Rewiring Your Brain for Happiness

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Ashish Kothari

Why is it that, no matter how far we climb in our careers, so many of us struggle to find happiness? Why are stress, anxiety, and burnout so prevalent in our working lives? It turns out… we may have our brains to blame. 

Today we sit down with Ashish Kothari, founder and CEO of Happiness Squad and author of the bestselling new book “Hardwired for Happiness.” We discuss the biology of fear, the science of happiness, and how Ashish’s inspiring personal journey led him to seek out answers for some of life’s most vexing questions. 

Ashish also shares some large-scale strategies and simple, everyday practices that can help us move beyond our biology, and live with more joy, love, and meaning.

Learn more about Ashish Kothari and Happiness Squad here: 

Want to learn more about “ikigai?”

Management 3.0 facilitator Kumiko Sugiyama takes a comprehensive look at this Japanese concept in her recent blog. 

You can also dive deeper into the concept of ikigai – and ikigai models – while learning more about meaning and purpose in the world of business by completing this Management 3.0 Module.

Key Points

  • The Science of Happiness & Positive Psychology
  • The pervasiveness of the burnout problem
  • Practical tips for leading a happier life
  • Self-awareness as the base for the nine powerful practices that can rewire your brain for happiness


*Please note that the transcript has been automatically generated and proofread for mistakes. But remains in spoken English, and some syntax and grammar mistakes might remain.

Elisa Tuijnder: [00:00:00] Why is it that no matter how far we climb in our careers, no matter how many professional goals we set and achieve, so many of us struggle to find happiness. Why are stress, anxiety, and burnout so prevalent in our working lives? It turns out we may actually have our brains to blame. Our guest today is the author of a new book, Exploring the Biology of Fear and the Ingrained Responses and Behaviors that cost so much distress for so many professionals all over the world.

We’ll discuss what he’s learned and his strategies for moving beyond our biology to live and work with more joy, love, and meaning.

Before we dive in, you are listening to The [00:01:00] Happiness At Work Podcast by Management 3.0 where we are getting serious about happiness.

I’m your host, Elisa Tuijnder, Happiness Enthusiast and Management 3.0 team member. In this podcast, we share insights from industry experts, influencers, and thought leaders about what it takes to be happy, motivated, and productive at work. So that loving your job becomes the norm and not the exception. We will be publishing every fornight on Friday, so be sure to tune in and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

Our guest today is Ashish Kothari, a consultant coach, personal development expert, and author of the new book, Hardwired for Happiness. Thank you so much for joining us today, Ashish.

Ashish Kothari: It is such a [00:02:00] pleasure to be with you, Elisa. Thank you for having me. Thank you so much.

Elisa Tuijnder: I’m really looking forward to this conversation.

I think we have a lot of things in common. And before we launch into your work in this incredible personal story that you have we always start with the same question on the podcast, and that is what does happiness mean to you?

Ashish Kothari: Yes. What does happiness mean to me? Happiness to me is a life when I am living my life filled with meaning.

In the pursuit of something significant in the service of something significant supported by, a strong set of family and friends. So social connections, right? A vibrant social connection. And also at my best physically, mentally, spiritually. So wellbeing, meaning, belonging. And then the last one is, happiness does not necessarily mean no suffering for me, but happiness for sure means being able to work with whatever hardships, obstacles come in a way [00:03:00] to be able to navigate them, masterfully rather than let them master be my masters. Yeah,

Elisa Tuijnder: I say that a lot as well. Happiness is not just all the good stuff. It also is the whole package at

Ashish Kothari: times. Yes. Hey,

Elisa Tuijnder: so you have a fascinating personal story, and I think it’s actually very pertinent to, to what you do right now.

And how you got there. I know that you grew up in India and original was very different career path, a more traditional career path and more corporate career path. So maybe you wanna tell us a little bit about, your beginnings, what your goals were as a young professional, and Yeah.

Then we can go dive deeper into what happened after.

Ashish Kothari: Yeah, sure. And look, I think my story is, and we all have our own unique stories, but I think my story, I would say is probably something that is, lived by a quite large number of people, right? So a lot of people will resonate with this.

So listen even though I grew up in India, it actually doesn’t matter where you grew up. [00:04:00] It’s about, which family are you brought into, right? So your parents and education orientation. . But I grew up in India, middle class family, really highly educated parents who really praised a lot of emphasis on education.

My mom was a PhD in mathematics. My dad was an engineer. And always from a very early age. Academics and really being at your best performing academically really well was something that, I picked up without even realizing I was picking up. And this script of only thing that is good enough is perfect.

Yeah, so I still remember many times when I got a 97 or a 98 very early age, even when I was like nine or 10 conversations about a big pat on the back celebrating, that I’d come second or third and got 97. But then also a conversation around, look, you can, you could have gotten the other three.

So I picked that up at an early age. And the other script that was a big part of [00:05:00] my growing up life was about, look, you have to work hard to be successful and by the way, you wanna be successful because when you’re successful, you can set the life for yourself that you’ll be happy with.

