Carlsbad-based self-help guru Deepak Chopra ponders the annual pinnacle for people immersed in self-improvement — New Year's Day. The prolific author's latest book, "The Soul of Leadership: Unlocking Your Potential for Greatness," hits bookshelves Tuesday.
Do you participate in the annual ritual of taking stock at the new year?
I take stock every three or four months. Every four months or so, I take a week off to be in total silence, to look back and see what I should be looking at in the future. For me, it would be a quarterly ritual.
What do you think of New Year's resolutions?
I think no one ever keeps them, so a while ago I started saying, my New Year's resolution is no resolution. Because everybody joins the gym and they stop going after three weeks; everybody goes on a diet, but they never keep the diets. So I don't think much of New Year's resolutions.
Do you think there's a way for people to make their resolutions stick?
Yes. I think if they go beyond motivation and find true inspiration, then the resolutions will stick. So for me it's to go to a deeper level, and that's why I place so much importance on this idea of silence. I'm not saying everybody should do it, but even if you took five, 10 minutes of quiet time every day or every other day or once a week and asked yourself simple questions like, who am I? What do I want? What is my life's purpose? Is there a contribution I can make to my community or to society? What kind of relationships do I want to have? What is my idea of well being, and how can I achieve it?
I don't ask that you even know the answers, but if you start to do this kind of reflection, it has a very interesting way of not only moving you to the answers but of changing your behavior. So instead of saying, I'm going to have all this willpower, and I'm going to try so hard, which is all mental fatigue, reflective self-inquiry spontaneously leads to change.
What do you find people most want at the new year?
What people most want is happiness. The ultimate goal of all goals is happiness. No matter what they want, they want [it] because they think that in the end it will make them happy. And so, if you look at all the research on happiness, it shows the following things: Happy people always look for opportunities where others are seeing crisis. Happy people have meaning and purpose in their life. Happy people are creative, and happy people know how to make other people happy. They're very good at building relationships, not networking but building authentic relationships. So when you build authentic relationships, you end up also being successful, because authentic relationships are cooperative relationships where you harness your collective creative and where you find opportunity. Happiness does not necessarily come from material success, so if you win the lottery today, at the end of one year you'll be as unhappy as you were before you won the lottery because you return to who are you are in your essential state.
On a macro scale, your new book, "The Soul of Leadership," prescribes ways to be a good leader. Do you think this is a particularly bad time for leadership, and is improving ours a resolution perhaps the country should make?
It is a particularly bad time for leadership in this country, because we have been spoiled. I was at a private function the other day where President Clinton happened to be there. And he said that in a post-recession, there are more job postings in the country than ever before. And yet we cannot fill them because we're not qualified anymore. Manufacturing goods or providing services or providing infrastructure are going to other countries. Even [for] the blue-collar jobs now we depend on immigrants we don't want otherwise.
And that's because we took things for granted. We built an economy based on speculation; we built a psychology that said spend money that you have not earned to buy things you do not need to impress people you do not like. So the economy falls apart. It's based on a false premise, that you can get something for nothing. The society is built on instant gratification. We want everything in the short term. We elect a leader, we expect him to change things quickly, in less than two years, and then the rest of the two years the poor guy has to worry about getting reelected, so when does he get to do his job?