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Dr. John Izzo

October 5, 2017 by Speakers' Spotlight

How to Stay Happy in Difficult Times

 For over 20 years Dr. John Izzo has helped companies maximize their potential from the ground up—working with thousands of leaders around the world on employee-engagement strategies and brand transformations. He has been a pioneer in employee engagement, leading change, shifting employee and consumer values and corporate social responsibility, and is known for his hard hitting practical content, his inspirational storytelling and the lasting impact he has on organizations. Recently he posted on LinkedIn about how we can navigate particularly dark times. We have that post below as well as a video on Izzo’s book, Five Thieves of Happiness.

The experience of my mother Irene’s death earlier this year was one of the most difficult experiences of my life. I was fortunate to share my thoughts with Barry Kibrick on PBS’ Between the Lines within a week of her passing. I have great compassion for anyone who has ever been in a similar circumstance. We never choose to be in such places, but depths of grief and sadness are undeniably parts of the human experience.

My mother’s death was very sudden and quite unexpected. We were close, my mother and I. She was a single parent and I was her son. Until her diagnosis of an advanced cancer, she was healthy and active. At almost 82 years old, I fully expected her to live another ten years.

Then my mother entered the hospital and I entered the proverbial tempest. But, I had a choice about how I was going to face the storm. My grandfather was a fisherman and the source of my earliest knowledge about the sea. When I was a boy, he taught me to read the weather, to look past the storm to find the calm.  And sometimes, there was nothing we could do about our situation. He would button up my coat and keep me going with oatmeal cookies and a flask of tea, while he whistled tunes and told me stories. By the end of the experience, when we finally made it home, we were cold and soaking wet and had no fish. But it always still seemed like a pretty good day to me, even it didn’t turn out the way we’d planned.

Most of us are trained to believe our happiness is directly related to the happenings around us: good friends, good fortune, everything going according to plan. Yet happiness is almost always about surrendering with curiosity to that which is happening. It is almost never about the storm but always about how we choose to be in the storm.

One of my most beautiful moments in my mom’s last days was waiting for my daughter Lena to arrive from Chicago to say goodbye to mom. My mom and I had already had a beautiful goodbye and she was now unresponsive. She had not spoken for a day. My daughter’s flight was eight hours delayed and I could feel mom slipping away. I was so wed to my happiness depending on them having a last goodbye.

 As the flight delay mounted, I finally surrendered. I could not change the storm but my happiness did not depend on that final goodbye. A peace came over me realizing that my willingness to let go of my resistance and desire for control was the real source of my unhappiness not the storm around me. By the time my daughter arrived with one of my dearest friends David, my mom awoke for just a few minutes. She said my daughter’s name, their eyes met. It was her last moment of consciousness.

 I do hope you will take time to listen to my interview with Barry and that it helps you and those you care about.

Dr. John Izzo/October 2017