The Happy Engineer Podcast

086: How to Create Authentic Personal Happiness and Effortless Professional Success with Robert Mack | Celebrity Happiness Coach

In this episode, we go deeper into the HAPPY side of The Happy Engineer than ever before.

You will gain deep insights into how you can move from any emotion into authentic happiness.

And my guest will show you why that shift creates an experience of effortless success.

Meet my friend Robert Mack, an Ivy League-Educated, Positive Psychology Expert, Celebrity Happiness Coach, Best-Selling Author, and Television Host & Producer.

His work has been endorsed by Oprah, Vanessa Williams, Lisa Nichols, and many others including me (your host, Zach White)! You are going to love this man.

Robert coaches individuals from all walks of life – including professional athletes, popular entertainers, senior executives, and everyday people alike – and consults with organizations of all kinds, such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twilio, Microsoft, SalesForce, Deloitte Consulting, Capital One, and many others.

So press play and let’s chat… for a blend of ivy-league science and timeless, transcendental wisdom!

Join us in a live webinar for deeper training, career Q&A, and FREE stuff!  HAPPY HOUR! Live with Zach

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The Happy Engineer Podcast





085: Career Success Toolkit – Essential Skills for Success That No One Taught You with Mark Herschberg | CTO | Author | MIT Instructor




This is one you will want to listen to a second time. What a great conversation. 

There are two things that I want to recap and challenge you on today. 

Singular commitment

First, the catalyst moment in Robert’s story that changed everything for him. 

What I see inside of that is the decision to become singular in his commitment to a new life, that commitment to live blissfully happy and full of life and vitality, or not live at all. 

And let’s really quickly acknowledge the severity and the challenge and the incredible heart-wrenching nature of being in a dark place like that. If that’s where you are, then please go get help with that immediately. 

I want to take that idea and extend it to you and to me, right where we’re at. You see, a singular commitment to the outcome is something that we rarely do. Very few engineering leaders I know live this way. We always have a backup plan.

The number one thing that blocks you from living this way is our relationships in community to other people. 

What do I mean by that? Well, it could be at home relationships with your spouse or partner, or with your kids. Because of our commitments to those people, we don’t make a singular commitment to an outcome because we want to make sure that they’re taken care of.

So if the goal I have for my life [is fill in the blank], and that’s not going to happen without bringing some trade off or compromise to those other people who I love, then I won’t pursue it. I’ll go to plan B. 

And I really understand that it’s challenging. 

And here’s another example we can all relate to. It’s our boss or out project manager.

It’s that person who’s setting the schedule and putting the constraints on our projects at work, regardless of what engineering industry you are in. There’s someone, a stakeholder, and a person who’s setting the boundaries and the conditions under which we need to deliver. And one of those big constraints is often time.

We have a deliverable due by a deadline, and if we aren’t going to hit the stretch goal, we need to at least deliver the minimum acceptable criteria. So a singular commitment to an outcome often isn’t possible because other people are involved in making those decisions.

Many times you’re not even involved in those decisions. They’re cascaded down to you. 

So how do we balance this? 

How do we begin to live with a singular commitment to outcomes and hitting goals and reaching our vision in life when so much of the world around us creates pressure not to do that and creates a sense of compromise?

And here’s the question I want you to ask. 

Are you showing up in those areas of your life as a servant leader, truly supporting, loving and caring compassionately for those people in your life, or those partners and team members that you have at work?

Are you showing up as a servant leader in making those decisions, or are you using those external things, those relationship as an excuse and casting blame and putting yourself in the role of being a victim? 

I’m not able to pursue my dream, my goal, my vision for life. I’m not able to singularly live for blissful happiness because of all these other people, and they are the reason why I’m not getting what I want out of life.

And if only I didn’t have these kids, I could do what I want. Or if only I didn’t have this boss that I must keep my job. I have to have this job so I can pay my bills. And you’re actually playing the soundtrack of being a victim and there is a difference. 

I want to challenge you today to ask that question, how are you showing up to your life?

Are you showing up truly as a servant leader and it’s something that you love and you’re happy to be doing? Or are you showing up as a victim? Casting blame, and making excuses? 

And here is the distinction. Compromising as a servant leader for the people you love, or the people you are on a team with for a purpose and a meaning that matters to you, that still feels right.

That’s something we love to do. That’s something where happiness can thrive in that decision. 

But if you are constantly frustrated, unhappy, feeling rejected, feeling depressed, feeling as though your life lacks purpose and meaning, then I want you to look honestly in the mirror and get curious. Am I taking these things and becoming a victim?

And what would it look like for me to live singularly committed to a goal in my life? 

So here’s the first question. Are you showing up as a servant leader or are you showing up as a victim? And here’s the second. What will you singularly commit yourself to in your life? What is that thing that you will burn the boats, you will make it non-negotiable.

It’s something that you will achieve no matter what. 

And if you don’t have an answer to that. Then I want to challenge you that you have work to do in getting clear on your purpose and priority for your life. 

Happiness Island

Find one of your happiness islands. Pick one of those things that every time you do, you’re absolutely loving that experience. Find one of those Happiness Islands. Book that for yourself. 

Treat yourself, okay? Spend the money, take the vacation time. Whatever you need to do, go make it happen. And when you get there, I want you to simply experience it with blissful happiness.

And not spend the whole time comparing it to all of the other things in your mind’s archives of divisive consideration of life. 

Here’s the quickest way for you to shift from constant comparison to blissful happiness and satisfaction in the moment, and it’s to focus simply on observation through your five senses.

So go to your happiness island and then ask yourself, what am I seeing in this happiness island? 

Observe what you see down to nitty gritty details, colors, shapes, things that you don’t often see. 

Then  ask yourself, what am I hearing? What are the sounds that are close by? What are the sounds that are far away? What are the sounds that are familiar? What can I discern from other people speaking what feels like ambient or white noise? Get curious about what you’re hearing if you’re eating. 

What am I tasting? What does that taste like? Is there a saltiness to it? Is it bitter? Is it sweet? Savor the taste. 