You can take the travel you want, you can have the things you want. You can live, in a place you want, right? All of those things, right? If you want to be happy, make sure you are successful. And if you want to be successful, make sure you work hard. And by the way, if you really want to get anywhere, I was growing up in India, it was still it wasn’t an open economy.

The way out was, I write about this in my book. The way out was not in the way out was three letter word called IIT, Indian Institute of Technology. They were one of the top schools in India, about 2000 kids going out of the 200,000 who took the exam out of the 2 million who were eligible to take the exam.

Wow. And so release of competition. But once you were there, right? You could have a job you wanted, everybody in the [00:06:00] country and in the world wanted to recruit from these places. And so that’s what I did. I go, I went and studied for it and became an engineer. Joined IBM coming out of it.

Never actually followed up and did chemical engineering, which is what I got my bachelor’s and master’s in. And and then basically became a consultant. And I think what I had picked up in my early life really served me well, right? You work hard. I progressed very quickly. At every place that I was in, I came to the us, got my MBA along the way, didn’t even blink, I didn’t even blink an eye about doing a part-time MBA.

Even though I knew it was gonna be about a hundred to 120 hours a week for the next two and a half years. But that was okay. I was used to that growing up. Graduated with my Perfect Scores 4.0 from University of Chicago. And then eventually joined McKinsey one of the premier consulting firms.

And I was [00:07:00] with them, till August of this year. And all along the way, I rose very quickly to partner. I was I was a partner there for 10 years. So yeah. So that was the story. And then I found myself, I was 42, 43. I just, we had just moved to Boulder, Colorado. A beautiful place in the mountains and I was waking up, I found myself really questioning why am I not flourishing? So I checked off every box on my checklist of, work hard, I was happily married, I had a lovely son. My parents were doing great. My time at McKinsey, I was really thriving at McKinsey. I loved my clients, my teams were doing great.

So everything was green, Elisa. But for me, despite having done all that I think the script had outlived its meaning. I was waking up every morning with lots of anxiety for no reason, apparent reason. [00:08:00] Yeah. No reason whatsoever. Which made me even more anxious, right? Because I was like, what the hell am I missing?

And that’s when I turned inwards and I read, read, researched books all the way from psychology, neurosciences, and spirituality. Around the answers towards human flourishing and why, what is the reason I am stuck in fear and anxiety? And what I had learned were these practices that I write about in the book.

And as I integrated them into my own life, my life changed. Yeah. And then I decided at the end of August to actually leave the firm, leave consulting after 25 years and actually start a company which I’m now leading called Happiness Squad. And our purpose really is to touch a billion people and to truly democratize happiness is to help individuals, teams, and organizations integrate the science and art of happiness.

And I call it an art [00:09:00] because of the question you ask, the answer to happiness is very different for different people. Just like art, what resonates with one doesn’t resonate with somebody else, right? And so there’s the art element of happiness, which is what will really make you happy. But the second part is the science.

Look, the work I’m doing is back in neuroscience and psychology and organization development that these things really work. If we integrate these practices into our lives, we can be happier, healthier, have more love and meaning, and frankly, collectively achieve lot more than even we can cognitively think about, right?

Truly unlock our full potential. So that’s what my life is in the service of now.

Elisa Tuijnder: Fantastic. Yeah. That’s what my life is in the service of as well. Very much aligned. I wanted to ask you, I really, you said this backstory really serves you well. I just want you to unpack this yeah.

This thing that you gave us there saying in order to be happy, you have to be successful. In [00:10:00] order to be successful, you have to work 120 hours a week. Yes. And you have to work really hard. How does that feel now with the hindsight of all of these things that you have done?

Ashish Kothari: Yeah, look, and I think for your listeners, I’ll give you this frame.

By the way, this is a polarity that is, the silliest polarity of out there, but it is the most commonly lived polarity. There’s so many amongst us who basically spend the first 20 years, what I call chasing wealth, and I call wealth equated wealth to work, right? Because it might not be dollar wealth, it might be professional skills, promotions, what have you.

There’s so many, and I was one of them, who spent chasing wealth at the expense of health, love and meaning. We pour everything we got into work. Yeah. And luckily I was I was very lucky. I’ve, relationships has always been very important for me. So love never struggled, but for sure, for a long time, health and meaning, right?

Were questionable. But the polarity I’m talking about is then a lot of people then at some point, [00:11:00] Say, oh, I’m gonna stop chasing wealth now. I’m now gonna chase meaning, and then they start chasing meaning and going to nonprofits or what have you. Again, sacrificing health and love along the way.

And somehow there’s this polarity of either you can have wealth or you can have meaning. Yeah, exactly. And I think it is. I think that thing, that’s a myth that needs to be completely busted. Because I think there’s a better way forward, which is what I am trying to get companies and individuals to embrace, which is we can actually accumulate wealth while pursuing, meaning, ensuring that our health and love are actually on a stable ground, right? Yeah. So it’s really important because no matter how much success you have, how much wealth you have, how much meaning you have, it’s hard to win back health and love and when everybody’s time comes, we all are mortal as, even though we live, as if we are immortal.

