Ever felt like you’re on a never-ending quest for happiness, yet it’s always just out of reach? You’re not alone. In fact, many of us find ourselves in a relentless cycle of chasing moments of joy, hoping to catch them, only to watch them slip through our fingers. It’s exhausting, isn’t it?

But in this episode of the HAPPINESS SQUAD Podcast, our very own Founder, Ashish Kothari, offers us a fresh perspective. He talks about happiness not as something you chase after, but as something you can cultivate within – like a garden that needs tending. 

He introduces us to the Sunflower Model of the 9 Hardwired for Happiness practices, which includes self-awareness, purpose, mindfulness, gratitude, mastering emotions, well-being, building a sense of community, and intentional living. These happy habits offer us tangible tools to navigate through our daily challenges and plant the seeds of a happier, more fulfilling life.

It’s about time we learn to find joy in the here and now, to grow from our past without being tethered to it, and to look forward to the future with optimism, not fear. So tune in to this first solo episode with Ashish.

Things you will learn from this episode:



Hardwired for Happiness: 9 Proven Practices to Overcome Stress and Live Your Best Life.https://www.amazon.com/Hardwired-Happiness-Proven-Practices-Overcome/dp/1544534655


Hi, dear friends. I'm so excited today to announce that we are launching a new solo podcast episode series. In this series, I will use our "Hardwired for Happiness" book and the model that is in the book, the Sunflower model. I'll share that with you shortly to help you see how you can tackle some of the challenges that life throws our way or help you achieve some of the dreams or goals that you might have for 2024.

In this special series, we will cover topics like how you can accelerate your career or get a promotion, do better at work, infuse more meaning if the work you're doing has less meaning. We'll also address topics if you are recently affected by a layoff or going through a transition from a career point of view, how you can use the Sunflower model to not just get another job but to actually get a better job that is more suited to who you are.

One of my dear friends talks about the notion of swabhava versus swadharma, swabhava being your nature, swadharma being what you end up doing. And when these are aligned, our life has so much more joy. We are much more effective in being able to achieve what we want out there. So we'll tackle that.

From a career point, how can you accelerate your career? Or, if you're going through a transition, how do you land an even better job than the one you left behind, voluntarily or involuntarily?

We'll also cover the topic of relationships. Maybe you want to deepen your relationship with your wife, spouse, girlfriend, or boyfriend. Or maybe you are going through a breakup, have had a divorce, or are looking for a new relationship. We'll talk a little bit about how these nine practices can help you be more successful there, to really be able to find love or rekindle love in your relationship.

We'll also cover topics like how you can build a healthier habit. Maybe this is a year that you recommitted to lose weight or to build up your cardiovascular capacity. We'll talk through what gets in our way of building healthier habits, why despite our best intentions, we sometimes fail.

And we'll handle in an episode how you can use these nine "Hardwired for Happiness" practices to maybe shed a bad habit or an addiction, what lies underneath that addiction, and how we can really connect deeply and address it at its root.

We'll also cover topics like how we can live a more intentional life so that we can achieve more at work or in life by being more intentional rather than just doing more. I know many that I interact with, that I coach, are burning the midnight oil, working long hours, and constantly on a treadmill, struggling to meet the demands. So we'll talk a little bit about how these practices can help you be more intentional out there and in here.

We'll also talk about how you can handle stress better. Stress is a part of life, but we will talk about how you can truly make stress your ally, your friend, versus running away from it. Look, if we didn't have stress in our life, we would be bored. If we didn't have performance pressures, we would be bored.

We'll talk a bit about how we can really use the power of coping and antifragility. This notion, coined by Nassim Taleb, an epistemologist, suggests that we are all anti-fragile, we are resilient. But in order to harness that capability, we actually have to do something. And we'll talk a bit about that.

So these are just some of the topics we'll cover in these solo episodes. So be on the lookout for them. If what we cover resonates with you, share it with others in your life who might be struggling with them, and maybe they'll find some insights there. That's the intention for these solo episodes.

