Known for his breezy demeanor and infectious smile, Dr. Ian Smith has made it very clear over the years that he’s serious about helping people get healthy in the smartest way possible. With his new book Happy, Dr. Smith (or Dr. Ian as he is affectionately known to the masses) gets to the root of a lot of physical health issues by helping us examine exactly what brings joy to our lives. The biggest part of this process is self-help, and Happy has plenty of room for you to evaluate your own circumstances as you take in his advice.
An accompished author, educator and public spokesperson for various movements, Dr. Ian is the creator of the successful ongoing 50 Million Pound Challenge, and has recently taken on the cause of Sickle Cell awareness [see NYC invite below for his big event on June 19!]. Dr. Ian’s seven-season stint on VH1′s Celebrity Fit Club made him a household name, while Happy marks the seventh addition to a string of life-changing books that everyone can take home.
Dr. Ian took some time out of his hectic schedule to speak with UrbLife.com about ways to find happiness at work, the importance of optimism, and why celebrities might have a harder time finding joy than the rest of us.
In the “Happy at Work” chapter of Happy. you mention that people should do things that bring them satisfaction rather than working for a paycheck. But in this recession, a lot of people have been forced into taking jobs that may not even be in their field, or they have gone back to school because they couldn’t find a job. What are some alternate ways to find happiness if you have to work a job that you really hate just to get a check?
Dr. Ian Smith: One thing is to figure out where your happiness is outside of work. One problem is people don’t really focus on the things that they enjoy. Sometimes you do a job just to get a check, but what do you enjoy outside of that? Going out dancing, gardening, painting, writing, going to a poetry slam… people have to find things that they truly enjoy.
But more than that, they have to find things that they’re engaged in. Happiness is not just about whether something brings pleasure, but whether or not you’re engaged in it. A lot of things can bring you pleasure, but pleasure can be very short-term. You need something where you feel fully engaged in the activity.
Do you think optimism plays a role in doing a job that you may not fit with your life?
IS: Absolutely! Optimism is huge, because even when things aren’t as great as you want them to be, it allows you to realize things will get better and to keep a positive perspective about it. That’s why optimism is so critical.
I dedicate a whole chapter ["The Silver Lining"] to learning to be optimistic, because it’s almost like we’re back in slavery. Slaves were some of the most optimistic people to ever exist, because even though they saw no light at the end of the tunnel realistically, they were hopeful that day [of freedom] would happen, and it was that belief that things would be better that allowed them to endure the circumstances they were facing.
Looking at [programs] like The Secret that say whatever you believe and think will come to you if you just focus on it… at what point does optimism become unrealistic?
IS: Optimism becomes unrealistic when you think that’s all it will take to change a situation. It’s unrealistic to think you’re going to become president of the United States, or that if you’re the receptionist you’ll be the CEO of a company within a year. It’s not gonna happen, but it doesn’t mean you can’t still want it. It’s about being realistic about how that’s going to happen and what time frame it’s going to happen in.
We see you on Celebrity Fit Club, and you’re often advising different celebrities about their lifestyle. Is there a consistency with more famous people for what gives them happiness or takes away from their happiness?
IS: I think what happens with a lot of celebrities is they attach their happiness to the wrong things, like their next movie role or how popular they are. They attach their happiness to these external validations, and because of that these things are typically not in their control. What happens is they’re disappointed when they don’t get that next movie role, or when having a long period in between movie roles.
They get dejected and disappointed, because that’s been the source of their happiness; when in reality if they focus on something they could control, they would find much more happiness and pleasure out of life. One of the things I noticed on Celebrity Fit Club is these guys are really depressed, which led to them overeating and being overweight, because it’s all about their career.
How bad would you say apathy is as opposed to negativity or depression?
IS: It’s not one or the other, I think it’s a combination of the two, and people need to spend more time focusing on what it is that makes them feel that what they’re doing is meaningful. People don’t choose things that are meaningful and engaging. That’s why I’ve try to give my definitions of pleasure and happiness [in the book], because people attach it to a handbag or a car.
You have worksheets in your book where you ask people to physically write down things that make them happy. How important do you think it is for people to write down their thoughts like this?
IS: I set the book up that way because, unfortunately, too often people often wind up reading a book and not going through the exercises. The value of the book is that it helps you focus on figuring out what makes you happy and the things that are important. One exercise I love is to form what’s called an Importance List. A lot of people don’t realize what’s most important to them, so I say ‘name five things that are most important to you’.
People typically get to three things and start stumbling at four and five, because they don’t think about these kinds of things. I think the exercises throughout the book are important, because the process of thinking and translating that thinking into something on paper is therapeutic in a way, and it helps you to better identify some of these answers.
What’s coming next for you as an author, and do you think you’ll be able to take things to the next level with more books about happiness and the psychology of dealing with life better?
IS: This is my seventh book, and I think it’s the most important book because it will resonate with everyone. I hope to go from here and do a book that examines how to increase the fullness of your life, and what are some of the simple things you can do to make life more meaningful rather than going through the motions. I’m trying to get people to realize and accept what the true value of life is.
Update us on the 50 Million Pound Challenge and how that’s been going.
IS: It’s going great, we’ve got about 1.8 million people registered, we’ve lost about 5.5 million pounds right now, and the success stories are rampant. We have people who have lost over 120 pounds, people who have come off of diabetes and high blood pressure medications, people have not only lost weight, but they’ve changed their health risk profile which is something else that I was very interested in doing.
You set that up in a community way, where people on the site work in groups to help each other.
IS: Absolutely, the way it works is that we have 50,000 teams on our website. You can either start your own team or join a team. One of the lessons we’ve learned about weight loss is that people are most successful when they have some kind of community support. You don’t have to take it, but if you want to find a supportive environment the 50 Million Pound Challenge can give you that easily.
As far as Celebrity Fit Club and other ventures are concerned, what do you have coming up?
IS: We just finished Season 7 of Celebrity Fit Club, and we don’t know if they’re going to pick us up for an eighth season, so we’re waiting to hear. I have a couple of radio opportunities that have been offered to me, I’ve never thought of doing my own radio show but it’s been offered to me. I also have a reality webisode show that I’m looking at setting up.
Get Healthy! Join the 50 Million Pound Challenge at 50MillionPounds.com
If you are in New York on Saturday, June 19, 2010 please join Dr. Ian Smith for his “Be Sickle Cell Smart” event! Here are the details – just click to enlarge the image!