In our later half of our years, no amount of wealth or meaning will make [00:12:00] up for the lost health. And second, no amount of wealth and meaning will make up for the lost love, right? That we sacrifice. But I actually think there is another even more direct reason, which is if we are healthy, if we take care of our health, we all are gonna live really long lives. We can make sure we are more productive for much longer in our lives. We have more to give, right? You can either give everything you got by working 90 hours a week, a hundred hours a week, for 20 years, that’s 1800 hours, or you can work 50 hours a week for 40 more years.

Yeah. And have all

Elisa Tuijnder: that time. Not at the end while your health is

Ashish Kothari: dwindling in anything. Exactly. You can’t, right? So you’re able to be there longer, you can do stuff that is meaningful to you till the last day you die. And then the second is, if you truly invest in relationships and love with others, you can get so much more done.

You can amplify your effect versus be the lone [00:13:00] warrior trying to do it just by yourself. So my push to for this, people just think about this is not just no, don’t just do this because you know later you are gonna be better. My big push is you will be able to get done more now, have more impact now, if you make sure your health and love are balanced and what you are doing to accumulate wealth is in the pursuit of something that is meaningful to you.

By the way, more people will resonate with you too, right? Because they buy your Why. Yeah.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. I like the, a lot of the times we talk about this in a sense of more of a selfish not necessarily a selfish way because but it’s this work life balance is more for us, but you’re also putting this little on your head saying that you’re actually gonna be more effective.

You’re actually gonna have more meaning you’re gonna have. You’re gonna be able to have more output as well towards the world.

Ashish Kothari: Absolutely. And that’s it. In fact, I work, very closely with one of my dear friends whose father started a company called [00:14:00] Performance. They work with all the Formula One athletes around the world, as well as with large companies.

And they basically, one of the fundamental things why we gel so well as their core messages around performance, right? Wellbeing is about performance and unlocking our best. And it’s really important, especially today, Elisa, because most of the work we do is cognitive, it’s not hard labor.

right? And so if we truly do take care of ourselves, you can achieve so much more. So much more. Yeah. Yeah.


Elisa Tuijnder: really resonates with me, and I completely agree with it. Before we dive into, your current work and the book, the wonderful book that you wrote, I just wanna have one more question around this.

So I’m envisioning you climbing this corporate career ladder for about 20 years, and then all of a sudden the way you portrayed it was a little bit, you came at a point and you were like, I’m at the top. And actually, I don’t feel any different than at the start or significantly [00:15:00] different than at the start.

Yes. Was it like that or was there also along the way some kind of realizations already that maybe I should be happier at this point as well, or maybe I should

Ashish Kothari: reflect a little bit. Yeah, no that’s a great question. And look, I think what I would say is for the first part of my 20 years I was happy.

So the way I would describe it is, I experienced joy for sure, but I wasn’t joyful by nature. when you get promoted, when you buy a car and you go on an expensive vacation, you win a client effort, you know you are happy. But regardless of what’s happening, I’m happy. So I wasn’t joyful.

So I think that was present for quite a bit. And I told you about this anxiety thing that was happening, that was more in my, when I turned 39, 40, 41. Also, I had a son who was four and I was flying around the country and I was like, what am I doing this for?

Am I just doing this for money? [00:16:00] Because the work that I was doing was not necessarily meaningful to me. The effect, in the impact being able to help others. But what I spent 70, 80% of my time doing, which is a lot of operations topics, wasn’t actually, meaningful. It wasn’t tied to my strengths or what I love to do.

Yeah. And so I was being torn apart by that. So that was present and that’s what actually started my journey. And it was a four or five year journey where I actually integrated, shifted into what I really wanted to be doing. But then, my pivot out of the firm into this work actually came, not because I was done with that path.

I love McKinsey. I love the impact that I was having. I actually left because of when I realized that the stress, anxiety, burnout the struggles that people have, I used to have a story before covid, and my story was that stress, anxiety, [00:17:00] burnout are the prices that insecure overachievers pay to it in pursuit of success.

So if you wanna if you really wanna be successful, you are gonna do all of these things and you’re gonna have stress and anxiety. Yeah. If you don’t want that, then you know, you can have, you can work in a cafe or you can take a easier job and then, yeah. Then don’t have stress, anxiety, and burnout.

And many of these practices that I’d written about, that I write about in my book that I’d integrated into my life had actually, I’d solved my own, right? So I was like, so one, it’s a price people have to pay and you can fix it. During Covid, I had a chance to work on an effort for the firm for McKinsey, for our clients around adaptability and resilience.

And for the first time, Elisa, I realized how secular and how broad based this problem of stress, anxiety, and burnout was. I realized that 40 to 60% of people are burned [00:18:00] out. 30% of the people are engaged. 60% of the people report loneliness, at least in the US. And by the way, these numbers are no different whether you are the CEO or a frontline employee, whether you’re in for-profit or nonprofit, whether you are an accountant, banker, consultant, or you are a nurse, doctor, or a teacher. Everybody is struggling from, our world gone wrong. It’s actually not the world that’s gone wrong. It’s about our own ability to hold the complexity of the world that we’ve created.

