Unhappy? Leonsis Knew The Feeling

Ted Leonsis found the road to happiness the hard way – he lived it.

Already a millionaire at 28, Leonsis was on a routine flight from Florida to Atlanta when he and other passengers were told to prepare for a crash landing. He realized he wasn’t happy and promised that, should he survive, he would restructure his life. After walking away from the flight unharmed, he wrote a list of 101 things he thought would make him happy.

Twenty six years later, Leonsis, who went on to become a group president and vice chairman of AOL, has crossed 81 items off his list. Some of them made him happy, some of them didn’t. But the pursuit of them, he writes in his new book The Business of Happiness, helped him form a philosophy for happiness that he’s applied to several successful enterprises.

Nowadays, he’s the owner behind currently one of the most successful teams the NHL. But he’s also owner of SnagFilms and recently sold Revolution Money, an alternative payments company, for a lot of money. His business plan was developing a Midas touch, so he decided to write out his philosophy in The Business of Happiness to share with others.

“All the sudden you look and you go, I’ve applied this plan to the last three things I’ve touched, and they’ve all turned out to be pretty good. And so that gave me the confidence to say I can commit it to writing,” Leonsis told HUMAN EVENTS.

Leonsis had already been incorporating his personal viewpoints on happiness into the public speeches he would give about business. After the speech, Leonsis said, that was the content people would come up to talk with him about. A literary agent even approached him and suggested he should turn his thoughts into a book after she witnessed the line of people waiting to talk to him.

“Your message resonates very, very well,” Leonsis said the agent told him.

And it still does. Leonsis said he was recently getting a coffee at Starbucks when a young lady tapped him on the shoulder.

“I want you to know that seven years ago you gave a speech at my high school. You were the commencement speaker,” she told him, according to Leonsis’ account. “’A couple of the things you said really stayed with me. And when I graduated from college, I started a career, and I realized I wasn’t happy. And I remembered what you were talking about. And now I work at this non-profit, and I’m not making a lot of money, but I’m really happy with what I do.”

Leonsis even used his success formula to predict Obama winning the presidency, since, when comparing McCain and Obama to the structure Leonsis followed for success, Obama scored much higher.

“I do think that the president ran a campaign…based on a lot of theorems in the book,” Leonsis said. “We started to say, well, let’s see – does this theorem work? That if people have a reckoning, they make their life list, and they follow these tenets, are they successful? And McCain, who probably at the time was a better candidate, he didn’t score high on it.”

As Leonsis looked around, he saw several of what became the book’s six principles — making a life list, participating in multiple communities of interest, finding outlets for self expression, showing gratitude, giving back, and finding a higher calling in life — that he had applied to his own life being practiced by other successful people (consciously or unconsciously), people like Bono, Robert Redford, and the star player of Leonsis’ NHL franchise and MVP of the league, Alex Ovechkin.

That’s what the second half of Leonsis’ book is about — how to apply his principles for happiness to your own life. Only he hopes his readers have, by picking up the book, circumvented a similar moment of reckoning to what he experienced as he waited for a plane to make an emergency landing 26 years ago.

“It would make me happy to know that my reckoning could stand for your reckoning,” Leonsis writes in the book. “In other words, I’d be pleased if rather than you getting on the wrong airplane and having an emergency landing, the mere act of reading this book could lead you to assess your life, the goals you have, and spur you on to mounting your own journey to happiness."


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