come out rather than, you know, uh, really instilling in us things that didn’t exist.
Bryan: 00:34:27 Yeah. It’s, it’s not creating it, it’s merely exposing it.
Raj: 00:34:30 Exposing it. Yeah. I think that’s, that’s, uh, I, that is the first part. And then the, you went on to talking a little bit about this idea that, uh, to, to be, be happy and to be able to sustain it. Uh, isn’t it true that, you know, you got to be aware of that, you know, you have options available for you to respond to events that are happening to you, um, and that you’re not, um, kind of chained or a, you’re not constrained by the external circumstances and what life throws at you, that you have a choice and you have some flexibility. Right. I mean.
Bryan: 00:35:04 If you want to just conduct the rest of the interview, I’ll take it from here. That’s great. You’re doing great.
Raj: 00:35:09 I just want to make sure that those were the,
Bryan: 00:35:11 yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s it.
Raj: 00:35:13 So I don’t know if you want me to talk about the first one or the second one.
Bryan: 00:35:16 You know, I’m just, I’m, I’m just wondering what you see in, in either one of those things and, and, and specifically how it relates to what we can do or maybe not do. To, you know, the people listening to experience greater levels of happiness more easily.
Raj: 00:35:30 Yeah. Uh, so certainly when it comes to the second part of your question, the idea that, uh, you have to double up, you know, in the, in the literature they talk about this as response, flexibility, response, flexibility, right? The idea that you know, you are going to encounter events, stimulation that provoke some kind of reaction from you and, uh, you have the choice of either going with your condition reflects of responses, many of which are hardwired and even more of which are socialized into you. Or at some point comes a milestone where you step back and say, look, I mean the, this is not exactly, this is not the only way in which you can respond to this particular event. And I can learn, I can acquire new arrows in my quiver, so to speak. I can expand my repertoire of how I respond to this. Um, and that is certainly a big milestone. And anybody who’s become a very good at, um, uh, you know, taking personal responsibility for their own happiness, you know. Uh, you can’t, in other words, uh, be good at maintaining equanimity and happiness, uh, on a sustained basis. Unless you’ve come to this milestone of recognizing that, look, I’m not a prisoner of the events that happened to me. Okay. In terms of my emotions, I definitely have a choice here. Um, and that’s part of the reason what makes this a simple and not so easy, right? I mean, uh, it’s one thing to say this in concept and I think many people would recognize the truth of it, uh, but, uh, you know, a, what are they set of practices that enabled me to acquire that response, flexibility. And secondly, you know, uh, how do I put those, uh, habits or practices into, um, into operation and how do I kind of actually do them? Right? So if you think about mindfulness, for example, as a practice, there’s a lot of evidence showing that mindfulness allows for that response, flexibility to, uh, to blossom. Um, and so it’s one of the kind of more, the reliable means of developing the response flexibility. But, uh, you know, it’s, it’s kind of difficult to figure out exactly how to practice mindfulness. And we’re kind of in a very way interesting age right now because, uh, of the availability of some technology that actually enables us to practice this better. I don’t know if you’ve come across something called Muse. These are headbands they are brain waves and stuff like that.
Bryan: 00:37:55 Haven’t used it, but I’ve seen it online. Have you used it?
Raj: 00:37:57 Yeah, I’ve used it. I like, I like it. I mean I still use it.
Bryan: 00:38:00 What do you, what benefits do you get from it?
Raj: 00:38:02 It’s biofeedback, right. So, um, if you put it on and then, um, you know, the typical session is to kind of focus on your breath and if you’re unable to focus on your breath, then you hear thunder and you know, stuff like that. Uh, and, and the storm kind of a thing.
Bryan: 00:38:17 That’s much better than the negative self talk I would hear otherwise. So, yeah.
Raj: 00:38:21 And if things are, if able to focus on your breath, then you hear birds chirping and the wind’s kind of calm down. So it’s telling you in real time that you’re doing well or you’re not doing well. Oftentimes it’s difficult to figure that out because it’s all internal, right? If you’re riding a bicycle, you know if you’ve fallen or not. But if your aim is to focus on your breath, what does it even mean to focus on your breath? You know, what does that consist of? So I think that you get this feedback through Muse. Anyways, so back to your question. So the, that’s very, very important, right? I mean, it’s super important to recognize that you have flexibility and um, then it’s important to recognize what are the set of ways in which I can develop that flexibility and even more important to actually practice those things so that he gained that has gained that ability over time.
Bryan: 00:39:07 That makes so much so much sense to me. And slowing down and cultivating greater awareness and minutes seems, uh, at least in my current line of research is that this is what it keeps coming back to. Um, maybe there are other ways, but this one is pretty reliable and you know, although there’s probably not a one size fits all, there’s not one app, one teacher, one mindfulness technique. The practice of mindfulness is what is common. And, um, one thing I want to be sure to ask because I think it’s relevant at this point of the conversation, is you, you talk in this book a little bit about the concept of mental chatter. And it wasn’t only within the last year, I think that someone suggested to me, something I read suggested to me that it’s possible to be addicted to thinking. Which had never occurred to me, but I think prior to that awareness I was. Now, I probably still am. Right? But when I saw your concept of mental chatter, um, that definitely came up for me. And especially what you, you found about what percentage of our mental chatter we, we think is negative versus what probably really is. Will you talk a little bit about what mental chatter is and what you’ve learned about it?
Raj: 00:40:18 Yeah. So, uh, the, the mental chatter that I actually first encountered to another gentleman, his name is Srikumar Rao. I sat in on one of his classes and he brought this up. And basically you can think of mental chatter as the kind of static noise in the background of your mind that’s constantly active. It’s commenting, judging, um, you know, just kind of does a commentary a that it’s giving about everything that’s happening to you.
Bryan: 00:40:44 I hate that guy. Always evaluating, assessing, opining, judging. Right. Always.
Raj: 00:40:51 Yeah. And uh, most people never really, I mean I think most people are aware that there is such a thing as mental chatter that you know, they are aware that there’s a voice in the back of the head but they’ve not really spent much time thinking about, okay, what’s the emotional tenor of this mental chatter? You know, what he’s saying? And is it positive is it negative? So you know.
Bryan: 00:41:10 Don’t lose your thought, but I want to jump in there for a moment. I’m actually surprised that there are people that don’t know that. Right? Like I remember I was in a couple years ago, I was in a large workshop, one of these LGAT, the large group awareness training. And the facilitator invited us to start to pay attention to that voice. And there was a lady in the group who gasped audibly when she discovered there had been a little narrator along for her, whatever. She was probably 50 years old and, and kind of similarly not to out my wife’s, you know, secrets or anything. But she told me that the book that helped awaken her to that was, um, Eckhart Tolle, you know, and A New Earth. And she’s like, I remember where I was when I read it. I remember the impact it had to have this awareness. So I, I don’t remember learning when I had one. It just seems like, yeah, I’ve always kind of knew it, but I think there’s still a surprising number of people that they’re not aware that that’s there.
Raj: 00:42:00 Yeah. I think it might depend on, uh, what, uh, is calling the researcher is a whole self aware was how self opaque you are and some of us are just more introspective and are aware of these things and other people, not so much, you know?
Bryan: 00:42:12 Yeah. So I, I didn’t mean to derail you there, but if you’ll please, please keep going. So,
Raj: 00:42:16 Yeah. So, um, so in this exercise is what we ask people to do is to kind of like tune into that mental chatter and then just write down whatever that mental chatter, the content of that mental chatter is. And uh, often people are asked, you know, asked me ok how exactly do I tune in. And so for example, if I feel like I’m going to, um, go to the gym now well I don’t, I’m, I feel like I’m going to go to the gym. And I said, no, no, that’s your goal. That’s your conscious part. You’ve got to kind of tune into what is going on behind the conscious thought. Okay. Maybe the conscious, behind the conscious thought. And you know, I really don’t want to go to the gym. I don’t feel like I’m going to have a good session. I’m really tired. I should be going to go to sleep. You know, that’s the thought. That’s a thought that’s underlying the conscious plan of going to go to anyway. So I’d done that. One of the good ways to tune into your mental chatter is to actually sit down to do a meditation session. You know, so when you’re saying not to kind of really think about anything in particular, that’s when the mental chatter kind of becomes a little louder. Anyway. So I asked people to write this down and my colleagues and I have done this across different groups of people, including students and retirees and so on. And people are very surprised. Okay. So before I ask them to do this, I asked them to indicate, okay, let’s give it a hundred mental chatter thoughts, what proportion of them are going to be positive and what proportion negative. And I forget the exact data now, but you know, people generally predict over 60% it to be positive or maybe 70% can be positive. But then later on when they actually do this exercise for a couple of weeks and come back, and then they looked at the look at the kind of overall, um, a number of thoughts they have in the proportions that don’t know It’s exactly the opposite. You know, the many more negative thoughts than there are positive thoughts and those negative thoughts fall into these buckets. Uh, you know, of you know, thoughts about relationships, thoughts about, uh, feeling inadequate or incompetent at work and talks about not having enough control, uh, and a certainty a about how life was unfolding. Yeah.
Bryan: 00:44:05 Is your experience or your belief that we can actually shift the kind of fundamental nature of our mental chatter? Like is it, you know, with affirmations or by, you know, consciously mapping out our values and you know, having that as a belief or just putting ourselves in certain environments surrounding ourselves with positive, uplifting people. I mean, well, well these things have a lasting effect on changing our mental chatter you think? Or is this some innate kind of survival instinct that that persists?
Raj: 00:44:35 Uh, I don’t think there’s any doubt that we do have something called negativity dominance, right? So there are 10 things that happen in the environment and nine of those are positive and one is negative. Let’s say you make a presentation, somebody comes to me later after the clock is up and nine of them say good things and one of them says bad things. I’m going to remember the bad thing more. Okay, that’s, I’m going to have a bigger impact on me. Um, it’s going to leave behind a bigger psychological scar, whatever you want to call it. That I think is genetic. Um, and you know, there are some scholars who have talked about why that might be back in the day when we had to survive, uh, lots of dangers out there in the real world that you had to focus on the dangers in order to survive. And we are the progenitors of those who survived. The other ones who made the babies. We have a hard wiring that is prone to negativity. But what’s also true is that, um, we can train our mind to focus on positive. Okay. And some people here at this point would ask me this question, okay, but is that a wrong thing to do? Because if that patient has started to be negative, isn’t it good thing for us to continue to be negative? Then I tell them that, look, I’m in back in the day for sure. You know, if you’re still surviving or fighting for survival and go ahead and be negative, you know, if from the war zone and in, in, uh, in Afghanistan or you’re stuck in a slum in India, go ahead and be negative, but you’re not right. They don’t have to literally fend for survival every day. And in this context that you find yourself where, um, you’re not fighting for survival, it’s in fact more adaptive, more productive to be positive because you’ll have better relationship, you’ll have better success, you’ll feel good from the inside out. Um, and so I think it is possible to train ourselves. Um, and what I would say, and this actually goes back a little bit to this question of, you know, the technology kind of tap into what already existed or did put things in us. Um, I would say that we have what I call, what I, you know, some researchers call latent propensities, you know, we have latent propensities when negativity, we have latent propensities for positivity. We have latent propensities for selfishness, self centeredness. We have, um, in equally strong measure propensities for altruism and other centeredness and so on. And what comes out, what gets nurtured, what does exhibited is what we practice. Okay. And the more we practice one side of things, the more the angelic side of us gets more nurtured as opposed to the, uh, demonic side. Okay. And oftentimes we don’t even recognize it. Uh, one of the other two sides just nurtured and reinforced just by the environment, you know, by the, uh, a particular set of things that we get exposed to, which we don’t control, like the news or certain people that we hang it on and so on. But once we recognize that we have both sides and it’s like feeding the dog, right? Whichever dog you feed is going to be the stronger one. And so you’ve got to make a choice at some point of which dog the I feed. Okay. And, and so yeah, you’re what you said about is it changeable? Is it, does it depend on the environment? Does it depend on who you’re hanging out with? Absolutely does. Okay. I’ll give you a very, very quick example of this. A study done at Stanford University where they had this game called the dictator game. Right? Um, so I’m just.