Get into as much of an observation mode as you possibly can, and anytime you catch yourself comparing the experience of that happiness island to the last time you did this or some other experience that you love, just invite yourself back to the place of observation. 

What am I absorbing through my five senses in this moment, without expectation and without judgment? 

If you take on that exercise, you’re going to see a couple of things. One, how hard it is to do. Our mind is truly divisive, as Robert said. It wants to constantly compare. In the process of making meaning. So it’s gonna reveal some of the truth of what was shared in this conversation, but also I think that you’ll find inside of simply being in the experience is a level of happiness independent of our thought that is absolutely a pleasure. 

It really is that blissful satisfaction, and I want you to go practice experiencing life that way, and it’s much easier to do when you’re in one of your happiness islands than if you’re dealing with a frustrating, challenging situation at work.

Have fun with this. Give me some feedback, share how it goes. If you take on this challenge of being in the moment, blissfully happy, observing what’s around you, I’d love to hear what stands out to you, what shifts and what changes for you. 

So reach out and connect. I always love to hear from you. 

And as a reminder too, if any of this is something that you’re struggling with, or you honestly know that you need to make changes in your career and life to get to a state of blissful satisfaction and happiness, and you want help. You are not alone. And that is exactly what our program is designed to do. It’s not just about promotions and career acceleration.

That is a big part of it, but it’s also about living with purpose and meaning and experiencing the true, happy engineer life. 

So if you want support on that, book a call with my team. Or click that link in the show notes to apply for the Lifestyle Engineering Blueprint program. It is such a tremendous community of like-minded leaders who are also in pursuit of a life beyond anything they’ve experienced up to this point, both in their success and results, but also in the joy and happiness of the moment.

We would be honored to support you. Get out there. Keep crushing comfort in pursuit of the career in life that you dream about, and until next time, let’s do this.





Robert Mack is an Ivy League-Educated, Positive Psychology Expert, Celebrity Happiness Coach, Published Author, and Television Host & Producer.

His work has been endorsed by Oprah, Vanessa Williams, Lisa Nichols, and many others.

In addition to serving as Celebrity Love Coach for Famously Single on the E! Network for two seasons, Robert also worked as Consulting Producer and On-Camera Expert for Mind Your Business on the OWN Network and Executive Producer and Host of Good Morning LaLa Land on Apple TV and Hulu.

He has been featured on television shows like Good Morning America, The Today Show, CBS Morning Show, and Access Hollywood and in magazines like GQ, Self, Health, Cosmopolitan, Well + Good, and Glamour.

Robert’s first book, Happiness from the Inside Out: The Art and Science of Fulfillment, is celebrity-endorsed and critically-acclaimed.

His most recent release,Love from the Inside Out: Lessons and Inspiration for Loving Yourself, Your Life, and Each Other, is a best-seller.

Robert coaches individuals from all walks of life—including professional athletes, popular entertainers, senior executives, and everyday people alike—and consults with organizations of all kinds, such as Google, YouTube, Facebook, Twilio, Microsoft, SalesForce, Deloitte Consulting, Capital One, and many others.



Please note the full transcript is 90-95% accuracy. Reference the podcast audio to confirm exact quotations.

[00:00:00] Zach White: All right. Welcome back Happy engineer! I’m here with Robert Mack. Robert, thanks so much for making time, your generosity to be here on the show today, welcome. 

Robert Mack: My pleasure. I’m excited to be here. 

Expand to Read Full Transcript

Zach White: Preparing to chat with you was one of those things, and we just said it before we hit record today. It was like, wow, this is my brother in arms when it comes to the message and the mantra of what OACO stands for and the happy engineer stands for.

[00:00:29] But there was something that surprised me when I was digging into your life that I’d love to get some feedback on from you. So you were a celebrity love. on famously single on the E Entertainment Network, and I, I was like, okay, this is, it does one of these is not like the other. And , I thought, okay, what was that all about, man?

[00:00:54] What was it like to be a celebrity love coach? 

[00:00:57] Robert Mack: It was great. I mean, it was great in a way that I didn’t expect it to be great. You know, I. had spent about 10 years prior to the work that I do now in positive psychology, really doing entertainment work, which mostly for me meant being unemployed, often

[00:01:13] Right, okay. So I worked with a model and as an actor and so at some point in time after I started my private practice in psychology, I was really, pitching some TV shows. Cause I thought, wow, we’ve got this incredibly powerful tool of television that we could. for much more positive constructive ends and it’s not being done.

[00:01:31] So and then I get to a place where I sort of put that on the shelf and said, you know, lot, not getting a lot of bites here, I’m gonna put the TV pitches aside. I’m just gonna focus on the bread and butter, which is helping people live happier lives. And lo and behold, like most things in life, you surrender, you let go.

[00:01:47] And a few years later I get a phone call I said, Hey, we’re doing a TV show. and we wanted to know if you’d be interested. We heard that you’re a love coach, and I said, well, I’m not really a love coach. I’m a happiness coach. You know, I had lots of people that were in the entertainment business that wanted help with their relationships.

[00:02:02] And I love life. Okay? And even though I was a happiness coach, really by trade and title. folks were thinking of me more as a relationship coach because they would call me when they were unhappy with the relationships. 

[00:02:14] Zach White: Okay, interesting 

[00:02:15] Robert Mack: phone call. Yeah. From the production company.

[00:02:17] They said, do you wanna do this show? And at first I said, no, I don’t wanna do any TV shows. I just wanna help people. I don’t wanna, you know, put people down. I don’t wanna make fun of people. I don’t wanna see people hurt or I don’t want a lot of drama. but ended up saying yes when they said, listen, you can just be yourself.

[00:02:31] The only point is that you’re gonna help people and we’ll record you helping people. It’s like, okay, I’m. So it, I didn’t have high expectations. It turned out to be an incredible experience. I mean, okay, so, 

[00:02:42] Zach White: so this is not you and I, I, I should have looked deeper for some clips I was seeking out, uh, you in action on this.

