I have been dealing with depression for 70 years now. My book, describing my own healing journey, begins with these words “I was five years old when my uncle drove me to the mental hospital.” He was taking me to see my father who had been committed to Camarillo State Mental hospital after taking an overdose of sleeping pills. My dad had become increasingly depressed because he couldn’t make a living to support his family and he believed he had to be the sole bread-winner.
My father got worse under a regimen of electroshock “therapy” and psychiatric medications. Our family was told he needed more treatment, but after being locked up for seven years, he escaped and went on a quest to find his own way to heal.
I inherited both my father’s creative spirit—we both are writers—as well as his commitment to change the way we understand and treat “mental illness.” When I became depressed as an adult, I looked for my own help and support beyond the walls of traditional psychiatric services. In a recent article, “The Hidden Cause of Depression: 5 Things Your Doctor Never Told You About,” I share a few of the things I’ve learned over the years.
My own healing journey actually began with the birth of my son, Jemal, on November 21, 1969. After a long, difficult labor, with me supporting my wife as best I could using the Lamaze childbirth breathing exercises we had learned in the birthing classes, she was finally told “it’s time” and was wheeled into the delivery room. “Mr. Diamond, you need to say goodbye and wait in the waiting room,” I was told by the attending physician. But as I went towards the waiting-room doors, I couldn’t go through them. I felt I was being called to return to my family.
In my mind I heard the words of my unborn child: I don’t want a waiting-room father. Your place is here with us. I turned around and went through the delivery room doors and took my place with my wife. When our son was born and he was handed to me I made a vow that I would be a different kind of father than my father was able to be for me and I would be commit to bringing about a different kind of world where fathers were truly healed and families remained together. I’ve been working to fulfill that commitment to my son for nearly fifty years now.
Another father who made a commitment to his son is Mohammad “Mo” Gawdat. Mo is a man who had it all. He has a degree in engineering paired with an MBA degree from Maastricht School of Management in the Netherlands. He speaks Arabic, English, and German. He is also a serial entrepreneur who has co-founded more than twenty businesses. He worked at IBM and Microsoft before joining Google in 2007 to start its business in Emerging Markets. Over a period of 6 years, Mo started close to half of Google’s operations worldwide. He was married and had a boy and girl who were his pride and joy. He reached the pinnacle at Google when he moved to Google X, where they seek to find big solutions to the world’s biggest problems.
“Since the day I started working, I have enjoyed a great deal of success, wealth, and recognition,” Mo says. “Yet through it all, I was constantly unhappy. Mo finally hit bottom in 2001. “The relentless pace and the emptiness had led me into a very dark place. At that point I knew I couldn’t go on ignoring the problem. This pushy, unhappy person staring back at me in the mirror wasn’t really me and I was tired of trudging along in this tired, miserable, aggressive-looking guy’s shoes.”
He didn’t go to a psychiatrist or get a prescription for anti-depressants. He did something rather unusual. “I decided to take on my unhappiness as a challenge. I would apply my geek’s approach to self-study, along with my engineer’s analytic mind, to digging my own way out.” It took Mo nearly a decade to discover the answer. “By 2010 I’d developed an equation and a well-engineered, simple, and replicable model of happiness and how to sustain it that fit together perfectly.”
Now, Mo really was on top of the world, not because he had wealth, power, and a great job, but because he had found the secret for curing depression and finding lasting happiness and joy. But life can bring tragedy as well as glory and Mo’s great tragedy came in 2014 when his 21-year-old son, Ali, came home for a visit. “Four days after he arrived,” Mo remembers, “Ali suffered an acute belly pain and was admitted to a local hospital where the doctors prescribed a routine appendectomy.”
As a parent I can feel the horror as Mo recounts what happened next:
“When Ali was on the operating table, a syringe was inserted to blow in carbon dioxide to expand his abdominal cavity and clear space for the rest of the procedure. But the needle was pushed just a few millimeters too far, puncturing Ali’s femoral artery. Then things went from bad to worse. Precious moments slipped by before anyone even realized the blunder, and then a series of additional mistakes were made with fatal consequences. Within a few hours, my beloved son was gone.”
I can imagine how I would react after such a tragedy. I would blame myself, rage at the doctors, at the world, at God. I would slip back into depression and might never come out of it. But that’s not what happened to Mo. The love he felt for his son and his son’s love for him sustained him. What he had learned about happiness stood up, even in the face of an unthinkable loss.
In the days following Ali’s passing, as Mo and his family dealt with their grief, he remembers thinking that he desperately wanted to talk with his son. “Ali, how do I handle losing you?” even though I knew the answer. He would say, Khalas ya papa—It’s over, Dad—I’ve already died. There is nothing you can do to change that, so make the best of it.
How does one make the best of the death of a beloved son? Again, Mo did something extraordinary, he began to write. “Seventeen days after his death, I decided to follow Ali’s advice and do something positive, to try to share our model of happiness with all of those who are needlessly suffering around the world. Four and a half months later I raised my head. I had a first draft of a book.”
I’ve been reading Mo’s book, Solve for Happy: Engineer Your Path to Joy, and feel it’s a book that can truly change the world. Mo, as you can imagine, thinks big. The book was released to the world in March, 2017 and he had an outrageous goal: “To help ten million people become happier, a movement that I ask you to join so that together we can create a small-scale global pandemic of Ali-style joy.”
Think what the world would be like if there were ten million more happy people walking around sharing their joy and love. Happy people don’t abuse others. They aren’t angry and depressed. They aren’t prone to violence, and they don’t start wars.
Although the wisdom contained in Solve for Happy is applicable to men and women, I think it will particularly resonate with males. “There is a solid engineering model that you can apply every time you feel unhappy, so you can get back to your default setting of happiness.”
The book resonates with people all over the world and has already been translated into 28 languages. “Within months, the 10-million-happy mission was overachieved,” Mo says, “The team working with me on the mission decided to take the target up a notch. They pushed me a little. We ended up with one billion happy.”
The only way this movement will succeed is if those who learn about it and benefit will share it with others. “My mission is not about my model,” says Mo, “which may work for some but not for others. It is about making people happy! For those my model does not resonate with, I am hopeful that partnerships with those who know a different way would get the mission further.”
Take two minutes to listen to Mo share how we can reach a billion people with this message: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NoXfot9qAmU