And so for this particular episode, let me cover a little bit and just do a recap of what this model is.

What is this hardwired for happiness model? Why “happiness” in the first place? And also, talk a little bit about some of the myths, some of the things that we hear about happiness and some questions, commonly held misconceptions about happiness. I get many of these in my talks, in workshops that I lead with clients.

So first, let's talk a little bit about happiness and why happiness is so important. For me, happiness is at its heart, human performance. I invite you to tune inwards and just think about this:

When are you at your best, most creative, innovative, kinder, the best version of you? Is it when you're stressed, anxious, angry, resentful, feeling shamed, guilty, afraid? Or is it when you are happier? Happiness is human performance and the science is really clear on this. Happier people live longer, are more creative, are more successful, and are more resilient. They have higher immunity. So happiness is actually a really important state to cultivate. Now notice I called it a state. That's one of the most common myths about happiness, that it's an emotion. People often say, "I am happy." Or they question, "How can you be happy all the time? Why worry about happiness?” It seems such a trivial thing in this world right now, where we have so much suffering.

There is so much suffering, with crises at every level. We have an ecological crisis, with our planet getting warmer faster than ever. We have a humanitarian crisis in many places, including homelessness rising in communities like Boulder and Denver. There are crises around the world, in the Middle East, the war in Ukraine, natural disasters like earthquakes, floods, and fires.

There's a political crisis in almost every country, with increasing polarization. The U.S. is a big example of this, where ideas are rejected simply because they come from the opposing party. We also have an economic crisis, with high inflation putting pressure on those in the lower or middle classes. So in the midst of all this, why talk about happiness?

My answer is this: Happiness, yes, is an emotion, and like all emotions, it comes and goes. Anger, fear, everything is impermanent. But we're not talking about happiness as an emotion; we're talking about it as a state.

Think about your own childhood. When you were younger, something needed to happen to make you unhappy. Maybe we fall down and get hurt. Maybe we are hungry. Maybe we wet our diaper or soiled it and we need it and it's causing us discomfort. You could spend hours playing, happy and smiling.

But as we get older, that’s not the state in which we inhabit. In my twenties and thirties, something needed to happen to make me happy, to feel joy. That's the “if-then-else” cycle many of us live in.

So, happiness as a state, being joyful as a state, is about how we can cultivate that, and that's what these 9 Hardwired for Happiness practices do, that regardless of what is happening out there, we can meet it from a place of joy, surrender, curiosity, and compassion for self and others. That's what the state of joy allows.

We cannot avoid suffering or hardships in life, but what we can do is cultivate that inner state of calm, joy, and peace that allows us a higher ability to navigate whatever the world throws at us.

That's why we care about happiness. That's why we care about helping people build habits that help them be happier, healthier, and have more love and meaning. Notice the emphasis on “happier”, no matter your base state of happiness. And I can talk a little bit about that as well, from the work of Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky.

We all have different states. Some of us always see the glass half full, others see it half empty. Genetically, as well as how we're brought up, there is a base state of happiness that we kind of are born with or live with. But that's only 50 percent of the story. 10% is the life circumstances, things that come at us, the things we constantly keep chasing, the “if-then-else”.

Only 10% of our life circumstances contribute to our long-term state of happiness. In contrast, 40% are activities that we can do voluntarily. This is where the "Hardwired for Happiness" practices, or the Sunflower model, come into play. These nine practices can help us rewire away from the base state of fear that our brains have evolved to keep us in.

These practices are present in every wisdom tradition, including Yoga Sutras, Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Stoicism, and Taoism. They have been around for thousands of years. Positive psychology and neurosciences now provide evidence that integrating these practices into our lives can change our experience of the world.

