Okay, so I don’t actually drink coffee, but you can have a cup while you read! Sit down and find out the “why” behind my writing the book.
- I feel like I’m pretty happy, yet your book emphasizes finding authentic joy, stressing joy over happiness. As long as I feel happy, what’s the difference?
I am not here to question your happiness. Or judge that mine is greater than yours. My purpose for writing this book was to make people rethink what happiness is. In a sense, happiness is a feeling, but joy is more of a mindset. Or a more authentic recognition of who we are as persons. The interesting truth is that we are rational beings made up of body and soul created for happiness. This is my favorite definition of a person. So we need to take care of both our bodies and our souls. To neglect either is to tread down a path that leads to a lack of peace and joy in our lives.
- The main character in this story is Cleveland, or “Cleve.” Is that a code name for Doug Kisgen? Is this really just your story, and if not, how much of your own story did you use to develop this character?
Ha. No. Not at all. One definition of Camino means “the way” in Spanish. He’s essentially showing Cleveland the way toward authentic joy. It’s not only about having a purpose or a why, it’s also about striving toward virtue, understanding what sacrifice really means and then nourishing our souls and not just our bodies. Of course, there is a little bit of me in Cleveland. But I would like to think there’s a little bit of Camino in me, too. And Cindy is not a code name for my wife either. It’s a purely fictional account of combining the stories of many of the entrepreneurs I have met and worked with over the years.
- Your bio claims you’re a “serial entrepreneur.” For those not familiar with the term, what does it mean, and what qualifies you as one?
Honestly, I think it’s probably overused. The gist of a serial entrepreneur is someone who has built more than one successful business. I have been fortunate enough to form I think four corporations in my life and they have all been successful in their own way. Mostly, it’s a result of my insatiable desire to start things that make a difference. And I suppose since I have been a franchise owner in almost all of them, some could argue I am only a serial business owner rather than an entrepreneur. Mostly, though, I just try to do what I think I am supposed to do. I used to base it solely on me. And now I do my best to pray about it, seek spiritual direction about it and of course talk to my wife and children about it, too.
- In Chapter 23 of your book, Rethink Happy, your character Camino suggests Cleve “make it uneven” when it comes to showing his wife love. Do you practice what you preach in your relationship with your wife? If so, how–give us some real life examples.
Whoa. I guess you should ask her. Ha. Everything I mention in Rethink Happy doesn’t translate to principles I have perfected, but more concepts I know to be true in order to be happier. But virtues, and really all the authentic principles to being happier, are a constant challenge. We don’t ever perfect them. This can be frustrating, but also encouraging, once you start. I had several successful entrepreneurs read the book prior to it being published. One of them, when I called him to receive feedback said almost right off the bat, “Well, last night my wife went to bed a little early and left dishes in the sink.” And then he paused for a bit and said, “So I went ahead and washed them. Which I never do.” This was his way of saying the book had made an impact. And at the end of the day, this is what I hope for–that some example or principle causes readers to take positive action. If people read it and then put it back on the shelf without doing anything I will have failed.
As far as real life examples, I typically try to do at least one small thing every day for my wife without her realizing I did anything special. This suggestion was given to me in spiritual direction years ago. So it may be getting her a glass of ice water without being asked, or changing the laundry or making the bed before she does or helping get the kids’ lunches together, which is something she usually does. The biggest key I have found to this is that it doesn’t have to be a big thing. Lots of little things often add up to a much bigger thing. Bringing a beautiful bouquet of flowers home is a great thing to do sometimes, but it’s not sustainable. The little things are. And sometimes they are harder. When there is a project I want to get back to or a game I want to watch and I see dishes in the sink, it’s much harder to stop and rinse them and put them in the dishwasher than it is to stop and grab flowers on my way home.
- You’ve got five kids. Some would say that’s a lot. What are your relationships with your kids like, and what advice would you give to the character Cleve in your book? How have you applied some of your own books’ principles to your relationship with your kids?
Well, first of all, almost all of the people my wife and I hang out with have more than five children. Kate and I have been open to more, but it just hasn’t panned out. My wife and I were Family-Teachers at Boys Town when we were starting our family. So we lived with 8 at-risk boys. It was incredibly difficult at first, but then it became a wonderful experience where we were able to work together and learn how to be good parents to teenagers. I would say candidly that I have ebbed and flowed in my parenting skill. And I haven’t always paid as much appropriate attention to my kids as I should have. So I am a little like Cleve in this regard. But fortunately, I never went through a phase quite as bad as he did. For instance, I’ve never stopped by the bar regularly or shirked my duty as a father. The only slight caveat to this is having a business that requires travel. But all those hours on a plane are part of the reason I could complete this book. A little absence makes the heart grow fonder. But if there was one simple principle I need to constantly work on that is so important it’s this: quality attention. Really listening. It’s probably the biggest gripe from my entire family. I have a real issue with focus. My mind wanders. And I know it’s annoying. It communicates that I don’t care. When I actually do. Very much.