[00:02:49] This was actually live a part of the show, not a behind the scenes. providing support to the actors. This was actually you on the show doing real coaching. 

[00:03:00] Robert Mack: Yeah. So, there was two, two seasons. I thought we were gonna get a third, but it didn’t happen. So I was on, on camera expert and the first season it was a therapist, Dr.

[00:03:08] Darcy, and she was the primary host and there was, uh, a female dating coach, Laurel house. And there was a male dating coach, which was me, celebrity life coach, celebrity love coach, and uh, yeah. And then the second season, , Dr. Darcy and I working sort of in concert. almost exclusively on camera, I think.

[00:03:24] Zach White: Okay. Yeah. So I know we wanna respect. coach client confidentiality , but if it was aired on national television anyway, tell us what, like, what was the craziest moment of those two seasons? If there’s one thing that stood out where you were like, okay, didn’t see that coming, or it really tested me as a coach.

[00:03:43] Does anything stand out as that? Kind of weirdest or craziest moment? Yeah, I, I 

[00:03:48] Robert Mack: would say, uh, two things. Uh, one is, um, and I think we had Callum Best. He’s a great guy. I love Callum Best. And, he’s the first to admit it, it was aired. He went missing for a period of maybe a day or two, totally missing. up in the Hollywood Hills, just having a blast at some parties and he didn’t show up for taping and recording.

[00:04:06] So, uh, we had to postpone. , you know, the taping for a few days while we found Callum . So that was unique and interesting and funny. And I say the other thing is sort of the paranoia that sort of runs rampant on a set like that. Like you think, you know, you got these reality stars and some of them are former athletes and some of them are former, musicians or performers or other people that you’ve heard of, folks from the Jersey Shore.

[00:04:28] so on one hand, you know there’s gonna be a little bit of paranoia. those cast members don’t necessarily trust the producers. Producers don’t necessarily trust the cast members always. And so there’s a paranoia that can develop that is, sometimes real, sometimes a losery.

[00:04:40] Robert Mack: Right? Uh, that was the second thing. And the third thing I’d say too, is I was blown away by how incredibly intelligent most of these reality stars were. I mean, okay. I was blown away. I mean, honestly, I didn’t think that they would really want that much coaching, that they certainly wouldn’t want therapy and group therapy at that.

[00:04:56] But it turned out they did. , they were a lot more emotionally intelligent and a lot more self-aware than you might believe based on what you saw in tabloids or what you saw in a, TV show. So yeah, it was pretty incredible 

[00:05:09] Zach White: that way. That’s interesting. The thing about disappearing. So sometimes as an engineer, I wished that I could just disappear for a day, but I don’t think they would be quite as forgiving a whirlpool of just, you know, oh, you’re supposed to be on the, the assembly line solving problems today, and you just don’t show up.

[00:05:25] didn’t always feel like a real good idea to do that. I think the consequences might have been , not worth the risk. 

[00:05:31] Robert Mack: We have that in common, brother. I mean, I talk to people all day, every day. Six days a week, sometimes I’ve done it for 20 years and I just wanna hide some, sometimes.

[00:05:40] Right. Just totally hide. But yeah, that doesn’t go over too well with the clients. 

[00:05:43] Zach White: Yeah. , that’s an interesting point. So Robert, from the perspective of the work that you do, that, that part of us, and, you know, meeting you, I wouldn’t peg you as a, a shy or introverted person, which. . If I was painting with a broad brush, we might say that’s the type of person who wants to escape and be alone and hide more so than than somebody who’s not.

[00:06:06] But just in general, can you describe that part of our psychology? What’s going on there? Because I know as an engineer, I felt it now as an entrepreneur and a full-time coach, there’s days when I feel it. And to your point, I’ve got a full lineup of clients to serve that day and I love doing it. But there’s times when you have to really get your head on and your heart on and, and go anyway.

[00:06:28] Right. The, the instinct that morning is, man, I wish I could just not do this. What do you think is happening there? Well, 

[00:06:34] Robert Mack: a number of things. I think it’s both, on one hand it’s nature, on the other, it’s nurture. Some of us are wired. just differently, right? And that could be for lots of reasons. We know that there’s, essentially genetic coding for novelty.

[00:06:47] Some folks are more novelty seeking than other folks, right? So that in of itself, some of us are more sensitive to simuli, particularly external stimuli coming at us. some of us tend to be wired a little higher or lower for, introversion or extroversion. that being said, you can so. , find that whatever wiring you have coming into the world that it’s compounded by whatever programming, conditioning, and upbringing you have as well, or it can conflict with that a little.

[00:07:10] the one thing I’ve discovered amongst all of this is that it’s actually a lot more malleable and flexible than we might believe otherwise. Right? Plastic, really, because I was most shy of my high school. . Okay. And the only thing that’s worse than being most shy of your high school class is being recognized and celebrated.

[00:07:26] Robert Mack: And your 

[00:07:27] Zach White: football . Right. Being most shy, it’s not good. Yeah. Put on a pedestal for it. Yeah, totally. 

[00:07:32] Robert Mack: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. And I remember getting to a place in my life where I was just so frustrated, being so introverted and uncomfortable, being around people, you know, I tend to find, and most introverts do that you’re energized by being alone.

[00:07:44] Charges your battery and then when you’re with, people can drain your battery and extroverts work the other way. They’re energized by being with people and then they feel drained when they’re alone. But I found that after a period of time, cuz I got fed up with just being so shy and awkward, I put myself in this progressive social training program essentially, where I tried to basically train myself to be an extrovert or at least an ambi.

[00:08:09] and I discovered that it can be done and you can enjoy it. It doesn’t have to be painful. And so I found that experience that we’re a lot, most of us are a lot more cognitively agile and flexible. Yes. We give ourselves credit for Yes. And that’s something we’re exploring I think for most 

[00:08:23] video1826816889: of 

[00:08:23] Zach White: us. I really appreciate you saying that.