Neuroscience shows that our neural structures in the brain change. Our brains, wired for fear, not joy, are neuroplastic, meaning we can form new neurons and neural pathways throughout our lives. The saying "neurons that fire together, wire together" encapsulates this idea. With these nine practices, we can learn to dance with complexity, smile, and play in the face of obstacles, fostering a state of curiosity, joy, and a learner mindset.

Now, let's overview these nine practices. In the following episodes, we'll use the Sunflower model to navigate challenges or goals in your life.

The model is designed as a sunflower, which always faces the sun. In fact, it changes direction as the sun moves across the sky. Now, there is darkness, there is shadow beneath the sunflower, but the sunflower is always looking up at the sun. It’s choosing to follow the sun. In the same way, we can choose happiness. We can choose to be happy or happier, and meet the world from that state of happiness so that we can navigate it better.

At the heart of this model is self-awareness, the most important foundational practice. Anais Nin's saying, "We see the world as we are, not as the world is," highlights the importance of self-awareness.

In this practice of self awareness, I talk about three different levels at which we can build this capacity for awareness. At the base level is how we can make sense of the world, and we often make sense of the world through certain belief sets that we capture early enough around ourselves and around the world.

One of the biggest beliefs is that “if-then-else,” or that “if I make money, I will be happy.” We know from research that beyond $70,000-$90,000 incremental dollars, at least in the U.S., stop providing additional utility. By this logic, billionaires and millionaires would be happier than ever. So, it’s a false belief. Money by itself and things we can buy don’t bring us happiness. But there’s so many of us that are caught in this rat race because we believe that if we make more money, we'll be happy.

Self awareness is also something that every wisdom tradition has talked about. And there is another level of awareness, which is at the level of consciousness:

Who is it that is actually making sense of the world?

Where does ego come from?

What are all the different elements in the role of emotions and moods, our somatics, and body?

What do we hold in our physical space, and how does that shape that unique observer?

This deeper level of awareness helps us recognize fundamental belief sets that are critical to examine if we want to achieve anything. Often, what appears as an obstacle on the surface is just a small part of the story. The real challenge lies beneath, in our deeper beliefs and perceptions. That’s why awareness is a critical skill. And we’ll talk a bit about that.

Think about addiction. On one level, we can talk about how to break free from substances like alcohol or hard drugs. But what is that drug doing? What are we trying to numb when we take that drug? What are we trying to escape from? Without facing this head-on, we won’t be successful in overcoming addiction.

The second practice in the Sunflower Model is purpose. Meaning and finding meaning in what we do is so important. In fact, one of the things that keeps us stuck in a state that’s not serving us, yet we are afraid to make the next move is because we don't have a clear ‘why’.

I used to coach so many who are unhappy with their jobs, and I said “why don’t you change?” My biggest advice as they navigated and looked for another job is “don’t run away from what you are facing right now. Find something meaningful to run towards, because if you don’t do that, you’ll only find that the new place is the same as the old one.”

So this notion of meaning is really important. Meaning is also crucial in health shifts that we want to make. Research by Richard Boyatzis and others shows that there is meaning around the shifts, a more positive meaning.

“Hey, I want to lose weight and be healthier, and stop smoking, because I want to be around for my grandparents, for my grandkids’ birthdays and seeing them go to college.” That is a lot more powerful motivation than “if you don’t stop smoking, then you’re going to die” or “if you don’t start changing your diet, you’re going to die.”

So, purpose is a really big deal. You cannot find that purpose unless you have awareness. We'll talk about purpose as part of these different life situations that we have to navigate and how it can be such an important North Star.

The third practice is mindful living, which involves tuning our mind to be present.

We are blessed with unbelievable gifts. Our brains are capable of remarkable memory. We remember and learn from our past. And it has an unbelievable imagination, we predict the future, we can imagine multiple futures and possibilities. But the problem is that we have lost control of this core instrument.