I make it a point to engage in one-on-one conversations with all my kids. When I’m not on the road, I take my kids to school every day. I don’t allow headphones or music to be played so we can have a good conversation on the way, where we can talk about deeper issues. Of course, this doesn’t happen every time, but often it does. In fact, on the way to school the other day, we talked about presidential candidates and how to look up what they stand for in order to make an informed decision about who to support.
- Camino says, “Avoiding nourishment for our souls is the fastest way to invite a lack of peace and joy into our lives.” What does he mean by this?
The minute we think of ourselves as bodies only we are immediately short-changing our ability to live with joy. We have instincts. We know what pleases us, bodily. But do we recognize how important it is to nourish our souls? Many don’t. I heard a sermon once where the preacher said we are not bodies with souls, but souls with bodies. Our soul should come first. What does this look like? It means meditation, prayer and time to think. Time to connect with a higher power. Thinking of others first. And in order to do this, we have to put ourselves on the back burner. Yet today this is rarely the message. It’s all about immediate self-gratification. And this leads to short-term pleasure but never to long-term, sustaining joy.
- Your bio also says you are a personality expert. How so, and how did your experience in this area help you write this book? What type of personality does Cleve have?
I have been a Culture Index licensee for over five years. I believe it’s the best program available for businesses to assess their talent. I’ve cut my teeth working with businesses from many different industries in 15 states (plus D.C.) and my mentor is one of the longest living practitioners in this space. Because of my background in applied behavioral psychology, I definitely applied certain personality traits to all the characters in the book. This helped quite a bit. Cleve is certainly a tenacious guy. He’s naturally selfish, with some social ability, cleverness and solid follow through when it’s something he wants to do. But these traits have the potential to produce a guy who is egocentric or, with the addition of a strong moral compass, a guy who can make a huge positive impact on all those around him. This is the transformation I attempted to show the beginnings of in the book.
- In your bio at the back of your book, it says you “desire to help others operate at the highest level possible.” What do you mean by this and how did that desire lead to writing Rethink Happy?
Well, I meant this in several ways. I already have been doing this via the Culture Index program. The principles of Rethink Happy allow me to kick this up a notch for those who want to travel an even more successful path. In essence, I mean success measured not only in worldly terms but also in more soulful terms. There are many ways to continue to engage with the Rethink Happy Movement beyond the book. You can find links to our blog and other great resources at rethinkhappy.com. I also take on a limited number of clients one-on-one. I am maxed out right now, but happy to put people on a waiting list if they qualify.
- How does your spiritual direction and doctrinal formation affect Camino and Cleve?
I have been incredibly blessed in this regard. Every successful Olympic athlete has or had a great coach. Becoming an Olympic level spiritual person requires direction from someone whose knowledge and path you want to emulate. I was blessed to find a spiritual director about seven or so years ago. And while I still have a long way to go, I do have a much better understanding of prayer and virtue and the meaning of suffering. There is nothing more important on this earth than working on our spiritual life. So, of course, there are some principles around this that I included in the book. I tried very hard not to be preachy or one-size-fits-all, but there are universal truths we can all know and learn to help us on our spiritual journey. There is solid research and in many cases thousands of years of history behind the spiritual-oriented information presented in Rethink Happy.
- So, have people been taking action after reading your book?
Yes, they have. And this is the most gratifying part about the whole process. I shared the book with some of my clients. And I was talking to one of them over the phone and he said his wife had gone to bed early and there were dishes in the sink. And then he paused for a minute. And I just waited, kind of wondering what was going on. And then he said, “Yeah, I went ahead and washed them. I would never have done this if I hadn’t just read your book.” Which is pretty funny. I have another entrepreneur peer who has added a few more rituals into his family’s routines as a result of reading the book. So it’s been humbling and exciting for me to hear these stories.
- Why did you write Rethink Happy?
I have been a small business owner for many years. And through my membership in the Entrepreneurs’ Organization and my consulting practice, I have met countless entrepreneurs. Virtually all of them are well off financially. But few of them are truly happy. And, candidly, I was among this “many.” So I went in search of books that could help me experience more joy in my life.
I found some good business books. And some excellent books on happiness that were very spiritual. Which is fine. But there weren’t any decent books that were sort of in-between. I have since found a few but at the time I thought I was entering into unchartered territory. Plus I have always loved the fable format. So I essentially wrote a fictional story about a guy who seemingly has everything he could want and yet isn’t truly happy. An apparent chance encounter with a guy who then becomes his mentor begins a journey toward what I refer to as authentic joy.
