He’s the Jolly Good Fellow that nobody can deny – and he’s helping people across the world to tap into their joy, on demand.
Former Google software engineer Chade-Meng Tan – whose job title as Google employee 107 really was Jolly Good Fellow – is the bestselling author of Search Inside Yourself (2012), and has followed it up with his latest book, Joy On Demand, a practical guide that offers to help seekers of joy cultivate lasting happiness and well-being.
In an exclusive e-mail interview with Star2.com, Meng – as the Singapore-born, US-based author is commonly known – reveals his motivation for writing his latest book, and how we can apply its principles to enrich our lives.
Your bestsellers Joy On Demand and Search Inside Yourself have been joined on the shelves by a growing list of books with similar subject matter – why do you think we’re seeing such an interest in emotional well-being nowadays?
I think the latent interest has always been there: for as long as there had been human beings, people had wanted to be well, happy and free from suffering. What’s new is the science has finally caught up. Scientists have finally applied the scientific method to the study of inner peace, well-being and happiness, their causes and effects, how they show up in the brain, and how they can be trained.
It’s a lot like when medicine became a field of scientific enquiry. Previously, medicine had been shrouded in mystery. When the scientific method was applied to medicine, it became demystified, and because it was demystified, it became accessible to people.
What was your motivation for writing Joy On Demand, and what can it do for readers who engage in the exercises and methods you provide?
My initial motivation was to help people meditate better. A lot of people tell me Search Inside Yourself changed their lives, but they are unable to sustain their meditation practice after a few months, in the same way some are unable to sustain an exercise regime. So I set out to write a book to solve that problem.
I think the readers of the book who do the exercises properly will derive three powerful benefits. First, they will find their number of joyful moments in the day meaningfully increasing. Second, after some practice, they may discover that their joyful experiences become more joyful, neutral experiences become joyful, and painful experiences become less painful.
The third benefit is, once they develop the ability to access joy, they will become more resilient to difficulties in life. Any one of the three benefits can be life-changing.
But people often say, ‘I don’t have the time to do meditation’.
One important thing about the practice is it doesn’t take a lot of time to start deriving real benefits.
To gain mastery of the mind takes thousands of hours of training, but to have a life-changing practice, all it takes is 10 to 20 minutes of sitting a day, and to derive any meaningful mental benefit takes a little as 80 seconds a day.
What are the fundamental steps in arriving at joy?
The first step is easing the mind into joy. We must learn to rest the mind and put it into a state of ease. When the mind is at ease, joy becomes more accessible, so part of the practice is learning to access that joy in ease, and then in turn, using joy to reinforce the ease. Cultivating this form of inner joy frees us from over-reliance on sense and ego stimulation for pleasure. This means joy becomes increasingly available any place, any time.
Next, we incline the mind toward joy by noticing joy and giving it our full attention. We learn where to look in order to see and appreciate joy that is already available to us, in moments that we hadn’t noticed before. There is joy to be found in a calming breath and in the pleasures of ordinary activities. We invite this joy in.
Finally, we learn to lift the mind with wholesome joy, especially joy arising from goodness, generosity, loving-kindness, and compassion. The wholesomeness of such joy benefits mental health the same way wholesome food benefits physical health. It also leads the mind into a stable, collected state because it doesn’t have to fight with anything like regret or envy. In turn, the stable, collected mind is conducive to wholesome joy, thus establishing a virtuous cycle.
Can meditation help someone to be successful?
My Asian upbringing had led me to believe that success leads to happiness, that one day, when I am successful, I will be happy. That turned out to be wrong. In fact, the opposite is true. Success does not lead to happiness; instead, happiness leads to success. This relationship between success and happiness has been extensively studied.
My friend, the bestselling author Shawn Achor, calls it the “happiness advantage”. Citing hundreds of studies carried out over decades, Shawn makes a convincing case that happiness is a major advantage in pursuing success. Happiness raises sales by 37%, productivity by 31% and accuracy by 19%. Happi-ness also makes people more popular and better at their jobs. It makes people healthier, too.
Why do you think some people have a reluctance to cultivate the joy and happiness that is readily available?
I suspect there are two reasons. First, I think there are people who still think of meditation, peace and joy as shrouded in mystery, and they’re averse to that. As science demystifies meditation, this problem will get solved.
Second, I think people are afraid that if they become happy, they will lose their motivation to succeed and therefore will become unsuccessful. As people begin to understand that happiness leads to success, that problem will be solved, too.
In the book, you reveal how you suffer from a ‘lifelong, persistent sense of inadequacy'; I think that’s something many of us share to varying degrees. How can we manage it?
I think the real solution is learning see things as they really are, which entails a combination of objectivity and clarity of perception.
On one hand, it’s clear to me that in every single case of extraordinary success I’m aware of, including my own, the one and only factor that is both necessary and sufficient is luck. On the other hand, I can also clearly see that the qualities I bring to the table (hard work, courage, creativity, kindness) made meaningful contributions to increasing my luck, and hence, my success.
This, combined with my joy and kindness practices, is how I manage my lifelong sense of inadequacy.
If we begin practising meditation today, how long can we expect to wait for results and what kind of results can we expect?
Many will see the first result in one breath. Try it now. Take one slow, deep breath. For the duration of that one breath, give your full attention to your breath in a gentle way. Total and gentle attention on feeling your breath, that is all. Notice that already you are a little calmer and more relaxed after the breath than before it. You already gain some benefit with that first breath.