WAKEFIELD—The search for happiness is hardwired in our DNA, according to best-selling author and motivational speaker Sanjiv Chopra, M.D.

It transcends age, gender, geography, vocation and personal circumstances. But how do we achieve it?

This question, along with “How do we live purposeful lives?” was explored by Dr. Chopra at the second of three Sweetser lectures, held last Wednesday night, Oct. 12, at The Savings Bank Theatre inside Wakefield Memorial High School.

Dr. Chopra enjoys a stellar reputation throughout the world as a man whose wisdom, knowledge and understanding of the human condition are considered on par with that of Kahlil Gibran, Albert Schweitzer and his own famous brother, Dr. Deepak Chopra.

Before Dr. Chopra began his 90-minute talk, he asked members of his audience, “How many of you want to be happy?” Nearly everyone raised a hand.

He then launched into the specifics of what creates happiness and purposeful living by sharing some remarkable stories and statistics from the comfort of an office chair placed in the middle of the stage.

He told his audience a story about 17-year-old “Mighty Girl” Mariah Smith of Hampton, Va., who had a life-changing moment when she encountered a homeless man shivering in a parking lot. She gave him food and a blanket from her car and left determined to do more. Since that night, Mariah has handed out more than 80,000 blankets and bagged lunches to homeless people in her community through the non-profit organization she started: Blankets for the Homeless. Actions such as this, said Dr. Chopra, not only brings purpose to life but happiness, too.

Some attending the lecture might have been surprised to learn that though they live in a land of abundance, Americans are not among the happiest people in the world. Europeans, by far, outweigh all others, including those living in Denmark, Norway and Austria. Other countries that rank high on the happiness scale are Australia, Costa Rica and Canada.

In a book he co-authored with Gina Vild—“The Two Most Important Days,”—the pair presents a powerful message that shows people how to achieve happiness no matter what challenges and stumbling blocks come their way.

Borrowing a line from American author Mark Twain, Dr. Chopra said, “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.”

Two tenets dominate Dr. Chopra’s views on how to be happy and live with purpose: expressing gratitude and serving others.

Dr. Chopra explained that there are three levels of happiness. The first is the simple sensation of feeling good and being pleased. “It is an internal experience in which good will is expressed outwardly, extending the positive feeling toward others,” he said.

The second and third happiness levels are joy (the experience of extreme happiness, euphoria, a temporary but intense and exuberant sensation) and bliss (the experience of intense joy anchored by a sense of connectedness with others and with nature—perfect happiness and great joy).

Dr. Chopra continued, saying that meaningful experiences rate much higher in the realm of happiness than the purchase of an expensive possession such as a new luxury vehicle or opulent mansion.

He said that an upcoming vacation, for instance, provides three levels of happiness. First is the anticipation of going on vacation. Second is being there and enjoying every moment. Third is reminiscing about the vacation—recalling the awe of natural beauty, being connected with friends both old and new and laughter.

Dr. Chopra also shared what he discovered during his research on the two subjects.

He reported that a year after having won the lottery, some people say they wish they had never won the money because family and friends “come out of the woodwork” looking for a handout.

On the other hand, there are people like Christopher Reeve, the American actor who suffered a broken neck when he was thrown from a horse during an equestrian competition. After the accident, Reeve was wheelchair bound and breathed with the aid of a ventilator. At one point, he said, “I’m not living the life I thought I would lead, but it does have meaning and purpose. There is love. There is joy. There is laughter.”

Dr. Chopra also commented on what Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, Socrates and Robert Louis Stevenson had to say on the matter of happiness.

Tagore equated happiness with service. Socrates claimed that happiness and virtue are inextricably linked. And Stevenson found happiness in his friends.

Expanding on this, Dr. Chopra shared the thoughts of George Valiant (Triumph of Experience 2012)—that social connectedness brings joy, that close relationships equate with health, longevity and happiness and that satisfaction with relationships at age 50 are correlated with health and happiness at age 80.

