The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (& World Peace) with Chade-Meng Tan

Chade-Meng Tan is Google’s Jolly Good Fellow and author of New York Times bestseller, Search Inside Yourself.





CHADE-MENG TAN: Thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. When I’m in a bigger room I need to bow to five directions. So I only do three so I’m like 40% more efficient than usual. So my name is Meng. I’m the “Jolly Good Fellow” of Google. It says so on my business card. And as usually I start, I said everything in my life start as a joke. So thing start as a joke as well, which is the highest ranking engineer in Google is called a Google fellow. And I made a joke. I was like, “Why be a Google fellow when you can be a jolly good fellow.” And then, yeah, and it stuck. I sent this for printing and then, and there on the front page of The New York Times and there was, there I was.

I also have the coolest job title-sorry, the coolest job description in corporate America. My job description is this: it’s to enlighten minds, open hearts, create world peace. Thank you. That’s all. That’s all I do. I’m also a fellow philanthropist. I mean I’m kind of a small-time philanthropist. I’m not, I’m not rich like you. But, so it started, yeah-can I make a joke about. Okay. You might throw me out. I’m a small time. I’m not like a Rockefeller. I’m like, I’m not even a Stonefeller. I’m like, I’m like grain of, Grain-of-sand-o-feller.

Okay, yes, careful there. It started, my… journey as a philanthropist started when I joined this small company. And then one day this company in 2004 it went public.

So, the night before I went to sleep. I woke up in the morning I was rich. So it turns out Mom was right. You get enough sleep it makes you healthy and wealthy. So I got enough sleep, I woke up, I was rich. And the difference between you and me is that I don’t deserve the money. I mean you guys work hard, you’re smart, and you make good decision. I’m just lucky. I joined a startup and I became rich. So I decided the only way I can deserve the, the wealth is to do it retroactively, and to do it retroactively by giving most of my money away. So literally the very first that happened when on that, on IPO day, truly the very first thing I did with money was to give it a, give some of it away, a tiny bit. I made a small donation and the organization gave me a T-shirt. And then later on when I had more money I gave $1,000,000 to this organization, Stanford Center for Compassion.

And the reason, there are two reasons. The first reason was because this was a center that was-, the first center in a major university that was studying compassion as a scientific subject. This is very cool. And, the Dalai Lama at that time give his entire, I mean give all his money away to this organization. So the Dalai Lama has his own money. I mean he has Tibetan funds and he has his own money, his personal money. And the Dalai Lama give all of it, $150,000 to them. And I was like his holiness give all his money. I should give $1,000,000, right. So I give them $1,000,000 and they give me a T-shirt. It was the most expensive T-shirt I ever got. I’m sure they gave the Dalai Lama a T-shirt as well. When I became a philanthropist I, I discovered two things about being a philanthropist and I suspect it’s a common, it’s a very common experience.

The first thing I found out is that I say no a lot. I spend a lot of time saying no to people. The second thing is even when I say yes I’m always thinking, “I’m not doing enough.” So, I always feel that I’m letting somebody down all the time, right. There is however, and in addition to that if you look at the bigger picture there is a big picture problem, which is first a good thing. The good thing is that philanthropy, in my opinion, philanthropy is based on compassion. That’s a good thing. There is one issue, which is compassion can very easily lead to compassion fatigue, right. So how do you solve that problem? In my opinion the, the solution is to make compassion a joyful activity. If it’s joyful then you will not be too fatigued. Question is how.

But first before we talk about how I want to show you extreme example of what it looks like to, to have, to have compassion as a joyful activity. There’s this guy. He is the happiest man in the world. And his name is Matthieu Ricard, the guy… who’s not me. The other guy. Happiest man in the world. So the question, how do you get a title of “happiest man in the world” It turns out you can measure happiness in the brain. And if you measure happiness in the brain if from a scale of like zero being neutral and a positive number being unhappy, negative being happy, I don’t know why. So on that scale -0.3 is something, is described as beatic, beatic as in extremely happy. Matthieu is -0.45, just beyond the scale. So the very first time that with Matthieu was the very first person with 10,000 hours of meditation training who went into a FMI to get his brain measured.