Bryan: 00:47:37 I like it already. The dictator game. Yes. Yeah. My employees might tell you I play that already. I don’t know, but let’s hear how Stanford played it.
Raj: 00:47:47 Right? What happens in this game is that, you know, two people that are invited into the lab and um, one of them is randomly picked out to be the quote unquote dictator and they are given a certain sum of money, let’s say $10. And they’re told that, okay, you get to spread this money between yourself and this other person. Okay. And that other person cannot complain. They just have to walk out with whatever they get. Okay. That’s the dictator game. And, um, so let’s say I am the dictator, you and I are playing the game and I get $10 and I give you a set $3. I keep $7 to myself, there’s nothing you can do about it. You walk away with three. Okay. Um, there’s also another game called the ultimatum game and the ultimatum game, the same setup. I get $10, I split it seven, three. And you can say screw you, I don’t want three dollars that’s unfairly low. And then I wouldn’t get the seven. Okay. So I have an incentive to give you enough just above the level of your cut off so that I get some to keep something. Okay. In the ultimatum game, the dictator game, you can’t do anything. Okay? So rationally speaking, Quote unquote, rationally, uh, I should keep all 10 or you know, close to 10 and give you very little. So this is the background, right? And what it did was very clever. They call these people into a lab and they said, okay, we’re going to play these games. And for one set of people, they call them community games. Okay. Community games. On the other set they call them Wall Street games, okay. And then they looked at the amount of money that was distributed. Okay. Um, and it turned out that in the set of participants in the group, which was, it was called the community games, people were making much higher contributions allocations to their partners then in that context in which they would call the, uh, Wall Street Games. Okay. Just the simple relabeling of an otherwise identical game, um, makes a big difference to how people behave. So, you know, it’s, I think a very, very revealing experiment because it tells you that the context, the environment, the signals that we see can have a huge impact on our behaviors. And going back to this, you know, we have two sides, the kind of positive and the negative. Um, it’s not a big surprise that the environment we choose to expose ourselves often it’s a matter of choice, but oftentimes the end round we find ourselves in can have a big impact on how we behave.
Bryan: 00:49:54 Yeah. And, and that was true for both the dictator game and the ultimatum that they were more giving
Raj: 00:49:58 Go back and look at the exact set of nature of things that they did. But I believe yeah, they played both games.
Bryan: 00:50:03 Yeah. For just calling it. So yeah, I have a teacher who shared, the way he phrased it is the context is decisive and I’m hearing that in Wall Street game versus a Community game. That’s fascinating. That’s really fascinating. And, and the other thing I love that you talk about in your book is where you mentioned, you know, some people will when they offer like a rebuttal or a yeah but is well, if, yeah well if I’m choosing to reframe and refocus, um, all the time, if I, if I have to do that, I can diminish my success drive or my survival instinct or whatever. But I like how you liken that to strength. You’re like, well, you can have big muscles, but it doesn’t mean you have to use them all the time. Right. So you can turn it on and off so to speak.
Raj: 00:50:46 Exactly. So I think that one of the things that I’m able to say about this, uh, idea of gaining bustled responsibility for your happiness, right? I think it’s in that context that I talk about it, that, um, if you are a, uh, you know, capable of being happy in every moment, some people are worried that, you know, will I just be like, kind of like an idiot that just going around smiling despite whatever’s happening and not really paying attention to things and so on.
Bryan: 00:51:17 Valid concern by the way, right? I mean, but if you’re happy, who cares? Yeah.
Raj: 00:51:22 Yeah. I mean, it’s up to you. I think that’s right. I used that analogy of, you know, if you’re really, really strong, are you going to kind of like, you know, go around slapping everybody all the time just because the strong, no, you had the capacity to be happy at all times. You have the capacity to choose to be Quinoas and content or whatever, but doesn’t mean that every situation calls for that emotion. Some.
Bryan: 00:51:41 It doesn’t mean you have to let people walk all over, you.
Raj: 00:51:45 No, In fact, I think that, you know, at least for me, what I’ve discovered is that the more centered and stable I am, right. And it takes a lot of work to get there, obviously, um, then the less I am susceptible to being influenced in ways I do not want to be influenced by other people. And I can look people straight in the eye and tell them that you committed something that was, was, was it an unfair acts much more strong, much more productively. Um, but the desirable result than I can if I were I could’ve got like a lost it and I became angry and I was in a fit of rage, you know, leads often to behaviors in a way that are very counterproductive.
Bryan: 00:52:24 No question. Will you tell me a little bit about what you’ve discovered about the link between generosity and happiness?
Raj: 00:52:31 Yeah, so again, I mean I, I would want to kind of just to be technically correct. It’s not my own work, but it’s the work of many scholars. Um, and essentially what a lot of findings show is that, uh, being generous is one of the most reliable, most sustainable sources of positivity. Right? I interviewed, uh, this, uh, you know, remarkable researcher. She is perhaps one of the best known in this field of positive psychology, uh, by the name of Sonja Lyubomirsky has got a bunch of books out there on the how of happiness. And I interviewed her and she uses this a dumb do refer to expressing gratitude and she calls it a kind of meta strategy. Okay. Um, meta strategy, meaning that it’s a, a strategy that’s above all other strategies. It’s above. And um so, and the reason she calls it a meta strategy for happiness is because it hits on so many of the, uh, reasons or sources of happiness. Uh, so just to give you a couple of, uh, you know, one thing that, uh, gratitude does is when you express gratitude is that it obviously makes other people like you better, right? So, right off the bat, it kind of, uh, embeds you in these kind of positive reciprocal relationships. And to the extent that the relationships mattered a lot to human beings, which it does, of course we are highly social as a species. Um, you’re doing the right thing to elicit a positive response from other people. Okay? So that’s one. And second thing that it does is that, um, it kind of diminishes, um, the propensity for you to experience what some other researchers call hubristic pride. Hubristic pride is when you feel you’re superior to other people and that you know, you’re special, you’re better than them. And if you achieve some success and you know, you pat yourself on the back and you say, nobody else could have done it and I’m the one and so on, that’s when you feel hubristic pride. Now in that same situation, if instead you looked around and said, okay, surely I did a lot of things, but surely a lot of things out of my control that cooperated with me without which I could not have achieved the success. Then you feel this gratitude. You feel guided your towards your, maybe your parents, your mentors, your teachers. You can go all the way back to your birth and say the fact that I was born in this lovely country, you know, I mean, supposedly I had been by, I mean I didn’t have a choice of where it was born. The supposedly had been born in let’s say, in a war struck zone, right? Uh, I could not have done this. Um, so, uh, when you express gratitude, you’re giving credit in a very legitimate way. There’s not delusional thinking in a very legitimate, where you’re giving credit to sources that actually contributed to your happiness, you know, and to your success. And when you do that, um, you’re kind of suppressing your ego or your kind of, you know, loading the, um, attributional success to your egotistical self and therefore you’re less likely to fill a hubristic pride and you’re more likely to feel a sense of connection and love and guided to, to the external world. And so you can think of gratitude as a kind of a bridge that takes you from an egotistical set of emotions to a non-egotistical set up emotions. And it turns out the non-egotistical set of emotions have a longer shelf life. So you know, so gratitude hits on relationships and hits on, um, you experiencing non-egotistical emotions, which have a longer chance to last a longer time. Um, and also it, it makes you feel less vigilant, less, um, uh, prone to kind of anxiety and therefore you sleep better. You know, it’s just a wonderful kind of a practice. Gratitude. And that is a book that I would recommend in this context called Thanks, you know, by a guy called an Emmons. E M M O N S is his name, last name.
Bryan: 00:56:12 What do you like about that book?
Raj: 00:56:14 Oh, it’s research based book, you know, so that’s one of the biases that I have, um, is that I’m, I’m more likely to, um, um, more likely to believe something, I suppose I should say, uh, subscribe to something if, uh, it’s got some data backing it up. And so it’s, it’s a very research based book and a, it outlines a lot of these reasons why, uh, uh, gratitude, uh, enhances happiness levels. And also chances of success.
Bryan: 00:56:44 Yeah. All those reasons make sense. And it just feels good. Right. There’s a couple of things I really like about this book as well. One is that you have incorporated into it, uh, kind of pay it forward component. That’s right. Yeah. And I would love if you’d be willing to talk about that. And uh, and then maybe we’ll just start with that and then I’ll go to the next one, which is your Coursera course. I want to, I want to understand a little bit more why you did that and what it’s been like. Because last I heard they were more than 125,000 people that have gone through this program and I’m sure it’s increased since then, but will you start by telling me about the pay it forward?
Raj: 00:57:21 I have a kind of a part of my website. My website is happysmarts.com and one of the pages on it is the pay it forward page where you can buy the book my book for any amount that you want to contribute towards a book. Uh, you will be charged some amount of money for the shipping, um, which is kind of out of my control. Uh, but anyway, yeah. So you can be as little as zero and you’d get a book shipped to you. Um, and uh, that’s happening because somebody else paid for this book, somebody who came before you in this chain. And then you can choose to pay as much as you want for the next person to buy the book. And it can be as little as zero. It can be as much as I think the highest that I’ve gotten is $150 or something. That’s not bad. Um, but I actually, I shouldn’t say I have gone, they’d kind of goes back to kind of feeding the chain, right? Yeah. So, um, it’s been going on now for like three years and, uh, we have sold about, I want to say, uh, 800 books or something like that, as long as that. Um, so it’s not like super long, I mean astoundingly high number, but it’s not a bad number either. Okay. Um, so, uh, that’s the idea of the, and the, I got this idea from, um, a set of findings and this one speaker that came into my, uh, my class and guest spoke, his name is Nipun Meta. He’s got a nice deck stock on, on this idea of giftivism. Uh, and he basically believes that people actually want to give want to be altruistic. And so that’s the opposite of the kind of a homo economic model of, uh, you know, people are selfish and people do things only because only when it benefits them. And so they did a bunch of experiments and he’s got this kind of a real world experiment. It’s called Karma Kitchen. It’s in the bay area and it’s in a few other places around the world. And basically you can go into the Karma Kitchen that’s the same concept that somebody else who came before you has paid for your meal and now you can afford to pay much as you want or I mean you can be as much as you can afford or you know, you, you don’t pay at all, you know. And, um, so I just thought that was very neat and I thought, okay, let me do this. Okay. So I just bought basically, I can’t remember now exactly how many copies I bought, but I bought a bunch of copies and I said, okay, this is going to be seed copies and let’s see how, how long it goes. And like I said, it’s been going on for over two years now.