But I realize how big this issue was, and to me, it was my calling that actually was the driver behind leaving the firm and building something around democratizing happiness because I realized that I had to build something Elisa. That would be able to touch companies as small as a startup and as big as a Fortune 500 [00:19:00] that would be able to touch somebody who only had, $400 in a year to pay versus somebody else who might be able to spend a million dollars on it.

And so that’s the reason I left. I realized at the top of the mountain, not that this isn’t for me. But it was clear the mountain I needed to climb because the impact that I really wanted to have, I could never have from the vantage point that I was in terms of the number of people I would touch.


Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. So you had, you were being driven by extrinsic motivators, but you wanted intrinsic motivators. So that was your, in your in your natural ability there that you wanted to change and then you kinda came across this problem or the, you understood the pervasiveness of the problem, and was it then at that point, okay, you decided to leave the company.

Was it also at that point that you decided to write the book or was it Yes. As a consultant first, as a going in and seeing what you can do? Or was it okay, actually, let me write this book and let [00:20:00] me do this research. The book, by the way, for our listeners is called Hardwired for Happiness which has been published in the fall, actually this fall, and is already an Amazon bestseller.

So congratulations on that,

Ashish Kothari: Ashish. Thank you. Yeah, look, I wrote the book during the pandemic. I had a lot of time and I had many of the practices I wrote about, right? they were integrated. I had integrated them over the first three years, so I knew they worked because of the research that I had done.

But borrowing from one of the leaders, one of the luminaries in the field of happiness style, Ben Tal- Shahar, they were also grounded in me search, right? , they worked because they worked for. I had, they had tried and I had worked with my clients on it. So that was, so that’s why I wrote the book because I really, I realized that I think, look, this should be accessible to everyone, these practices.

And, I had made the shift already from extrinsic to Intrinsic over the last five years. Okay, so that had already shifted for me. Yeah. [00:21:00] Okay. Yeah. What shifted was when I realized I was driving, I was more answering my calling internally around the work I wanted to do. I realized that, I could do this work for the upper echelons of the companies and the business world, or I could actually take this and make it accessible to anybody and everybody in the whole world.

How do I go from the top 10% to the middle, 50, 60%? So it was really more of that amplification towards my inner inner calling. Yeah. That was the driver, right? Because I really felt called to to take this work and touch a lot of people because otherwise I think we’re not gonna make a difference in the world.

And I think we’re gonna continue deepening the crisis that we are finding ourselves living in, in almost every domain in our lives, yeah, absolutely. Do

Elisa Tuijnder: you also feel that. You know a lot when we talk about people leaping and doing these kind of things, does it also feel like, because you had this amazing career [00:22:00] already, that you had the ability to do that as well, that it made it a little bit easier if you would’ve done this at the start of your career, you would’ve had all of that information, but also all of those success already behind you.

Yes. That kind of fulfilled

some of those

Ashish Kothari: earlier. Yeah. I’ll answer it two ways. First of all, for sure. Like for. Much easier because of where I was financially in terms of the skills I had, in terms of the relationships I had. But look, even for me, I worked five years making the pivot.

Yeah. Yeah. I don’t quite get when people just leave what they’re doing and to go after something else. I actually strongly encourage against that. One for that reason because, oh my God, why would you do that? Why would you put yourself through that under that much stress and stress under that much stress?

It’s crazy. For another reason, Elisa, even from a look, I’m a very practical guy, right? It’s all about practical things for me. And so one of the things I work a lot with people is around saying, listen, one of the ways [00:23:00] that you can find meaning is if you use the framework. Of Ikigai, right?

These four circles that intersect, I write about in my book what you love, what you’re good at, what the world needs and is willing to pay for. Yep. By the way, there are, I’ve been reading of some late, some people say that’s not really Ikigai. It’s somebody who I’m like, it doesn’t matter.

Think about four circles. Yeah. What you love. Yeah. Talk about you’re good at, what you love, what you’re good at, what the world is willing to pay for, and what the world needs. Four circles. If you are able to create a career at the intersection of them, how amazing is that? Because all of a sudden you are doing things you love, so you’re not separating work and life the way we separate them now.

Because for many of us, work doesn’t have meaning. We have all these things in life, but we just put it all together. But then we have work these hard boundary no. Work life balance, right? That’s because work has no meaning. We don’t love what we do. If you love what you do, you wouldn’t make that demarcation [00:24:00] point number one.

Second is if you do what you, what If you love what you do and you’re good at it, you experience flow states more and you continue to get better and better at it, and oh my God, if it also has elements of what the world needs and is willing to pay for, you can write your own check. You can write.

You’re gonna be the best in the world, right? And I think about Jiro dreams of Sushi. There’s this beautiful movie about this Japanese sushi chef. He’s 94 now, and it was the only Michelin star rated sushi restaurant was literally in a train station. And Jiro’s gonna do that till the day he dies, as do most of the people in their blue, blue zoned who are working on things they love.