He was meditating on compassion. You, you saw that spike in happiness and everything else. And the experiments, they look at the data. They say there’s only one conclusion from the data, very obvious, which is there’s something wrong with the machinery. So, they took him out and said, “Sorry, Matthieu. There’s a problem with the machine. We need to recalibrate.” So they took him out. They recalibrate and so on, put him back in, same result. And it turns out other monks with more than 10,000 hours of, of meditation training, same experience-I mean same, same data. So it turns out that with enough training you can make compassion a joyful activity. That’s the first thing. And, you can push it to extreme happiness. You can make compassion the happiest experience in the world, which is demonstrated by these guys. So, how to do that.

They way to do that, in my opinion, is to build compassion on the foundation of inner joy. In other words, the only way to sustain compassion is with inner joy. And inner joy here refers to, refers to the ability to bring up joy, which is independent of sense input-oh, sorry-sense pleasure and ego pleasure. So sense pleasure we know. Ego pleasure are like, “I’m… good. People love me.” “I’m successful.” Right, that, that’s your ego. So there’s a joy, or rather there’s a ability to bring up joy on demand independent of this. And that ability sustains compassion. And compassion multiplies that joy. So that’s a prerequisite. Question: how to do that? The way to sustain inner joy is with inner peace.

This is the ability to bring the mind to state that’s calm and clear, and to do it on demand. Specifically, especially in times of crisis, right, bad things happening, everything’s falling apart, you can calm the mind and think. If you have that ability then when the mind is calm on demand a joy arises naturally independent of sense and ego. Then you have inner joy and then you have compassion. So inner peace, inner joy, compassion. Question is how. The way to do that is mindfulness. Mindfulness here is, is something very specific. It is defined as paying attention. But not just paying attention, paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.

Shall we try that out to see what it feels like? Okay. For ten seconds, in just ten seconds, very fast. For ten seconds I’d like you to bring attention to the process of breathing, whatever that means to you. And then whenever attention wanders away bring it back. Sounds good? Ten seconds begins now… . Okay. Thank you for your attention. That was ten seconds. Was that good? So this is the point in my talk where Peggy asks for her money back because if I were doing this to an audience of engineers the question they’d be asking is called a WTF question. WTF stands for “what is happening.” And the question, the bigger question is-some of you got the joke-the question is how can this possibly do me any good?

So, I bring attention to my breathing. It runs away. I bring it back. How can this possibly benefit me? Well, if you’re… so to answer the question let’s use an analogy. The analogy is, imagine I just show you one bicep curl. If I do that you should be asking the same question. Say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa.”? I take a heavy object, I move it up, I move it down. How can this possibly benefit me? If however you know about exercise you know the answer. The answer is every time I do one of these this thing strengthens a little bit more. So if I do a lot of this I develop a quality called strength, right. It’s through training I develop strength. Same thing here. Every time the mind wanders away I bring it back. Every time I bring it back it’s like doing one bicep curl for the mind. And specifically you’re strengthening the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain over here. And if you do a lot of this, this part becomes strong and get mastery over attention.

So attention no longer masters over you. You master over attention. And through mastering over attention you then develop the ability to calm the mind on demand. This is inner peace. And with that ability you begin to develop inner joy, and with that… compassion. But wait, there’s more. There’s one intermediate step, which to me is a really important step between inner joy and compassion. And the step is lovingkindness, or kindness for short. So the question is what is the difference. Sounds like the same thing. I’m going to give you the technical definition. Technically kindness is defined as wishing for others to be happy. Compassion is defined as wishing for other to be free from suffering. Sounds the same. So what are differences?