[00:08:25] I agree. I have found, especially working with engineering leaders as my core client base, we love to hide behind. The labels of personality profiling tools, Myers Briggs as an example, disk, as an example. And so, oh, I’m an introvert, Robert. Therefore, this is how I will always show up in the world in these tough situations, and there’s nothing I can do about it because this is my personality and.

[00:08:52] I’m with you. I’ve seen it. I’ve, I’ve, I’m a personal living example, same as you. I used to test as an introvert on Myers-Briggs for years. I mean, over a decade since the first time I took the tool. You know, I would retake it every couple of years for various reasons. you know, work would pay for it or you’d do some conference or you name it.

[00:09:10] And just last year, uh, you know, what might be two years ago now, time flies. The, the Covid effect on time. I tested as an extrovert for the first time ever. part of that is so much attention to personal growth and development as an entrepreneur, as a coach, as a person who needs to thrive in the environment of, you know, community and social interaction and relationship building, like what we’re doing right now.

[00:09:35] And I just like, there it is. You know, it’s absolutely possible to shift and change and not. Adapt to be successful in a social setting, but to, truly shift the way you create and or lose energy in, in your life. I think that’s really super important. So, 

[00:09:55] Robert Mack: well, you nailed it and to your point, this is why growth mindset is such a popular Yeah.

[00:09:59] Theme these days and why it’s so important. Because we sometimes, come into our lives in adulthood with these ideas of who we are that aren’t. On truth or facts, as much as they’re based on something we’ve inherited or heard or tested, we took somewhere along the line. And if you really wanna be happy and successful, you certainly wanna lean into more and more of a growth mindset.

[00:10:21] I mean, at the end of the day, all self-definition ultimately is self limitation. When anytime you define yourself in that way in a box, you’re really limiting yourself in ways that you might not see initially. But over time, you will experience more and more. And so you make a great point here, which is that I think we’re all.

[00:10:36] a lot bigger and better and more diverse, than we probably give ourselves credit for, and that we’re often willing to explore, right? Yes. So 

[00:10:45] Zach White: it’s worth exploring. Yes, yes. And as an engineer, precision with words matters. You know, we love to be very precise and analytical and, and vocabulary and defining and distinctions.

[00:10:57] And while that has a real positive in some aspects of the work that you do as an engineering leader, . It also creates a real pattern of putting everything in its box, including yourself. Yes. And, and the vocabulary that you choose for that identity is really, really important. So, let’s back up. you alluded to it that you were a happiness coach and you got sucked into being a love coach for television.

[00:11:26] But before we keep pulling this thread and your expertise on all it, I’d love to. , like, where did that part of your journey begin? Because you were in entertainment. you were modeling, doing, acting, all these other things, and then suddenly you end up with a master’s in applied positive psychology, one of the handful of people on the planet who have that designation, which is tremendous.

[00:11:49] And I’m super curious what all’s included in, in that program, but wh where did you of stumble into or find passion to become a happiness coach in the first. 

[00:12:01] Robert Mack: mostly in unhappiness, mostly in depression and suicidal ideation. I mean, the truth is, my first memories in life were memories of being extraordinarily stressed out, anxious, self-loathing, self, judging.

[00:12:14] Right? I was very judgemental. and just depressed, think at first it was just dysphoria and so it might not qualify as clinical depression, but over time I just assumed, look, I’m gonna become a professional basketball player. That’s what was my dream in. , you know, I’ll become a professional basketball player.

[00:12:28] I’ll make some friends, I’ll have some money and things will all put itself out. I’ll be happy. And of course, that didn’t happen, at least not professional basketball part and. , despite doing well academically, was alluded to one of my high school class, went on to a great college. I eventually had a great management consulting job.

[00:12:45] I had friends. I had a beautiful girlfriend. I had two great German cars. I just felt more and more depressed and I began experiencing suicidal eight ideation dozens of times a day. I literally thought about killing myself. Well, more than I thought about anything or anybody else Wow. In the world. And so I got to a place where I decided I was gonna do something about it.

[00:13:05] So I did some research. and I decided I was gonna slash my wrist. Um, not sure why exactly I chose that, except that I had access. I had the means and methods to do it. and the other ways felt more dramatic, I suppose. But I decided I was gonna slash my wrist, went and got a steak knife, in the kitchen, and I remember digging into my wrist and the most unexpected, unpredictable thing.

[00:13:30] Well, anything in my life, like the external conditions and circumstances of my life changing at all. So in other words, I had a great life. I had a really great life, which in some ways made me more depressed because I felt so guilty that I couldn’t feel more gratitude around it all. Despite none of that changing, I dug this knife into my wrist.

[00:13:46] I felt this is inexplicable peace and ineffable love, and sort of. limitless joy that I had never experienced before. And I was like, wait, what? Like, why am I feeling that way right now at this moment when I’m gonna take my own life? So I couldn’t really process it, but I thought, well, I’m gonna postpone the suicide for like five or 10 minutes.

[00:14:13] You know, it wasn’t very long, and at the time it felt way too ambitious. and now it’s almost laughable that I couldn’t wait five or 10 minutes. I, you know, at the time I thought, so in that time I started doing a different kind of research and that research mostly focused on happiness and unhappiness, what it is and isn’t depression.

[00:14:31] And I discovered that, first of all, I wasn’t alone. And second of all, there were some people out there in the world who had solved for the very problem that I was struggling with. you know, every. . So that began my journey and along the way, eventually at some point I found this program at University of Pennsylvania, a master’s in Applied Positive Psychology program.

[00:14:50] Zach White: Okay. My heart is like all over the place. Uh, Robert, I’m glad you’re here for this conversation. Um, Real quick, one of the things, but I mean, there’s so much here, but something that stood out to me, I wanted to get curious about. You said the first thoughts that I can remember in my life were in this category and, and are you talking like, you know, young age 4, 5, 6, like your, your true earliest memories?

