Jason interviews Dr. John Izzo about his book The Five Thieves of Happiness.
Dr John Izzo is a corporate advisor, speaker and bestselling author of seven books including the international bestsellers Awakening Corporate Soul, Values Shift, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, and Stepping Up. His latest book is The Five Thieves of Happiness.
Over the last twenty years he has spoken to over one million people, taught at two major universities, advised over 500 organizations and is frequently featured in the media by the likes of Fast Company, PBS, CBC, the Wall Street Journal, CNN, and INC Magazine.
He has advised some of the best companies in the world including DuPont, TELUS, McDonald’s, Tim Horton’s, Westjet, RBC, Lockheed Martin, Qantas Airlines, Humana, Microsoft and the Mayo Clinic.
John is a pioneer in the Corporate Social Responsibility and Sustainability movements and is a Distinguished Fellow at the East-West Institute–a non partisan think tank working on international security issues including food, water and energy security.
To learn more please visit www.drjohnizzo.com
Below is the full transcript:
Announcer: Welcome back, America, to Sound Retirement Radio, where we bring you concepts, ideas, and strategies designed to help you achieve clarity, confidence, and freedom as you prepare for and transition through retirement. Now, here is you host, Jason Parker.
Jason: America, welcome back to another round of Sound Retirement Radio. So glad to have you tuning in this morning. As always, as you know, we’re always looking to bring experts onto this program who we believe can add significant, meaningful value to your life as you prepare for and transition to retirement. I have one of those guests for you today. You’re listening to Episode 124, and the title of this show is The Five Thieves of Happiness, with Dr. John Izzo.
Before we get into the program, though, as you know, I like to start the morning right by renewing our mind, so I’ve got a verse here for us. This comes to us from 1 Timothy 1, Verse 5, “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” Then, of course, I know some of you are going to go visit with your grandkids today, and so I always like to give you a joke that you can share with them. “Why did the man run around his bed? He was trying to catch up on his sleep.” I’ve tried it; doesn’t work.
Okay, so for this episode, let me introduce our guest. I’ve got Dr. John Izzo. He’s been a minister, an acclaimed speaker, a journalist, an executive coach, and a community leader. He’s the best-selling author of six previous books, including Awakening Corporate Soul, Stepping Up, and The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. His latest book that I have here is The Five Thieves of Happiness.
Dr. Izzo, welcome to Sound Retirement Radio.
Dr. Izzo: Thank you. Great to be here.
Jason: Boy, I’m glad to have you on the program. I want to ask you about this book, The Five Thieves of Happiness, but I was intrigued by this other book that you wrote as well, so before we transition into your new book, I want to ask you about The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die. What was your number-one takeaway from doing all of those interviews that you conducted?
Dr. Izzo: It’s apropos to this retirement conversation, because The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die was the result of interviews I did with people from the age of 60 to 106, with 18,000 years of life experience between them, who were all identified by someone else as “the one older person I know who has found true happiness and has something to teach us.” It was an incredible journey. It was a PBS TV show, et cetera.
Yeah, I think the big thing I learned … so many things, of course, from those 18,000 years of life experience. I guess the biggest one for me was that people don’t regret their failures at the end of their lives. What they regret are the things they wish they had tried, wish they had done, gone for love, written that book, or taken that chance. Whatever age you are, I always say, “Leave no regrets, leave nothing on the table,” because the saddest words at the end of life is to say, “I wish I had,” or, “I should have.” I guess of all the things I learned, maybe that was the most insightful for me from those conversations.
Jason: All right. I have to tell you, I have had the opportunity to read your book The Five Thieves of Happiness, and so I’m looking forward to talking to you about these different thieves. As we get into the book, in the very beginning you talk about this pilgrimage that you took, the sabbatical that you had in 2015. Will you share with our listeners this journey that you went on and what you learned from that?
Dr. Izzo: After studying happiness and working with businesses and executives all over the world for 25 years, I still found I wasn’t able to sustain that day-to-day happiness that is so elusive for many of us. I went on this 10-month self-imposed sabbatical in part to really see what was I missing. Why was it so hard to sustain happiness? I began by walking the Camino in northern Spain, which is a pilgrimage that Christians and now many others have been taking for 1200 years, and 30 days walked across the north of Spain.
It was really there that these five thieves of happiness really started to show up in a profound way for me. I will just say there’s something about getting up and walking every day and walking alongside other people who are asking questions about their life, because almost everyone who walks it is on some kind of pilgrimage, even if they don’t know what it is when they start. Yeah, it was a profound experience for me followed by three months in the Andes in Peru, and this book really emerged out of those long walks.