The first difference is that compassion necessarily involves motivation because even others we free from suffering you’re motivated to do something. Kindness doesn’t always involve motivation. So that’s the first difference. The second difference is because of that kindness is easier. And because it’s easier it’s a gateway drug to compassion. So next question, how do you train kindness. By the way, I use the word “train” because all these are trainable qualities. How do you train kindness? Very easy. The way to do that is with a mental habit. So what’s the mental habit of kindness? Mental habit of kindness is looking at a random human being and the first thought, “I wish for this person to be happy, right. I wish for this person to be happy.” That’s the first thought that comes to mind. And it’s the first thought, why, because it is a habit.

Imagine developing this habit. Habit becomes personality. Personality becomes character. Character becomes you. And therefore by just developing a habit it becomes you. You become a kind person. How to do that? Easy. How to develop a habit? You do something often enough it becomes a habit. Simple as that, right? So shall we do ten seconds of the exercise? Okay, ten seconds. Very easy. This is a thinking exercise. So you randomly, quietly identify two human beings in this room. Don’t need to point them out. And then you just think, “I wish for this person to be happy. I wish for that person to be happy.” Don’t say out loud. Don’t do anything. You don’t have to go like, “Uh, uh, uh,” right. I mean, don’t have to do that. Just think for ten seconds. Sounds good? Okay, begins now…

Okay, thank you for your attention. Do you notice that you’re smiling when you did that? Do you notice that when you were thinking, like wishing for other people to be happy you yourself are happy? It’s like that’s true. You just, you might have just found one of the secrets to happiness, which is all other things equal. All you do is think, “I wish for that person to be happy.” Then you’ve gotten happier already. And that complements the inner joy and propels it into the joy of compassion. So, oh, I’m going to tell you a, a small story. So this, this kindness thing it’s like not even compassion, just kindness alone. How far can you push the happiness of kindness? So I gave a talk a couple of, couple of months ago. I gave a talk at this place called Spirit Rock. And it was a Monday evening talk. So I gave a talk and then we did this ten second exercise. And then after that I assign homework.

I said, “Okay, today’s Monday. Tomorrow’s Tuesday. It’s a workday. When you go back to work try this: every hour spend ten seconds randomly thinking, people at the office, “I wish for this person to be happy. I wish for that person to be happy. Ten seconds. Go back to work. Nothing changes.” Right, and it’s not embarrassing because you’re just thinking. You’re not saying out loud. So I said, “Try it out. See what happens.” So that was Monday. Tuesday somebody did it. Wednesday I receive a email from a total stranger. And this person says, she said, “I went to your talk on Monday. I tried out the exercise on Tuesday.” She said that, “I hate my job.” “I hate coming to work every single day. But I did the exercise on Tuesday for 80 seconds- you know, eight hours, you know, once an hour, 80 seconds-and that was my happiest day in seven years.

So all it took is 80 seconds of thinking. Happiest day in seven years. So I recommend we all try this out tomorrow, or even today. Sounds, sounds good? Okay. So, this is it. This, to me this is half of mindful philanthropy, which is using the training in inner joy and kindness. Sorry, mindfulness and kindness to create this chain of causality leading to compassion-joyful compassion. The other half is that this also, so you notice there are two components here. There is the inner component-mindfulness, inner peace, inner joy-and then this outer component, which is compassion, which necessarily involves motivation and action. And this also informs my philanthropy, which is that my work needs to involve a inner component and also an outer component. So what does that mean?

Remember what my, the, my job description-enlightened mind, enlightened minds, open hearts, create world peace-basically my job, my career goal is to create the conditions for world peace in my lifetime. That is all. World peace in my lifetime. And, so I put some thought into it. How do I do that? Oh, yeah, I’m a engineer so I’m always thinking, “How?” How do I do that? I figure there are two necessary conditions for world peace. By itself each of the two is necessary and insufficient, but combined maybe they’re necessary and sufficient. The first condition is what I call global action, specifically global action to do, to do three things, to end poverty in the world, to end injustice in the world, and to end environmental destruction, ending these three things.

