The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose - and Live a Happier, Healthier Life288
The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose - and Live a Happier, Healthier Life288
What are the two most important days in your life? "The day you are born and the day you find out why," Mark Twain famously wrote.
The search for happiness is hardwired in our DNA. It transcends age, gender, geography, vocation, and personal circumstances. But how do you achieve it?
Through inspirational storytelling, scientific evidence, practical advice, captivating exercises, and poetry, Dr. Sanjiv Chopra and Gina Vild present a powerful message that shows you how to achieve happiness no matter the challenges and stumbling blocks you face along the way. They also reveal the best way to be happy: Discover and live your life’s purpose. It’s a sure path to human flourishing. In fact, you may be surprised to learn that living with purpose can even add years to your life.
Do you know your life’s purpose? This book offers a path to discovering it by illuminating the value of gratitude, forgiveness, meditation, music, friendship and so much more. It will set you on the right path and spark sustained happiness, joy and bliss.
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|Publisher:||St. Martin's Publishing Group|
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About the Author
DR. SANJIV CHOPRA is Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School. He is also a bestselling author and sought after motivational speaker. He lives in Boston.
GINA VILD is the associate dean and chief communications officer for the Office of Communications and External Relations at Harvard Medical School. She lives in Boston.
DR. SANJIV CHOPRA is Professor of Medicine&Faculty Dean for Continuing Medical Education at Harvard Medical School, and Director of Clinical Hepatology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts. He has approximately 100 publications and 4 specialist books to his credit. He has received numerous awards including the Excellence in Teaching Award from Harvard Medical School. With Dr. Alan Lotvin and David Fisher, he is the author of Live Better, Live Longer. He lives in Weston, Massachusetts.
Gina Vild is the associate dean and chief communications officer for the Office of Communications and External Relations at Harvard Medical School. She lives in Boston and is coauthor of Two Most Important Days.
Read an Excerpt
What Does It Mean to Live with Purpose?
I felt once more how simple and frugal a thing is happiness: a glass of wine, a roast chestnut, a wretched little brazier, the sound of the sea. Nothing else.
— NIKOS KAZANTZAKIS
Happiness. Life's holy grail. It is both the ends and the means, the alpha and the omega, the blue highway to satisfaction and the destination sought by each of us rambling travelers. People go to unimaginable lengths to chase happiness — choose careers to make big money, spend that big money, look for love in others, poke around every nook and cranny of life — often to discover that happiness remains perennially elusive. Others forgo the quest to seek out happiness and do nothing more than walk the beach with friends, change diapers while humming to the baby, and volunteer at an animal shelter, only to find that happiness is their ever-present companion.
The search for happiness is hardwired into our DNA. The yearning is universal, transcending age, gender, geography, vocation, and personal circumstances. Throughout history, it has been a lifelong pursuit. It is a journey that is as rich as the destination is rewarding.
It was once believed that happiness was in the domain of a select few — the kings, nobles, poets, and philosophers. Socrates argued that this was not the case and that happiness could be achieved through human endeavor. He fiercely believed that virtue and happiness were inextricably linked. In fact, the ancient Greeks had a word for happiness. They referred to it as human flourishing, and they called it eudaimonia. The Sanskrit word for this, for happiness and bliss, is Ananda.
Too frequently, people look for happiness in all the wrong places. They turn to external factors. Everyone loves to be rewarded for a job well done, so it is easy to associate the reward of happiness with some sort of indulgence, such as drinking French champagne or driving a Tesla.
But it is important to remember, happiness is more than the sum total of happy moments.
When you feel that warm glow from opening a present, it makes you happy, right? But is it the item inside that makes you happy, or the fact that it was a gift from someone who cares? This is where the pursuit of happiness gets muddled. People think that a happier life is the result of having more money, acquiring things (expensive vacations, mansions, jewelry), being promoted at work, and receiving praise.
What many chasers of ephemeral pleasure do not realize is that central to having a happy life is living a life of purpose. This isn't just a sweet sentiment or the sum of a millennia of anecdotes and aphorisms. Philosophers across time have proposed this idea, with little evidence aside from strong logic and obvious examples of noble lives well lived. So, Søren Kierkegaard, you say we create ourselves by our choices? Prove it, we say. Where are the data?
Today, people like to see hard evidence before accepting beneficent advice, and the world's scientific community has risen to the challenge by studying happiness and the range of one's emotional response. Contained within these pages are the conclusions of myriad scientists who have studied happiness and a variety of interesting factors that have been shown to contribute to it. The results of these scientific studies will boost your awareness and growth. Ultimately, however, lasting happiness is an inside job. Keep that in mind. It is up to you to find your unique purpose in life and live it with exuberant passion.
THE HUMAN CONDITION
There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread.
— MOTHER TERESA
The saint of Calcutta, Mother Teresa, saw a wider range of happiness and despair than many of us can even imagine. Her personal path to bliss involved nothing but sacrifice and a single-minded devotion to everyone but herself. Mother Teresa spent her life in the most destitute slums in the world, yet the images that we find in the pages of Time and National Geographic show beatific smiles not only on her face but also on the faces of those poor and mostly forgotten children and adults who surrounded her wherever she went. By serving others throughout her life, Mother Teresa achieved the ultimate goal: attaining deep and lasting happiness.