Bryan: 00:59:44 That’s so great. Yeah. Will you talk to me a little bit about your decision to create this as an online course and to give the course away free as well? What, what, what motivated you to do that? What the response has been.
Raj: 00:59:58 Yeah. Um, so I happened to be in a very lucky position, right? That I have a day job that’s not just a day job it’s a well paying day job. You know, I don’t know if people know this, but as a business school professor, you basically get more for doing very similar work to let’s say a person in economics or psychology does. Um, but you know, double, maybe sometimes triple the amount of salary. They just, because we happen to be in business school and business school, you know, costs more for student to get in. And I think in some ways that funnels back to the faculty teaching. So, um, basically what I’m trying to say is that, you know, I’m, I’m very comfortable, you know, I mean, I’m not saying this to, to kind of boast or anything like that really are of gratitude. I think I’m, so I have a day job. And so when I wrote this book, when I, when I, uh, thought of these concepts and I wanted to disseminate it, it wasn’t from the perspective of I want to make money or, uh, I just want to spread the word and to the extent possible live, uh, you know, it has a positive effect on people. Um, then, you know, that was my primary motivation. And so when I got the opportunity to try this out and offer, offer the course content online, uh, I jumped at it. Uh, oh, I was also really curious intellectually about how this whole thing would work because, you know, online education is new, right? Even now it’s new. And when I first offered this course and when I first actually had the invitation, it was in 2014, you know, pretty early days of online education, at least MOOCS, massive open online courses. Um, and so, uh, I just, I just jumped at it and, uh, like you said, it’s been really well received, you know, way beyond my dreams and aspirations. 250,000 students. Wow. Okay. Amazing. From literally every country in the world. Um, and although, you know, 4,000 readings and on average of 4.8 rating for the quarter of five, uh, and it’s been rated the best MOOCS, massive open online course for 2015 and 16 and 17. I don’t know what’s going to happen for 18. We’ll see that as soon. Um, so, uh, really, really well received. And again, I mean, I don’t see this to boast, but, uh, I think it speaks to the fact that there’s a deep, deep hunger for the topic of happiness around the world.
Bryan: 01:02:13 Yeah. No, I, I think you’re right. And to have the content be something that, I mean, I do think motive matters, right? And your motive was not to get rich, clearly. And you’re giving it away. It wasn’t, I don’t think to, you know, to, uh, impress others. Um, and I think that that authenticity comes through and the fact that, you know, you’ve sat down with so many of these leading thinkers and creative video, and it’s, um, it’s, it’s just amazing to me that, that you’ve done that. Um, so that’s, ah, that’s fantastic.
Raj: 01:02:48 Yeah. I, I find, uh, you know, myself again being very grateful for, uh, being, uh, in a place where I could do it. And like you said, you know, I interviewed about 25 people and some of these are like really big time thinkers and professors, uh, like Dan Ariely and Tom Gilovich and Mihai Nichita, Sonja Lyubomirsky um, Ed Diener, uh, you know, really big names in the field and, uh, you know, they all kind of spared some of their time for me to interview them on an average, I would say about an hour, even though I’m the coaches of each one probably figures for about two minutes. Right? So, yeah. Uh, it’s, it’s really amazing that I was part of this, uh, this experiment.
Bryan: 01:03:31 Well, and I think you’re right too, that there is a deep hunger for this and it makes sense to me. You know, when I stand back and someone pointed out, you know, they’re really the concerns facing us as a society once you get past, which not to say, you know, you overlook them or, or think they’re are simple thing because they’re not. But if you look at global warming, you look at nuclear proliferation, you look at artificial intelligence, clearly there’s some big concerns and work to do there, including all the environmental degradation that’s happening. But right along with that is it’s like, okay, these other, these twin concerns of human happiness and wellbeing and, uh, longevity. That’s like all this, that we’ve reached a point where we are secure enough and these we’re up Maslow’s hierarchy far enough that for, although clearly there’s still many people that don’t have access to basic concerns, water and healthcare and education and so forth. There are so many of us who are blessed to be in a place where materially were pretty well off asking ourselves is this it or is you know that addiction or that suicide or the depression or whatever that so many people are falling into. That It’s, like, life is not working for many people and, and my hope is that this is the moment of transformation or awakening. Yeah. You know, where the world does start to work for everyone and I, I choose to believe it is. Yeah.
Raj: 01:04:55 Yeah. I mean, yeah, the kind of the jury is out there, right. We’ll see which way to go. I do think that we ended up pivotal point, although you know many people or point out that there’s been many occasions in the past too when a big thing, because it said this was the pivotal point. This is the pivotal point, but right now it feels like it because of, you know, a lot of the factors that you mentioned, like artificial intelligence, you know, it has a lot of promise, but it also comes with a lot of potential for better. Uh, I think particularly when you multiply that with Internet and the potential for ideas to spread daily fast, so on, who knows, you know, but I, I’m like you, I kind of an optimist.
Bryan: 01:05:33 Yeah. I want to ask you just a few more questions on this topic before we transition to the next segment, but what, what. One thing I want to ask you about, I love what you said, um, this was on a podcast I listened to with you. I think you said somebody asks you to define happiness. Mm. And I heard you say that it’s being light hearted, but not at the cost of compassion or rationality. Yeah. You still feel that way or would you give an alternate definition?
Raj: 01:06:00 Uh, I still feel that way. I still feel that way. Uh, I think that to some extent, um, one’s definition of what happiness is, is going to be personal. Um, and it’s going to affect your personality and you know, your personalities, probably a function of your genetics and your early life experiences. And for me, I like it a lot. I think the most positive experiences of my life I’ve been when I’ve felt a sense of lightheartedness. You know, well, even if I’m doing things that are important and serious I don’t take myself too seriously. Okay. Um, and that lightheartedness, that ability to see the lighter side of things, the ability to have an easy laugh, um, of banter of being in a playful mood. Um, even if I’m doing things that are, you know, uh, intellectually heavy, for example, uh, I, I’ve gravitated towards that, you know, do other people, it might be the sense of spiritual oneness or, or a deep sense of love and connection with other people. You know, everyone’s got their own kind of favorite emotion, I feel. And for me it’s this lightheartedness and I wanted to put in those two other kind of counterweight to that lightheartedness of rationality and compassion because sometimes, even if I don’t, you know, other people kind of wonder if, if your lighthearted doesn’t mean that you’re taking, making fun of every situation, even of other people are taking it seriously. You know, I mean, I don’t want to come across that way. Um, so I don’t want to make sure that I’m not stepping on anybody else’s toes and offending anybody, so I don’t want to be compassionate. And that comes, um, in a sense for us, uh, that, you know, I want to make sure that my lightheartedness is within the boundaries of compassion. And neither do I want to be, like we discussed some time back later, a village idiot, right, right in there of any delusional way, uh, without recognizing the gravity of the situation or something like that. You know, it’s not that either. So, uh, but then those two extremes, I do think that there’s a lot of scope to play around and, and that’s what I want.
Bryan: 01:08:05 I think. I think so too. So let me ask you this, the concept of Leila, right? It’s something I had not been to before. Just a couple of years ago and it’s something I sure think about a lot. Would you be willing to share? I, you and I have never talked about this particular concept before and uh, I’m wondering if you would be willing to just kind of share what your understanding of this term is and, and what your thoughts are about it.
Raj: 01:08:32 Okay. Uh, yeah. Nobody’s ever asked me this question.
Bryan: 01:08:36 Yes!
Raj: 01:08:37 Actually you’ve asked me quite a few questions that nobody’s asked. I’m very impressed with your questions and the amount of resources put into this. Obviously. That’s, that’s awesome. Um, so you know, Leila, for those who are not familiar with the concept is kind of like, um, I would say a Hindu religious kind of a term and the term being, uh, referring to the, uh, creation and existence being a kind of a dance, cosmic dance. And playful cosmic dance, uh, uh, promulgated, I don’t know if that’s a word by the gods because they would just kind of wanted to have fun and they wanted an outlet for their creativity. And so everything that you see, everything that exists is, is just a manifestation of that grand dance, the Leila, the play, um, so to speak. And, um, I like that concept a lot. Um, and perhaps it’s not very surprising given the definition of happiness I have, which is one of lightheartedness heartedness and playfulness. And that very much that’s into the idea that look, I mean, even if what is happening right now seems extremely serious and you know, um, negative, uh, if it’s just a play at the end of the day, then you know, you can go home at the end and then kind of think of this as something that happened outside of you rather than to you. Um, that is a danger of course that, you know, some people might point out that if you look at it that way, then, you know, you might not really kind of, um, uh, take things seriously or at least take other people’s negative emotions and the experience that they are having seriously and then just brushed it off and say, it’s just a play. You know, uh, you’re screwed, but so what it’s a play, you know. And what you yourself have the squishy knife. And so that’s why the compassion angle is important. Right? I mean, I’ve had, um, not, not be compassionate, but I think that, um, it makes, um, it’s emotionally appealing to me, but I think that intellectually also it makes sense for me, at least for me, it makes sense. This idea. And I’ll tell you why. Uh, the reason is because, um, if you, uh, think to how things unfold, right? Um, things don’t happen randomly. I think things happen because of things that happened before them. Um, if there’s rain falling down is because you know water was sucked up by the sun into the sky. And then, you know, at one point that it kind of became too cold and heavy and therefore it kind of stayed and did not go to the stratosphere. But, uh, then it has to come down or once it gets cold because it’s heavy now and so on. And so, uh, everything has basically a root cause that came before it. And so everything is a concatenation of a set of events that are logically following from things that happened before them. And if you’re going to rewind all this bag, I guess you would end up at the big bang, um, you know, which is the most prevalent or we’ll accepted theory of the origins of the universe, which is a bizarre theory because, you know, first time somebody hears of it, I mean, they really wanted, I mean, this can’t be scientific, right? Because, you know, according to that, as you know, I mean, everything that we know existed in a space smaller than the head of a pin drop and then expanded out from there to like, you know, billions of galaxies, billions of stars, each with all of us, every single molecule that you see here, you, me, everything. We were all tightly packed together in a space smaller than the space of a pinhead, right? We are all deeply connected. And all of this is, is an unfolding of that moment. And so if you look at it from that perspective, everything is preprogrammed and there is no such thing as free will. Um, and things are happening because of things that happened before them that they propelling other people to be, I mean, you, not other people, but physical objects to behave in a certain fashion. But even even things that we think are volitional, you know, you didn’t choose where you were born. You didn’t choose your genetic hard wiring, you didn’t choose your social upbringing. Um, so if somebody else were born exactly as you, with your upbringing in, with your kind of looks and everything, would they behave any differently? Probably not. You know, uh, and some people will say definitely not because that’s who you are. I mean, that’s how you’re programmed to behave. Uh, and so, you know, if that is true, then at some level, the thing that we are assuming is our behavior is actually the behavior of the grand Universe, uh, just manifesting itself through us. And so that is the definition of a play in a sense is that you’re acting a role without realizing that, you know, you’re in the role, you get caught up in that role, but it’s a role. And the role was given to your outside of view, uh, you then decide on that road. Um, and so, um, you know, it’s consistent with this idea of, uh, the Leila, um, but the, the Gods playing through us, um, and just expressing your creativity and it’s simultaneous for me, very freeing. Um, which is why emotionally I guess I like it because it just tells me that, look, I mean, you know, obviously I don’t want to commit any crimes or anything like that and you know, because, uh, that would make the play take a tone that, you know, difficult for me to live with. But you know, conceptually that would be a turn that was taken by the Gods and not me according to this, this is kind of a way of looking at things. Um, anyway, long, long kind of answer to your question, but that’s where I stand on it.
