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Book Review: Emotional Equations: Simple Truths For Creating Happiness & Success by Chip Conley
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Book Review: Emotional Equations: Simple Truths For Creating Happiness & Success by Chip Conley - Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Emotional Equations: Simple Truths For Creating Happiness & Success by Chip Conley

Executive Leadership Articles

Book Review: Emotional Equations: Simple Truths For Creating Happiness & Success by Chip Conley

Minutes after delivering a speech in 2008, Chip Conley’s heart stopped. The CEO of a chain of boutique hotels in California had suffered several personal tragedies in a short time, leading to an extended period of depression that his public persona seemed to keep hidden. Although doctors who revived him and treated him could find no medical explanation for his heart failure, Conley’s recovery included an exploration for “a healthy way to make sense of my emotions.” The mantra that emerged through this introspection became his first emotional equation: Despair = Suffering – Meaning. Although we all suffer, he reasoned, finding and nurturing meaning through it all moves you further and further from despair.

Conley’s near-death experience frames his book, Emotional Equations: Simple Truths for Creating Happiness + Success (Altria Books, 2012), the majority of whose chapters present emotional equations with explanations, a bit of science, and personal anecdotes. He begins with the equations that led him down this path in a section titled “Dealing with Difficult Times,” which include equations such as “Anxiety = Uncertainty x Powerlessness” and “Regret = Disappointment + Responsibility.” Subsequent sections address Getting the Most out of Your Work Life, Defining Who You Are, and Finding Contentment. This might seem an order exactly the reverse of what one would expect, beginning with the immediate and expanding to the deeper, bigger emotions shaping who we are, but Conley’s approach mirrors his story: stop the bleeding first, then treat the illness, and then address the lifestyle.

At first glance, the conceit of offering life advice in the form of mathematical equations seems gimmicky, an attempt to extract the essences of our most complex issues into simple relationships between elements, but the author backs his approach with a reasonable rationale. The field of emotional psychology has offered the concept of “primary” emotions working in combination to define secondary and tertiary emotions for quite some time, the way the primary colors of yellow, blue, and red combine to form the limitless shades and hues in our natural world—Pixar’s 2015 film Inside Out illustrates this idea in a very simplified way, as an example. Once these combinations of emotions are explained in this light, “Despair = Suffering – Meaning” starts to make sense, the way “Purple = Red + Blue” makes sense.

Even through this lens, which Conley explains in the second chapter, parts of this book read a little too much like the hundred other books on the self-help and business advice shelves, but get past each chapter’s title and through its first few sentences, and his narrative voice—reasoned, clear, and personable—talks you off the self-help shelf and into more scientific and philosophical territory in a way that doesn’t sound like therapist-speak. Conley’s writing style is his greatest asset here, and his hard-earned wisdom comes across more like the calm guidance of your smartest friend. Readers who (like this reviewer) shun the self-help section of the bookstore are encouraged to forge ahead: there’s some strong, inspiring material here about personal attitudes and dealing with the multitude of problems life throws at us, not to mention the problems we throw at ourselves and each other.

 

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Book Review: Emotional Equations: Simple Truths For Creating Happiness & Success by Chip Conley - Executive Leadership Articles

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