But the reason I tell people from a practical point of view to just not just quit their job as the following, Elisa. If you have a job, okay, if you have a job at a company, look for sure you’re doing something or the company’s doing something that the world [00:25:00] needs and you have some skillset that they’re willing to pay you for.

And three, the chances are also pretty high that because you got the job, you had some strengths that you’re leveraging in your job, right? So I’m like, you have three out of the four things already figured out of the ikigai model if you have a job. Yeah. So why the hell would you start from scratch? Only focusing on the one thing or what I love.

Why don’t you instead try to first infuse what you love into what you do. Have a conversation with your boss. Explore ways in which you can integrate more of that. In, by the way, there is tons of work done at Michigan Ross using an exercise called job crafting, which is all about this, which is how can we actually first find out what we love?

And second, integrate it right here, right now to find more meaning in it. Yeah, Absoluty.

Elisa Tuijnder: Yeah. Adam Grant actually writes about, is in a book Originals as well, on how some of the most innovative [00:26:00] things are not the ones that kind of went from their garage.

And, even the people who did Google, they wanted to do, they did their PhD and they were doing it on the side for the longest time. And actually the fact that it doesn’t give us that much stress and anxiety then because the other three parts are still being fulfilled. It makes it easier for them to be original.

It makes it easier for them to be innovative and better at what this is going to be.

Ashish Kothari: Exactly. Stuff like that. Exactly. There’s so many people who just gave up and quit and they think that grass is gonna be greener on the other side. And I say it’s not, you have to do your inner work, otherwise it’s, you gotta create the same situation on the other end.

Elisa Tuijnder: In this episode, the concept of Ikigai is being discussed, in the Management 3.0 module, meaning and purpose, we dive so much deeper into this concept originating from Japan, [00:27:00] but also on our blog we have a wonderful article by Japanese Management 3.0 facilitator, Kumiko Sukiyama. Discussing the concept and its links to purpose at work, as well as what Ikigai really means to Japanese people and not just as a western concept.

Check it out on

So your book does talk a little bit around this kind of fact that humans are actually biologically hardwired or wired for things like fear and anxiety. Yes. And I wondered whether you could expand a little bit on that, as I think this is an interesting concept that kind of comes at from this as well.

Absolutely. So listen [00:28:00] we have evolved over, our bodies have evolved over millions of years, right? Till 20,000 years ago, Elisa. We lived in a world where our fight, flight, freeze responses, the system in our brain, which is all which is amazing at predicting threat and preparing us to act through activating what’s called an amygdala hijack, activating what’s called a, basically our adrenaline and cortisol, rushes through our body when we sense threat.

Ashish Kothari: That mechanism was really well coned in our ancestors, yours and mine, because we survived yeah. Against tigers and lions and what else was in our surroundings, right? 20,000 years ago when we were still nomadic and we’ve been roaming around in small tribes. Today, we don’t have lions and tigers roaming around, but that amygdala [00:29:00] hijacked that, response, the limbic response fight, flight, freeze, is still supercharged. But what we actually do have, Elisa, is we have created a world which is more complex than our ability to hold that complexity. This is, by the way, work done at Harvard around adult development theory. Yeah. That’s, that is really providing evidence around that. And when we experience a world, Elisa, that is more complex than our ability to hold complexity, something interesting happens.

We are threatened. Because our actions are failing to achieve the outcomes we want. We struggle, we try harder and fail again. And so we are constantly triggered. Now the problem is our stress response, the system has no way of knowing a physical threat from an emotional or a psychological threat, right?

And so literally what ends up happening is the [00:30:00] system is an overdrive. Our sympathetic nervous system is constantly in overdrive. Our parasympathetic nervous system is not able to catch up to that. And so not only are we evolutionary, hardwired for fear, our environment over the last 20 years where there’s a crisis brewing in almost every level.

We had the pandemic, we have, yeah. Wars and tensions, global tensions. We have a lot of social unrest. We have ecological disasters every day that we hear about. If you’re in the US you hear all the time around shootings almost every week happening, right? So we have an environment that we are constantly bombarded with things that are gonna get us.

And so not only are we hardwired for fear evolutionary, the last 20 years, we’ve really gotten hardwired for fear because we are constantly being triggered, omnipresent. Yeah. And by the way, the problem with that is while 20,000 years ago, it allowed us to get to the [00:31:00] top of the food chain even though we weren’t the strongest or the largest.

Today, that system is working against us because when we are in fear, Elisa, Think about, just think about what happens to you. If you were really physically fearful, what would happen

to you? You stall, you’d actually don’t come up with the

best solutions, right? You don’t come up with the best solutions.

Are you more closed or open? I would say

Elisa Tuijnder: more open, but ? Yeah, sorry. Like immediate?

Ashish Kothari: Yeah. You, it’s more close, right? You like, yeah, we’re close. Happens physically to you. You really punch because you’re bracing for impact. You’re not open. Yeah. Also, from all the research done by Daniel Goldman, when we are in the midst of an amygdala hijack, we lose 20, 30 points of IQ.