Bryan: 01:13:50 Yeah. Well, thank you. Thank you for sharing that. I, I think it’s such an interesting concept and there’s so many implications. You know, I remember reading Einstein’s biography just a year or so ago and at one point, you know, this was the one that Isaacson wrote and it’s suggesting that Einstein also believed or at least strongly considered, that there is no such thing as free will, whether its electrons, or planets in orbit, that everything behaves according to certain laws and principles. And why would human behavior be anything different? And as much as people, you know, we me might not want to believe that at the same time if I’m honest and I step back and say, what proof do I have otherwise, you know, none. I mean, what proof do I have that it’s true or false? None. But for me, interesting to think about. So, okay, well that was I and I hope that, I hope that was useful to you who are listening as well. This idea of, of Leila basically, uh, uh, play. The part of it that I think is, is both intriguing and, um, sometimes concerning to me, which I love the idea is this idea that life is a purposeless play. That life is the purpose. Right. So, so how interesting. And if that perspective is adopted, how much easier it is to appreciate, enjoy, be happy in that moment. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. So last question before we transition, I want to ask you about the work you do inside the Wholefoods Academy for Conscious Leadership. Will you tell me like how that came about, what your involvement is, what the result of it has been, that kind of thing?
Raj: 01:15:25 Sure. Yeah. Uh, so I jumped to the present moment to right now that that Academy of Conscious Leadership has been dissolved.
Bryan: 01:15:33 Oh, that was Bezos. I knew it. I knew this was going to happen.
Raj: 01:15:40 I think it happened even before he took on that road a, before he came into a Whole Foods. Um, but, uh, the way it happened, if I remember this correctly, uh, in 2012, um, I went and gave a talk at Whole Foods here in Austin as, you know, it’s headquartered here. And, uh, um, some of the people there in that, uh, talk, uh, liked what I had to say. And so they said, hey, you know, we hold these workshops and, um, we have also had this thing called the Academy of Conscious Leadership. And as you might know, John Mackey, a, has a book that co authored with Raj Sisodia called Conscious Capitalism.
Bryan: 01:16:17 Yup. And Raj has been a guest on this show as well.
Raj: 01:16:19 Okay. Very good. He’s a good friend of mine too.
Bryan: 01:16:21 Oh, amazing human being.
Raj: 01:16:23 Yeah. Awesome. Um, so, uh, they said, uh, would you like to be part of this? And I said, yes, of course. I’ve been to, I would, I want to say four, five, like of these workshops, events. Uh, and remember we’re going to one in somewhere in Phoenix, the Phoenix and other ones up in Wisconsin. And then, you know, I’ve been to a couple of here in Austin itself and, um, uh, you know, the idea was very much along the lines of, um, you know, this idea of conscious capitalism, right? Uh, so value driven, um, and you know, part of the value system being one for all, all for one kind of a setup. Um, and, and you know, uh, no profits is by itself not being bad, but coming out as a byproduct of leading a value driven life, of, of trying to improve, um, you know, various stakeholders. I, uh, lights, you know, obviously customers, but also I think more importantly, starting with the employees and the environment and so on. So, uh, I’ve, you know, I, I loved it. I really, really enjoyed hanging out with the people from Whole Foods, the senior management, the middle management. Um, I find I found myself, um, in a good way, uh, preaching to the choir in terms of the things that I shared with them. They really resonated with them. Uh, I felt like I was part of the family, so it was very good.
Bryan: 01:17:54 Awesome. Okay. So I want to transition to the lightning round. Okay. Questions that are designed to be read briefly. You can answer them as long as you want. Okay. First question, please complete the following sentence with something other than a box of chocolates. Life is like a…
Raj: 01:18:19 Pause.
Bryan: 01:18:21 Okay. Life is like a pause. Okay. Uh, what’s the number two, what’s the best news you’ve heard recently?
Raj: 01:18:29 The best news I heard recently was, um, that I am going to be giving a bunch of talks to people who I think really need to hear this message of, uh, what can make them happier. So, um, these are people who are living out the last a years of their life and, uh, the a are very curious about what the signs of happiness has to say. So wow. I’m very grateful to be, uh, to have the opportunity to talk.
Bryan: 01:19:04 That’s beautiful. Is that they’re in Austin or will that be.
Raj: 01:19:08 Yes, this is in Austin.
Bryan: 01:19:08 Wow. Wonderful. Okay. Uh, next question. What’s something at which you wish you were better?
Raj: 01:19:16 Yeah, there’s a lot of things that I wish that I was better at. One of the things that I wish I was very good at is speaking multiple, multiple languages. I speak three, uh, quite well. Um, I can understand, uh, or, or kind of get by with another fourth one, but, uh, I wish that I could speak as many as 20 or 30. I actually, you know, if I could speak at them all then that be ideal. And the reason I say this is because, um, I, I really love understanding cultures and people and um, language it gives you so much more, it’s like a window into another person’s culture. Right. And if you understand what’s going on, how they speak and what they’re saying and how they think, wow. You know, that would like basically kind of made the whole world a stage for me. Uh, and, and uh, and, and have a good time. Yeah. So that’s what I would like to do now.
Bryan: 01:20:12 That’s beautiful. I’m counting on Google, just giving me that little babelfish. We’ll just do that. What, what are the three that you speak well now?
Raj: 01:20:19 Uh, English. Uh, and then, uh, Tamil which is my mother tongue and Hindi, ah, okay. I don’t know Hindi’s the most popular language in India. So I just wanted to know.
Bryan: 01:20:30 I heard there’s like 800 different languages. Which are like actually spoken in many more or something like this that you think of that true?
Raj: 01:20:36 I think there’s 26 or something like that, languages and then there are dialect maybe in the 800. That’s amazing. Yeah, it’s, it’s a lot. Yeah.
Bryan: 01:20:46 Okay. Next question. If you were required every day for the rest of your life to wear a tee shirt with a slogan on it or a phrase or saying or quote or a quip, what would the shirt say?
Raj: 01:20:57 So I’ve actually thought about this. Okay. There are two things that I could have the tee shirt say. Um, one thing that exists is a simpler one. This would say the weather in my head is always sunny. Okay. Um, and this is more of an aspirational tee shirt rather than what’s reality because I’m still working on it. Um, but the second tee shirt, and this is something that maybe, you know, because you’re kind of from the business background, you can tell me if a tee shirt like this would sell. Um, so different people have different things that they like, right? I mean, like for example, for me, a nice cold beer on a hot day, that’s like awesome. Yeah. Um, I also like to kind of sleep in, right? Sure. And kind of wake up late. Okay. Sleeping in is a big thing for me. Okay. Um, then playing with my kids, right is a big thing for me. Now. Um, I love, um, popping those bubbles on bubble wrap. Yes. Yeah. There’s a bunch of things like this. Okay. So imagine that you have a tee shirt that has nothing like an ice cold beer on a hot, sunny day. Right? Nothing like hanging out with my kids and so on. And then all of those would be like in light oak, in a shade of gray. And then in bright orange, uh, it is in much bolder big letters. “Nothing like life.” Okay. So that’s the idea. So nothing like a lot of small things that happen to be idiosyncratically things that I like, but overall nothing like life and everybody’s got their own set of things that floats their boat, so to speak.
Bryan: 01:22:28 I love it. Yeah. Okay, that’s great. If you ever make that shirt.
Raj: 01:22:34 Yeah. The idea would be that he go to a website and then you fill in all these, nothing like blanks and then all of those, maybe 10 of them, and then all of those will be the background. And then on top of it would say nothing like life.
Bryan: 01:22:44 I love it. That’s great. And I can imagine this could be one of those sites where there’s like the up voted and you choose which one’s right. Yeah, that’s great. Awesome. Okay, next question. What book? And you’ve already mentioned one, so maybe this is it or maybe it’s something different, but what book other than your own, have you gifted or recommended most often?
Raj: 01:23:05 Oh, that’s a good one. I think in the last two or three years, I’m sort of really depend on, you know, when you asked me this question, but in the last two years, two or three years, I would say that it’s probably been Give or Take by Adam Grant. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a chance to read it.
Bryan: 01:23:19 I’ve not read it, but I read the parts in your book where you mentioned some of what Adam shares.
Raj: 01:23:24 Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’d be a great guy for your podcast. He’s obviously very busy and all that. Uh, so maybe getting him out to commit some time in the next, I don’t know if you’re in Austin.
Bryan: 01:23:35 I haven’t yet. And if you know him and if, if you’d be willing to make an introduction, I would, I would love to invite him.
Raj: 01:23:42 Okay.
Bryan: 01:23:42 But if not, that’s fine too.
Raj: 01:23:44 I know he’s one of those guys, you know, he, he walks the talk, right? So he says that being kind and compassionate and nice to other people is super important. Not just because the right thing to do, but also because it enhances your chances of success. And he actually, you know, I wrote to him out of the blue and he wrote a blow for my book and he’s been really great. He wasn’t able to do an interview himself, but he proposed somebody else and that’s what he might do with this too. So I don’t mind.
Bryan: 01:24:10 Yeah. Awesome. So that’s the one though recently is given, is it give or take, give and take.
Raj: 01:24:16 Give and Take, that came out in 2014 there was this first book, uh, it’s a masterpiece in my opinion. And then I think, he’s come out to two books. One is called Originals. Yup. And that one’s also been very well received. And then Plan B, I think with, yeah.
Bryan: 01:24:31 With Sheryl Sandberg. Yeah. Yeah. Is that it’s an option option or plant, but yeah.
Raj: 01:24:36 Yeah. Maybe it’s Option B. Yeah.
Bryan: 01:24:38 Before two or three years ago, what might have been your answer to that question?
Raj: 01:24:41 Ah, okay. So I look, I mean I have a little bit of, um, interest in a kind of spirituality and those kinds of topics. And, uh, there was a time when I was really taken by this book called, A Search In Secret India. A Search In Secret India by a guy called Paul Brunton. Uh, he wrote the book, I think in 1930s, before the British had left India. He ends up at the Ashram of one of these spiritual kind of gurus, big gurus that of that time. His name is Ramana Maharshi. Ramana Maharshi. And, um, just a bunch of kind of his searches, it’s like a travelog almost, but written by a spiritual guy who’s in the quest for discovering, um, you know, life’s kind of answering big questions. Uh, and so, um, I got to know more about Ramana Maharshi through reading that book than through what my parents and other people told me about him. So it’s not really a biography of Ramana Maharshi, anything. It’s a kind of biography of Paul Brunton very fascinating book. I really liked it.