[00:15:19] Yeah. Can you like, tell me about, about that? I mean, I, I’m curious cuz anything about my childhood, I guess I’ve, really considered the emotionality or the emotional scale and spectrum of where those things are at. I more think of situations and memories and most of them being the, the positive ones and then a handful of acutely negative ones.

[00:15:39] But what, what was in your mind going on that makes that all you can remember from that young? 

[00:15:46] I was a very sensitive kid, and my dad would sometimes joke, . Oh boy. You’re afraid of your own shadow. And I was . I was, I came later to discover I was an empath, but I think lots of us are, but I would just feel lots of feelings, you know?

[00:16:00] Robert Mack: And the first memory I have was, my dad very lovingly, trying to teach me to ride a bike. And I just was scared to death, first of all. For two reasons. One, I didn’t wanna fall off the bike and hurt myself. Second, I wanna fall off the bike and embarrass myself. Third of all, I didn’t wanna disappoint my dad.

[00:16:16] You know? So super. Right? Yeah. And so then, and I remember also at the same time playing it out and thinking, if I succeed at this, I don’t fall off and I don’t disappoint my dad, I’m gonna have to do it again and again. And there’re there’s gonna be something else. It’ll be baseball and be football. And just remember like playing it all the way out.

[00:16:35] Wow. And thinking, holy smoke. Wow, this is going to be my whole life. My whole life is gonna be filled with this experience of trying so hard to accomplish or achieve. We’re gonna acquire things and most of the time, many of the times I won’t be successful. And even when I am successful, I’m not gonna feel fulfilled.

[00:16:53] Now, it wasn’t that clear, linguistically. Sure. You philosophically, but the idea was this is miserable. And no matter how this turns, I would of suffer. 

[00:17:05] Zach White: Yes. I can’t win in this situation. Can’t win. The, the story of my life does not compare in the sense of the suicidal tendencies and the experience you just shared.

[00:17:16] And I don’t even wanna begin to compare the two, but something that I do relate to was when you talked about being, um, on. All the things that are necessary by the world’s standard. the magazine cover standard of life to experience something positive, happiness, joy, success, all of these good feelings we want and not feeling it.

[00:17:41] And that that truth or that awareness of the fact that I have all the stuff, but I’m still not happy puts an even more intense downward spiral. How you, relate to that. And this is one of those unspoken challenges that engineering leaders face. And I faced in my own journey where, , I felt this sense of who am I to complain about anything when I’m a, for me, white privileged, middle class engineer, well paid who lives in a great place, drives a great car, makes you know, six figures.

[00:18:21] I have it all, and I’m whining about the fact that my life is headed towards, burnout and depression and, oh, I got divorced. You know, like, whoop de do you know, I got divorced. This is nothing. But, but for me, I was in this rock bottom horrifically negative place, but I looked at the stats, you know, the, the what’s on the resume, so to speak.

[00:18:44] And it’s like, I have no business feeling. and that made it worse. And like, maybe what? What would be your word of encouragement maybe for Zach’s, you know, the Zach back then. What would you say to someone in that, in that place? I. , 

[00:18:59] Robert Mack: first of all, that resonates so deeply. I get shivers, right? I mean, that’s probably what pushed me over the edge was I was like, I’ve got a great life.

[00:19:07] I’ve got health, and I’ve got a beautiful girlfriend and I’ve got these friends and I’ve got this job. And yeah, I hate the job, but is that really something they complain about? Everybody hates their job. It’s like, how can I feel so miserable despite my life being so good? And so the guilt that I felt for not being able to feel that gratitude, yeah, yeah, just made it all that much worse.

[00:19:25] So the first thing I’ll say, . If you have everything, but you don’t have happiness, you really have nothing. And if you have happiness, but you don’t have anything else, you really have everything. Woo 

[00:19:39] Zach White: right. There’s my chills. I, that’s, that’s the thing. Say it again. Just, just repeat that. That’s so good. Yeah.

[00:19:46] If you 

[00:19:46] Robert Mack: have everything but you don’t have happiness, you really have nothing. And if you have nothing but happiness, you really have everything. Hmm. You know, all success strives for happiness. All wisdom aims for happiness. All health wants happiness. All love ultimately is after is happiness. Right? And so that’s why I call happiness the greatest success because it’s why we want success.

[00:20:16] It’s the greatest love cause it’s the reason we want love. It’s the greatest wisdom because it’s what all wisdom aims at. And so in other words, no matter what you want to achieve, accomplish, or. . The only reason you want to achieve, accomplish or required it is because you think you’ll feel better for having it.

[00:20:31] Yes. If you didn’t feel better or think you’d feel better for having it, it’s, it’s the largest pointless to have, right? Mm-hmm. , if all of the trapps of success lead you to suicide, you really have to reconsider whether or not those trappings of success really qualify as trappings of success at all. 

[00:20:52] Zach White: Hmm.

[00:20:52] Yeah, the, so I’ll use engineering speak. The, the data there is not conclusive that, that’s a good path to kotak. , yes. Yeah. Okay. And that word guilt that you said too, really it’s like we’re cut from the same two versions of the same story. So, okay. Let’s get back into the journey then. You, you go through this experience, you have this moment, this glim.

[00:21:18] Of what it would be like to have nothing but happiness and it causes you to pause. What a gift. The gift of life in that moment, and you capitalized on it, you, you found a way to get yourself to act on a, what we call that, a sense of hope, a sense of desire that pulled you. Talk to me about that phase of coming 

[00:21:38] Robert Mack: into the next chapter.

[00:21:39] So I made a decision, and this is why sometimes I, I look at some of the clients and friends and family and strangers I meet and I say, , how could I have gotten so lucky that having been on the brink of suicide, I was able to become exponentially happier? You know? So happy that I’d say I’m just as happy as anybody I’ve ever met, if not happier than anybody I’ve ever met.

[00:22:02] I said, why is that? Like other people try just as hard it seems and they, but I realized something, which is that I made a commitment early on that I would. Live as blissfully, as humanly possible, or not at all. I was very single minded. Wow. In this, with this one intention, this one desire, and at that point, and I don’t give myself credit for it, it was just, I was fortunate.