Yeah. Because our prefrontal cortex gets bypassed. So we are truly not able to use our brain for the best decisions. Also, because our focus completely goes on the threat, Elisa. So if I’m, [00:32:00] you and I are talking, and all of a sudden you say something and I get triggered, all I can see is you and you as a threa.

I lose perspective of everything else around you, and that’s a little bit of the reason, today what’s happening is we are solving for the self, not for the other, we are more disconnected, enabled to take others perspective, even though we are more connected. Because we are constantly triggered.

We are struggling from our own self-created chronic ailments. , like around obesity, heart disease, et cetera. Because there isn’t that much externally that kills us. And that’s the reason we are constantly working harder, longer, taking less vacations, even though we can do everything 90% more efficiently.

And it’s important, hence to recognize, oh my God, this is why I’m struggling. It’s not that outer world is crazy. It’s not that I can control the outer world, but I really need to master my inner world. And through [00:33:00] that, we can fundamentally start to make different decisions that unravel these crisis rather than deepen them.

Elisa Tuijnder: Leads us on towards a path of happier people.

Ashish Kothari: Happier, healthier. Yeah. And happier. Not because of, and I’m a big fan of look, yes, we should all be happier, but why? We should be happier. We shouldn’t be happy because we wanna be happier. We should be happy because those who are happy are more resilient, more adaptable, are kinder, more compassionate, are more creative in every dimension we can actually excel.

right to, so for me the, this drive to say, let’s, by the way, you can’t pursue happiness. It’s pretty well proven. But that’s why, to me, this is about how do we integrate many of the practices I write about into our lives so we can actually live differently, we can experience the world differently.


Elisa Tuijnder: Again I love that you’ve turned it a little bit on its [00:34:00] head within the sense that normally we talk about it in a more selfish way. Again, the happier. Happier, yes. Being happier. But you’re saying it is actually for the greater good and not just for the individual. So that’s beautiful.

Ashish Kothari: It absolutely is. It’s the same. By the way, the technical definition of happiness that most scientists align on is called subjective wellbeing, it’s subjective because of the art side of it. What makes you happy, makes somebody else, and then wellbeing, right? Which is about, are we at our best?

By the way, I always use this, right? If we truly think about, even there is all this notion of, oh my God, if you’re being taken care of your wellbeing, you’re being selfish. I always say, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Very famous thing. Yeah, absolutely. We have to take care of ourselves. We have to work on ourselves so we can be of more service to others in life as well.

Correct? Yep. Absolutely. We are social beings by our very nature.

Elisa Tuijnder: Hey. So the book also offers like nine proven [00:35:00] practices to overcome stress and make that better life also to be in service of other people again, like we just talked about. Yeah, definitely don’t have to give all of them away, but could you give us like a snippet or how you approach this so that people absolutely.

Might get really interested to see what are the other ones as

Ashish Kothari: well? Yeah. No, it’ll be my pleasure. So look, so nine practices, every one of them, Elisa, are. Every almost wisdom tradition that has ever existed or religious tradition, you will find these practices. I didn’t make them up. You will find them in Christianity.

You will find them in Islam, you’ll find them in Hinduism, you’ll find them in the yoga sutras. You’ll find them in Taoism. They were there true thousand, 3000 years ago. You also find them in Stoicism, right? All the entire kind of Greek era of philosophy and kind of the really growth. But what’s amazing about these also is in my research, what I also looked was practices that were [00:36:00] secular, but were backed by science.

So every one of these, Elisa is actually backed from the field of positive psychology, which is about 22 years old. Yeah, many thanks to Dr. Marty Seligman, the father of Positive Psycholgy. Who turned psychology on the head, right? Yeah. 22 years ago, psychology was all about studying the dysfunctions of the mind and not positive sciences.

And he turned it around to say, how do we actually study what makes us more effective, happier, right? Like how higher functioning people. So it’s proven every one of these practices has strong evidence that it actually makes a difference into people’s lives, but it also is backed by neuroscience. That it makes a difference because it fundamentally rewires our brains.

So I didn’t come up with the practices, right? I basically did the research to find them, the framework that, your listeners and then those who buy the book will see is mine. And it’s the only framework that I know of that actually puts one [00:37:00] practice at the heart of all the nine. And that is the practice of self-awareness.

Self-awareness is about how we make sense of the world and how the world makes sense of us, right? We are all unique observers of the world based on our upbringing, what we pick up from the culture. Like for me, for example, I picked up that success led to happiness and it was hard work that led to success, right?

That was me. Somebody else, it might be a different thing that they picked up. All of our beliefs are shaped by our experiences, what we pick up from our parents, how life teaches us hardships, as well as successes we’ve had. And through that lens is how we see the world. And oftentimes what gets in the way of our own, like the obstacles we face is less the obstacle but because the vantage point from which we are seeing the [00:38:00] unique observer that we are. And so I highlight this notion of how do we actually shift the unique observer by focusing on one, if not all three of the things that make us the unique observer, one is the language. So as I mentioned, beliefs, mindset, thoughts.

