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Book Review: The Happiness Choice

Author Marilyn Tam Provides Insights into Ways to Cultivate Happiness


Sometimes it seems as though happiness in life and success in business are mutually exclusive. However, in her book The Happiness Choice Marilyn Tam describes how success in both is not only possible but a necessity. As a person who overcame childhood adversity and went on to become the CEO of Aveda Corp, the president of Reebok Apparel and Retail Group, and vice president of Nike Inc., Tam provides insights into the best ways to cultivate happiness.

While full of information and containing exercises to complete at the end of each chapter, the book is also entertaining and easy to read. Tam uses the examples and experiences of real people, such as Jack Canfield, to illustrate the precepts that lead to happiness. She also brings in statistics, scientific research, and practices from different cultures and religions to illustrate the ways to lead a meaningful life.

Tam herself had to learn how to find happiness. She was the second daughter in a traditional Chinese family living in Hong Kong. In her book, she wrote, “To say that I was unwanted would be an understatement — my mother left me in the hospital and had to be called to pick me up.” Tam said that one of her friends once said, “It’s a wonder, a miracle, that you aren’t an alcoholic bag lady.”

She said that her book was written under the premise that adversity doesn’t define people. “Happiness is a choice. We have a chance to change what happens next,” she explained. “Understanding that we all have a choice. That’s our happiness choice.”

One of the first chapters in the book had to do with finding your life purpose. Tam describes how her friend, Joan Borysenko, a world-renowned expert in the mind/body connection, discovered her life’s purpose at 10 years old. After seeing a horror movie, she became obsessive/compulsive and engaged in ritualistic behaviors. When she realized that these activities would stop her from doing the things she enjoyed, she prayed and reflected to find peace. She ended up experiencing a profound spiritual phenomenon. Tam writes, “It became Joan’s life mission to understand and develop that deep sense of stillness, wellness, and love and to share it with others.” Borysenko went on to have a successful career in cell biology, biofeedback, and cancer research, but, eventually, embarked on the path she had found at 10. She is now an expert in the connection between the mind and body, and the spiritual dimensions of life as an integral part of health and healing.

While Borysenko experienced her epiphany at 10, for others this journey may be a longer one. Tam provides practical suggestions for defining your life’s purpose. “You may not be completely clear on your life purpose and what makes you happy. Keep leaning into it. Ask yourself why a particular situation is developing the way it is. What can you learn? Are you moving closer or further away from what you want? Like a sunflower that always grows facing the sun, are you turning toward what gives you energy and life, or are you moving away.”

Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of happiness. Tam talks about relationships, diet and exercise, our perceptions of money, and spiritual well being, among other things. However, she said that successful relationships are essential to happiness. There was a pivotal moment in Tam’s life when she recognized that she wasn’t putting relationships first. Her sister called to say that she was going to visit her for Christmas and Tam said she was too tired to celebrate the holiday. “I realized that my priorities were out of whack.” She added, “I had to realign myself … shift my consciousness. It encouraged me to dig deeper.”

As a high-powered executive, she was often away from her family, but she incorporated them into what she was doing by calling them, updating them on her schedule, sending cards, and in other ways making sure they knew they were important. “The most important things are your family and your relationships,” she writes.

According to Tam, happiness in business also comes from blending monetary success with helping humanity. She uses the example of Santa Barbaran Howard Schiffer, a successful businessperson who one day realized that he was not fulfilled. He had been involved in prenatal education and the natural health industry and worked as an entrepreneur but wanted to give back in a substantial way. He eventually used his diverse experiences to launch Vitamin Angels, a company that supplies micronutrient supplements to malnourished and undernourished children throughout the world. Tam said, “It’s not just about working hard; it’s about making a difference.”

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