Jason: I have to tell you that sounds awesome. It sounds like something I’d like to take the time just to walk for 30 days, whether it’s the Camino de Santiago or just walking around my neighborhood. Heck, I think walking for 30 days sounds great. One of the challenges I had right when I first opened up the book, in the foreword by, I think it was Marshall Goldsmith, as a coach, he says one of the questions he asks folks is, “Did I do my best to be happy?” Man, I really struggled with that question. Why happiness? Why the five thieves of happiness? Should happiness be our life goal, our life pursuit?
Dr. Izzo: It’s a really interesting question. I tackle that early on in the book, as you know, and I struggled with the word happiness, because interestingly, happiness is kind of the word of our time. There’s just an algae boom of books and conversations about happiness. To be honest, I chose it in some ways because of that. I knew people are interested in this idea of happiness, although I much prefer words like contentment and calm and peace of mind, because happiness, the word happiness actually comes from the old English word “hap,” as in happenstance, which is the idea that if I have kind of good happenings in my life, maybe I’d be happy, when in fact, I think what most of us long for is to be content and calm and have peace no matter what is happening in our lives.
That’s kind of what I tried to really get at in the book, and we all know that’s possible because we all know people who have not very good happenings in their lives but, nonetheless, have a sense of equanimity and peace that others don’t. We all know people who have lots of great happenings in their lives but still appear to be miserable every day. When I say happiness, I really mean that deeper sense of calm and inner peace and contentment that I think all of us really yearn for.
Jason: Yeah. I was really glad, too, when I read that where you clarify and where you struggled with it, using that word happiness as in the title of the book. Let’s get into it. What are the five thieves of happiness? Then we’ll come back and we’ll maybe touch on each one of them a little bit.
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, so the five thieves of happiness and the best way to think about these thieves is they’re mindsets or mental filters through which we see the world. In other words, when these thieves are running the house of our life, when these mindsets are running the house of our life, it robs us of the natural happiness and calm that is rightfully ours. The five thieves are named control, conceit, consumption, comfort, and coveting.
Jason: All right. Like I said, I read your book. I enjoyed a lot of it, but some of it, I have to tell you, I really struggled with some of this. Maybe that’s a good sign that it was a struggle for me, it was a challenge. When you talk about control, why is control a thief of happiness?
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, great question. Later on, we’ll tell people where they can take a quiz online to see which thief is most robbing them. The reason I say that is that of the people who have taken the survey so far, and thousands of people have taken it, is that control, almost 50% of the people, this is their number-one thief. Control is really the thief that makes us think we can control everything in our lives, and even more importantly, that makes us believe that achieving these particular outcomes is where our happiness will be found.
One way to think about this is that if you think about it, all internal suffering is resistance to whatever is true at any moment. Let’s say someone is in a traffic jam and they say, “I’m unhappy because I’m in traffic,” when, in fact, what is really making them unhappy is the fact that they are not surrendering to what’s happening in this moment. Someone might say, “I didn’t get that promotion, and I really thought controlling that outcome of getting that promotion was going to get me happy or having this amount of money return on my investment is going to make me happy.”
The interesting thing is it’s not the desire for that outcome that makes us unhappy. It’s when that desire becomes a sticky desire and we think our happiness is about the control of that outcome. I think everyone listening will agree there are many things we can control in our lives, but there are many things we can’t control. This capacity to surrender to whatever is happening at any moment and to lean into it is a very important virtue when it comes to contentment.
Jason: Hmm. When I was a kid, my dad was a big Zig Ziglar fan, so we used to drive around listening to Zig Ziglar tapes in the car. I remember Zig Ziglar used to say, “Happiness is not a when or a where,” and that resonates with me. It’s not when I’m someplace or it’s not where I’m at. It’s not when I achieve or have something. I just like the way, the simplicity of that. In that chapter about control, you talk about the monkey with a clenched fist, and I thought that was a good story. You want to share that one real quick?
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, it’s a great story from Asia, where in this one place in Southeast Asia, in order to capture the monkeys, what they do is they leave sweets all around that the monkeys are very attracted to. Then they hollow out one coconut and put a sweet inside of it, and they chain that coconut to the tree. They make the hole just small enough that the monkey can kind of squeeze his hand in. What happens is the monkeys come, they eat all the sweets.
Then there’s only one sweet left, the one inside the coconut, and one monkey will inevitably put his hand in, their hand inside there. The interesting thing is that once they get the sweet, they’re not able to get their hand out of the coconut with the sweet in their hand. The only way they can be free is to let go of the sweet and take their hand out of the coconut, but somewhere around 90% of the monkeys will just hold onto the sweet and try as hard as they can to get it out of the coconut until they’re so exhausted that the villagers can just come and capture the monkey.