Yeah. The second is the mood states that we find ourselves. So if you’re feeling down, can you be very creative? Can you come up with lots of ideas? When you’re actually in the blues, most people will say, no , right? So moods have a very unique way of what we can actually do. And then the third is sematics, how we are experiencing, right?

So the same hardship, Elisa, on a day when you’ve slept well and you’ve eaten well and you’re feeling a little bit, you have a little bit of a jump in your step is not gonna be that big of a deal versus a day that you didn’t sleep enough, you haven’t eaten, you’re tired, and now one thing more goes wrong.

And you’re like, yeah, oh my. Like that response, we get that [00:39:00] observer who observes that and reacts in a way, all these three things work together to create that situation, to create that experience of it. So I talk a lot about that in that practice and the reason it is so important that practice of self-awareness and why I actually put it at the heart of all the other practices.

Is because you know the beautiful saying by a nice name, right? We see the world as we are, not, as the world is, that’s where we have to start. But from that we can unlock all the other eight. Yeah. When we truly know who we are and what we love, we can start to move into what is our purpose and what would a purpose for life feel like?

Practice number two. If you don’t know who you are, you’re gonna try to live somebody else’s version of the best life, not your own. It’s incredibly complicated. Yep. But if you tune into what you want, what your strengths are, what you love, what you feel [00:40:00] called for, you will create life that’s true to you.

One of the other practices I talk about in the book also is mindfulness, and I always have my, these debates with mindful teachers and other people who are like big mindfulness fans. They say is it, do you need to be mindful first before you can be aware? Or do you need to be aware before you can be mindful?

 Mindfulness is about being in the present. Don’t you need awareness to actually focus on the present? Yeah. If you don’t, if you’re not even aware, how do you know where you are? . Yeah. And so I say, yes, there’s chicken or the egg and, mindfulness John Kabazinn’s definition is, it’s the awareness that arises when we focus on the present moment.

So focus, somebody is focusing, right? Who’s focusing that awareness is part of it. So that’s one of the practices. And then gratitude is another one, and I’ll stop there, but gratitude again is all about counting our blessing. If we are not aware [00:41:00] of all the blessings our brain, we should be counting Yeah.

right? Our brain is, there are two things our brain has, which serve us in the past, but are our biggest enemies right now. One is this concept of hedonic adaptation, which is once we have something, it no longer has the same utility special. So when we bring awareness to all that we have, all of a sudden we can relive and re-experience the joy we experience the first time we got that promotion.

Now we hate our job . Yeah. A year ago we would’ve given anything to get that promotion. So that we can relive that. Yeah. But the second is our brain has a negativity bias. It’s always looking for things that are not right, that are gonna come get us. So again, when we are aware of that, we can count the positive things that are happening around.

So that’s why, to me, awareness is at the heart of all the practices, but every one of these other practices as well as the ones we covered, if we [00:42:00] integrate them into our lives, if we truly, and that’s the body of the work I’m doing now, Elisa, look, we’ve known about these for thousands of years.

We’ve researched them for 20 years. There’s, I don’t know, 300, 400, 500 books written on happiness. Mine is one of them. So we have enough literature on this, but the problem is there’s a big ocean between knowing and doing the implementation. Yeah. And that’s the work that I am embarking on with my company. The book is also written is one step in that direction because most practices in that book, I give three ways in which people can practice, put into practice.

Yeah. Every one of these, there’s a mind, there’s a meditation, there is a journaling prompt and there are also coaching scripts that people can use. So my focus was on implementation, Elisa, like how can people integrate? But what folks can also do is, they can actually find us on [00:43:00] and in that community, what they’re gonna find is I have designed a course, which is a one year course.

And it’s all around these 26 micro practices that are underneath these nine. So every one of them, Elisa, are things that people can do in five minutes or less. Yeah. So think that five minutes or less. But the idea is if they do it, they can actually start to form habits. So I’m want to use And they’re important.

Yep, exactly. I wanna use the neuroscience of habit formation. We do 50 to 90% every day of things. Unconsciously. Unconsciously, yeah. How can we, through repetition, take these practices and move them from the conscious to the unconscious, and that is the work that I am trying to do in the world right now.


Elisa Tuijnder: You’ve led me perfectly to, what we do at the podcast as well, and what we do at Management 3.0 in general is, we know there is so much theory out there. Like you said, there’s three to [00:44:00] 500 books out there. Actually, we didn’t come up with the science of happiness or even positive psychology for that matter.

The philosophy around happiness has been there for such a long time, but it says tangible practices, right? And what is the , how do we, knowing something and we do this. And even, I know a lot of the practices and I don’t always put them into practice. It’s actually, like you said, habit forming as well in the science of neuroscience.

