With Search Inside Yourself, Chade-Meng Tan, one of Google’s earliest engineers and personal growth pioneer, offers a proven method for enhancing mindfulness and emotional intelligence in life and work.
What does the happiest man in the world look like?
He certainly does not look like me. In fact, he looks like a bald French guy in Tibetan robes. His name is Matthieu Ricard. Matthieu was born and grew up in France. In 1972, after completing his Ph.D. in molecular genetics at the Institut Pasteur, he decided to become a Tibetan Buddhist monk. I tell him that the reason he became a monk is because he could not join Google back in 1972—and the monk thing seemed like the next best career choice. Matthieu’s career choice leads us to the story of how Matthieu became the “happiest man in the world.”
When the Dalai Lama became interested in the science of meditation, he invited Tibetan Buddhist monks to participate in scientific studies. Matthieu was an obvious choice as a subject, as he was a bona fide scientist, understood both Western and Tibetan ways of thinking, and had decades of classical meditation training. Matthieu’s brain became the subject of numerous scientific studies.
1 One of many measurements conducted on Matthieu was his level of happiness. There turns out to be a way to gauge happiness in the brain: by measuring the relative activation of a certain part of your left prefrontal cortex versus your right prefrontal cortex.
2 The stronger the relative left-tilt is measured in a person, the more that person reports positive emotions, such as joy, enthusiasm, high energy, and so on. The reverse is also true; those with higher activity on the right report negative emotions. When Matthieu’s brain was scanned, his happiness measure was completely off the charts. He was, by far, the happiest person ever measured by science. Pretty soon, the popular media started nicknaming him the “happiest man in the world.”
Matthieu himself is a little annoyed by that nickname, which creates an element of humorous irony. Extreme happiness is not the only cool feat Matthieu’s brain can pull off. He became the first person known to science able to inhibit the body’s natural startle reflex—quick facial muscle spasms in response to loud, sudden noises. Like all reflexes, this one is supposed to be outside the realm of voluntary control, but Matthieu can control it in meditation. Matthieu also turns out to be an expert at detecting fleeting facial expression of emotions known as microexpressions. It is possible to train people to detect and read microexpressions, but Matthieu and one other meditator, both untrained, were measured in the lab and performed two standard deviations better than the norm, outperforming all the trained professionals. The stories of Matthieu and other masters of contemplative practices are deeply inspiring. These masters demonstrate that each of us can develop an extraordinarily capable mind that is, first and foremost, profoundly peaceful, happy, and compassionate. The methods for developing such an extraordinarily capable mind are accessible even to you and me.
Search Inside Yourself
In Google, the effort to make these methods widely accessible began when we asked ourselves this question: what if people can also use contemplative practices to help them succeed in life and at work? In other words, what if contemplative practices can be made beneficial both to people’s careers and to business bottom lines?
Anything that is both good for people and good for business will spread widely. If we can make this work, people around the world can become more successful at achieving their goals. I believe the skills offered here will help create greater peace and happiness in your life and the lives of those around you, and that peace and happiness can ultimately spread around the world. To promote innovation, Google generously allows its engineers to spend 20 percent of their time working on projects outside their core jobs. A group of us used our “20 percent time” to work on what became Search Inside Yourself.
We ended up creating a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence curriculum with the help of a very diverse group of extremely talented people, including a Zen master, a CEO, a Stanford University scientist, and Daniel Goleman, the guy who literally wrote the book on emotional intelligence. It sounds almost like the prelude to a good joke (“ A Zen master and a CEO walked into a room . . .”). The name of the mindfulness-based emotional intelligence curriculum is Search Inside Yourself. Like many things in Google, that name started as a joke but finally stuck. I eventually became the first engineer in Google’s history to leave the engineering department and join People Ops (what we call our human resources function) to manage this and other personal-growth programs. I am amused that Google lets an engineer teach emotional intelligence. What a company. There turned out to be unexpected benefits to having an engineer like me teach a course like Search Inside Yourself. First, being very skeptical and scientifically minded, I would be deeply embarrassed to teach anything without a strong scientific basis, so Search Inside Yourself was solidly grounded in science. Second, having had a long career as an early engineer at Google, I had credible experience in applying emotional intelligence practices in my day job as I created products, managed teams, asked the boss for raises, and stuff. Hence, Search Inside Yourself had been stress-tested and applicable in daily life right out of the box. Third, my engineering-oriented brain helped me translate teachings from the language of contemplative traditions into language that compulsively pragmatic people like me can process. For example, where traditional contemplatives would talk about “deeper awareness of emotion,” I would say “perceiving the process of emotion at a higher resolution,” then further explaining it as the ability to perceive an emotion the moment it is arising, the moment it is ceasing, and all the subtle changes in between. That is why Search Inside Yourself has the compelling features of being scientifically grounded, highly practical, and expressed in a language that even I can understand. See? I knew my engineering degree was good for something. Search Inside Yourself has been taught at Google since 2007. For many participants, it has been life changing, both at work and in their personal lives. We receive a lot of post-course feedback similar to one that says, “I know this sounds melodramatic, but I really think this course changed my life.”