Bryan: 01:25:47 That sounds like something I would enjoy. Um, I, I just told my wife maybe six months ago, I said partly, partly to give myself something to look forward to, right. Like consciously inventing a future to live into. I said, um, because I love to walk. I do a 50 mile walk every year here in Salt Lake. We do.
Raj: 01:26:05 50 mile walk.
Bryan: 01:26:06 50 miles and 20 hours. So I’m fond of kind of these extreme challenges or unusual feats. And, uh, so I said to my wife, just last year,
Raj: 01:26:15 20 continuous, continuous hours.
Bryan: 01:26:17 Yeah.
Raj: 01:26:18 You already know when you’re going to do it this year.
Bryan: 01:26:21 Yeah. So we do it the Saturday after Labor Day. We’ve penciled that in, I think it’s the 8th or 9th of September.
Raj: 01:26:27 When you say we, who will go on this walk.
Bryan: 01:26:30 You know, every year I invite just friends and family and people that I think, you know, that I’ve been kind of meeting in and mixing with recently. And, uh, most people that do it will, it’s a one and done, you know, if they even finish. But, um, yeah, if you’re interested, I’ll be sure to keep you on my notification.
Raj: 01:26:48 Let me know. Have you heard of a movie called The Way?
Bryan: 01:26:53 No.
Raj: 01:26:53 So have you heard of this uh, what is the thing called the Compostela. Uh, uh, sadly I always kind of get the name mixed up. Uh, so this is, um, the kind of a pilgrimage that, uh, for a very long time, a lot of Christians have taken from starting from near Barcelona going all the way to Compostela. Uh, I think that’s the name of the place. Um, so Santiago de Compostela or something. Okay. So it just Google it and check out this movie called The Way, The Way with Martin Sheen and um, uh, his son Emilio Estevez.
Bryan: 01:27:27 Yeah, yeah, yeah. Martin Sheen then had Charlie Sheen I believe is his son and Emilio Estevez are brothers.
Raj: 01:27:33 Yeah. So, so check that movie. I think you’ll like it. I’ll give you a little bit of an idea of what I’m talking about. So this is 800 kilometer walk. So I, the reason I bring it up is because I want to do that walk and, uh, you know, maybe I can convince you to kind of like shift, uh, geography’s a little bit and go to Europe.
Bryan: 01:27:51 Sounds amazing.
Raj: 01:27:51 Take section hiking over like 10 years, you know, for a few miles.
Bryan: 01:27:55 Sounds cool. Yeah, I’ll definitely check it out because, because the thing I told my wife, as I said, when I turned 60, I want to walk across India.
Raj: 01:28:04 Oh yeah. What do you mean cross India from where to where?
Bryan: 01:28:06 Well, I thought I would start from the south, like Tamil, to the Himalayas, but I actually think I’d probably go the other way.
Raj: 01:28:13 Good for you.
Bryan: 01:28:14 Yeah. So that’s, that’s my plan. And um, so this book, Searching Secret India, that could be good. I know it was a long time ago, but that could be good to kind of preparation and, and I think Maharishi wasn’t, he was a Vivekananda’s teacher.
Raj: 01:28:29 No, that is Ramakrishna Paramhansa.
Bryan: 01:28:32 Okay. So Ramakrishna and who, who’s the guy that.
Raj: 01:28:35 Ramana Maharshi. Um, yeah. Interesting guy. He was, he was only in the south from Tamil Nadu, which is where I’m from. Um, and um, ended up, uh, kind of, you know, I, I guess he didn’t want to do it, but I mean he ended up founding this Ashram, uh, in a, in a place called a yeah, yeah. I’m blanking on the name of the place, but it’s, it’s close to Chennai. Have you heard of Chennai?
Bryan: 01:29:02 Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ve been there.
Raj: 01:29:05 You’ve been there? Okay. Okay.
Bryan: 01:29:06 Yeah, I did. Um, Sadhguru, Rally For Rivers with him.
Raj: 01:29:09 Okay.
Bryan: 01:29:10 Yeah, a year ago, October, I did half of it, two weeks, two weeks. So visited quite, quite a few, but okay. So I’ve totally taken us off course from the lightning round. I’m going to bring us back. So here we go. Um, so you travel a ton. What’s one travel hack, something you do or something you take with you when you traveled to make your train travel less painful or more enjoyable?
Raj: 01:29:33 Okay, so I have several travel hacks. Uh, I would say that one of the important ones for me is to take some Melatonin with me and I pop it, um, on the flight, uh, just before I want to go to sleep or half an hour before it. And then, um, maybe have a glass of wine, maybe two, um, and then knocks me out. Okay. Um, and then I wake up and I feel good to go wherever I land. Okay. Uh, so part of that is also that I try and choose flights that will put me in the next morning in the next place or wherever I go to a, now this will only work if the travel time is at least six hours or so. Okay. If it’s less than that, then I have a different, I don’t, I don’t do this. Um, the other thing that I do is that I try to check myself into a hotel with a nice gym. Okay. That’s one of my requirements is that, you know, for me, a healthy lifestyle, um, is, is quite critical for me. Uh, and if I don’t have it, then everything else falls apart. So I need to sleep well, I need to eat well, I need to exercise well. And so the exercising part, so I, I kind of choose a hotel and, uh, you know, I also say, you know, I must say that I’ve been lucky that in the last five years or so, uh, I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to afford to travel by business class. And you know, if, if that is something that is, um, within the realm of possibility for somebody than I would ever suggest considering it because a, it does improve, vastly improve your experience once you land. And I know that it feels like a waste of money, like, you know, spending three times as much, maybe five times, sometimes as much of traveling by business class as it does and you think that, you know, this is just traveled and you know, who can be that important? Why should I spend so much? But to me at least it makes a big difference. But I’m also tall you know, I’m like six feet two. So, uh, you know, for maybe shorter people, it’s not that big a deal. Yeah. And, uh, lastly, I guess a, I don’t know if you want to, it’s okay for me to talk about one last one, but I would say that traveling lightly, you know, I think that if you can figure out, okay, here are the number of days that I’m going to be there and here are exactly the numbers of underwear that I want, I need a, and figuring out if, you know, there’s a potential for getting laundry done. And here are the number of Pj’s I need and here are the number of socks I need and so on. And just taking that amount, maybe one extra, that’s it. And, and packing well, um, because traveling light really kind of comes in handy I think.
Bryan: 01:32:05 And by the way, in nearly 30 interviews, those are things that no guest has said. Some of them. Yeah. Oh, okay. So that’s, thank you for sharing. Okay. So what next question. What is one thing you’ve started or stopped doing in order to live or age? Well?
Raj: 01:32:23 Hmm. Okay. So, um, I, one thing that I’ve, I’ve, uh, stopped doing is, uh, overdrinking. Okay. Um, I think that there was a time when I was very prone to consuming a lot of alcohol. Uh, it put me in a good space, temporarily. Um, and it wasn’t good for me the next day and overall for my life. Okay. I wasn’t a by any stretch of the imagination a alcoholic or anything like that, but it just, I would just go with the flow. Uh, and, uh, I kind of make a tentative plan of maybe like having three, four drinks and then like, you know, by the time I was like, and no more than that, but by the time I had three or four drinks in me, um, my perspective would have changed and, you know, I’d be like grooving, you know, maybe dancing to the music or whatever. And then before I knew it, I was like five, six, eight down, you know. So, and then I would pay a heavy price the next day. So that’s something that I don’t do as much. Uh, not necessarily with the aim of aging well. I would say just, um, partly doesn’t sit well with me and I, it’s kind of pointless now. You know, to, to even go there. And that’s what I feel. Um, but I’ve also started, um, in the last about three or four years taking supplements. Um, and I don’t know to what extent they work or don’t, but, um, maybe they just have a placebo effect and I feel good, but, uh, it’s kind of an experiment that I’m trying out and a, so I’ll tell you, I mean, I take about five supplements. I take Omega three. Okay. I take vitamin D, I take vitamin C. Okay, omega 3, vitamin D, vitamin C, and then I take, um, a spirulina. Okay. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it.
Bryan: 01:34:16 I’ve heard of it. What does it, what do you take it for? What benefit does it give you?
Raj: 01:34:19 I think it’s an alkaline thing and you know, we, we tend to be acidic in our eating habits and so it kind of neutralizes, yeah, that’s my understanding. I did this research a while back. Okay. And I’ve kind of forgotten now exactly what these things do, but I’ve been taking them for a while. And finally I take, um, uh, green tea, green tea extract, which has some antioxidant properties or something like that, you know, and uh, it’s a kind of a boost of caffeine as well. So I take all of all of these five things in the morning with my breakfast, so we’ll see. Okay. If I live to be 120, uh, we can have the talk.
Bryan: 01:34:57 And, and no multivitamin.
Raj: 01:34:59 Yeah. The, uh, two vitamins that are they’re to vitamin D and vitamin C are the important ones and I take those for now.
Bryan: 01:35:07 What’s one thing you wish every American knew?
Raj: 01:35:11 Um, I would say that a lot of Americans know this, right? But a lot more Americans don’t know this. Um, that America is not the center of the world. You know.
Bryan: 01:35:21 What are you sure?
Raj: 01:35:24 I don’t look, I mean, I love America. I love Americans. I think this is the best country in the world. Okay. Um, and oftentimes I think this is something that the non Americans need to learn. You know, everybody likes to be down on America and say that, you know, they’re a bunch of ignorance and self centered and you know, all they know is their own country and so on. And people stop appreciating the fact that, you know, this is the most immigrant friendly country the world has ever seen, ever seen, right. Ever seen. So, um, and I think it’s very important to put that in perspective and recognize that first. But having said that, I think that if Americans, I think Americans are basically great people, all of them, you know, uh, and a lot of them, obviously have traveled a lot. I think, you know, I don’t know the stats on this, but if you take a look at the number of people from any country as a proportion of the number of people that live in the country who have traveled abroad, I imagine America would be in the top 10. I’m not, I don’t know what the stats are but, so it is a well travelled country. And I happen to inhabit a world in which I meet a lot of them. But it’s also true that a lot of Americans don’t go out. You know, I’ve heard some stats, like only 10% of Americans have passports or something like that. You know, I don’t know what the stats are on that, but it’s a surprisingly low number. And I think that if Americans just traveled out more, they recognize that, um, you know, uh, that, that we live in a world that, um, is deeply interconnected and, and there’s just no way to just have this be a separate country that, you know, you live by your own rules and demand things, sort of people from other countries. And you know, and um, uh, that just America could be very prosperous and you know, even if it comes at a cost to other people’s prosperity. It’s no longer that world at least, you know, so yeah, he got recognition and that feel that the rest of the world is out to get America and all that would also go away a little bit. And I think that other people will get to understand Americans better. It just be a win, win, win all around, in my opinion. Just more Americans traveled outside of America.
Bryan: 01:37:32 I think you’re right. So, okay, I want to put this here to make sure that I get to it. But if people want to connect with you or they want to learn more from you, what should they do?
Raj: 01:37:42 Yeah. Uh, so they can write to me. Um, my email is [email protected]
Bryan: 01:37:48 And that’s R A J.
