I have a vision for each one of you, and the vision I have for you is that when you wake up in the morning, your blood is singing at the thought of being who you are and doing what you do; that as you go through the day, you can literally sink to your knees in gratitude at the tremendous good fortune that's been bestowed on you; that as you go through the day, you become radiantly alive several times. And if your life isn't like that, I'd like to humbly suggest that you're wasting your life. A life is too short to be wasted.
So what I propose to do in the next 17 minutes — I've used up one minute already — is to give you a set of powerful tools which can get you started on being there. Is that of interest to you?
Srikumar Rao: OK.
This is a conference on happiness, but even if it wasn't a conference on happiness, would it be right if I said that in some way, shape, fashion or form, you're devoting your entire life to being happy? Everything you do — your job, family, children, relationships, whatever — is a quest for happiness. Correct?
I'd like you to think about the following: What do you have to get in order to be happy? We're just going to spend a minute on this. What do you have to get in order to be happy?
When I conduct this experiment, a bunch of stuff comes up: vast wealth, trophy spouse, good health, lots of travel, time, etc, etc, etc. Right now, if you were to think about it, you probably have a list of, "Here's what I need to get in order to be happy." I would like you to consider this: anything that you can get — let me repeat that — anything you can get, you can un-get. Is that correct? So, vast wealth can make you happy. Vast wealth can disappear tomorrow. A number of people in the financial sector have discovered this already. So whatever you get that can make you happy can go away. Where does that leave you? Not a very nice place, right?
I have a different proposition to suggest to you. What I have to suggest to you is that there is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy. Let me repeat that: there is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy. In fact, happiness is your innate nature. It is hardwired into you. It is part of your DNA. You cannot not be happy.
Now, all of you are very polite, and in some of the other forums I speak in, such as top business schools, they're not so polite. And invariably, somebody articulates what many of you are thinking, which is: "If happiness is my innate nature, how come I am not experiencing it? How come I am experiencing my life sucks?"
And the answer to that is actually very simple. You have spent your entire life learning to be unhappy. Let me repeat that: you have spent your entire life learning to be unhappy. And the way we learn to be unhappy is by buying into a particular mental model.
A mental model is a notion we have that this is the way the world works. All of us have mental models, we've got dozens of mental models. We've got mental models on how to find a job, how to get ahead at work, how to pick a restaurant to eat at, how to have a movie to go to ... dozens of them. The problem isn't that we have mental models. The problem is that we don't know that we have mental models. We think this is the way the world works. And the more we invest in a mental model, the more it appears that this, in fact, is the way the world works. But it isn't: it's just a mental model, and the mental model we have that we buy into so strongly is that we have to get something so we can do something so we can be something. Like, we have to get a great deal of money so we can travel to exotic places so we can be happy. We have to be in a relationship so we can have great sex so we can be happy.
All of this is a variation of the if-then model. And the if-then model is: if this happens, then we will be happy. If I were to get a better job, if I were to get more money, if my boss would have a heart attack, if only I was married, if only my wife would leave me —
if only I had children, if my children would grow up and go to college ... It doesn't matter what it is. The whole notion is if this happens, then I will be happy.
And right now, the only thing that's different between the persons in this audience is what is the particular "if" that you are focusing on? And the only thing that's different between you now and where you were 10 years ago is what is the particular "if" that you were focusing on? Think about your life 10 years ago. Spend a minute doing that. Ten years ago, if you remember clearly, there were certain things you wanted. Is that correct? Odds are pretty good that many of those things you wanted 10 years ago you now have. Is that correct? Where has that left you? In exactly the same place, right?
What we don't realize is the model itself is flawed. The if-then model — "If this happens I will be happy" — the model itself is flawed. But instead of recognizing that it is the model itself that's flawed, what we do is spend enormous amounts of time changing the "if." "Oh, well, I thought if I became CEO it would help, but now I realize it's not that I want to become a CEO. I want to become the billionaire CEO, and then I will be happy." You've got your own variation on that. But it's the model itself that's flawed, not what you put on the "if" side of the equation. I can demonstrate that to you.