Many of us are like this in our lives. We think this outcome, this sticky thing in our hand is what’s going to make us happy, when it’s really the letting go of control that brings us happiness. It’s a wonderful story. In each of the chapters, as you know, of the book, I have kind of a mascot, if you will, for that particular thief, and the monkey is the mascot for the control thief.
Jason: Yeah. You mentioned a minute ago that there’s a test or a survey that people can take to understand where they struggle with these five different thieves. How can they find that? Where can they go for that?
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, they just go to fivethievesbook.com. Just spell it out five thieves, not the number, fivethievesbook.com, and they can find the survey and take it right on there. Within a few minutes, they’ll not only find out what their biggest thief is, but here are some things you can do to tame the thief.
Jason: Now I have to tell you, Dr. Izzo, as I started reading your book, I kind of expected this to just be this worldly view of happiness. When I read your bio and I saw that you had been a minister, that surprised me. You want to talk for a minute about your experience as a minister?
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, yeah. First of all, I spent seven years as a Presbyterian minister when I was in my 20s. I have to say, it was a profoundly impactful experience in my life. I always say while my friends were still out partying, I was sitting with people at the end of their lives. I learned so much about the meaning of life in those seven years. This desire and interest in spirituality has been with me my entire life. I’m kind of an accidental tourist into the corporate world because I really started to see the impact that work had on people’s spiritual lives, because we spend so much time at work. It was really that that drove me to go out and try to work with companies and write my first book, Awakening Corporate Soul, and really talk about how companies could really add value to people’s lives and we could find more soul in our work.
As you know, the book is filled with stories from the spiritual traditions of East and West. Not just from Christianity, my faith, but from many of the traditions, because all of the spiritual traditions talk about things like the thieves. Christianity has the seven deadly sins. Buddhism has the five hindrances. The interesting thing even about the seven deadly sins is we think of sin as being bad, but the word for sin in Greek in the New Testament is actually from archery, and it’s a word that means to miss the mark. Rather than thinking of the seven deadly bad things, it’s kind of thinking these are the seven mindsets that we’re going to miss the mark of the life we might have had if we allow those mindsets to dominate. The spiritual traditions had a big impact, and certainly my faith had a big impact on the conversation I have in this book.
Jason: That was one of the things that surprised me, having been a minister and then your reference to a lot of these other world religions or philosophies. As you’ve had an opportunity to study all of these different philosophies, these different religions, you come back to Christianity, it sounds like, as your bedrock, as your faith for how you choose to see the world. Is that a fair assumption or a fair statement?
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, yeah, yeah, that is a very fair assumption. I’m not one of these people that say all religions are the same. That’s not really true. That’s a gross kind of generalization that isn’t really true. If you really study the major religions of the world … I’m not talking about these little cults off in some weird place, but the major religions that people have attached to in the world. At the core, there are very, very similar messages and ideas.
It makes sense, if you think about it, because the spiritual traditions represent humanity’s collective desire to understand the divine and to understand the meaning of life. It’s not surprising that there is a lot of similarity across the traditions, or as one African elder once said to me when he was telling me their creation story, he said, “Well, of course, we know there’s only one god. This is our story.” I thought it was like a wonderful, a beautiful thing for him to say.
Jason: Hmm. Let’s move on to the second thief, conceit. There was a part in the book as you started talking about conceit where you referenced the five secrets that were told to you, and you quoted. You said, “The ironic thing about happiness is that when you are seeking it for yourself, it eludes you, but when you look up and serve something bigger than yourself, happiness finds you.” Talk to us a little bit about conceit and the thief here.
Dr. Izzo: Yeah. Conceit is simply the thief that really has us focused on the ego, focused on our small story as the source of your happiness, and also that makes us feel separate from all of life itself, if you will, from the creation. One way to think about it, and I go back to my experience on the Camino. One of the things I found is my most miserable moments on the Camino was when I would spend hours walking, thinking about how could I be happier, focusing on my little story. Some of my most profoundly happy moments on the Camino were when I was in service to someone in some small way.
I tell a story in the book about a woman I passed who was walking the wrong way on the Camino, the wrong way meaning because most people only walk one way to Santiago, but this woman had walked from Italy to the coast of Spain and was now walking back. Make a long story short, I had just a few-minute conversation with this young woman, but it became obvious to me, even though she didn’t say it, that she had cancer and that was the reason she was walking. We just had literally a four-minute interaction with each other. I hugged her at the end of that interaction. We spoke very few words, but I knew in that moment, I had been of service to her.
