John Izzo met five thieves of happiness along the Camino de Santiago trail in Spain.
He was on a 10-month sabbatical from his Vancouver-based consulting work, looking to rejuvenate and perhaps find a significant business issue to highlight for the next stage of his life. But he has been a lifelong student of happiness – for individuals, corporations, and society – and, as he walked, he began to understand that often-elusive state better.
Happiness, he realized, is not about happenings – not about attending concerts, attaining a promotion at work or even trekking the Camino. Happiness is an inner feeling, a natural state, but unfortunately we prevent ourselves from enjoying it. Some people argue all happiness takes is a positive outlook, but, he says in an interview, "It's not that simple. We need to confront the mindsets that get in the way."
He uses the metaphor "thieves" to describe those mindsets because they rob you of something you already have, something natural and innate. The thieves, outlined in his book The Five Thieves of Happiness, are:
Control: 50 per cent of respondents to an online quiz listed this as their biggest hindrance – the drive to control others, viewpoints and outcomes. It ranges from trying (vainly) to control the traffic on the way home from work to trying to control the job you want to hold in three years' time. For each thief, he urges a three-step response: notice when it arises; stop the thief by gently brushing it aside; and then choose to allow another, opposite thought to dominate. For control, the oppositional force is surrender – not as resignation but a will to grapple with what is coming. You can't control traffic, so surrender to its inevitability, figuring how to spend the time productively. Practise the three steps for two weeks. "It's hard for a thief to rob you when you see them. The reason they are successful is they come disguised as friends," he says in the interview.
Conceit: This involves seeing the world as centred around you rather than viewing yourself as part of a bigger landscape, and is an important issue for businesses, he says, which should understand they benefit from a sustainable society rather than the reverse. The opposite force is service. His most miserable moments on the Camino were when he was lost in himself trying to figure out how to be happy. His best moments were when he could help other trekkers. To banish the thief, think of how you are serving others with your products and actions. On the Camino, he tried to go for a day without thinking about himself – he suggests you do the same for a moment or even a day.
Coveting: This is about unhelpful comparison, wanting what others have. "It's a fool's game to constantly compare yourself to others," he says, noting somebody will always seem better at something and you'll feel inadequate. The antidote here is gratitude. Banish the thief by every day noticing one person who you are envious of in some way, and instead find a way to celebrate what they offer. Beyond that, at the end of each day write down three things you are grateful for, a practice research finds beneficial to health.
Consumption: Stuff doesn't make us happy. At a deeper level, we need to remember that success and happiness comes from what's inside us rather than what's outside. The opposing force is choice: "I can choose to be happy. I can choose to be content with what I have rather than consuming." Each morning, when he meditates, he begins with three words: "I choose contentment." You may want to repeat those words, as a mantra, through the day. If you find yourself saying, "I'll be happy when," respond with, "I choose to be content now."
Comfort: This thief is insidious because it seems to offer happiness. But happiness comes from challenge and energetic action rather than being wedded to practices that may have worked in the past, but are outdated. The antidote is adventure: "Instead of getting stuck in a situation, being willing to venture out in a new pattern." Every day, look for one thing to do differently, even if it's only taking a different route to work. More generally, try to change patterns of behaviour that no longer work for you.
"Realize how these five thieves rob you of happiness every day and imagine what your life could be like if you changed these mindsets," he says.
Harvey Schachter is a Kingston, Ont.-based writer specializing in management issues. He writes Monday Morning Manager and management book reviews for the print edition of Report on Business and an online column, Power Points. E-mail Harvey Schachter