That will create the conditions for world peace. So how do I do this? My vehicle for this is a, is a movement-and not a bowel movement-a social movement… called One Billion Acts of Peace. So what is One Billion Acts of Peace? We are working together with 13 Nobel Peace Laureates. With 13 Nobel Peace Laureates we’re trying to inspire 1,000,000,000 acts of peace worldwide, worldwide. This has to be a worldwide action in order to solve these big problems, solve these problems worldwide in five years. That’s what we’re trying to do. In five years mobilize the world 1,000,000,000 acts to ad-, to begin to address poverty, injustice, environmental destruction.

And for doing this I’m very honored to-, I’m also very humbled to, to tell you that we have been nominated seven times for the Nobel Peace Prize. Yeah, so Father, Father Tutu, Archbishop Desmond Tutu nominated us and he convinced six other Nobel Laureates to do the same. The person who founded, one of the-, so I’m, I’m the co-chair of this. One of my other co-chairs, who’s also the founder of this, her name is Dawn. She’s sitting over there. Dawn, can you like wave? Yeah. And so you see here, Dawn, you see with Father Tutu? And what Dawn is very, is too modest to tell you so I’m going to tell you… she’ll be very shy to say that Dawn has been personally nominated 15 times for the Nobel Peace Prize, two of those times by Desmond Tutu. Yeah, she’s very cool so. So if you have extra money give to Dawn.

Oh, and we announced at the United Nations, I think it was a year back, yeah, so the person, yeah, there’s me sitting on… Ban Ki-moon’s chair. The person sitting next to me, she’s a supermodel. Her name is Jessica Stam. So I know, I know that some of you have spoken at the UN but how many of you have done this with a supermodel? So for me that’s part one. The first pillar of creating conditions for world peace, global action. But that’s not enough. There’s a second piece, which I call global enlightenment. And I define global enlightenment as this, oh, yeah, okay. He’s willing to say so. It probably must be true. He’s willing to say this. We must, world peace must develop from inner peace. And so for me the second leg is inner-, is global enlightenment, which to me mean this, which means inner peace, inner joy and compassion scaled worldwide… worldwide.

If everybody in the world develops these qualities together with ending poverty, injustice and environmental destruction together then I think we have the necessary and sufficient conditions for world peace in our lifetimes. That’s what I’m trying to do. So the question is how. How do we do this, scale inner peace, inner joy, and compassion? I put some thoughts into this topic a couple years ago. And I, I came out with a… the solution. I figured it out. And I figured out the way to do that is to, is to align peace, joy, compassion with success and profits… because if I were to go around the world talking about peace, joy, compassion everybody’d go like, like, “Yeah,” and then we’d all go home. Nothing happens. However, if I were to go around the world and say, “This is how I become more successful. This is how I earn more money.” And the side effect of doing that is inner peace, inner joy, compassion… and world peace.

So yeah, sign me up, right. Just because they want to be successful and they don’t mind contributing to world peace. So that was my thinking. Question is how. But the same question just keeps getting harder and harder. And I figured it out. I figured out the vehicle for doing that is emotional intelligence, EI, because everybody knows EI is good for my career. It’s good for my team. If my team has emotional intelligence we’re going to make more money. It’s good for profits, but nobody knows how to train EI in adults. And as a meditator, as meditators we know because we know how to train the mind, and we know how to train the mind in ways which help people come successful to developing emotional intelligence and with inner peace, inner joy, and compassion being the necessary and unavoidable side effect. So I figure that’s it. That’s the solution.

So, I led a creation in Google, I led a creation of, of a curriculum called “Search Inside Yourself.” Again, started as a joke because we are search company, “Search Inside Ourselves…”? Ha-ha, you know.It became, it became one of the most popular classes in Google. At one time it was so popular, I mean it still it, but at one time it was so popular that when I open the class it fills up in 30 seconds, not, not minutes, seconds, 30 seconds the class is full. So we, we expanded the class by tenfold, with ten time more seats. So now it takes, it takes a whole hour to fill the class. But it’s still very good.

So I wrote a book about it. It’s called “Search Inside Yourself.” It became a international bestseller. And… after that I wanted to go beyond that so I, with Google’s blessing I set up my organization to bring this out to the world, but not just bring SIY to the world.

