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The Happiness Equation by Neil Pasricha – Summary and Notes

What’s the secret to happiness? This book offers 9 scientifically-backed secrets to happiness with some practical tips and step-by-step guidelines. The result is The Happiness Equation: Want Nothing + Do Anything = Have Everything.

Reading Length: 10 minutes
Buy this book or Listen to the audiobook

1. Be happy first.

“Happy people don’t have the best of everything. They make the best of everything. Be happy first.”

We have the misconception that we’ll be happy after we get something. But this only leaves us wanting more. According to studies, these are 7 ways to be happy:

  • 1. Take 30 minute walks outside three times a week.
  • 2. Spend 20 minutes writing down a positive experience three times a week.
  • 3. Do 5 random acts of kindness in a week.
  • 4. Completely unplug before going to bed.
  • 5. Get in the zone or flow state in order to improve your skill.
  • 6. Do a 2 minute meditation at least twice a day.
  • 7. Write down 3-5 things you are grateful for every week.

2. Do it for you.

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

There are two types of motivations which we can have. These are:

  • Extrinsic motivation: you do it for others.
  • Intrinsic motivation: you do it for you.

There are also three S’s for success which are:

  • Sale: getting the product sold and getting profits.
  • Social: getting respect among peers and in the industry.
  • Self: getting success based on yourself. You’re happy with your work, you feel contentment, and no amount of sale or social success can measure up.

The key is to make sure your goals are based on intrinsic motivation so that you’re only doing it for yourself. And it is to measure success based on your own standards rather than from sales and social approval. For example, I used to be so obsessed about getting more followers and subscribers on my blog and YouTube. But then I realized this was bringing me great unhappiness so I shifted my motivation to just doing the work I love by producing content regardless of the outcome. Success to me is not defined by the numbers anymore but by whether or not I did the best I could to produce content.

Another problem we have is caring too much about criticism. It can negatively impact our self confidence. These are 3 phases towards self acceptance:

  • HAA: laugh at their views and your own self judgment.
  • (H)ide. Masking your identity is a form of self judgment. There is fear of what others will think of you.
  • (A)pologize. This is another form of self judgment. It avoids ownership, creates distance, and suggests a mistake on your part.
  • (A)ccept. Being clear and simple without any assumptions. Let the judgment be owned by the other person.

3. Remember the lottery.

“You are among the wealthiest people in the entire world. The average world income is five thousand dollars. Are you higher than that? Then you’re in the top 50%.”

There is the constant need for us to keep wanting more. We always focus on what we’re lacking rather than what we already have. Imagine that you have already won the lottery for your entire life.

The first lottery is that among all the planets, we get the one that can support us. The second lottery is being born as a species that dominates the planet. The third lottery is that you were born today rather than the time when we didn’t have any advanced medicine. The fourth lottery is that your ancestors made you here today. The fifth lottery is that you’re alive today. And the sixth lottery is that you were born into relative comfort in comparison to the rest of the world. The average world salary is about $5,000 so if you’re making $50,000 a year then you’re already in the top 0.5% of the world. So be grateful for what you have and remember the lottery.

4. Never retire.

“Teddy Roosevelt said, “The best prize that life has to offer is the chance to work hard at work worth doing.”

Most of us have the dream of finally escaping our job and retiring for the rest of our lives. However, this may be a dream that isn’t ideal at all. Human beings require challenge and work but retirement is the opposite of that. Here are the 4 components of work which we need:

  • 1. Social: biggest predictor of happiness and promotes strength of relationships.
  • 2. Structure: promotes time management.
  • 3. Stimulation: enables new and cool things to happen at work.
  • 4. Story: similar to a purpose.

We need what’s called an “Ikigai” which is a strong purpose that drives you when you wake up in the morning. Human beings are working dogs who need a challenge. However, retirement means being idle, doing nothing, getting bored, restless and wary. Instead of retiring, we should find a passion project and continue to learn and grow.

I always envisioned retirement to be this glamorous and relaxing life. I pictured finally being free from all the hard work that we endure in our adult years. But when I volunteered at a temple with my mom, I was stunned to see all the volunteers were elderly women in their 80s to 90s. They spent hours cleaning, cooking and carrying heavy loads up and down the stairs. They even appeared to be stronger than me as they carried heavy loads with little effort while I struggled with the load. I couldn’t understand why they wanted to do all this labor work when they could live a relaxing and comfortable retirement life. But then it occurred to me this very work was what gave them meaning and happiness in life. It was their “Ikigai.” They woke up everyday with a sense of purpose at being able to contribute to society. So now I understand retirement isn’t about being completely free from work. It’s about having more freedom to continue pursuing your strong purpose in life.

5. Overvalue you.

A lot of people such as Harvard Grads spend hours working and grinding for a pay that doesn’t measure up to the actual time and energy they put in. We can get too caught up in the numbers and salaries of everyone. But we hardly stop to think about our own true worth. The concept of salaries itself is flawed since it only measures work based on a year. Therefore, it is better to measure your pay based on hourly, not annually.

6. Create space.

“Automate, regulate, effectuate all, remove decisions from your head. What are you left with? Deep thinking, questioning, wondering…Your aching brain will thank you”

We need to remove three things to promote more creativity and space.

