The Happiness Equation is the latest in the stuffed-to-the-gills genre of happiness self-help books, but Neil Pasricha, the New York Times bestselling author of The Book of AWESOME, is unfazed by the glut. He believes strongly in his message. So strongly, in fact, that he’s willing to paste the eponymous equation on the front cover of the book: WANT NOTHING + DO ANYTHING = HAVE EVERYTHING. Intended as a guide to life for his son, the book’s tone is nothing if not sincere. Leaving his job at Wal-Mart to dedicate more time to The Institute for Global Happiness combined with the publication of this book leaves me with the impression of Pasricha’s very genuine intent to make the world a happier place.
According to Pasricha, there are nine “secrets” to happiness. These nine “secrets” are divided into three sections titled (as you may have guessed) WANT NOTHING, DO ANYTHING, and HAVE EVERYTHING. Each section breaks down into three “secrets,” with each “secret” broken down further into a number of short chapters.
I say “secrets” with quotations because like many self-help books, this one suffers from being not in the least groundbreaking and restating a lot of things that have become part of the public’s general understanding. More than one “secret” is dedicated to the simple practise of gratitude and self-care, which are both already well-documented contributors to one’s happiness. Other hacks Pasricha offers include “just do it.” Want to be happy? Just do it. Want to get stuff done? Just do it. Want to conquer your fear? Just do it. It’s cyclical and unhelpful and more than a little irritating.
WANT NOTHING + DO ANYTHING = HAVE EVERYTHING
—Neil Pasricha, The Happiness Equation
Despite covering nine “secrets,” and breaking them down into a trilogy of parts that are further chapterized, Pasricha doesn’t have all that much to actually say about his discoveries. There is more than one chapter, for example, that is a single paragraph in length. Between each chapter is a blank page with a new “secret” added to the list in a large scribbling hand. That’s nine pages that have no purpose other than decoration. It reminds me of the alternative title I kept in my head while reading the book, Neil Pasricha’s Big Book of Scribbles. Not only do these lists disrupting your reading, but doodles all throughout the book puff up the page count. Sometimes, a doodle may be as simple as a circle of items with arrows between them that takes up half of the page. The designer for this book struggled to pad out Pasricha’s minimal advice.
However, there are one or two points in the book that are worth further consideration and if the entire book had been as thought-provoking, it could have been a truly unique entry into the happiness self-help cannon. Where the book is most engaging is through Pasricha’s personal anecdotes that actually demonstrate the point he wants to make. Unlike the majority of his examples, which draw from over-shared motivational posters, the personal nature of the stories has the ability to make me want to believe in the “secrets” to happiness.
An engaging voice and at times infectious belief in his own cause are simply not enough to save Pasricha’s The Happiness Equation from rehashing inspirational quotes, common sense, and well-documented studies into a pretty-to-look-at, but content-empty spread of pages.
There is a very brief part in The Happiness Equation when Pasricha mentions a study that found a 30 minute walk three times a week could help relieve the symptoms of depression as effectively as medication. I want to remind readers that you should stop taking your medication or modify your dosage only if instructed to by your doctor. Pasricha is not a doctor. He is just a dude with high hopes for humanity.