I realized that my happiest moments on the Camino and the happiest moments in life have always been moments when we really get caught up in serving. As you know, all the spiritual traditions talk about that. Jesus said, “He or she who seeks to serve themselves will lose themselves, but he who seeks to serve will find themselves.” It’s an interesting irony of life that the more we get wrapped up in our own little story, the more unhappy we are. I think it’s even true for our whole society, the more we focus just on my tribe or my generation or whatever it is. When we’re caught up in something larger than ourselves …
One of the things I said in the Five Secrets book is the ironic thing about life is when we’re young, we’re told the secret to life is to find yourself, when, in fact, the real secret to life is to lose yourself in something bigger than yourself that you care about, and these wind up being the happiest moments of our lives. The thief of conceit keeps us looking in the mirror thinking that’s where happiness is, when it’s not. It’s really about getting caught up in something bigger than yourself.
Jason: I think one of the reasons I struggled as I read The Five Thieves of Happiness, Dr. Izzo, is because as a Christian, I almost felt … and somebody who believes Jesus is God … I almost felt like you were putting Jesus on the same playing field as other philosophical teachers or religious teachers. Is that how you see Jesus, or who is Jesus to you?
Dr. Izzo: First, for me, my faith is a very personal thing. I’ve been a Christian all of my life and a follower of Jesus, and I have been since I was very young and still am today. That hasn’t changed. Obviously, I wanted in this book to speak to a more universal audience, and I think it would be fair to say that Jesus gets a pretty fair shake in the book. He has a starring role. But it isn’t a book about the Christian faith, even though that’s my faith.
Jason: Yeah. I felt that.
Dr. Izzo: I speak a lot in the corporate-
Jason: I felt that. I felt you had this need to want to be all inclusive, I guess is-
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, yeah.
Jason: … what I think.
Dr. Izzo: Therefore, so that people would find themselves in there. I speak a lot in the corporate world, and one of the things that I often will have people come up to me afterwards, Christians come up and say, “You know, you didn’t say it, but thank you for preaching the word.” I’d like to think that … Saint Francis once said, “Preach always, speak when necessary.”
Jason: That’s pretty good. Let’s move on to this next thief, coveting. Talk to us about coveting.
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, coveting. This really goes back to my Christian faith. I remember in Sunday School, I would listen to the … I was always one of those kids who would think, have these debates with my Sunday School teachers, but I always thought coveting was really interesting as one of the Ten Commandments, because it’s the only one of the Ten Commandments that is an internal thought rather than an external act. Honor thy father and mother, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, these are all things you do. This is the one commandment that is an internal, Thou shalt not covet, meaning thou shalt not have in your mind this idea of envy and covet towards your neighbor.
The interesting thing is that coveting is really when we really feel that life is a contest, that our constant goal in life is to be better than, to have more Facebook likes than someone else, to be more rich than someone else rather than really being true to our gifts and who we are and also to celebrate in gratitude our own lives and also the lives of others and their success. Coveting is a very tricky thief, but very powerful, and so many of us really live our lives totally in comparison with others, and we judge our happiness by how we compare with others instead of whether we’re being true to our highest nature.
Jason: Folks, if you’re just tuning in, I want to remind you you’re listening to Episode 124. I have Dr. John Izzo on the program. His latest book is The Five Thieves of Happiness. We’re talking about these different thieves. Dr. Izzo mentioned that there is a survey, or a quiz that you can take to find out where you struggle the most with these different five thieves. Dr. Izzo, will you tell them again where they can find that?
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, just go to fivethievesbook.com. Again, spell it out, F-I-V-E, fivethievesbook.com, and you’ll find the survey right there.
Jason: On that topic of coveting in the social media world, you talk a little bit about happiness as it relates to people with social media accounts you want to talk about that just real briefly?
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, yeah, fascinating research. Turns out that for many people, when you take them off of social media, they’re actually happier than when they’re on social media. Theory is that here we are living the B-rolls of our lives, watching the A-rolls of other people’s lives, counting how many friends we have and how many likes someone else has, et cetera. It turns out that, the research shows that when people are on social media in a place of gratitude and involvement, they’re actually happier.
If I’m on Facebook, for example, looking for ways to celebrate the success of the people I’m connected to, getting involved in causes and things that I care about with others, it actually increases my happiness, but when I’m there mostly observing other people’s lives and having the coveting thief show up, it turns out it’s a great happiness robber. One of the things I say in the book is, “Every day, go out of your way to be grateful to someone else and celebrate someone you might otherwise covet.”
Jason: Dr. Izzo, thank you so much. We’re just about out of time, but I wanted to say thank you for being a guest on the program today.
Dr. Izzo: Yeah, thank you so much. I wish your guests great contentment and the inner peace that is, indeed, naturally ours.
Jason: Awesome. Thanks a lot, Dr. Izzo. This is Jason Parker, folks, until next week signing out.
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