So I just wanna leave us every podcast we try and leave our listeners with kind of one tangible practice with one thing that they could start implementing tomorrow. And you just said you have loads of them. But could you give us just one that people can now end on the podcast and take away and just maybe start, potentially start implementing even


Ashish Kothari: As soon as they can. Absolutely. So I’m actually gonna give them two, Elisa, very quick. Okay. So one, and we talked about one of them. So the first practice is actually the one over the nine practices. Gratitude that I would say dear friends, is one of the highest roi, highest return on investment that you can get.

[00:45:00] Very well research. At the end of the week on a Sunday, if you can sit down and take five to 10 minutes by yourself and write down three things that you’re grateful for, but write them down in detail. Relive what happened. Why are you grateful for that? What would life had been, what you would have been like if that thing that you’re grateful for wasn’t in your life.

If you spend once a week, five to 10 minutes writing that down, you will find that you experience lightness in your life. Research done by Dr. Seligman, who actually had people try this every day for about eight weeks, even amongst those who were most depressed, experienced 25 to 30% upliftment mood. Yeah. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky built on his work and proved that you didn’t even actually have to do it every day. Even once a week is enough. So I would invite your listeners to try that. Write [00:46:00] down three things every week that you’re grateful for. Practice number one. Okay. In eight weeks, you’ll start to experience the difference, if not even sooner.

The second one is one that is around mindfulness, and this practice actually combines two practices together, the practice of wellbeing and mindfulness. Now ensure there are many listeners who all know the benefits of mindfulness and yet don’t do it. We all know mindfulness is good, right? Yeah.

We, we all How many percentage meditate? About 10 to 15%. Yeah. And oftentimes we say one of two reasons. One, oh, my mind wanders all over the place. So I’m not really meditating or I don’t have the time. So here’s something to try, my dear friends. Take five, one minute breaks in your day. Five times in the day.

Find one minute. Plant your feet, dim your eyes. And just take five to six mindful breaths. Breathing in, just bringing attention [00:47:00] to the fact that you’re breathing in. Feel your belly expand and your chest expand, and just consciously breathe out. Feeling the air escape and your belly contract and your chest contract.

Do that five or six times. You don’t need an app. You don’t need to sit cross-legged or any of those kind of things. You can just simply sit with your back. You plant feet planted anywhere you are, and notice what shifts for you. If you’re like most of the people I’ve coached, you’ll notice two things. One, by focusing on your breath, your mind that is running at 10,000 miles all over the place will start to ground back with your body.

Be get in the here and now because we can only breathe in the here and now. So you’ll feel that clarity literally within a minute. But there is something else that you’re gonna experience. You’re gonna have more energy at the end of the day. You know why? Because you gave your parasympathetic system our rest and recover [00:48:00] system five minutes to catch up to your sympathetic and downregulate you, so you’re gonna have more energy at the end of your day because of these five one minute breaks that you took for yourself. So you can do them right, 10 o’clock, 12 o’clock, two o’clock, four o’clock, and maybe a minute before you sit down for dinner.

You’ll be more present. You’ll get more out of that interaction with your family. You’ll enjoy the food more. And so those are two gifts I leave your listeners with.

No, thank you so much, Ashish. That is, that’s, yeah, those are practices that we all should be doing and I try and incorporate them sometimes, but it’s not

I also fall into the trap of no time or no, or I forgot about it and those kind of things. But yes, thank you for the reminder and I really hope that some of our listeners also can, start implementing or hearing them for the first time. Yeah. Again. Yeah. Thank you. Thank you so much for this wonderful conversation.

Elisa Tuijnder: Thank you so much [00:49:00] for sharing your story your personal story and your mission of democratizing happiness and a very, I really hope we, we succeed, we’re you and I and all the other people that work around happiness and bringing it to people.

Ashish Kothari: Oh, thank you for having me. It was such a pleasure, Elisa.

Look, I think if folks are interested, they can find us on happiness Absolutely. They can find us on the Community Happiness Squad around these practice. Yeah, it’s my pleasure that more we can make these accessible to everyone, right? The, and of course they can buy the book Hard Wired for Happiness.

Elisa Tuijnder: We will share it in the show notes. And then yeah, when people can get in contact with you through the website, through the Happiness Squad website, if they have any further questions or just wanna get in touch,

Ashish Kothari: would love to come join my mission, I always say this, I know that the company I need to.

We’ll never touch a billion people by ourselves. People touch a billion people, right? . And so it’s all about enabling [00:50:00] others to be able to take this and bring it into their communities. And so chain connection community is really important. So please do get in touch. Please join us and help us really integrate and amplify these messages in our community, because who doesn’t want a more kinder, gentler, healthier, and happier world for ourselves and for our kids?


We’ll leave it, we’ll leave it there because that is a nice and noble sentence to end on. Thank you again, Ashish. What a wonderful conversation. Thank you.

My pleasure, Elisa. Bye and have a wonderful day. Thank you.

Elisa Tuijnder: You’ve been listening to The Happiness At Work podcast by Management 3.0 where we are getting serious about happiness. Be sure to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts, and if you enjoy our shows, don’t be shy. Write us [00:51:00] review, share the happiness with your colleagues, family or friends. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn under Management 3.0.

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