Raj: 01:37:50 Yeah R A J @ H A P P Y S M A R T S, happysmarts.com. And I usually am good at responding. Um, but I’ve also had some people write to me telling me that I tried writing to earlier, I haven’t heard from you, so, um, making a second attempt. So, uh, I apologize if I’m not able to return your email immediately, but my intention is to, and if I don’t, if you don’t hear from me in a couple of business days, please feel free to write back to me again. Um, and I try to get back to everybody, but that’s the way to contact me.
Bryan: 01:38:23 Yeah. Awesome. And then people can visit your website, at happysmarts.com. Uh, people of course can find your book on Amazon or pretty much any online retailer or hopefully as well and their local bookstore. Yeah. Right. While they still exist. So that’s great. Okay. And then the other thing that I want to say here to make sure that I get it in is, um, that as an expression of gratitude to you, Raj, for making time to share your experience and your wisdom with me and everyone who’s listening. Um, I’ve made a small gesture by going online to kiva.org and I’ve made a Microloan to, uh, a 49 year old woman named Sarabi who happens to live in the Kutch district of Gujarat. Uh, she’s engaged in the dairy business. She sells milk, ghee, curd butter in her locality and, and so, uh, anyway, it’s just a small attempt it showing it, paying it forward a little bit.
Raj: 01:39:19 Oh, that’s awesome. That’s really wonderful. Wonderful gesture.
Bryan: 01:39:22 Yeah. Well thank you. Okay, so the last part, we’ve got just a few questions. I’ve got just a few questions for you related to writing, so if, if you’re willing to just switch gears one final time.
Raj: 01:39:33 Yeah, absolutely.
Bryan: 01:39:34 Awesome. Okay. So let’s see. I have a few I want to be sure to ask, but before I ask anything, if I ask you when it comes to writing and, and remembering that part of what I’m endeavoring to do with this podcast is to give anyone listening a little bit of inspiration and a little bit of practical tools that they can use to help them complete the any project there in the middle of it might be a writing project, it might be some other kind of creative project. But, um, let’s stay focused on writing for now at least. What, what is, what have you learned about writing that has served you? Well,
Raj: 01:40:14 I think this might be a bit of a cliche to people who are, um, aware of, uh, some of the kind of best practices in this, which is to, um, just write, just do it, you know. Uh, and carve out some time and don’t kind of try to second guess whether they are in a good mood or you’re going to have a writer’s block or, or whatever. Just carve out say three hours. Even if it’s not that much time, even if it’s just half an hour, one hour, whatever, you know, but a regular time of the day when you’re going to do it. Okay. And I would say that as you’re thinking about that time, uh, you know, try and make it a time of the day when, uh, it’s what I call your cream time. That is the time of the day when you’re, you’re, uh, mentally sharpest and uh, you’re able to think well and you’re able to engage in nuance creative, um kind of thinking. Okay. And there’s a book called When by Daniel Pink talks a little bit about the circadian rhythms and how different people have their peak performance during the day at different times of the day. For me, it happens to be between, I’d say 8:00 AM and 11:00 PM in that window. Um, and so the more of that time I devote to the more important stuff. And if writing is important to you, you want to, whatever it is, right? I mean, you said, let’s take writing as an example, but if you just carve that time out for that activity, um, and just do it, you know, and, and not compromise on, that. Close your emails, get your phone off the hook, you know, switch off, put your phone in airplane mode, close the door to your office. Just sit down and be disciplined about it. Uh, I think that’s the single best thing you can do for yourself.
Bryan: 01:41:54 What is your writing? Kryptonite?
Raj: 01:41:58 So, um, kryptonite is, remind me, it’s something that doesn’t, achilles heel.
Bryan: 01:42:03 So this is, um, it’s a term from popular culture where Superman, who is basically invulnerable, like he’s invulnerable, he’s invincible, but if he’s exposed to this one substance, it will totally just compromise his strength and effectiveness. So what kind of trips you up when it comes to writing? What compromises your good intentions and your efficacy and, and all this when it comes to writing? What’s your, what’s your writing kryptonite?
Raj: 01:42:29 Yeah. So, um, for me, uh, I need to be in a good headspace, right? I think this would be true for everybody. Uh, not just for writing, but any important stuff. If I want to have a important, crucial conversation with somebody. Right. Uh, I think I need to be in a, in a good headspace. And, um, what, um, there’s lots of things that can kind of derail me from that and push me off that good headspace ledge, so to speak. But one of the things that, you know, the more common thing that does that it is, um, just, um, not getting enough sleep the previous night. Okay. Um, and if I’ve not gotten enough sleep, I don’t feel as mentally sharp. I don’t feel a centered, I don’t feel like I am in the good headspace. And relatedly, another thing that also kind of, you know, is a kryptonite I guess is just having too many things on my plate. Uh, and not feeling relaxed, not having that sense of time abundance that you mentioned. So those are the two things. Those are related, but those are the things that are my kryptonite.
Bryan: 01:43:34 So when it comes to that, about having that good, you know, that mental space that’s conducive to writing. Do you find, is that something that you’ve just kind of got to wait until it comes along or have you found something that’s reliably effective in creating it?
Raj: 01:43:47 Yeah, so, uh, you know, it’s kind of like a, I guess not ironic but, uh, mmm. I don’t know what the word is, but basically the things that they talk about in my book, right? The, as the habits of the highly happy, all of those things are very conducive for me to feel good about writing, to put me in a good headspace. So for example, if I’m not chasing superiority, right? Uh, which is a sin, which is the happiness sin. But in the context of writing, if I’m not trying to write with this idea that, well, I want my book to be the best seller, you know, I mean, I want everybody to be impressed at how I’m writing or whatever. I wanted this to be the best ever book, the last word on happiness. And my thoughts are not there, but rather than my thoughts are more on, okay, let me just get down to the process. The process is it right? I mean I just sit down from nine to 12 and I just try to crank it out and do the best I can. And what I discovered is for me, I think this is true for everybody. It’s an idol process. You know, you don’t just sit down and everything flows and people say this for some people, maybe it’s true, but it never happened to me, that I just sit down. Okay. Occasionally you get into a good zone and then you write two or three pages and, and they’re more or less perfect, right? But by and large, what happens to me is that I could go back to it and revise it and refine it and then come back to it. And do the same thing again, it’s the 20th iteration that I’m really satisfied with. So, um, and that’s what I would say that, uh, is there is another tip which goes along with, you know, this, this protecting your cream time and finding out time of the day when you write is that, tell yourself that, look, I mean, this is going to take a while. You know, this is going to be refined again and again and again, and it’s in that process that you end up with a good product in the end. But to this question, I would say that, you know, all of these habits of the highly happy. For me, the foundation of a happy lifestyle and everything flows from that is for happiness, is leading a healthy lifestyle, which means eating well, exercising and sleeping, sleeping well. You know, if you don’t have that as a foundation, then, um, forget about being happy. You know, because I mean, you’re not at a cellular level, you’re not feeling good from the inside. Um, then, you know, how can you expect, how can you aspire to be happy at the mental level? You know, if your body is not feeling happy. So that’s where I would start. And that’s fundamental to writing well as well. For me. It has to, yeah. Healthy lifestyle.
Bryan: 01:46:06 Yeah. No, it just, it just makes so much sense and it’s congruent with my experience as well. Um, will you walk me through what it looks like or what it looked like for you to go from concept to completion with this book? I know that’s a big question, but how did you settle on the idea? How did you begin the outlining? How did you begin the drafting? How did you remain organized through that process? How did the editing, I mean, anything that kind of feels appropriate if you were just to give me a succinct summary of what was the process like?
Raj: 01:46:42 Uh, I think there’s a quote by one of these authors, I forget which auto, but he said something like, you know, writing a book like is like driving in the dark with just your headlights on. And you just see the next thing that you want to write about. And in the end, uh, you know, if you’re going and following a roadmap, you end up at your destination. Um, and so it’s kind of like that for me, you know, I mean, I think that, uh, but I know that I had clarity on the broad topic, um, that, uh, it was about happiness. I also had a broad objective, which is to kind of distill the science and give people some recommendations that they would find useful. Uh, I knew who my target audience was, which was smart and successful people and yet not very happy perhaps. And all those were there. But I mean, in terms of how to structure the book and where to start and where to end and what to have in between and all that, you know, all those are very much. Um, I treat it, like I said, I, I would have probably, um, you know, um, written, uh, I want to say, I’m not kidding. You know, and I say there’s about 300 versions of the book or 300 iterations, you know. Yeah. Um, yeah, just a lot. I mean, it took me six years to complete the book and other people are different. And of course, you know, I still don’t think it’s perfect. Um, and you know, now if I were to look back on it, one of the fundamental errors that I made is that it, it made it too long for people who are smart and successful. Uh, and I, I know this because I talk about it in the book they’re frenzy had, people were very, very short on time. And so, you know, as a good marketer, I should recognize that first and make it really short, you know, maybe like five chapters or something, which I did not. Um, that’s where I think that to some extent my idealism got in the way and I wanted to make the book put in all the things that I thought were very very important and useful. And this is what the authentic seeker is, how I convince myself to make it as well. Anyway. So, um, what I would say is that, um, recognize it’s going to be iterative doesn’t mean that, you know, you postpone the structuring. The book to later, it’s just that. What do ever you think the structure is today, go with it with the flexibility and the open mind that it might change later and almost invariably will. Uh, and um, once you have a broad structure, as soon as you encounter any stimulus in the world that is consistent or that is going to be useful for that, uh, any part of the structure just embedded into that part. So over like, you know, so I would say open up folders and sub folders and say that, okay, this is chapter one, this is going to be introduction on why happiness is important, what’s smart and successful people. So anytime you hear in the news that you know, smart people are not very happy or you know how fame can lower your happiness, you, let’s say you here it on NPR. You just download that and then put it into that folder, you know, for later use and, and do that diligently all the way to the end because you might say, Oh, you know, my introduction chapter is almost written and you know, it’s complete almost. And now I hear this thing, a news program that’s relevant to the chapter and how am I going to be able to incorporate it so I won’t even bother putting it in. No, don’t do that. You know, just put it in, maybe it’ll come in handy later and maybe you will end up revising the chapter even though you think that it’s complete now. So that’s the idea. So as in when you see things that are going to be relevant for your book, just embed them into the folders, a folder this and done calls for being organized on your folder, right on your computer. Uh, which I think is very, very important. And one of the things that helps me, I’m sure that a lot of your listeners that are aware of this, uh, thing called Dropbox, right? Uh, you can kind of save things on the cloud that way it doesn’t matter where you’re working from you’ll be able to access the same set of folders and files. And so you put everything in and so it’s organized and then you can go back and then revisit these things and then figure out what to put where. One thing I’ve discovered is that, you know, the really great books, and this is one of the other ways in which I think in my book can be improved, is that although I have, like you said, a lot of personal examples and stories, I don’t have a lot of examples of other people’s stories. That’s what really I think it gets a reader really interested is there, if I were to talk about, okay, let me tell you what happened when Steve Jobs is 12 years old right. As he was walking down from his home to the Hari Krishna or whatever, you know, um, so that, and particularly these are examples that are, um, very interesting examples and powerful examples, but not too many people knew of them. Um, you know, people that they know, like Steve Jobs, that would really kind of, that, that’s what gets them.