Can any of you recall a time when you were confronted with a scene of such spectacular beauty that it took you outside of yourself into a place of great serenity? Maybe a rainbow, a mountain range, a valley, the sea. And if you remember that — raise your hands if you could. Virtually all of you could, right? Have you ever wondered why that happened? The reason that happened is that somehow, for some reason, at that instant, you accepted the universe exactly as it was. You didn't say, "That's a beautiful rainbow, but it's kind of off to the left, and if I could move it 200 yards to the right, it would be ever so much more beautiful."
You didn't say, "That's a beautiful valley, but the tree in the foreground has too many crooked branches. So if you gave me a chainsaw and 20 minutes, I'd make it ever so much better."
Oh no, the rainbow off-center was just fine. The tree with its crooked branches was just fine. And the moment you accepted the universe just as it was, your habitual-wanting self dropped away, and the happiness which is your innate nature surfaced, and you felt it. And I know you felt it because now, even now after all those years, you can still remember it.
The problem is that your life right now, with all of the problems that you have — more precisely, all of the problems that you think you have — is equally perfect. But you do not accept it. In fact, you're spending all your time striving with might and main to make it different. You are not accepting it. And when you're not accepting it, you're buying into the if-then model: if this happens, then I will be happy. And it's the model itself that is flawed.
So let me show you how you can get out of that, or at least you can begin the steps towards getting out of that. I'd like to share with you that action. We all live our lives because we want to achieve something, correct? You know, we are here and we want to have something. Alex wants to have a successful conference. You know, many of you want to have great programs for your companies that are very successful. You want to progress, have more money, all of that, is that correct? Each of those is an outcome; you would like something to happen.
Now, I'd like you to think about the following: actions are within your control, not entirely, but to a large extent. The outcome is completely out of your control. OK? Actions are within your control. The outcome is completely outside your control.
Have any of you recognized that when you have a goal and you start to work towards it, some of the time you don't achieve your goal, and some of the time what you get is the exact opposite of what you wanted? Has that happened to any of you?
Like there was a friend of mine who said, "Gee, you know, I have not been paying a lot of attention to my wife, and this has to change." So the next time we went on a business trip, he bought a very expensive dress for her. And this was his way of showing, you know, I care for you, and nice things would happen. And when he presented the gift to his wife, her immediate reaction was, "After 20 years of marriage, you don't know my size?"
"And furthermore, don't you know I never wear this kind of thing?" And the next thing you know, he had a full-blown marital spat. Has that happened to any of you? You've taken action for a particular outcome and the outcome you got was the exact opposite of what you wanted? Happens all the time.
Well, we live in a world where what we think of, what we invest in, is the outcome. We define our life in the following way: here I am, here is where I want to go, these are the steps I have to take in order to get from where I am to where I want to go, and if I succeed, life is wonderful. And if I don't, then I have failed, life is no good, life sucks. True? False? That is how we live. We invest in the outcome, and as I've just pointed out, the outcome is frequently different from what we would like, and sometimes the diametric opposite of what we would like. You invest in the outcome and you are guaranteed to have more than your share of frustration, angst and all the rest of the stuff that makes life suck.
There is an alternative. And the alternative is that you do not invest in the outcome, you invest in the process. And the best way to describe that is a quote by John Wooden. I don't know how many of you are familiar with John Wooden. He's very well-known in the United States and certainly among basketball fans. He's the only person ever to make the basketball Hall of Fame both as a player and as a coach. And what he told his entering team — he led UCLA to an unprecedented number of victories and finals in the NCAA — and what he used to tell any new team is he never spoke about winning. He always said, "When it's over and you look in the mirror, did you do the best that you were capable of? And if you did the best that you were capable of, the score doesn't matter. But I would suspect that if you did the best that you were capable of, you will find the score to your liking." That is investing in a process.
