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How to Be Happy

Early this week I was listening to National Public Radio as I drove to work, and there was a feature about a report on the state of happiness in the USA. The statistics weren’t very positive. A psychologist commented on why the numbers were so dismal and what to do about it. My mind wandered back 30-plus years to the original Gold’s on Pacific in Venice, a workout with Arnold and the breakfast that followed.

The conversation in the gym was about living in the moment and the fact that the only rep that mattered was the rep you were doing. Arnold is renowned for his ability to be totally focused on one thing at a time and his ability to switch from one to the other without “overhang.” During the set, the outside world disappeared for Arnold and reappeared after the set. He could be “in character” in one instant and joking the next.

One of Arnold’s major attributes is the unmitigated joy he takes in everything he does. As he’s said to me many times in various ways, “Everywhere I go I have a good time.” That’s his mantra. Back to our conversation: Besides exhorting me to concentrate on the present and lock out the past and the future, he referred to several people in the gym and commented on why they seemed to just be going through the motions. To paraphrase him: no emotion, no focus, no hope.

As for living in the moment, we all know now that Arnold was able to live his master plan (and continues to), but how did he do that? His advice to me was to plan for the future but not try to live there! He executed his own plan in the present to ensure that the future turned out the way he wanted. Let me explain.

Arnold created a team to make sure that his goals would be met. In the NPR piece the psychologist mentioned the percentage of negative thoughts each of us has in the course of a day and that our environment affects the balance and content of our thought and, ultimately, how we feel—our happiness. Why were (and are) Franco and Arnold friends? Arnold recognized that Franco had strengths both physical and emotional that made both of them better in the gym and in life. Arnold was very clear: Negative people and situations are destructive.

While Arnold was and is empathic—he would give you the help you need, as he did to me in the gym—but if you started whining about how it’s too hard or voiced other negative thoughts, he would quickly lose interest in helping you. The psychologist on NPR echoed what Arnold said to me long ago: The most important thing you can do to ensure joy and happiness is to surround yourself with joyful people. We are what we think about all day long, and those thoughts are heavily influenced by the people around us. Long before the term “toxic personalities” was coined, Arnold understood that there was no room in his life for people who didn’t share his vision of joyfulness. IM

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