Bryan: 01:51:25 Malcolm Gladwell’s a master of that.
Raj: 01:51:27 Malcolm Gladwell, Adam Grant for that matter. Right. I mean, that’s one of the reasons why I think his book is a masterpiece, so that that takes a lot of work. You know, that, uh, you know, things, this kind of work that I’m talking about where as soon as you hear a story, you hear of a person of somebody mentioning your name that this is what happened to them. And then you hear, Oh yeah, you know what happened to Bryan Miller? Do you know that? And then I say, okay, fine. You know what happen to him very relevant to my book. Let me sit down and interview Bryan. Then I get it from you. And then, um, I weave that in into the book. Right. That’s the way to do it.
Bryan: 01:51:59 Yeah. So that is a very high level of organization and diligence. And I heard you say that you worked on this book for six years. What was your writing routine like over that period? And because I hear six years and, and especially if I imagine myself as a listener, that simultaneously like encouraging like, oh yeah, you know, it is a journey, but then it’s discouraging like six years, you know.
Raj: 01:52:22 Hey, it does, doesn’t have to take six years for somebody else. It did for me. Um, and you have to remember that, you know, I, when I started teaching this course on happiness in 2009 I started writing the book in 2010. There was no book out there on this topic. Right? And so I discovered that I was putting all this material together in a way that nobody as far as I knew had done. And so that, that’s what led me to even contemplate writing the book. Um, for other people, they might already know quite a lot about what they want to write about and it’s already kind of there in their head. So it’s different, you know, it might not take that long. Um, but I think what is in general, um, true is that it’s going to take longer than you expect it to. I expected it to take two years, it took me six years. And what’s also true, that is that it’s going to be iterative and you’re going to change your mind on things as you ought to. I think that if you’re stuck on things, then that’s not a good sign, you know? Um, you’ve got to revise and evolve and be open to changes. Um, and, and those things are true. Uh, even if you know, uh, you know, in, in good detail, what you want to write about and what the book is going to be about.
Bryan: 01:53:34 Tell me about where, and this assumes one did, but tell me about where a book proposal entered into the equation for you.
Raj: 01:53:42 That’s good. Yeah. So what happened with me is that I started blogging for Psychology Today in March of 2011. Okay. I started writing the book somewhere in 2010 July, maybe of 2010. And then in March of 2011, I started blogging for Psychology Today. And then, um, a guy called Eric Nelson now just approached me out of the blue, you know, just, uh, wrote me an email saying that I’ve read one of your articles and I really like it and I’m wondering if you’re in the process of writing a book. And I said, yes, you know, I am in fact and further, who are you, you know, how can he help? And he said, look, I am used to be an agent. And now, I’m. Sorry, I used to be a editor at a publishing house at Penguin, I believe he said. And now I’m an agent because I think that the agents are not doing as good a job as they could. And so I’m just starting out and I was wondering if, uh, I, you know, I could be your agent because I think that you write well. And, uh, I said, sure. Yeah. And he said, then, you know, we got to kind of put this proposal together. Um, and, uh, I said, what goes into the proposal? And he said, well, you know, a couple of sample chapters and then what do you call it? Some kind of evidence of your platform at that point, I didn’t know all these things. Right. He said, you know, do you have a following and, and all that. And I said, look, I’m blogging for Psychology Today, but that’s it. Um, I don’t really have a following, but he really helped me put this proposal together, helped me hone my, refine my chapters. Um, and um, also, um, kind of help me think through how the book that I was intending to write is going to be different from other books that exist out there and so on. And so that’s what, you know, really kind of, um, jump started it. At that point you know, I had no idea who was going to publish it when I first started writing the book. And if he had not come into my world, uh, I don’t know how things would’ve evolved. You know, I wrote, I guess reached out for some agent at some point. But yeah, that’s how it transpired.
Bryan: 01:55:44 So how clear were you of what you wanted the book to be and do? Cause I hear you say you didn’t, you know, have an agent, you didn’t have a specific, you know, like a plan with a publisher in that kind of thing. But, but as you were writing, and this, this question may be relates also to the, to the reader, how, how conscious were you of the reader during the actual act of writing and how clear were you about what you wanted the book to do for, or even to that reader?
Raj: 01:56:12 Okay, that’s a great question. Uh, so the way that I wrote the book, and this may not be the best way to write a book, right? I don’t know. Okay. Now I’d never been asked a question that you asked me. So, uh, just kind of, you know, telling you honestly what, what went on in my head is I was writing in a way that I felt that if I went to read this book, I want to be interested in the book. I want me, Raj, um, needs to find his book to be interesting. So I was trying to write to me as the audience as opposed to imagining a Bryan out there or imagining somebody smart and successful over there. Okay. Having said that, I, you know, I’ve been teaching this class for a while now, right? I mean, because like in six years that it took for me to write the book, I had already begun teaching a year or two before I started the book even. So I’d had quite a bit of experience under my belt. So I knew which concepts were appealing to the people, which concept important to the people. But that had to do with the content, the style of the writing. Uh, I really was, trying to target myself, you know, would Raj find this to be interesting, to be engaging to be funny. Um, to be logical and so on. But in terms of the content, I vetted it in my class, so, so I guess, I mean, my, my situation is unique, right? I, or at least different from most people, most people I imagine we’ll be writing a book and just writing a book. Right? I mean, not really making presentations as much as I do because that’s my job to teach everyday so I can actually test out the content, um, with my target audience and then use that experience to kind of inform what I put in the book. Right. Um, so I don’t know if that’s a.
Bryan: 01:57:58 Yeah, that’s a great, I mean, that’s a great situation and although people might not necessarily be teaching a course, I suspect some people listen to this will be, and others might be able to look at how they could create a situation, whether it’s invited group of Beta readers or you know, maybe members of a book club that they’re already in or something and create that kind of community that gives them that real real time. You know, that real world feedback.
Raj: 01:58:20 Yeah, yeah, absolutely. And I have found, you know, maybe this is just idiosyncratic to me, but I’ve found that actually kind of making a PowerPoint presentation on a topic is a great way to distill what’s important and what’s not. And give the, the story it’s structure. Yeah. Because if you have to present this content, let’s say a chapters content, 20 minutes, um, uh, through a PowerPoint presentation that really forces you to think through, okay, what’s going to be the beginning? What’s going to be the motivating story? I say to to introduce the concept and what’s going to be the set of data that I provide to, um, to, to buttress or, or to, um, uh, show proof for the things that I’m saying and then how do I want to end you know.
Bryan: 01:59:04 When you write music or no music?
Raj: 01:59:07 No music, no music, no distractions for me, I mean, I know that other people are different. Even if there’s music playing, it can’t have words. It has to be light volume in the background. But ideally no music.
Bryan: 01:59:24 Do you like to write in a solitary manner or do you like to be in a public place? Where there’s activity, like a cafe or an airport or something? What’s your preference?
Raj: 01:59:34 So I, I prefer to be solitary. I, in fact, I prefer my desk right here. You know, I can’t even work that well at home, I feel. But having said that, sometimes I’m forced to write in an airport or in a cafeteria or somewhere else at a hotel lobby. And I’ve discovered that I’ve actually been quite impressed or you know, happy with how well I’m able to focus and zone in to my book. So I would say that now, um, because of, you know, necessity is the mother of invention they say. So that’s, I’ve been forced to, um, uh, to, to work in those kinds of circumstances. And I’ve discovered that I’m actually not bad at it, but my preference is to work from my desk.
Bryan: 02:00:19 Caffeine or no caffeine?
Raj: 02:00:21 Caffeine, but not like huge amounts, you know, just one cup of coffee in the morning and then maybe one mid day and that’s it.
Bryan: 02:00:27 Very disciplined.
Raj: 02:00:29 No, I mean, I, it, uh, no caffeine makes me jittery after like, you know, three cups. So not a question of discipline, it’s just.
Bryan: 02:00:40 Yeah, no, that makes sense. What’s the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Raj: 02:00:44 Oh, that’s a great question. What’s the best money I’ve ever spent? Okay. So I, I think, um, I spent a significant amount, I would say to the tune of about $5,000 just getting a person to read the book and give me kind of broad comments on. Just a layperson who’s a good copy editor of sorts. Um, and uh, she was very good. Uh, and she gave me kind of broad comments on, um, whether the thing was flowing well and everything.
Bryan: 02:01:17 How did you find her?
Raj: 02:01:20 Uh, I think I remember now. I think that one of my friends recommended her to me. One of my friends recommended her to me. That was one. And the other thing that I think also was good is, you know, we talked about this earlier, this to pay it forward thing. So I bought a bunch of copies, I want to say 500 copies of something of my own book just so that I could put in received number of books so that it good self perpetuate. Uh, but it was a starting point. So that is a, and um, that was a good, good, I want to spend or good expense.
Bryan: 02:01:49 Um, what are the qualities of a great sentence and how can we write more of them?
Raj: 02:01:54 Mm. So I don’t know if I can say that. You know, just by looking at a sentence, you can say that it’s a great sentence. You know, I think it’s context dependent. Um, sometimes just one word sentence can be a great sentence because it’s come at the right time. Um, and other times it needs to be a longer sentence and so on. But I would say that in general, if you want to kind of follow something, uh, you know, one of the things that Malcolm Gladwell said is, uh, that I, I’ve been told that I write in a way that even a eighth grader can understand really well. And I take that as a compliment. You know, and I think that that’s important. That is, I think, you know, one of the unique contributions of American writers, uh, unlike the British is that, uh, the British are more flowery and, and if, you know, pompous, if that’s the word in, in how they write. And Americans, you know, kind of made it so simple that anybody, even if somebody who’s not very educated but so long as they could read, could, could pick up a book and be entertained and engaged by it. And I like that. You know, I think, um, for me that’s the important thing is that, is it, is it, is it plain simple English? Is it expressed in a way that it’s in its simplest form or are you using words for the sake of kind of showing off your vocabulary? You know, if it’s the latter, then it, that’s not good writing to me.
Bryan: 02:03:16 It was, to go back real quick by the way, it was E. L. Doctorow who said writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
Raj: 02:03:27 Yup, Yup. Yeah, yeah, yeah. That’s good.
Bryan: 02:03:30 Yeah. Really appropriate. So what piece of technology has helped you in your writing or that you wouldn’t want to live without? I mean, of course, aside from the computer, right?
Raj: 02:03:41 Yeah. So, um, yeah, this, I don’t know if you would consider this to be part of the technology, but you know, my smartphone and a specific kind of a feature or app of the smartphone, which is the Notes APP. What I do, like I said sometime back, is that when I was writing the book, I was doing this obviously more often, but as soon as I got in touch with the concept or you know, heard a piece of news or met somebody that was relevant to a certain chapter or a certain construct or concept, I would just make a note of that in my notes pages. And I’d have these different, you know, the seven habits and seven sins and seven exercises. And then under each of those headings I would just put a like a little bullet point saying that, you know, Bryan Miller for this, this concept. Uh, and, and then also just to kind of make sure that I remembered why I put your name down, because like, you know, a month later I sometimes you don’t know why you put that down. I just have a little small three or four word explanation for why. Okay. And, uh, I think, uh, that’s awesome that we have that, um, that we are able to kind of, you know, for somebody who’s like very disorganized, like I am, very disorganized. Without this technology, I think I would have been completely lost. You know, I see some people who kind of still getting it on, um, notebooks and writing in notebooks and they can manage that and they’re good at it. Uh, I’ve never been that way. But because I carry my phone everywhere just because, you know, I need to be in touch. Uh, and it comes to this notes pages really doubles up. And that part of technology is awesome.