What we do is the exact opposite. We invest in the outcome. This is what I want — oh, I want it so desperately, because if I get it I will be happy. And you try with might and main, to do whatever you can, but you are always focusing on, "This is the outcome." Now, focusing on the outcome is fine. It gives you direction. Investing in the outcome means that you make the achievement of a particular outcome dependent for your well-being. And that is a surefire recipe for failure.
What you can do is something else. You can invest in the process. That is, once you have determined, here is where I am, here is where I want to be, and that's fine, you focus on the outcome only to the extent that it gives you direction, and then you invest yourself completely in the process. You say, here are the steps you want to take, and you put everything into it. And if you succeed, wonderful. And if you don't succeed, still wonderful, because now you have a new starting point, and from that new starting point, you select another outcome and keep going. And when you do that, you will find that every day is a blast.
Let me give you an example. And if you have children — raise your hands if you have children. Have you ever seen a small child learn to walk? What happens, and this happens typically between 11 and 13 months, is the child gets up and she sees everybody walking, she wants to walk, she gets up, she falls down, she starts crying and momma runs up and comforts her, kisses the place, makes it well. She tries again, falls down, mommy runs up again. After some time, mommy feels tired and no longer runs up and the child stops crying, and then she gets up, takes a step and doesn't fall down, and then she takes another, and a beautiful smile comes on her face. And very soon, generally within 24 hours, she's walking all over the place, upsetting your living room arrangements. And you know you've gone to a new stage of parenting. Right?
Now, imagine what would happen if each time the child fell, she would say, "Oh my God, I failed again. I'm never going to learn to walk." And you have to get counseling for her to help her deal with feelings of inadequacy and not being able to achieve and fail yet again. How long do you think it would take her to learn to walk if you had to do that, if every three times she fell down, you had to get a counselor to counsel her and so on? Sounds funny, doesn't it? But that is exactly what we're doing. What the child is doing is focusing on the process. She's investing in the process, not in the outcome.
What we do is the exact opposite. As we grow up, we lose the ability to invest in the process, we start investing in the outcome. By definition the outcome is outside of our control, and if that's where we spend all of our emotional energy, we are going to get drained as we do.
But if, on the other hand, we said, "Here is the outcome, I am going to invest in the process and give it every single bit I could," every day is a blast, and you're well on your way to achieving the vision that I outlined to you.
The question that I get all the time, is people say, "Professor Rao, but nothing makes me passionate." So I say, "OK, what would?" And they invariably come up with, you know, here is a list of things. Here's my job and here's how much it pays, this is the kind of person my boss is, the kind of people my colleagues are, and here's how my customers are, here's how much I travel, here's how big my office is, how deep the carpeting is, how many windows I have — a bunch of parameters.
And what I tell them is what I want to share with you, because all of that stuff — first of all, it doesn't exist. But second, even if it did and you were plugged into it, it would not take more than six months for you to be the same sorry, miserable self there as you are now, because passion exists inside you. It does not exist in the job. And if you don't find a way to ignite it within you right where you are, you are not going to find it outside. But if you do find a way to ignite it where you are, then you will find that the external world rearranges itself to accommodate the new person that you are becoming. And as you do that, you will find that miracles happen on a regular basis. Persons come up whom you're delighted to meet. New people enter your life. It's just a breeze, because all you do in your life is you take journeys.
You came here to this conference; you went on a journey. You hang around the water cooler, talking about how terrible your place of work is; you went on a journey. You watch "Desperate Housewives," you go on a journey. You go on a journey where 40-something women are having affairs with 19-something gardeners while the husbands are playing around with models. All you do is go on journeys. There's nothing wrong with that, but just ask yourself, "Is this a journey I want to take? Does this take me to a place I want to spend time?"
And if you start doing that, you will find that your life changes. The kind of people you meet, the things you talk about, the movies you go to, the books you read — everything changes. And you begin all of that by focusing on the process.
Invest in the process, not in the outcome.