• Home
  • Latest
  • TV
  • Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions - In conversation with Mo Gawdat: Solve For Happy

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions - In conversation with Mo Gawdat: Solve For Happy

Posted on 2 February 2021

In January, Mo Gawdat, former Chief Business Officer for Google [X], serial entrepreneur and author, spoke with Academy Director Patrick Connolly about his book Solve for Happy: Engineering Your Path to Joy. 

Through his 12 year research on the topic of happiness, he created an algorithm and a repeatable well-engineered model to reach a state of uninterrupted happiness regardless of the circumstances of life.  In 2014, this model was put to the ultimate test when Mo lost his son Ali to a preventable medical error during a simple surgical procedure. Solve for Happy: Engineering Your Path to Joy is Mo's attempt to fulfil his son's wishes of continuing to make a difference.

Mishcon Academy: Digital Sessions are a series of online events, videos and podcasts looking at the biggest issues faced by businesses and individuals today.

Patrick Connolly

Welcome everyone and thank you for joining this Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  My name is Patrick Connolly and I’m the Academy Director at Mishcon.  I’m very pleased to welcome Mo Gawdat to the Mishcon Academy. 

Mo claims something extraordinary.  He claims everyone can be happy no matter what their circumstances of their life.  Mo is the former chief business officer of Google X the so-called moon-shot factory responsible for projects including a balloon-powered internet and self-driving cars.  Before that he was a stock trader and a tech executive and a father-of-two.  Despite his wealth and success, Mo realised he was unhappy.  He applied his scientific research skills to develop an equation for happiness. 

Mo Gawdat

Unhappiness is not a stranger at all to the rich and famous.  As a matter of fact, if you look around you, you can frequently see people who are swimming in money, famous, loved, celebrated everywhere, who commit suicide.  It seems that, and it’s actually proven scientifically that the relationship between happiness and wealth and things and you know, all of the things that we chase in life, is only relevant until your income reaches the average income of the country you live in.  Beyond which basically means your basic needs are met.  You can think about your own self.  You don’t have to be a millionaire to think about this.  You know, you graduate from University and you tell yourself, “Okay, I just need £1,000 a month and everything will be fine and I’ll be happy” and the minute you get that you go like, “No, no hold on, hold on.  I need a mortgage.  Maybe £2000?” and then you know you get the mortgage and then you say, “Oh, but my friend’s car is better than my car.  I need two and a half.”  You know, it never really, really satisfies you, you know.  Money, at a certain point, the only way you can be happy about money and wealth is to actually be happy about money and wealth, about the money that you have.  As long as you don’t need anything, surprisingly it becomes easier to find happiness away from things and the lifestyle that I live now, despite how much money in the bank.  You know, sometimes a lot, sometimes little.  Is I live a very simple life and it makes me very, very happy. 

When I struggled with my own happiness at you know, my late 20’s, I had everything in life.  Like you rightly said, I had a wonderful wife, two wonderful kids, a mega you know, fancy home with a swimming pool and cars and, and so on and then… and I felt miserable.  And it was quite an eye-opener for me because as I go out to chase that happiness thing, with my engineering mind the first question that came to me was, “Let me define the problem.  What is happiness? What am I looking for?” and I started to try and find the trend between them.  And the trend, the common thing between them is actually quite interesting.  It’s not what life gives you that makes you happy or unhappy, it’s a comparison that happens in your brain between what life gives you and what you want life to give you.  You know, when you’re in love everything in life seems amazing.  Okay?  It’s your same neighbourhood.  It’s your same apartment.  It’s your same lousy job.  And yet once you’re in love suddenly everything seems to be okay.  Why?  Because your perspective of life is, “I should feel loved.  I should be cared for.  This is what matters to me.  If life gives me this, I’m happy.”  Right? If you’re terrorised by the media, you could be in the same apartment, in the same job, in the same neighbourhood and suddenly you start to feel that life is fearful.  That everything is wrong.  Right?  It’s not what life is, it’s your perspective of what life is giving you.  The modern world, interestingly, is trying to sell to us fun and pleasure and things and ego and joy and physical joy, as alternatives to happiness.  But happiness is none of those.  As a matter of fact, you know it.  You go you know, when they use to allow us out, you go to the pub, you have a couple of drinks, you laugh with your friends and then if something is annoying you, you wake up the next morning and you’re still unhappy.  Unhappiness doesn’t go away.  Why?  Because all of those alternatives are just a state of escape.  They’re not genuine happiness.  Genuine happiness is actually the signature of it in your physical form is you get serotonin, a hormone that is a calmer.  Okay?  It’s basically telling your body, “Look.  I’ve scanned the world around me.  It seems safe.  You can now relax.  You can sit down.  You can relax your muscles.  You can rest.  You can digest your food.  You can repair your whatever.”  Right? And that basically is what happiness, what happiness equation is telling you.  Events meet expectations.  I’m okay, I can rest, I can be in peace. 