Also, the mission of the comp-, of, of this organization is this: it’s every leader in the world is wise and compassionate thereby creating the conditions for world peace. So wisdom and compassion worldwide. The organization is called the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute and it’s pronounced, “Silly.” So when in doubt get silly. for those interested… So this is my plan for world peace, basically what I just told you, the two pillars, right, global enlightenment, global action, and in between, something else, half a piece, which is creating the signs. Creating the signs around compassion and inner peace. And my idea is if we can understand those things scientifically then maybe you know how to replicate it efficiently. Then we can replicate inner peace and compassion worldwide. So this is a, this is it, the whole thing…

So, can I close by telling a story? Okay. It’s kind of a long story. This, this is a story. To me it is, it touched me and it informs as, as a philanthropist. And it’s a story of this guy called Anathapindika. Anathapindika was a banker… in ancient India. He, he lived during the lifetime of the Buddha and, let’s see, how… generous is he. He is so generous-so it turns out Anathapindika is not his name. Anathapindika literally means “one that-he who feed the destitute,” or “he who feeds the poor.” And people use that name so often that it became his name, right. Nobody calls him by his real name “Sudatta.” So imagine being so generous that everybody knows you as “the guy who feeds the poor,”? that guy, and that becomes your name. So that’s how generous he is.

He is so generous, you heard the phrase, right, “You can’t give your way-you can’t give your way into poverty,” right. Anathapindika did. He gave, he was so generous that eventually he, like he became almost destitute. He was left with a bowl of, of sour gruel and a bowl of birdseed according to the story. And he was still thinking, “I’m not giving enough to, to people.” So eventually he recovered his wealth. But, but that was how generous he is. He was always thinking of giving to others. So that guy, that… generous guy, how rich is, how rich was he. He was so rich that according to the story his, his living room always have enough seats for 500 people because every night he had 500 guests. He was always ready for 500 guests in his living room. So basically this size of the living room. The other story is fascinating. So this is where he intersects with Buddha’s life story.

Anathapindika was impressed with Buddha and wanted to build a monastery for him. And the plot of land he found, the only plot of land that Anathapindika was happy with is owned by a prince called Prince Jeta. So Anathapindika wanted to buy the land, went to Prince Jeta, and Prince Jeta said… he refused to sell. But didn’t… say, “I’m not selling.” He, he insulted Anathapindika. He said, “If you can pave the entire park with gold that would be the price.”? And Anathapindika said, “Deal.” So, according to the story he paved the entire park with gold and paid that in the price for the land. And when that happened the prince was shocked and the prince says, “You bought the land but you didn’t buy the trees.” And the prince said, “Because I’m such a good, generous person I will donate the trees.” And therefore the, the park was name Jeta-, Jetavana, named after the prince.

So anyway, that’s how rich Anathapindika was. So given the context, right, how rich he was, how generous he was, there was a, there was a short lecture given to him by the Buddha, which to me was like, like whoa, like in the context. And, and so the Buddha gives his lecture. He says, “Anathapindika, imagine, imagine somebody so generous that he gives, he gave away 84,000 pots of gold, 84,000 pots of silver, 84,000 cases of jewelry, 84,000 elephants, 84,000 chariots with lion skin, leopard skin, tiger skin,” and, and so on and so forth, this whole list of things. And the Buddha says, “Imagine that much generosity and better than that. It’s one moment of loving kindness.” And the way he put is, “It’s the amount of time. Lovingkindness, for the amount of time it takes to pull a cow’s udder.”

And Buddha said, “Better than that is one moment of insight into impermanence.” So what I got from there is that first, generosity is, is a wonderful thing. However, in addition to generosity I have to also practice lovingkindness. And, in addition to lovingkindness I also have to practice wisdom. So that was what I do for myself. And I hope this talk has been helpful to you. And I hope that, oh, lastly, I hope that together we create the conditions for world peace in our lifetimes. Thank you.