Helping others to flourish lays the foundation for psychological growth. But what does it mean to flourish? Can you have happy moments and not flourish? Can you be professionally successful but not be happy? Let's take a moment to go over some basic terminology regarding the human condition as it pertains to happiness, joy, and bliss.
To flourish is to truly thrive — not just to get along, not just to survive, not even just to be happy. It means to feel a connection with your life in a meaningful way that leads to physical, social, and spiritual rewards. Flourishing is to grow without boundaries, to be unstoppable in your power, to soar to your heights that resonate deep within you. It means that every day you wake up is a day when you will become an even better you and that will transform the people and world around you. When you flourish, your inner light will be brighter, and you will radiate happiness.
Flourishing encompasses happiness, joy, and bliss, as well as the more immediate sensations of pleasure and satiation. Pleasure and satiation are often mistaken for what nurtures the human spirit. Pleasure refers to the senses more than the mind. Although we may find something pleasing and it may bring us good feelings, the term pleasure conjures images of events and things that give us a quick thrill. It is the positive side of an evolutionary driving force, the effort to seek what feels good and avoid what feels not so good. Satiation is simply eliminating negative feelings of desire. Is it possible to oversatiate oneself? Who hasn't had too much chocolate? It is important to recognize that trying to satiate your deepest desires with a quick fix is at the core of many troublesome addictions. A purposeful life leads to happiness, but satiation does not.
Happiness can mean a state of well-being or joy prompted by a variety of things, such as recognition, praise, a good round of golf, immersion in a page-turner of a novel, a day off from work, sitting on a porch swing. These things often can make you happy in the moment, and almost certainly you look forward to replicating these experiences. Happiness represents a range of good feelings, from mild contentment to rapturous joy. You can think of happiness as the warm glow accompanying well-being. Happiness can be a fire that smolders or one that bursts into ascending and dancing flames.
Joy is a temporary state of intense happiness. It is often linked to the deep pleasure you get when you achieve success after working hard toward a goal. It is an exuberant but brief feeling. Dancing at a concert may bring joy when exercise, music, and friendship all converge. The expression on a child's face when he blows out birthday candles and makes a wish is joyful. Getting that 4.0 and delivering your valedictorian speech will cause intense joy, while working steadily toward that goal made you happy.
Bliss is the key that unlocks the door to lasting happiness. Bliss is reflected in how we are intertwined with friends and family and experience reciprocal love and connection. Bliss is feeling love toward others and being grateful for the world around you. It is feeling known — and knowing another — at the deepest level. These kindred connections offer a glimpse into what it means to be human. Bliss is experiencing the birth of a child or grandchild and feeling your place in the march of time, seeing the promise of generations to come, providing you with a peek into your future lineage. Bliss is being at your place of worship, be it a church, temple, or coffeehouse, and feeling the ambient connection to the like-minded folks surrounding you, praying the same prayers, drinking the same mochas.
Here it is, succinctly stated. Happiness is the road you walk on, joy is the beautiful landmarks you see along your way, and bliss is being grateful for the journey and conveying that gratitude to your grandchildren, lover, or those who share your path.
When we greet someone here in America, we usually just say "Hello" or "Good morning." It is a simple greeting and, for the most part, without deep meaning. The Zulu, however, have a more meaningful greeting. One person will greet the other with "Sikhona," which means, I am here to be seen. It's a proclamation of your presence, your desire to be recognized. In reply, the other will say "Sawubana," meaning, I see you. This response is an open recognition of the other's being, but this person is also expressing his or her respect for the other. The greeting makes evident the willingness of the individuals to inhabit that single moment with all their being.
If only we could all be so open and acknowledge our vulnerability. We all need to be known, to be recognized by our peers, by our loved ones, by everyone, blemishes and all.
You may be familiar with the next example, a common greeting in India — Namaste. The word is derived from namah, meaning bow; and te, meaning to you.I bow to you. It's usually spoken while bowing, palms together, fingers toward the heavens. Namaste, on a deeper level, means, I bow to the divine in you. It's a gesture of respect, of one soul recognizing another, a greeting eschewing thought of race and gender and focusing purely on the truth of we are one.
Namaste is integral to a state in which people feel recognized and known and, while recognizing and understanding others, this state of being is integral to everyday happiness. Consider as an example a jovial man with a mail route in a largely rural area. "The people make my heart swell," he said. "I see them every day, but they never fail to recognize the happiness I bring, and I always appreciate the happiness they give me. Daily. And they don't even know it," he ended with a laugh. Without knowing it, he was conveying the meaning of the Zulu words sikhona and sawubana, and he was only just short of greeting everyone, and his hello to those along his route was equivalent to namaste.
This path to happiness isn't always easy because we are often taught from a young age to be strong, to not show vulnerability. Showing vulnerability can go against our very grain. It takes great courage to be open to others, to open ourselves to the world. Yet if we can be comfortable allowing others to know us with all our individual complexities, we will be one step closer to happiness.