So, what traits do happy people share? According to Dr. Chopra, happy people are able to forgive and they do not harbor resentment. He cited what Nelson Mandela said about the subject: “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

A third trait of happiness, said Chopra, is found among people like Mariah Smith who have looked for and found ways to serve others.

Perhaps one of the most important traits of all happy people, he said, is the expression of gratitude, a highly prized tenet in all the major religious faiths, including Christianity, Judaism, Muslim, Hinduism and Buddhism.

Dr. Chopra said he strongly believes that gratitude and compassion can be cultivated.

In a happiness formula with a set point at 50 percent, he explained that living conditions represent only 10 percent for happiness while voluntary action accounts for 40 percent.

He quoted Albert Schweitzer, “Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”

Dr. Chopra did not limit his research to interviewing only adults. He has spoken with children who have been willing to share their own views.

One child, age 5, told her mother, “Happiness is when my heart feels bigger.” And a boy, age 3, told his father, “(I’m happy) when sharing my toys with friends.”

Dr. Chopra also told a story about former Beatle John Lennon. When Lennon was five years old, a teacher asked the members of his class, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Lennon wrote one simple word—“Happy”—and handed the paper to the teacher. When the teacher looked at what her young charge wrote, she said, “John, you did not understand the assignment,” and he responded, “And you don’t understand life.”

Dr. Chopra also mentioned the wisdom of cartoon characters Winnie-the-Pooh and Snoopy, creations of A.A. Milne and Charles M. Schulz.

While walking along a lane, Pooh said, “We live only once, Snoopy.”

“Wrong. We only die once,” Snoopy replied. “We live every day!”

Dr. Chopra injected a bit of humor into his presentation, stating that his favorite drink— coffee—boosts the happiness quotient and so does chocolate.

On the topic of purposeful living, Chopra said he believes that defining your purpose can come through reflection or by virtue of a key moment in life.

“Great leaders often reflect on key events in their life or a single transformative or magical moment,” he commented. “The moment can be jolting and starkly negative, yet it is momentous. From it emerges a burning desire to have a laser-like focus and passion to make that dream a reality.”

He also claimed that experiencing sorrow has its own reward. “Most of us will experience sorrow. When you experience the abyss of sorrow and emerge stronger and with a clear purpose, you will have triumphed,” he said.

In closing, Chopra borrowed a quote from American author Joseph Campbell. “If we follow our bliss, doors will open where there were no doors before.”

He pointed to various people who found their purpose and their bliss, such as Gustavo Dudamel, Venezuelan conductor and music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra.

Dr. Chopra suggested that people can become more resilient and increase the happiness quotient by gaining support from family and friends, keeping a gratitude journal, exercising regularly and re-calibrating long-term goals.

And what are the good doctor’s own personal goals? Among them are to fulfill his “dharma” to teach medicine about leadership and happiness and to do it grounded in humility and with an ardent desire to learn every single day. He also desires to express gratitude to his family, friends, colleagues, students and patients who inspire him in countless ways and in some small measure inspire everyone he meets on his life journey.

During a question and answer session, Dr. Chopra touched upon the topic of work. He said that since the inception of COVID-19, he likes the idea of a hybrid week: one day in the office; four days working from home.

As for empty towering office buildings, he suggested that they could be converted into apartments.

Dr. Sanjiv Chopra’s books include “Coffee! The Magical Elixir: Facts that will Astound and Perk You Up,” and “The Big Five: Five Simple Things You Can Do to Live a Longer, Healthier Life.”

The final Sweetser lecture this season will feature Kate Clifford Larson, Ph.D. on Wednesday, Oct. 26 at 7:30 p.m. Larson is an award-winning and best-selling author and Brandeis University WSRC Scholar. Her topic will be “Soaring Spirits for Freedom: Harriet Tubman and Fannie Lou Hamer.”