[00:22:24] I just saw through everything else that I had been attempting to achieve, accomplish. And I was like, okay, I’ve made enough money that I’ve discovered it’s not making me happier. In fact, lots of ways I feel more stressed out and anxious, and I’m worried about quitting a job now. relationship with the girlfriend has been amazing.

[00:22:41] Robert Mack: It’s something I thought I could never be with, and that’s making me miserable and I’ve got this great help, but to what end? I’m just wasting breath here on the planet. I was able to see through all of that and come to the discover the recognition. . If I didn’t have happiness, I didn’t have anything.

[00:22:56] So I made a commitment that I’m willing to surrender everything and anything. And everybody, and anybody in order to experience happiness, I’m gonna kill myself. Right? I mean, literally it was, it’s like the desire I had was like the desire you have when somebody holds your head under water and you just wanna live.

[00:23:16] You don’t, nothing else matters. Just that you live, that you just bob to the surface somehow. You know, you scratch and claw your way there. So, clarity, was that crystal clear for me? And the commitment was that strong. And so as a result of that, it’s interesting cuz it was definitely two steps forward and thousand steps back

[00:23:33] I started really quickly saying, okay, if everything I’ve been doing has led me to feel suicidal and the addiction community leader would say it differently, would say My best thinking led me here. My best thinking led me to suicide and depression. Then maybe I should. And it was a very elementary way of doing it.

[00:23:49] I said, I’m just gonna pull an opposite day or an opposite. With my life, which is that if the, if the corporate job is making me miserable, how can I get out of it? If the relationship, though I love her so much and she loves me, is making me miserable, how can I get out of it? If the thing in cold, rainy Philadelphia makes me miserable, how can I get out of it?

[00:24:08] You know? So I started moving towards that, in that direction. In that way, it was a very clunky way of going about it, and I wasn’t very informed about, . But interestingly enough, things started shifting and moving just enough that I could then see the next step and the next step and the next. 

[00:24:24] Zach White: That’s interesting and now so relate that clunky journey because what you’re describing I, I think is uh, in some levels of intensity, a journey many of us are on where it’s like, okay, how can I make some change to get a better outcome?

[00:24:42] And we tend to begin with these big building blocks of our external world. The job, the home, the relationship, and. Your book title that is so adept here, that happiness from the inside out, not from the outside end. And so where in the journey did you come across that reality that, okay, I’m doing all these things on the outside, but at some level then happiness becomes an inside job.

[00:25:10] Talk to us about the shift and where that came to play. 

[00:25:14] Robert Mack: So this is gonna sound more sophist. Than it was for me at the time. Okay. Cause I, okay. Okay. Came up and clear up what I was really thinking. And so in the beginning, you’re right, I took an outside in approach cause I didn’t know any better, right? So that outside in approach was mostly at first about doing as many things that made me happy as possible.

[00:25:35] While I did as few things that made me unhappy as possible, even if it meant people would look down on me, even if it meant I’d be embarrassed, I didn’t care. So, over time, I’ve discovered what I call happiness islands. Those are the activities you love for their own sake. So I just did as many of them as possible and I would try to reverse engineer out of my life.

[00:25:52] All the happiness deserts, those are things that you do not love for their own sake. They’re not intrinsically motivating or rewarding. They’re only extrinsically rewarding or motivating. You do them for the results they get you. So I try to really outsource, delegate, reduce, eliminate automated, regulate all the deserts in my life.

[00:26:08] Okay, beautiful. Off my plate, right? At some point. However, I realized that once I had done that, even the happiest activities like laying on the beach. So I’d always imagine, I’m gonna move to Miami, I’m gonna lay on the beach, I’m gonna look at models, whatever it’s Great. And then you think that you’re gonna be able to do that forever and you quickly discover that three days in, three weeks in like, I’m not getting the same happiness from this as I originally. and then you go to do something else that you thought was a happy activity that you could do forever, and you’re like, oh, there’s not happiness here either.

[00:26:40] So I was driven deeper. So then I said, oh, maybe it’s not about the happy actions or activities or. things. Maybe it’s about the people. So I said, I just gotta bring better, more interesting, fun people into the experience. Okay. And that for a while. And then you start to even see through that. Like you’re with the most wonderful person ever, but you still feel miserable.

[00:26:57] Or unhappy. Or anxious or stressed. And so then I was like, okay, it’s not the people either. And then finally got to a place where I was like, wait, but it must have something to do with the way in which I’m thinking about the people and the beach and the world and myself. That is really. what’s causing me to feel happy or unhappy.

[00:27:15] you can sometimes have the most positive thoughts, for instance, but still feel unhappy. And so then I realized, oh wait, there’s a deeper level here, which is not just about happy action or happy people spending time with happy people or even happy thoughts.

[00:27:28] Robert Mack: We’ll call it optimism of gratitude. It’s also about having no thoughts. That happiness ultimately is a state of being. Only partly a state of mind in the beginning, but as you continue to keep that up, you discovered that happiness is a true nature. Yes. It’s what exists. All of your thoughts, both positive and negative.

[00:27:48] you know, I can see the framework, right? The engineering, me coming to the surface again, like stepping down these layers to the root cause, if you want to think of it that way, but also, Without cause it’s not a Y equals Zev X equation, and I think that’s such an important thing for me and for the engineering mind.

[00:28:11] Zach White: That was really hard to wrap my head around because I love to formulate. The understanding, the cognition, you know, the consciousness to this, then this, then this, or if I do this and do this and what is Y equals fff X, the, the transfer function to get the outcome. And I saw happiness or joy or fulfillment or you know, whatever word really resonates deeply in that situation.

[00:28:40] As that outcome piece. what I hear you saying is, I love that phrase. Uh, it’s like, happy, no thoughts. It’s, it’s when you realize it’s not an outcome at all, it’s actually. It’s there in existence independent of any of those pieces. am I articulating it? Okay. Or, or add to it? What would you say?

