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Dr. Bob Nozik on Happier Living
It took 20 years, but Bob Nozik, M.D., found the key to happiness. A Professor Emeritus from the University of California Medical Center, Nozik devoted all his energy to learning about and teaching people to be happier since retiring from his distinguished medical career as an ophthalmologist. Already a prolific writer and lecturer in the medical field, Nozik wrote Happy 4 Life: Here’s How to Do It—a guide to achieving deep, lasting happiness—in 2004. Here, Nozik shares his thoughts on being happier.
What distinguishes your concept of happiness from that of others?
Although it’s enjoyable, the ordinary or hedonic kind of happiness that everybody on earth enjoys is really a matter of pleasure and avoidance of pain. The happiness I’m interested in teaching people is what I call “ideal happiness”—the kind of happiness that goes on and on and is able to be permanently lodged in the individual. It doesn’t come and go episodically like ordinary happiness.
Is happiness something that can be measured in the first 30 days?
Quite honestly, I don’t feel that the majority of the happiness science is very good at the moment because it’s basically self-evaluation, which is a weak gold standard. Since most people only ever experience ordinary happiness, they’re just going to be measuring how much ordinary happiness they have and that’s not what I believe people really want. Having a constant high level of happiness is so rare that most people don’t even recognize that it exists.
What are the 12 keys to happiness that you write about in your book?
They are all pretty simple to understand, but require some dedication to accomplish. They are:
1. Conscious Awareness
5. Acceptance: Our need to accept what we can’t change before we can move on.
6. Responsible Adulthood: Taking responsibility for our actions and how our life turns out.
7. Non-Judgmental Attitude
8. Pollyanna’s Game: Finding something to be glad about even in negative circumstances. For example, What can we be glad about when we get a flat tire? We’re still alive; we have a spare; we have AAA; we have a cell phone and can get help; etc.
9. Handling Mistakes
10. Individuality: Living our lives as who we are, instead of trying to be who others—parents, friends, etc.—want us to be.
11. Perfection: The realization that our Higher Selves are perfect exactly as they are—not the same as perfectionism!
12. Present Moment Living
Are certain keys more important than others in the first 30 days of being happier?
All 12 are important, but the greatest aid in achieving happiness is optimism. With optimism, we have the drive and energy to actually make progress in the 12 happiness keys.
Where should people start on the journey to being happier?
Change is difficult for many people. One of the best aids to change is already having been successful at change. For this reason, one would be wise to choose the key that he/she is already best at to try and improve upon. Those things we’re already pretty strong at will be the easiest for us to make even stronger. Success with this one will help fuel changes in the others.
How do you cultivate self-like/self-love without creating a selfish sense of entitlement?
Because of inner knowledge of their motives, selfish people will tend to dislike themselves. Self-like and self-love have more to do with recognizing that you’re worthy of loving yourself, which is almost the antithesis of selfishness. This is more about revealing yourself to yourself and recognizing that even if you make mistakes, you mean for the best to happen.
How does appreciation or gratitude raise our happiness in the first 30 days?
Appreciation or gratitude is one of the most dramatic ways to increase your happiness. If you look for things that are wrong, you’re going to find them. But that’s going to pull your happiness down. Instead, look for the things that are right or working. That’s the beauty of life: If we start looking, we’ll really find them. It’s not that we’re manufacturing them; they’re there. The idea of a gratitude journal is especially wonderful because if, in the evening, you write down five things that you appreciate and about which you’re grateful, it sets up your whole day. It may not be anything big, but you’ll look for those things and increase your happiness.
What are some of the challenges one might run into in the first 30 days of being happier?
Most people aren’t easy changers, even when it’s obviously to their benefit, because they’re scared. Some primitive parts of the brain still base the way they operate purely on seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. They want you to continue doing whatever you did in the past to survive. Anything new is interpreted as a threat. This is why so many people have trouble making changes, because change is scary and you’re going to have discomfort.
How can peoples’ reactions to challenges affect their happiness?
Most people have a severe inner critic. For example, you reach for something and you knock over your cup of tea and your inner critic starts screaming, “You idiot, look what you’ve done! You can’t do anything right.” That’s really going to interfere with your ability to develop happiness.
What you need to do is convert your inner critic into an inner colleague. You can do that, and it’s one of the quickest, easiest changes. At first, for a week or so, simply listen to the voice of your inner critic so that you really hear it every single time without trying to change it. Then you can say out loud if you’re alone or to yourself, “Don’t talk to me that way” or “I won’t put up with that stuff any more.” And so you stop it. If you do that for another week or so, you’ll have changed.
What’s a common mistake people make in their quests for happiness?
Most people keep trying to bat away at ordinary things to make them happier. They try to get more possessions, more money, etc., but that’s temporary. It goes away. What I would love for people to know is that long, lasting, deep, inner happiness really is available and possible for everybody. We can all do it, but we need to stop being distracted by the ordinary, external stuff and realize that we need to work on changing ourselves. That may not be particularly easy, but it’s a whole lot easier than changing the outside world.
How do you motivate yourself to keep working at your happiness for the first 30 days and beyond?
First, make the decision to be happy. This takes courage because people are so afraid of failure. Then, realize that every time you make a decision about anything in your life, you’re able to always choose the one that leads you closer to happiness.
What is the belief you personally go to during times of change?
What I tend to do is consider that sort of situation as being an adventure. Like if there’s a flight delay and I might miss my connecting flight, I would actually sit down and say to myself, “OK, I’m going to have an adventure. Lets see what’s going to happen,” rather than, “Oh no, how did this happen to me.” Even when I didn’t have a high level of happiness, I was always optimistic, so my belief is it’s going to work out fine.
The best thing about change is...
That you can become happier. Change in a positive direction, toward developing that deep, inner happiness, is really what you’re after.
What’s the best change you have ever made?
There’s no question about it—changing my happiness level from a D+/C- to a solid A.
For more information about Dr. Bob Nozik, visit www.damngoodwriters.com.