For a sneak peek of Mark Jaffe‘s Suitcase of Happyness: A Roadmap to Achieve and Enjoy Your Happiest Life (Cool Breeze Press, June 22, 2016), check out the excerpt below!
My friend Tracy wound up making an unexpected choice during a recent vacation.
For part of the trip, she stayed with another woman she found through her college alumni directory who showed her around the countryside. After a couple of fun days of sightseeing in the crisp autumn air, the woman encouraged Tracy to join her on a rafting trip down the rapids of one of the local rivers.
The morning of the rafting trip dawned cold and wet. The skies were dark gray and the rain was a steady drizzle. Tracy realized she had a decision to make. Option 1: Say no to rafting and blame it on the weather. Option 2: Say yes, and then try to grin and bear it.
Then there was Option 3: Not only say yes, but say yes with compelling enthusiasm and excitement. To go all in and thrust herself into the moment with reckless abandon. Explore the promise of the experience with a passion that overwhelmed the discomfort of the elements.
Tracy chose Option 3, the Passion Choice. Naturally, it turned out to be the most memorable part of her entire trip. It’s true that the rain never let up and it never got warmer, but Tracy just remembered the cries of glee as the woman yelled to paddle right or paddle left, as they deftly avoided certain disaster, spinning past large boulders with the river rushing past them. Tracy felt truly alive as they crashed through the rapids of an unknown river at full speed, an experienced guide at the helm.
That day became a turning point in her life. Tracy realized that Option 1 would have deprived her of a phenomenal experience. Option 2, “grin and bear it,” would have made the journey feel like a forced march. So, she decided to follow this woman’s example and thereafter live life to the fullest by choosing Option 3, The Passion Choice, whenever she had a similar choice to make. To do less would be to rob herself of the richness of the experience before her, and deprive herself of the happyness that would result.
Passion multiplies whatever it touches.
Nelson Mandela once said, “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.” Tracy was no longer willing to deny herself the fullness of the moment, and neither should you.
According to research by Phillipe Valerand and others in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (2010), there are two types of passion. One is harmonious passion, the strong desire to fully engage in activities that “remain under a person’s control” and become part of the person’s identity. With harmonious passion, the person is free to engage in the activity or stop, as they choose. For example, I love running on the beach, but I can choose to skip it if I have to prepare for an important presentation.
Obsessive passion, the second type, is a similarly intense urge to engage in an activity, but it has a negative effect because it is a passion that is not within the person’s control (or at least feels that way). If I were obsessively passionate about running on the beach, I might do it to the detriment of professional responsibilities.
When collecting moments of happyness, our focus is on the first type of passion, the harmonious kind. In particular, on how that passion has a multiplying effect wherever it is applied.
Passion multiplies whatever it touches. As Albert Einstein once said, “I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.” While he could be accused of understating his abilities, it’s no secret that he did not understate his passion or curiosity, both of which drove him to discover ever-new frontiers in science and in thought. Passion was a multiplier of his efforts.
How does passion multiply? There is a net energy gain from the effort you expend on something about which you feel passionate, rather than the net energy drain so many people feel as they dip into their reserves to complete a hated activity. When your mind and body are aligned in a passionate endeavor, your passionate effort further energizes you, and thus multiplies your output.
You can look no further than sports to see this multiplier effect. In 1991 and 1999, led by Mia Hamm, the United States won the soccer Women’s World Cup. On May 22, 1999, Hamm broke the all-time international goal record with 108 goals. When asked how she was able to achieve such incredible athletic performance, she responded, “I am building a fire, and every day I train I add more fuel. At just the right moment, I light the match.”
Passion builds the fire. Passion is the fuel. Passion creates the explosion when the match is lit.
So how does passion work? According to Scott Barry Kaufman, a cognitive psychologist, passion “is the energy that can fuel a project or a task. It has a similar role to inspiration. When we engage in something we are passionate about, we feel free from external constraints and in control. Time recedes into the background, and we feel allowed to engage in flow. Research has shown that flow correlates directly with passion.”
Flow is when you are completely absorbed in what you are doing. Often called “being in the zone,” it is concentrated, uninterrupted energy, all focused in one direction and for one purpose.
Author Steven Kotler calls passion “a profound focusing mechanism.” No wonder we notice when the effect seems to be multiplied! In the throes of something we feel passionate about, we give 100 percent without stopping. We’re in hyper-focus. We do not get distracted.
The Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is widely credited with developing the concept of flow, which he calls a state of complete absorption, characterized by a feeling of “great engagement and fulfillment where nothing else seems to matter. In flow, our emotions are not just contained and channeled, but positive, energized, and aligned with the task at hand. The hallmark of flow is when we have a feeling of spontaneous joy, even rapture, while performing a task.”
That is why Tracy was able to forget, or not notice, that she was wet and cold while rafting. She threw herself into the activity with passion, and was feeling flow. If she had gone for Option 2, saying yes but not really meaning it, she would have slogged along, miserable, feeling every raindrop like a hammer.