  • Removal 1: Decisions
    We often get decision making fatigue from many trivial things. This leads to either no decision or a bad decision. However, less decisions leads to faster choices and saves your decision making energy. Write down all your decisions and eliminate it.
  • Removal 2: Time
    Based on Parkinson’s Law, the less time we have to do something, the more we focused we become. Cut down the time you have to do something by setting an early deadline for yourself. Never leave things late or procrastinate.
  • Removal 3: Access Points
    Close all the distractions around you by removing the access points especially with technology. Make yourself less accessible to others. Focus on only one task for increased productivity.

7. Just do it.

“Start doing something, you’ll continue.. why? Because motivation doesn’t cause action. Action causes motivation.”

Don’t wait until you have motivation to do something. Just do it! Turn fear into success by overcoming two mindset barriers: “can’t do it” and “won’t do it.” We need to start thinking we can do it and then we will want to do it. Here’s one strategy to get started:

Jerry Seinfeld Strategy:

  • Get a calendar either digitally or physically.
  • Identify a habit you want to do daily.
  • Mark an X for each day you complete the habit.
  • Try not to break the chain by staying consistent.

8. Be you.

“There is nothing more satisfying than being loved for who you are and nothing more painful than being loved for who you’re not but pretending to be.”

In all your relationships, just be you! Think of all your deepest thoughts and values and be open to sharing it. Don’t hide your true self. It is painful to be loved for someone you are pretending to be.

5 Greatest Regrets From People On Their Deathbed:

  • 1. “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.”
  • 2. “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
  • 3. “I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.”
  • 4. “I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.”
  • 5. “I wish that I had let myself be happier.”

Notice how these regrets are all associated with authenticity. Don’t wait until your deathbed to realize you should’ve lived a life true to yourself. Here are three simple tests to get started:

  • 1. Saturday Morning Test
    Ask yourself: “What do you do on a Saturday morning when you have nothing to do?” Brainstorm all the activities and brainstorm opportunities to expand upon that.

    For example, I noticed I loved to read self improvement articles and books during my downtime which got me started on my passion project of this blog and my YouTube channel!
  • 2. Bench Test
    Before choosing a school, Neil’s friend sat on a bench at different Ivy League schools to see which environment he liked the most. Immerse yourself in a new situation or location to see your response. See if you can walk around the workplace before you start a new job or walk around the neighborhood before buying a new home.
  • 3. Five People Test
    Who are the 5 people closest to you? Friends can play a major influence in your life. Studies have shown friends can influence weight, smoking, and happiness.

9. Don’t take advice.

“Don’t take advice. The answers are all inside you. Think deep and decide what’s best. Go forth and be happy. And don’t take advice.”

Advices conflict all the time even the conventional ones you often hear. Advice often reflects the advisor’s thoughts, not yours. So just hear it but decide on your own. Don’t blindly take advice, do your own research and make your own choice accordingly.

Even when I was starting this blog and my YouTube channel, I faced conflicting advice from everyone around me. Some of my friends and family were incredibly supportive and offered awesome advice. While others warned me and said “It’s pointless and a waste of time.” I began to realize it wasn’t even just this decision that had conflicting advice but also with every single big choice in my life. I believe that seeking out positive and constructive advice can be extremely helpful especially if it is from someone experienced and someone you respect. But I would toss out the negative and unhelpful advice. In the end, it’s still my own life and I make my choice based on myself. As you can see, I ignored the advice warning me against starting my blog and YouTube channel. I have no regrets.

10. Measure your happiness percentage.

This is a bonus chapter about being happy together when in a relationship. Ask yourself: What percentage of the time are you happy? What about your partner? The key is that you and your partner need to be happy most of the time. After figuring that out, you multiply the two together. For example, if you’re 80% happy and your partner is also 80% happy then that would be 64% together. Make sure it is ideally more than 50% when combined.


  • 1. Be happy first. Don’t wait until something happens to be happy. Prioritize happiness. Refer back to the 7 ways to be happy.
  • 2. Do it for you. Don’t base your success off of society and sales. Acquire success based on yourself. Make sure your motivation is intrinsic, not extrinsic. Stop caring what others think by just being clear and simple without any assumptions and self judgment.
  • 3. Remember the lottery. Recognize you are lucky especially when compared to the rest of the world. Realize that you have already won the lottery for your whole life.
  • 4. Never retire. We need work because of social, structure, stimulation and story. We need an “Ikigai” which is a strong purpose that drives you when you wake up in the morning.
  • 5. Overvalue you. Think about your own worth when referring to salaries. Measure your time and energy put into the work hourly, not annually.
  • 6. Create space. We need to remove decisions, time and access points in order to promote more creativity and space.
  • 7. Just do it. Overcome mindset barriers by just taking action. Use the Jerry Seinfeld Strategy to help you.
  • 8. Be you. Think of all your deepest thoughts and values. Be open to sharing. Don’t wait until your deathbed to regret not doing this. Three simple tests to help are the Saturday Morning Test, Bench Test, and Five People Test.
  • 9. Don’t take advice. Advice conflicts all the time. Don’t blindly take advice, do your own research and make your own choice accordingly.
  • 10. Measure your happiness percentage. Identify the happiness percentage of you and your partner. Multiply the two together to ensure you both are happy most of the time when combined.
  • Three goals in life:
    • Want nothing = contentment
    • Do anything = freedom
    • Have everything = happiness

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Published by Jean Soo

My name is Jean Soo. I’m a physical therapy student and blogger. I’ve spent quarantine studying and reading over hundreds of self improvement content. I’ve personally faced my own life transformation through some of these books and articles which I will share with you. You can expect to receive valuable content about building better habits, enhancing productivity and promoting more happiness in life. Stay tuned!

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