Patrick Connolly

In terms of expectation, do you think people should just lower their expectations and they would be happier?

Mo Gawdat

As you lower your expectations or at least in the situation where your expectations are low mostly you’re happier.  This is why people in India or in Africa or in Latin America are mostly happier than people in Scandinavia or in the UK, even though the quality of life is much lower.  Why?  Because if you go to someone in Africa and you say… and their expectation is, “I might not have enough to eat everyday” and you give them a bowl of rice, that bowl of rice is amazing for them.  It’s like, “Hey today beats my expectations.” Right?  If you go to someone in the UK and you order from Deliveroo and they deliver sushi to your home they go like, “Uh that’s not how it’s supposed to be.  I’m supposed to be outside with my friends.”  Right? And, and, and the difference – sushi’s much better than the bowl of rice.  It has fish on top of it, right?  But, but the difference is, sushi’s not good enough for your expectation.  You’ve set a higher expectation from life.  The lower the expectation, the happier you will be.  This is why people in Latin America will earn enough for their day.  They won’t worry about their pension.  They won’t worry about how wealthy their parent, their neighbour is.  They won’t worry about not having the Bentley yet.  They will simply earn enough for their day and go dancing and spending time with their family.  Happiness by the way, as per the definition of the happiness equation and we can come back to this, should be your number one priority.  It should be a higher priority than success.  Right?  Because by the way, the easiest way to achieve success is to be happy, is to be in your optimum state of performance. 

Patrick Connolly

What really comes across in your Slo Mo podcast is how much you want to share with people your ideas but also get other people to share their ideas with you and how good you are at listening to other people’s ideas and that really comes across in the podcast. 

Am I correct… did the… did you start the podcast in April 2020?

Mo Gawdat

I did, I did.  Yeah. 

Patrick Connolly

And was that a conscious decision to do that…?

Mo Gawdat

Totally. 

Patrick Connolly

… around lockdown and with the pandemic?

Mo Gawdat

So, I’m very motivated to go around the world and spread that message of happiness and when lockdown happened I was on a journey that would have taken me to speak to somewhere around 15,000 people across seven countries.  You can actually sit back and say, “Ah.  Life is against me.  The mission doesn’t want to happen.”  Or you can actually sit back and say, “Hold on.  I’m not travelling for the next couple of months.  I can start a podcast.”  The reason by the way why we were so devastated about it is because we haven’t seen the Spanish ‘Flu.  We haven’t seen World War II.  We haven’t seen smallpox.  Smallpox alone has killed 300 million people.  Right?  Now, when you start to see life this way and I’m, I’m really being, I’m not trying to be disrespectful at all.  If you’re not one of those three, then the extent of the lockdown for you is they’re forcing you to stay at home, order from Deliveroo and binge-watch Netflix.  That’s the extent of the lockdown.  And we’re so angry about it and we’re so… trust me if you just imagine that you could actually be sick, unable to eat, unable to move and unable to breathe instead of sitting at home eating from Deliveroo and binge-watching Netflix you would realise that Deliveroo is an amazing blessing in life.  There is that silver lining in everything.  Okay?  And if we just stop watching the BBC.  Stop you know, complaining about the Prime Minister and start focusing on our blessings, life is not really that bad.  And I know it’s grey and I know it’s cold.  Right?  At least you’re inside. 

Patrick Connolly

Reading your book, within lockdown and appreciating being in the present moment as well and you talk about being in the present moment and the fact that if you’re living in the past or you’re living in the future, they’re just ideas.  Can you talk about more why it’s important to live in the present moment and how that relates to being in lockdown as well?