Csikszentmihalyi writes about this very phenomenon. He references people who have an “autotelic personality” where they find the activities in which they engage intrinsically rewarding. They don’t do it for some external goal or reward, or for payment. These are the mountaineers who climb Mt. Everest, or the scientific researchers who stay endless hours in the lab and “forget” to go home.
By passionately engaging with your world you give emphasis to the engagement.
One of the reasons my friend Bob and I have been best friends since we were teenagers is because we both believe in the power of passion. He particularly resonated with Tracy’s story when we were embarking on a trip to the Pacific Northwest to experience the rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula.
Naturally, it was raining as we started on a six-mile hike to the coast of the peninsula. I had brought specially designed, high-tech raingear, along with waterproof hiking boots. Bob, in his leather jacket, was significantly less protected from the elements.
As the rain picked up, the trail became an ankle-deep river. The wind was howling and the cold, driving rain blew sideways as the autumn leaves were ripped off the trees. But we were the two guys who were passionate about getting to the trail’s end, so we slogged through the slickened mud path in the now torrential rain.
It was beyond exhilarating to be fighting the elements and winning. We made it to the storm-ravaged coastline and returned triumphant.
Back in the truck, I saw that Bob was drenched to the core. When he took off his boots and turned them upside down, a stream of cold, muddy water ran out. “Bob, you are totally soaked. You must be miserable!” I exclaimed.
“Absolutely not,” he responded. “Couldn’t be happier. Option Three!” Another moment for his suitcase of happyness — and mine, too.
The practice of passion is truly a practice of alchemy. In the 16th and 17th centuries alchemists toiled to turn base metals into gold. They were focused on producing a dense, mythical, waxy red substance known as the philosopher’s stone, which would enable the process of chrysopoeia, the transformation of lead into gold. True, it never worked, and they were ultimately dismissed as charlatans, but the concept of creating incredible value where none seemingly exists certainly applies to passion. Through the intrinsic motivation discussed by Csikszentmihalyi to the “fire” displayed by Mia Hamm, passion is a powerful pathway for creating and collecting moments of happyness.
Applying passion to everything you do dramatically increases your moments of happyness. By passionately engaging with your world, you give emphasis to the engagement. You create a spark that can ignite a smoldering task into a fire of excitement.
When I was 18 years old, I asked my dad for a summer job at the food distribution company where he was an executive. He found me a job in the warehouse unloading thirty-pound boxes of tuna cans from broiling, dusty railway cars. It was hot and unpleasant work, eight hours a day in the Los Angeles summer sun.
Fortunately for me, I was paired up with Sam. He was a huge, muscular 40-year-old who could unload those boxes of tuna faster than anyone. He had muscles in places I didn’t even have places. He also loved to talk. About anything. Sam could talk and talk and talk. He was interesting and he was so funny. He seemed to take such delight in every moment I was with him — not because of me, necessarily, but because he just loved being alive.
I will never forget how Sam spent an entire afternoon telling me about Diana Ross’s breasts. As a teenage boy, I understood what it meant to be passionate about breasts. But I had never experienced passion like this.
Sam was not speaking from an actual encounter with Miss Ross, more like in an aspirational way. Reverential. With a wide variety of descriptive terms. He used a multitude of metaphors and analogies that strayed quite a distance from the breasts themselves, but it all seemed to make sense, somehow.
“Sam, can you really use that term to describe breasts?” I said.
“Mark, we are talking about the breasts of Miss Diana Ross. They are not your everyday breasts. Which is why you cannot use everyday terms.”
To this day, I don’t know how he spent four hours talking about one pair of breasts and never repeating himself, but I was enraptured. We must have unloaded twice as many boxes as anyone else. I wasn’t even aware of how fast we were working. It was as if those two breasts were dangling in front of us the entire afternoon, and Sam and I were running as fast as we could, tuna boxes in hand, but never quite reaching them.
Every day he unloaded those boxes with the same passion he brought to conversation. Because he worked fast, I worked fast. I spent most of that summer oblivious to the poor working conditions. I didn’t realize how much I hurt until well after I came home from a day’s work.
Sam must have been the happiest person I ever met. He didn’t have a great job, and probably didn’t live in a great neighborhood or in a great house. But his life seemed richer than that of anyone I knew. It was a richness that was unique to him because he created it through passion — his daily zest for living.
Sam’s passion transformed what could have been one of my most miserable jobs into one of my most enjoyable. It created so many moments of happyness for me that summer. Moments that would have never existed without the extraordinary enthusiasm that he brought to life.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Mark Jaffe, a former senior executive at The Walt Disney Company, spent many years creating happy moments. At a young age he realized that his happiest life was not something out of reach. He studied, observed, cultivated, and ultimately enjoyed an enduring happyness through a singular focus on identifying what worked and what didn’t.
Along the way, he had a life journey, perhaps like yours, that included career successes and career failures. A marriage that succeeded until it didn’t. Two fabulous kids. A dog. And the learned ability to be very happy, which has kept him happy now, consistently, for over 40 years.