Almost a decade into a great career with Reuters, promotions, holidays around the world with a beautiful wife, and relocation to a place in the sun, I was deeply unhappy. Then things got worse. My marriage was dead and divorce loomed its ugly head. I started drinking, partying, sleazing - all heavily. I was caught between alcoholism and the pretensions of a playboy. Then things got worse. One afternoon I had a near-fatal bike accident, which resulted in an eight hour operation to reconstruct my face, and a year of follow up surgery. I no longer recognised myself. I couldn’t understand who I was or what I was doing. I took months off work, lost my ability to plan and prioritise, and became a case study for both Obsessive Compulsive and Post Traumatic Stress disorders. I became the psychology patient with four therapists. I made a full recovery, learned a lot about managing anxiety, but it didn’t teach me much about happiness. I was still unhappy, or numb. I decided to go on a journey to escape my apartment, my city, my job, and so I went, alone, on a three-month drive around the remotest parts of outback Australia. I moved into a penthouse apartment next to Sydney Harbour Bridge, ate out in the best restaurants, and you got it, it didn’t teach me much about happiness. I had the ultimate bachelor lifestyle. I was living the dream, but I wanted to wake up. All my experiences had one thing in common: I could take momentary pleasure from them but they didn’t make me happy. I had learned, at least, what didn’t make me happy, but what was I missing?
In 2001, I had stumbled on a dark-green book in my parent’s bookshelf on their farm in Cornwall. Age had frayed and worn the book’s spine, where the once golden, now darkened letters read: ‘Self Control And How to Secure It, by Paul Dubois.’ I took that book from the farm that day, and it has remained in my possession ever since. But I didn’t start reading it until about ten years later when I stumbled on it again. The book did not directly teach me about happiness, but it did provide me with a lot of clues to where I could learn about happiness. The book taught me that it’s how, not what, that is most important to happiness. Dubois also made references to books, which he said were guides to the innermost workings of the human soul. So I got started on his reading list. I read the old, and I mean really old, beginning with the writings of Seneca. Seneca was my real happiness game-changer and I acknowledge his influence by opening every chapter with a quote of Seneca wisdom. Next on the reading list was the slave Epictetus’s manual, and Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. While these ancient books still had relevant advice on how to be happy, my reading list needed updating to include the latest findings from psychologists, and bestselling authors in the field of happiness, on the off chance that someone had something new to say about happiness in the last two thousand years.
OK Jelbert, so you’ve written the book on how to exercise happiness but do you practice what you preach, and are you happy?
I think the most important credential I have is that I am happy. The second most important credential is that what I have written in this book has worked for me personally. Before I was able to help anyone else I had to help myself. Writing this book was the most logical way for me to create a reference guide for my own happiness. I immediately knew that it was my responsibility to share the benefits of moralive® with as many people as possible. I knew I could help my family and friends, if only I could explain to them in a concise, easy-to-understand way, what had worked so well for me. But I also knew I wanted to reach as many people as possible, and I couldn’t wait until I had finished writing this book so I started advertising and providing personal training for happiness sessions in Australia, the UK and the USA, and set up the The Happiness Animal Facebook page to promote the benefits of the book to a global audience. The page launched in July 2012, and has since been an invaluable and interactive testing ground for ideas that appear in The Happiness Animal, with feedback received from tens of thousands of people around the world.