Bryan: 02:05:19 Yeah, it’s amazing. It’s always with you if, if you lost it, it’s in the cloud. Right. And we talk a lot as we have in this conversation about artificial intelligence, but I’m so interested in IA, Intelligence Amplification. And this is in a way, you know, that, that kind of thing. It’s beautiful. Okay. So last, last couple of questions. One is, um, who’s a teacher that has made a difference for you when it comes to writing and what have you learned from them that others could maybe learn from them through you?
Raj: 02:05:50 Hmm. So, uh, I, this book, and if I write another book, I imagine that book would be in the genre of, um, kind of researchers writing in a way that makes, um, research findings accessible to the public, right? That genre business, popular writing genre or whatever we want to call it. And in that space, now there’s a lot of people, but you know, 10, 15 years back, they weren’t really a lot of people. You know, I, I would say that Malcolm Gladwell perhaps started that whole genre at some level. Um, others would disagree and say maybe point or to somebody else who came before him, but, um, he’s not even an academic himself. Right. But he writes in a way that, oh, take some academic work and then translates it into a language that most people will find a relatable too. But, you know, for me as an academic, I really looked up to Dan Ariely. I don’t know if you’ve come across him or.
Bryan: 02:06:47 Yeah, predictably irrational. Yeah.
Raj: 02:06:49 Honest truth about dishonesty. Uh, I still think that, you know, my book is nowhere close to his level of writing and that’s partly because I think, um, he just has more interesting of his own experiments that he talks about. Okay know he mostly talks about his own stuff, but as my, you know, I just don’t have that level of productivity that he has research wise to just focus on only my things but as he could. But, uh, you know, he’s just brilliant in terms of explaining concepts and being funny and just a great story teller. I like him a lot. I also love Adam Grant. Um, and um, you know, both Adam and Malcolm Gladwell, you brought up this Malcolm as an example of a guy does that, right? The idea of knowing a lot of stories of the world in that happened in the world. Interesting stories that are very, very connected with the central point he wants to meet. You know, that marriage of those two things, you know, it’s not just randoms interesting stories. It’s interesting stories that are relevant to the point he wants to make. That, you know, when you read it, it sounds so beautiful and simple and of course, you know this, this really is. But for him to be able to unearth those stories in the first place and then be able to articulate the stories in a way that’s simple to understand and then connect it up to this research piece of research, it’s just brilliant, you know? Um, and uh, so, uh, those are my kind of writing heroes. I would say that rather than read my book, I would say go read those books and I’ve tried to kind of distill some of those in my own language I would say. But, uh, I don’t think I’m anywhere close to where they are. Yeah.
Bryan: 02:08:31 Well I think you’re pretty good. I mean, comparison is the thief of joy as Roosevelt tells us. But, uh,
Raj: 02:08:38 Yeah, no, no, no. I mean, I’m not comparing myself. Look, I mean my, my aim is not to a self flagellate or you know, any, anything of that. Sorry, I’m just being honest about where I think I am in how the writing is say that, you know, um, I have not been authentic or that I can improve. And uh, you know, it’s possible that some people read my book and say, I actually prefer your writing.
Bryan: 02:09:00 Yeah, I do. I think, I think so. But then that reminds me a couple of years ago when the Lego movie came out and the trailer said if you see one movie this summer, see Star Wars. But if you see two movies, see the Lego movie. So that’s awesome. All right, last, um, last question. I think this is my last question. Um, I am interested actually in your rituals. So maybe two last questions. What rituals do you observe, uh, when it comes to writing or routines? Do you have any habits, anything that you do, you know, before you sit down as you sit down after anything like that? Like light a candle, brew some tea, like wear your favorite slip or something and anything at all like that?
Raj: 02:09:44 Yeah. So, um, I think all my writing, actually a, you know, any of my serious work, so the book I kind of, you know, wrote a while back, but now when I’m working on my research papers and all that, that also involves the lot of writing and sometimes it’s data analysis of sitting down to formulate a question at any of this stuff. Uh, I would say that, you know, it is not dedicated rituals but it’s very important for me to have a lifestyle that is conducive for that. You know, I’d be already talked about this healthy lifestyle and so on. But more narrowly when it comes to the actual work, uh, others and rituals. Yes. I think that, um, for me, I find myself in a good headspace, uh, wanting to do this kind of stuff better when I’m at my desk at my office as opposed somewhere else. Okay. Yeah. So, um, I don’t know, again, I mean there’s not exactly a ritual, but, you know, rather than working somewhere else, I just come here and then I close my door. I switch off all my, um, you know, smart, smart phone and email, close it so that, you know, I don’t have any disruptions basically. Okay. The reason I close my door too, which is a little bit antisocial I suppose, but it’s because I don’t want people to kind of just walk in and start engaging me in a conversation when I am deep in a flow of a certain tasks. Uh, it’s very disruptive for me and I find it, it takes some time for me to jumpstart myself up. Okay. Um, but what I do then is, um, I, I kind of take mini breaks at points that I feel like I need to reward myself because I’ve kind of finished one cycle or come to a logical point of taking a break. And, uh, those breaks and the rewards are given us a, which would be like, you know, a small cup of coffee or going and chatting with a colleague if they’re up for it or things like that. Um, or, or, you know, going and eating a little donut, whatever. Right. I mean they do that now, but, um, so those breaks are kind of weaved in as a just ways of kind of like, you know, refreshing myself, but also giving myself a little bit of a reward. Okay. So those I would say are the kind of rituals to the extent that the, you, you count them as rituals. Um, but otherwise I do not have a whole lot.
Bryan: 02:11:56 What’s your relationship with procrastination and how do you overcome it or how do you avoid it if you do?
Raj: 02:12:02 So everybody procrastinates, right. I mean, even like, you know, like I were talking about Dan Ariely who’s like extremely productive, uh, on multiple dimensions, you know, writing books and writing articles and giving talks and so on, and he procrastinates he says. So everybody does. I know that. I do. Um, so, uh, I, I, you know, it’s not against that. I don’t, but, um, what I’ve discovered is that if I have a bunch of things on my list, right? Uh, I have a very active things to do list and I maintain it very, very diligently. I try and block this nine to 12 time in the morning for my important stuff. Okay. But, um, sometimes I don’t feel like doing it. I don’t feel like writing. Okay. Um, and I’ll still give it a try. I’ll give it a shot and there’ll be occasionally maybe, you know, 5% of the time and I just feel like, no, there’s just not going anywhere. Right. Then I’ll just go to other items on my things to do. Okay. And, um, I’ll, I’ll pick some items that are pleasant that I feel emotionally positive about. Like for example, booking an air ticket for a travel from here to Costa Rica with my family or whatever, you know, they just, all the images associated with it and the fun we are going to have, you know, just more pleasant task. And then at the end of that cycle, I’ll go take a break and come back and then I’ll get back to the work. So, uh, I’ll just try and see if that thing, that mini break, doing that positive thing has re energize me to coming back doing this and if everything else fails, what I have discovered is that if I just go to the gym, I come back. I feel really good at the end of a gym workout. That’s one of my most reliable mood boosters, is to just go for a run or workout. Okay. Never felt, never felt worse after workout, actually I should put it this way, that I’ve never not felt better after a workout or workout. Uh, it’s, it’s a, it’s like remarkable with 100% of the time going to the gym I come out feeling good. Yeah. So that’s what I do.
Bryan: 02:14:05 That’s smart. Okay. So last question. What advice or encouragement, inspiration would you give to the people listening who are either, uh, what I would say stuck, you know, uh, on the threshold of beginning a project or maybe in some ways even worse, they’re in the belly of the snake there. It’s there in the tunnel and they haven’t managed to get this over the finish line. What do you say to someone like that to help them not only keep going but two to get it done and get it out into the world and make the difference that they want to make.
Raj: 02:14:42 So I have different pieces of advice or suggestions for people who are yet to begin and people who are in the belly as you put it. Um, for people who are yet to begin a, what would oftentimes is that I’ve talked a lot of people who want to write books and all that, uh, is that they have a fear of failure and the fear of failure, it comes from having unreasonably high expectations of what they want the book to be. They’re only imagining that the book needs to be a bestseller or, you know, it’s like a really, uh, kind of one of its kind kind of a book that everybody reads it and there’s a while by and so on. Uh, I think that you need to kind of just start, right? Just start with something and just put pen to paper. Just sit down and write one page. That’s it. You know, don’t kind of try to imagine the final product and say that this is how great it’s going to be and so on. That puts extra pressure on you and you don’t want that right now. Okay. Your wall, all you want to do is to see what are the set of things that he wanted to say and do they make sense and you know, is it, is it kind of in the ballpark of what you intended to say? Is that being translated when you put these words on, on the paper? That’s for people starting out for people in the belly, you know, the, the dark nights, so to speak. Right. Um, I would say that, uh, look, there are many different ways of motivating yourself in that, in that in a squishy middle part, uh, often it’s very easy to begin your enthusiastic. Um, and then when you come towards the end again, I mean, it’s easy to finish up often, but it’s in the middle stages that you get really stuck. Okay. And I would say that, uh, there are many different ways to motivate yourself in that stage. One of the ways to motivate yourself is to basically tell yourself that, look, I’m just going to come in and every day from nine to 12, I’m going to do this and nothing else matters, um, during this time that I have to focus on and this book and that’s it. Okay. And, uh, I can party, I can do other things. I can give myself rewards but nine to 12, uh, I’m going to focus on this book. Okay. Um, and, and, uh, that’s, uh, that’s all it’s going to be end of, you know, even if I waste time there, I feel like it’s wasted time. Even if I don’t feel like I’m progressing, I’m just going to do it and I’m not going to evaluate how successful I am for the next month. At the end of it, I’m going to look back and see what came out of it. Oh, I’m so, um, that’s one way to do it. Another way to, to do it as to just ask for feedback from other people. Okay. Just to contact your friends or relatives and tell them that look, I mean I’m in the stage and if uh, halfway done and I don’t know how good it is and you know, I just need some advice and need some suggestions on ways they could improve this. So you mind just giving it a read and telling me you know, what works and what doesn’t. And usually that does the trick because you know, if they are really relatives, they’ll probably say something positive but they’ll also say something useful and then those will give you a new kind of beginnings and new sparks of inspiration for you to restart the whole process? Two things that he could do.
Bryan: 02:17:38 What I love about that is that at some point readers will engage with the materials. So this concept of bringing them into the process a little earlier as a way of stimulating progress. I’d say that’s a great concept. Yeah, I’m sure I’ll think of the six most brilliant questions as soon as we disconnect. But that this was, this was wonderful and I really appreciate you making so much time to talk with me and to share your experience and your knowledge with me and everybody who’s listening, so thank you.
Raj: 02:18:04 No, absolutely Bryan!
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