Internationally renowned and best-selling author, journalist, screenwriter, playwright, radio and television broadcaster and musician, Mitch Albom, joins this episode to talk through the impact of giving to others and discovering your marginal propensity for happiness.
Mitch provides details about his book, “Five People You Meet In Heaven,” and how it relates to the life of his uncle, along with his secret for balancing living life without regret. Mitch shares takeaways from his time with Morrie Schwartz and his book “Tuesdays with Morrie,” debunks quitting work to find happiness, explains the concept of marginal propensity to save and spend, as well as how we have a marginal propensity toward happiness. He also shares Morrie Schwartz’s giving makes me feel like I’m living principle and how he’s implemented this into his life. To wrap up the episode, Mitch talks about his experiences from his involvement at the orphanage in Haiti and reveals details about his latest book, “The Stranger In The Lifeboat.”
Read Show Notes From This Episode (click to expand and read notes from the full interview)
- Wes says hello and says Mitch has sold more books than anyone. Wes brings up that Steven King is in Mitch’s band.
Wes wants to do a lightning round at the beginning.
Favorite song to sing: Probably an Elvis Song because he does impersonations in the band. (Does one shortly). Blue Moon of Kentucky. Performs the deep voice and high voice Elvis.
Favorite instrument: Piano. He can also play drums and bass.
Favorite Core Pursuit: Music. No question. He plays it all the time. Plays in a band. Always loves traveling to his orphanage.
Favorite book: “Finding Chica.” A favorite of his own books is “Five People You Meet in Heaven”
Favorite place you’ve traveled to in Michigan: A little town called Coldwater. He set one of his books in a fictional town called that and then found out it was a real town so they invited him. He agrees that Michigan is one of the most underrated places in the US.
Favorite place in the world: New Zealand. Once he went to the Cook Islands and the Rarotonga and those were even more beautiful but other than that, New Zealand is so amazing. The Cook Islands are up toward Fiji. Vanuatu is a tax haven like the Isle of Man. Perfect info for the retire sooner crowd.
Wes brings up “The 5 People You Meet in Heaven” – about an old man named Eddie who dies in the opening pages. The maintenance man in an amusement park. Doesn’t think he amounts to anything but he dies saving a girl from an accident. He doesn’t know if he saved her or not but he wakes up in heaven. (Tells that story) He finds out at the end that this “nothing” life actually wasn’t nothing. He affected all kinds of people. There’s no such thing as a nobody. Mitch always wanted that for his uncle. Mitch could never convince his uncle that he was a somebody.
Wes talks about “how do we live life without regret and still afford life.” Only 1 in 5 people love what they do. What is that balance? Mitch says he’s been very blessed to have had a real education in this. Brings up Morrie Schwartz from “Tuesdays with Morrie” who taught him a lot about regret. #1 Lesson – put a bird on your shoulder every day and turn to this imaginary bird and say “is today the day I die?” It will say no every day of your life but one. But on that one day, will you be okay with it? Or will you be thinking of all the things you still need to do? Live your life as if the bird is going to say yes today. #2 Lesson – Mitch is old enough to see the folly of “if I quit work, I’ll be happy.” Mitch knows plenty of people who don’t work and are miserable. It’s not the work that makes you unhappy, it’s being unfulfilled in work that makes you unhappy. Leisure doesn’t make you happy. Meaning does. Mitch brings up his MBA (makes a joke) – marginal propensity to save and spend. What would you do with your next dollar? How much of that do you always spend? Mitch thinks there’s a marginal propensity for happiness. (Great tidbit about this) It’s a trick – if you find the clue to this, it doesn’t matter when you stop working. Your key to happiness is inside you. Marginal propensity to find meaning and happiness inside you.
With Morrie, Mitch observed that people would show up to go cheer up Morrie, but they’d leave crying about their own loved ones – Morrie had cheered them and got them to feel touched and inspired. Mitch felt that at Morrie’s point in life he had the right to not have to ask about other people. But Morrie said why would I ever do that? “Giving makes me feel like I’m living.” Mitch has lived his life that way ever since. In the 25 years since then, he’s found it true. If you’re looking toward retirement, don’t think about how many golf games you’re going to play. Think about ways to give to other people. If you do that, you will never feel the need to “retire.” Mitch has a beautiful life, enviable. Has a lot of money and a comfortable home, but he never sleeps better than when he’s on a 4-inch mattress in his orphanage in Haiti because he wakes up to the sound of children asking if he’s awake. Knowing he’s needed. That sense of knowing and giving allows him to sleep.
Wes says the #1 core pursuit for HROBs is volunteering. Asks if there is something Mitch has seen people do that increases marginal propensity for happiness? Is it as simple as finding the spark of your purpose? Mitch says it’s easier said than done but it begins with having a strategic approach to how you go about your day. For example, find significance in your work. First of all, eliminate the things that create negativity – gossip, complaining, etc. If you don’t, that becomes a habit. You forcibly change the behavior and it becomes a habit. (Note: this is similar to Atomic Habits by James Clear)
Mitch says there are few places where gossip and tantrums are worse than on a movie set, even though you’d assume that would be fun. It shows that can happen anywhere.
Wes asks if Mitch was ready to learn from Morrie. He could almost be a preacher. Did he set out to be so insightful? Mitch says no. He wanted to be a musician and that’s all he ever wanted to be. He fell into writing as an accident. He volunteered at a paper. His music career went south so he kept writing. Then he got into sports writing. Then the Morrie situation. It was going to be one phone call, then one visit, but then he kept going back. At one point Morrie told Mitch that the thing he was most afraid of with his death was the debt that he was leaving his family with from all the medical treatment. After hearing that, Mitch decided maybe he could help him by writing a book about it. He went to publishers. Almost everyone said they were not interested. Boring. Depressing. Who wants to read a book like that? Even though Mitch was a best-selling sportswriter. Mitch would’ve given up if it had been for himself. But because it was to get money for Morrie (giving is living) he kept going. Found a place. He felt that would be in the end. Up until that point, Mitch had just been thinking about his own life. But this was him giving. But once he sat down to write the book – he wrote it shortly and simply. They printed 20,000 copies. Then people began to read it. Now it’s the biggest selling memoir in the history of publishing. It was done purely as an act of love and an old man who had been kind to him. The lesson is that when you do things for the right reasons – they become their own reward.
Mitch talks about the orphanage in Haiti. Earthquakes and hurricanes. Crazy stories. Majesty of life. Amazing results you can get when you put the ingredients of love and attention in. The most significant thing he’s even been involved in.
Wes asks how much faith has had to do with this. Mitch says yes Haiti is 80% Catholic and 20% Voodoo. Every night – the one consistent activity of being in Haiti is that at 7pm their kids gather and prey. Childhood is innocent and open-minded. He gets to see it in its purest form.
Wes says, tell us about your latest book “Stranger in the Lifeboat” – Mitch talks about it. Takes place in a yacht that blows up and everyone is killed except for 10 survivors. They get to a life raft and they are there for 3 days. No one is coming. Then they see a body floating in the water. They pull him in and he’s alive. Finally, someone says “thank the Lord we found you.” And he says “I am the Lord.” It’s about trusting God’s plan. The universe. Rather than being impatient. Wes says maybe today’s interview is about that.
Wes says the Retire Sooner team is always looking for gold content and everything Mitch does is gold. Maybe it’s God’s plan for Mitch to put gold into the world. Mitch humbly responds in a comedic but touching way.
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