Author Andrew Matthews believes that being happy is a conscious effort and must be practiced daily.
IF Pharrell William’s recent phenomenal global hit song Happy indicates anything, it is that it takes as little as “a room without a roof” to get us all giddy with happiness. But seriously, though, what does it mean to be happy? Some may say that it is found after years of meditating in solitude, while others may argue that it lies beneath the piles of clothes under a “Sale” sign.
Bestselling author Andrew Matthews, however, believes that happiness is a state of being – a conscious choice people have to make daily until it becomes a way of life.
“It has taken me another 25 years to understand that happiness is not just a nice idea or an optional extra. Happiness is the foundation for having a life that works. You cannot say that ‘after I’ve ticked all the boxes – build a good relationship, good career, money in the bank – I’ll be happy now’,” said the Australian writer at an interview in Kuala Lumpur earlier this month
His books, Happiness Now, Follow Your Heart, Making Friends, and Being A Happy Teenager have sold over seven million copies in 42 languages in 60 countries; Matthews was in town to promote his 10th book, How Life Works, and took time off his busy schedule – he was also slated to address several multi-national corporations during his visit – to talk about his inspirations, work, and being happy in general.
“The problem solving part of our brain lights up when we are happy and shuts down when we are miserable. So we have to shift the whole emphasis from saying ‘I’m going to work hard and be miserable, and one day that will make me happy’. We have to find joy and contentment in our daily lives, and that is really the fuel that will make us successful,” he explains.
Matthews shares that his books and life philosophies are inspired by Martin Seligman’s positive psychology, in which the American psychologist studied people who are happy and effective and concluded that “happy people were already happy before they found successful careers, relationships and so on”.
“Richard Branson (of Virgin Airlines fame) was already happy before he became a rich man, Usain Bolt was already happy before he became the fastest runner in the world,” says Matthews.
Yes, but how did they get happy before their successes?
“What is the common factor among the happiest people? It’s gratitude. Happy people look for things to be thankful for. Does that mean you wake up in the morning and think about what are the things to be thankful for? Some do. Others understand that life is all about what we look for. If you look for faults in your boyfriend – you find them. If you look for faults in your job – you see them.
“But if you wake up and think about the good things that happen (and have happened), that affects you every day of your life. Then you start looking for those qualities in others as well,” says Matthews.
“The essence is – the average people say ‘When I’m happy then I’ll be grateful’, and extraordinary people say, ‘When I’m grateful then I’ll be happy’.”
It is such simple philosophy that attracts Matthews’ readers to his books, which are peppered with cartoons and caricatures – these are important elements to convey his messages, he says.
“I set out to write a book for the masses. I am not interested in research, unless it makes a difference to you and me. I like books with small words and cartoons, and sometimes I am asked to speak to brain surgeons and they are happy to have a presenter who uses small words and draws cartoons. They’re straining their brains all the time and simple messages are good,” says the author with a laugh.
Matthews notes that it is has become more challenging to be happy nowadays.
“The explosion of technology tends to undermine relationships – you’re in the bedroom and you’re e-mailing your mother who is in the next room. There’s less interaction with the people we love. You have to be mindful of technology and keep it in its place.”
Nevertheless, Matthews feels that it will eventually become easier for us to just be happy, and that starts with ourselves. He says that many people have forgotten – or simply don’t know – the importance to being kind to themselves.
“Many people think that we’ll get better results if we criticise ourselves, when it is the exact opposite. Be kind to yourself, don’t criticise yourself, and understand that there is no book out there that says you have to be perfect,” he says.
The author adds that we should start “living in the present” and making a conscious effort to do just that, otherwise, we will regret the past and fear the future.
“Just as we cannot carry all the food that we would need on our back for the next 20 years, we can’t carry all the worries on our back that we need to solve in the next 20 years. For the most part our present moments are pretty much OK – unless you’re having a heart attack or being eaten by a bear, you’re pretty much okay.”