[00:28:59] So 

[00:28:59] Robert Mack: beautifully. And it’s a testament to the work that you’ve done zag, because that is not something they pick up easily. I mean, it took me 20 years to really come around to recognizing that. Right. So you nailed it. true happiness. And you’re right, we can use all kinds of synonyms. It’s not about the word, it’s about the experience, right?

[00:29:15] Yes, yes. So true happiness, . It’s UNC caused, it’s unconditional. So in other words, happiness does not have a cause. Unhappiness has lots of causes, but one primary cause, which is being lost in discursive thought, right? It’s being lost in obsessive compulsive thinking and overlay, right?

[00:29:35] So that inherent, innate, intrinsic happiness or peace or love or self. It exists within us, has no cause it’s causeless, right? It’s UNCs unconditional. But we can get in the way of that by overthinking overanalyzing. It’s really, 

[00:29:57] Zach White: it’s really powerful. So if I back up to, let’s take the beach example. I live here just a mile from the Lake Michigan shores.

[00:30:05] There are beautiful beaches here and I love, love going after work in the summer with a good. To the beach right here by my place. And just sit and listen to the, waves lapping the shores of Lake Michigan. Take a dip, read the book, take a dip, take a nap, read the book. Like that is a happy island for me.

[00:30:25] And so if we take that experience and now if we’re related to the truth that you just articulated, What is happening there? Because a lot of times we’d say, well, but hey Zach, there. There it is. You took this action, you went to the beach, you felt happy. Like that’s cause and effect. Would you say what’s actually happening is somehow I got out of my own way to allow the experience of happening simply to manifest or is there something else?

[00:30:52] How would you describe these cause effect, mirages that we face in. 

[00:30:59] I think there’s a challenge, that most of this experience, which is a belief that correlation is causation. There’s that Right? Um, correlation. 

[00:31:07] Zach White: Hey, the good news is as an engineer we understand the difference.

[00:31:09] So you could use that 

[00:31:09] Robert Mack: language. I know, and I don’t too far with that. Cause you’re gonna break it down for me in a way that I won’t be able to understand. So there’s that, first of all. but also I would say, just to your point, you said it beautifully, happiness is a cork that floats on its own if you stay out of the way.

[00:31:25] What we mostly do all day, every day is just get in the way of it. That’s it. Yeah. So we’re just holding the cork down on the water and saying, why is the cork floating? Why is the cork floating? Why is the cork floating? And so we work so hard at the happiness thing when really all we need to do is not force the cork to float, but just take our hand off the cork so it floats on its own.

[00:31:44] same deal with us. So when we see a beautiful sunset, and another way of saying is this, lots of things can encourage you to be happy, but nothing can make you happy. Hmm. Cause happiness is not only within you, it’s what you essentially are. Right. It’s your true nature. So, It’s just really about getting outta the way.

[00:31:59] It’s the simplest way to put it. And the only thing that really hits in the way is our coming up with reasons. for why we shouldn’t be happy. why we aren’t happy, what everybody else is doing wrong. You know, blame and judgment ultimately comes down really to judgment. Um, we can talk about that in terms of duality, and anytime you start to think, you can start to see the ways in which the mind is, oh, the mind is divisive.

[00:32:21] It’s never decisive. Right? It’s always divisive. Hmm. Yeah. Right. So things in duality, to have a thought. Or exist in this world of duality where you’ve got a protocol immediately. So as you say, this sunset is beautiful, and then immediately it’s like relative to what? Something that that must not be beautiful.

[00:32:39] You know? I feel pleasure. Yes. Relative to what? The pain. So yes, as long as you mostly see and experience the world through your own thoughts and concepts and labels and definitions and descriptions, instead of having a direct experience of everything, right? So in other words, perceiving and experiencing without interpretation, all the.

[00:32:57] You’ll believe that happiness is something that exists external to you, that has causes, or you might even believe it’s something that’s internal to you that you have to produce or manufacture over and over and over again. And that’s extraordinarily effortful and time and energy consuming and exhausting.

[00:33:13] Zach White: Whew. I love this entire train of thought, and it’s almost ironic to use that phrase, you know, thought because the whole thing we’re seeking to get to here, The no thought side of this, and engineering as a discipline. You know, I paint with the broad brush. I, I’m sure there are exceptions, but my experience as an engineer consistently has been leverage the power of my intellect and thinking to create the results that matter.

[00:33:41] and you get trained and taught that if you don’t have what you want, get smarter, work harder, keep learning, . And so this is a really difficult message to hear for that part of my psyche. Even though I’ve done the work and I’m already, in some ways, so much further along the journey, I still sense rebellion in my mind.

[00:34:01] Zach White: Like, this can’t really be the thing because if I can’t think about it and articulate it and put a label on it, it can’t be real. Oh, exactly. Ugh. Talk to me. Yeah. 

[00:34:14] Robert Mack: So put an eloquent. remark to make all of nature is blissful except for human beings. , all of nature, right? I mean, just think about that for a moment, right?

[00:34:26] Oh, I mean, all of nature experiences the same loss, accidents, misfortune, illness, death if we do as human beings, but only people will make a problem out of their own existence and I love the prefrontal cortex, right? And I love thinking it’s fun. It can be enjoyable, it’s entertaining. And we accomplished a lot of things that way.

[00:34:46] We also accomplish a lot of suffering and depression and anxiety that way as well. Yes. Right. it’s tough, to know and feel and think that you can actually experience more happiness by not knowing so much as Mark Twain would say, it’s not what you don’t know that gets you in trouble.

[00:35:04] It’s what you know, that just ain’t so. Ooh. Yeah. And that’s why babies and small animals are so much happier than. 

[00:35:12] Zach White: That’s beautiful. Okay. In the spirit of where do we go with this reality as a first step and knowing that I almost don’t know how to articulate a question that doesn’t imply doing cause and effect kinds of ideas into our minds, but as much as possible, this being and doing duality of our nature.