And instead of consciously creating space and learning from the past and going into the future, we constantly seem to be stuck flitting between the past, living in resentment, or in anxiety, worrying about the future. That’s because our brain also is designed to keep us safe; it has evolved over millions of years to spot the danger and alert us to take action, so it has a huge negativity bias. So we’ll talk about how mindfulness is so important in helping you navigate whatever you’re navigating, in being able to get out of the amygdala hijack, the fight-flight-freeze mentality, this huge amount of cortisol and adrenaline rush in our bodies.

Gratitude is another one of the most powerful practices. It involves focusing on what we have rather than what we lack. For example, in job transitions, gratitude can offer immediate relief.

I once coached someone who had lost their job and felt it was the worst thing that had happened to them and that life was miserable. We actually said, let's count our blessings.

Would you trade off your wife or your family for your job? He said, no. I said, well, you have them in your life.

I said, “would you trade off your health for your job?” And we can go a lot deeper to your ability to see. “Would you trade off your sight for your job?” No.

Okay, what about, “would you trade off a leg for your job?” No.

So he noticed, there were so many things we had. There are so many people who can’t see or walk, and many people who do not have those relationships. And we can go on and on, but at the end of that conversation, it’s not that he had a job, but he was experiencing a level of lightness because he had regrounded on all that he already had.

We’ll talk a lot about mastering our emotions. This is a big one for me, personally. Mastering emotions is a significant aspect of the Sunflower Model. Even as someone who continuously works on happiness and habit-building, I find myself losing my cool, especially with my 13-year-old, who can sometimes bring out the worst in me.

We'll explore how to navigate and deepen relationships, especially with teenagers, and how these practices can assist in this journey. I've improved significantly over the past 18 months and even more so compared to six years ago, and I hope these practices will help you too.

We'll also discuss compassion for ourselves and others, regardless of the situation, even if it involves public shaming or mistakes. We all make errors, but we can grow from them. I'm reminded of a story, possibly from the Bible, about not casting stones unless you are without sin. This petal of compassion in our model helps us give ourselves a break and still learn from our experiences.

Well-being is another key element for a happier life. We are living longer than ever before. Kids born today are probably going to live into their 90s. But unless we really do something around building healthier habits, taking care of our body, mind, and spirit, our later years aren’t going to be happy years, but filled with suffering, as our bodies and minds fail us. We don’t want to live like vegetables.

And so we'll talk about well-being and even in some of our struggles, how we can truly build these habits. I'll share my personal battles with weight and living healthier, acknowledging that some of these aspects come easier to me than others.

We'll explore how to invest in our well-being, regardless of how busy we are, whether you're a startup founder, CEO, blue-collar worker, or working multiple jobs. We'll discuss simple ways to increase well-being in any context.

Community is a major driver of flourishing and success. We'll talk about harnessing the power of community, whether you already have a vibrant one or need to start building it. It's never too late to create a supportive community.

Finally, my favorite topic: living intentionally. Many of us are caught in this rat race from morning to evening, starting a day running around, so much to get done, and ending the day exhausted in front of Netflix or with a drink in our hand, just tired, trying to give ourselves a relief and start all over again. And days become weeks, weeks become months, months become years, years become decades. And we wonder where life went.

We'll talk about regardless of how busy you are, how you can use the power of intentional living and all of these other practices to really achieve more by being more rather than doing more.

That's what's coming up in this solo episode series. I hope they will be helpful to you. I'll integrate the latest and greatest thinking from multiple experts and bring them to life in the context of applying them through the Sunflower Model.

Thank you for listening or watching, for sharing this with others who could benefit, and for integrating this into your work with your teams.

And HAPPINESS SQUAD, I've dedicated the second half of my life to helping a billion people integrate the science of flourishing into the way they live, lead, and work.

I'm excited to be on this journey with you. Stay tuned for the next set of episodes, which will be solo episodes released monthly, tackling some of the biggest obstacles our listeners face and helping achieve some of their biggest goals. Take care and have a wonderful day.

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