Mo Gawdat

I started 2020 with the weirdest intention.  I said, “2020 is my year of silence and space.”  All I wanted was the ability to spend a little more time in contemplation.  And look at what happened, right?  Infinite time for contemplation.  But I’ll tell you this.  Pink Floyd in an appropriately titled song they called ‘Time’, they say, “… and then one day you find 10 years have gone behind you.  No-one told you when to run.  You missed the starting gun.”  Right? And when you really think about it, for most of us life zooms by.  Most of life feels like 42 weeks.  Okay?  And I asked myself, “Why is that?” When I started to meditate and pay more attention and be mindful, my life started to slow down.  I’ll tell you why.  Because if you’re living in the present moment, you’re actually alive.  You’re living.  I will remember this moment, Patrick.  When I sat in, in, on my chair in the morning and remembered that my partner told me something that annoyed me a week ago, okay?  I wasn’t in the real world.  I was replaying inside my head, I was living inside my head.  Believe it or not, our brains don’t register every single second that you waste living inside your head.  Somehow, the reason why last year felt like a week and a half is because you only lived a week and a half of it.  When, when you lived yesterday, you called it today.  Okay? You will actually never live in the future, when you live tomorrow you’re going to call it today.  Mmm?  And the idea is, there is never tomorrow and never yesterday other than in your head.  They don’t exist.  In the real world, they don’t exist. 

The other more important thing to notice is the following.  I did a study around 100 emotions – human emotions – that we feel.  Mmm?  Most of the positive emotions that you will ever feel are in the current moment.  Excitement, elation, a contentment and so on and so forth.  They’re anchored in the current moment.  Most of the emotions we term negative are either in the past or the future.  Anxiety, fear, worry and so on are all in the future.  Regret, shame and so on are always in the past.  If you’re sitting somewhere worried about what the BBC is telling you and what’s going to happen tomorrow and if they’re going to lock you down and put you in a quarantine in a hotel that you have to pay for yourself.  If you have the bandwidths, the brain waves to focus on this, that by definition means you’re okay right now.  But your brain doesn’t want to live in that moment when you’re okay.  It wants to worry about a moment that hasn’t happened yet, where you have a probability of .045% not to be okay.  Or a moment in the past where someone laughed at you or told you something hurtful that has completely gone and will never affect you ever again, other than when you generate it as a thought in your head.  How stupid is that?

Patrick Connolly

How do you break the brain replay mode? And actually make it live in the present?

Mo Gawdat

I actually observed 13 questions,13 chats, 17 Q&As and 221 participants.  Okay?  I observed the background behind you and I asked you, “Is that, what is it?” and you told me, “It’s a wallpaper.”  Right? I. I, I enjoy observing life.  I actually play games with my brain.  So, for example I never actually play a playlist on Spotify that is mine.  Okay?  I start from a song and I ask Spotify to create a radio with one intention, I will not hear a single song I don’t like.  Okay?  So, I’m actually paying attention to the music it’s not background anymore.  You know what I mean? I’m in the moment.  I’m actually listening because when I listen I pay attention.  When I pay attention, I shake my bum and I live. 

I have an exercise that I call Meet Becky and I do Meet Becky at least two to three times a week, where I wake up in the morning and instead of meditating to quiet my brain, to silence it, I meditate to let it go wild.  Okay?  So, I sit and I let my brain speak.  Okay?  And basically the only difference is, I actually listen.  So, I have two rules.  Rule number one is, everything that my brain says is acknowledged.  Okay?  And then I ask and let go of, basically I say, “Okay.  I heard that.”  So, my brain would say, “Your daughter loves you” and I will say, “Oh.  Thank you.  That’s wonderful.  My daughter loves me.  What else?”  You know, “Don’t forget to call Patrick today” is the second thought.  That’s normally how it goes.  The third is, “You’re fat” and I’m like, “Oh thank you, brain.  I’m fat.  What else?”  Eventually, after a while your brain starts to slow down.  And eventually it goes, it starts to repeat itself like, “Okay and remember to pick milk today” and I’m like, “Yeah.  Okay, I will remember milk.  What else?” and it goes, “You’re fat.”  Like, “You told me that before” right? But you’re not allowed to repeat that.  So, it actually really filters the ideas.  They become really parsed and isolated.  The second is, I take notes.  And you would laugh your head off and you simply start to pay attention.  By the way, this is one of the highest form of meditations, to be aware of your thoughts.  To be aware of your thoughts is just like being aware of your breathing but it’s at a different level. 

Patrick Connolly

Thank you, Mo for just sharing so honestly and in such an insightful way.  And I hope that you’re able to do more international travel maybe in 2021…

Mo Gawdat

Come to London!

Patrick Connolly

… and… Yes exactly and then maybe at some point you’ll be able to come to London and visit us at Mishcon.  I’m sure we’d all like to meet you. 

Mo Gawdat

Love to. 

Patrick Connolly

Thank you so much. 

The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions.  To access advice for businesses that is regularly updated, please visit Mishcon.com. 

How can we help you?
Help

How can we help you?

Subscribe: I'd like to keep in touch

If your enquiry is urgent please call +44 20 3321 7000

Crisis Hotline

COVID-19 Enquiry

I'm a client

I'm looking for advice

Something else