The poet Ted Hughes said, "The only calibration that counts is how much heart people invest, how much they ignore their fears of being hurt or caught out or humiliated. And the only thing people regret is that they didn't live boldly enough, that they didn't invest enough heart, didn't love enough. Nothing else really counts at all."
We couldn't have said it better ourselves.
Or maybe we can — namaste.
THE SCIENCE OF JOYFUL PURPOSE
The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honorable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.
— RALPH WALDO EMERSON
If you try to chase happiness without having a clear idea of what happiness is, you are destined to fail because you tend to pursue things that are ephemeral and provide only short-term pleasure. When you approach happiness with an understanding that it is connected to purpose and to contributing in some way to the betterment of those around you, you will succeed.
Choosing wisely will lead you to the best path to happiness. You can use the power of decision-making to choose activities, friends, and mind-sets that will pave the way to a purposeful and happy life. Today and every day, you have total control of your life choices, and they affect every aspect of your tomorrows.
Here it is in four simple words: happiness is a choice.
Happiness advice may be dismissed as nothing more than platitudes and overworked proverbs, but, in fact, there is a robust body of science that helps us understand the physiological, neurochemical, and behavioral underpinnings of happiness. The good news is that science has stripped away much of the mystery surrounding what prompts us to feel contentment, happiness, and joy. Once we understand the science, we can reach for simple tools that have proven beneficial.
The French existentialists had quite a lot to say about choice and living a purpose-driven life. In fact, they theorized that our lives are wholly defined by our choices and that who we are at our core is not set at birth, but rather determined by the choices we make. Author Rick Riordan has something to say about it too: "That's the nice thing about being human. We only have one life, but we can choose what kind of story it's going to be."
Think of it like this: We are born a pillar of exquisite marble. From this we carve our essential self. Our purpose is not given to us like a prize at a raffle. Our purpose is defined by our choices. Consider the following.
There is a scientific formula to calculate your happiness quotient (HQ). This formula was a revelation made by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ken Sheldon, David Schkade, and Martin Seligman, who studied identical twins separated at birth. They created a formula that explains the three factors that determine your level of happiness — biology, living conditions, and voluntary actions.
Their study indicated that 50 percent of your happiness quotient is inherited and considered a set point. Your set point is defined by the state where you balance, where you tend to fall despite the varied ups and downs of life.
Of the remaining 50 percent of your happiness quotient, 10 percent is dependent upon your living conditions and how satisfying they are.
An astounding 40 percent of your happiness quotient, as it turns out, is the result of voluntary actions — how you choose to live your life. Do you volunteer? Do you use your life to make the world a better place? Are you a supportive and compassionate friend? Do you tend to think only of yourself, or are you concerned about those with whom you share your life's journey? If you make choices that put others first, these choices will lead you to a life defined by purpose.
The surprising bonus of this behavior is that by reaching out, you in turn enrich your own life. Using your life as a gift to others will make you happy. It's a gift you give that gives back. This may seem counterintuitive, that helping others leads to your own happiness, but there is an abundance of evidence — we're just passing it on to help make this a kinder, happier world.
An interesting side note to all of this is that beyond being able to boost your HQ through voluntary actions of compassion and service, you can actually increase your HQ genetic set point. You can alter it by the simplest practice of all — by expressing gratitude.
In fact, Robert Emmons conducted a fascinating study. Individuals were assigned to one of three groups. One group wrote down each day for ten weeks five things they were grateful for. The second group wrote down each day for ten weeks five things that displeased them. The third group wrote down each day for ten weeks five neutral events. Those in the first group felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic about the future than those in the other two groups. Astoundingly, the group that expressed daily gratitude increased their happiness level by 25 percent. This study further demonstrates that the genetic set point is malleable and dynamic.
Gratitude? Is it true that saying thank you will make you happier?
That's right. Your mother gave you an important life skill when she made you write all those thank-you notes. Gratitude has been scientifically linked to better heart health, a feeling of contentment and calm, and lower cortisol levels. Really, all this by just saying, "Thank you."
FAILURE AND ADVERSITY
As we find our way in life and make daily choices, it's necessary to learn to embrace failure. Yes, failure can be good. You can learn from it. It can serve as a transformative life force.
The commencement speech given by J. K. Rowling, author of the Harry Potter series, at Harvard in 2008 reflected on her personal story and her awareness of how failure made her life better, how failure was a catalyst for her remarkable success.
Excerpted from "The Two Most Important Days"
Copyright © 2017 Sanjiv Chopra and Gina Vild.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
"Our True Heritage" — Thích Nhat Hanh,
"Sonnets to Orpheus, Part Two, XII" — Rainer Maria Rilke,
1 What Does It Mean to Live with Purpose?,
2 Who Is Happy?,
3 The Scientific Underpinnings,
4 Living with Purpose, Living with Love,
5 Gratitude as an Anchor,
6 Daily Practices for a More Purposeful You,
7 Seven Simple Steps to a Happier You,
Our Life Purpose,
Also by Sanjiv Chopra,
Advance Praise for The Two Most Important Days,
About the Authors,