The book combines some new school positive psychology science with old school philosophy. Ultimately I want people to enjoy the engaging nature of the book, but also be inspired to take positive action after reading it.
- Your book talks a lot about willpower, and Camino suggests there is a very important battle that takes place at the beginning of every day for every person. What is that battle, and how does willpower come into play?
It’s interesting. There are two main aspects of our being that are on a completely different plane from all other animals. Our intellect, and our will. How we think and imagine and remember is unique. And how we can choose something against our basic instincts is quite unique as well.
For instance, eating is instinctual. And choosing what tastes good is instinctual. But our intellect informs us that eating 5 bowls of ice cream is likely not good for us. And if we are in control of our will, then we either choose not to eat all five and instead only eat one. Or none. I have read extensively on the will. And it’s a muscle. It needs to be exercised and over time it can grow stronger or weaker depending on many variables.
One variable is getting off to a good start. And so it may seem a bit trite, but when is the first battle of your will? For most of us, it’s the alarm clock. How many times do you hit the snooze button? In the book, I mention this and Camino suggests to Cleve that he immediately get up as soon as the alarm clock goes off. In a sense, you have scheduled an appointment with yourself to get out of bed. The act of delaying this sends messages to your brain that it’s okay to not do what you say you’re going to do. But if you start off your day by accepting that appointment, you have won the first battle of the will and this can spur you onto win more throughout the day.
Another interesting story that has been circulated is how Steve Jobs (and many other successful entrepreneurs) chose to wear the same or similar outfits every day to cut down on decision fatigue. There have been several studies that show our will is susceptible to getting run down the more decisions we have to make.
- In Chapter 31, Camino takes Cleve on an interesting field trip. What is the significance of asking a complete stranger to share food with them-what exactly do you want the reader to get from this scene?
First of all, I would like to share that the characters that enter the book at this point are real. They exist, although the names have been changed of course. And they certainly wouldn’t allow a stranger to go door-to-door with them. So there are some clear fictional elements to the story. But the moral is this: we think to be happy we have to have more stuff. More money. More clothes. The coolest cars. And this couldn’t be further from the truth. Some of the happiest people on earth have very little. First of all, there have been conclusive studies that have shown that past $75k a year in salary there is zero difference in happiness. Secondly, a part of joy is expectations and needs. If I expect my spouse to be a certain way or do a certain thing and he or she doesn’t, I am likely to be disappointed. If I need, or believe I need, something and don’t get it or don’t achieve it, I am likely disappointed.
This is why some of the most content and most at-peace people are those who recognize that if they can become detached from “stuff” they can better control their joy. They realize stuff does not equate to happiness. And in the book, Cleve is shocked to meet people who live a life of poverty but who are as happy as anyone he’s ever met. I had this exact same experience in exactly the same way as he did when I met these sisters in person. It was an incredibly impactful experience.
- Your character Camino makes this statement in Chapter 34: “It’s hard to learn what really matters until you give up a few things you think do matter, but really don’t. What does he mean by this, and what do you hope the reader learns from this statement?
Charitable giving is a good thing. We should share the blessings we’ve been given. But charitable giving by itself rarely changes someone. We are typically too removed from what the money is being used for. And for many of the people I hang around it’s easy to cut a check or two, but it’s typically far more difficult to make a sacrifice that affects me personally. Again, it doesn’t have to be big. And in some ways it’s better if it’s not. The bigger the sacrifice the more noticeable it is. And in this regard we ideally want our sacrificing to be personal.
So for instance, we may think we have to have beer with pizza or ketchup with fries or we think we have to rent a nice car when we travel by ourselves or that we deserve to watch the game on TV tonight instead of play with our kids or listen attentively to our spouses. It’s easy to think all these things matter. And sometimes the only way to prove they don’t is to eliminate them for a time.
For example, I have always eaten breakfast, and I thought I would rather die than skip breakfast. I’ve been experimenting with skipping it based on some research. But after 3 weeks of doing it, my body has pretty much figured out the new pattern and it’s not so bad.
- Is there a sequel coming–does Cleve really have more to learn? If so, do we get a sneak peek at what lessons it might contain?
Great question. The plan from the beginning was for Rethink Happy to be a trilogy. We already have the outline for the next two. And we’ve already determined the ultimate punch-line ending if you will. But that’s about it. In reality, the journey toward authentic joy is never-ending. So there is always something that can be learned and understood. So who knows, there may be more beyond the trilogy? In terms of what you will likely see: there will be more discussed about virtue and vice as well as common pitfalls and temptations that can veer us off the path toward joy and peace. But you will have to stay tuned to find out the details.
For ways to put these ideas into practice, check out Doug’s book, Rethink Happy: An Entrepreneur’s Journey Toward Authentic Joy, available now as an e-book or in paperback!