[00:35:38] What would you encourage someone? If you were coaching me in this world and I was really struggling with overanalyzing, you know, taking my thought life into these negative spaces and, holding that cork underwater, where does someone begin? If there’s a, a first step or something that we can start to experiment or practice in our lives to get a little closer to this nature of happiness, what would you give 

[00:36:03] Robert Mack: me?

[00:36:03] Yeah. , I would start, if you’re new to this journey or you’re really struggling with your happiness or unhappiness, I would start with an outside in approach and there’s nothing to be ashamed about that. Start with the low hanging fruit. Yes. Or identify my happiness islands and my happiness deserts, and I would do everything humanly possible to schedule into my life more of the islands and to schedule out of my life.

[00:36:24] More of the deserts, right? By outsourcing, delegating, reducing, eliminate, automating regularly, okay? First step. Number two, I would do the same thing with people. So people that supported my happiness. I would spend more time with people that did not support my happiness. I would spend less time with very simple.

[00:36:38] Then I would move on to step three, and I would start to tell better feeling stories based in truth about everything and everyone in my life, including myself, right? So, , it could be called positive thinking, although I think that gets a bad rap. I sometimes like to call constructive thinking. It’s just think.

[00:36:58] and talking to yourself and others in ways that support you feeling what you most wanna feel experiencing what you most wanna experience or achieving, what you most want to achieve, right? So it’s like, is this thought supporting me and getting a promotion is this thought supporting me and feeling happier?

[00:37:13] That simple. Okay, so you wanna practice that and practice that and practice that until it becomes a habit. No one takes about 23 to 66 days if you do it every. if you’re really consistent with it, but most people struggle with doing it 

[00:37:24] Zach White: day. Yeah, yeah. Can we maybe I’ll, I’ll call it like go Tim Ferris on this for just a second.

[00:37:29] When you talk about that storytelling, step three, I think most people can wrap their head around schedule in the Happiness Islands. Get clear and, okay, maybe we should back up, do the work, right? Like I need to go home actually figure out what those things are, make it happen, make it a priority. Figure out what the deserts.

[00:37:49] Take the actions, make it a, a non-negotiable to go do it. But the step three one sometimes can trip up the engineering mind, I know from myself and my own journey and the clients I support. Okay. Robert, what do you mean tell better stories? is this sitting down with a journal, writing things down? Is this meditating, you know, visualizing?

[00:38:08] Is this working with a coach? Talking it out. Like what are you actually seeing happen? Yeah. In that step three, 

[00:38:14] Robert Mack: lots of, options there. I’d. You wanna focus on the challenges that are most difficult when you feel in a neutral or positive mood. So if you’re struggling with something, a whole lot like your family or something and you know, like trying to reframe that, or you’re bankrupt, or you just lost your job and you’re just suffering, you don’t really wanna start there.

[00:38:33] You wanna start with something that’s easier. But the idea is that you wanna, first of all, just notice the themes that do seem to reoccur in your life. The things that you seem to struggle with the most, that seem to bring you the most unhappiness or experiences of failure or stress or. and yes, you can sit down.

[00:38:47] It’s probably the best way. Sit down and when you’re in a neutral emotional state or higher cause if you’re less than that, you’re not gonna do a good job at this. You just wanna sit down and you wanna say, okay, how can I see this in a way that’s true, but better feeling. So, simple example is let’s say you’re broke.

[00:39:06] right. So I’ve been there plenty of times, totally broke, like no money. Right? And I would just say, I’m broke, you know, gosh, I’m a failure. I can’t believe I’ve gotten here. Okay. Maybe true. Okay. also just as true, but a lot more constructive and supportive and better feeling is to say, and it’s only up from here.

[00:39:22] There’s only up from here. I really can’t Yeah. Go right. Only up from here. Yeah. So the question is just using language and we sometimes think of, of language as a way to describe our experience, and that’s. But language doesn’t just describe your experience, it informs your experience. Yes. Then it steers it.

[00:39:39] Right? you wanna play with language a little. So it might be, a good example is in the beginning when I started this work, I didn’t realize I was doing it, but I was saying, we have more unhappy people on the planet than we have ever in the history of humankind.

[00:39:51] True. And then I was like, that’s not a very constructive, better feeling way of telling the story. And so I reframed it and said, We have never had as great an opportunity for happiness as we do in this day and age. 

[00:40:03] Zach White: Right. Beautiful. That’s beautiful. True. That’s really good. And the broke example, one of the things that stands out for me in that specific one is the story to say, I’m broke, but so was Tony Robbins at one time, who’s now.

[00:40:20] A billionaire and one of the most influential people on the planet. I’m broke, but so was, anyway, there’s a thousand more names we would all know that you could put in that category. And and I like using that as another way to amplify a story, um, as well. Just to say, I’m not alone in being in this 

[00:40:35] Robert Mack: place.

[00:40:36] That, that’s so good. I love that so much. And you’re right. The key here, and you wanna be careful of this and not make a mistake. I did in the beginning, which was. Pasting smiley stickers on empty gas tanks kind of thing. , right, where you just say the right word, but on the inside you still feel empty, you know?

[00:40:52] Oh, that’s funny. That’s funny, right? So the, you’re betting for a shift emotionally, and at first just don’t reach so high, just look for a little shift If you’re feeling yes, you procrast, just look for frustration. If you’re looking, if you’re in frustration, just look for. a little bit of annoyance. If you’re in annoyance, then you can begin to look for it, a little bit of peace, and you wanna move your way up the emotional scale, but just piece by piece.

[00:41:13] You don’t have to do it all at once. The other thing, it’s a cheat code. So if you really struggle with this, and lots of people struggle with this, I feel like I’m being inauthentic. I can’t tell the better feeling story. It just feels fake. Fine. If you just stick to the facts without adding any additional storytelling or meaning making around it, that also works.

[00:41:29] So instead of saying I’m broke, that’s a judgment. I have $0 in my bank account. Okay. And a. Any additional thought on top of that? Probably just storytelling, meaning making and judgment. 

[00:41:40] Zach White: That’s beautiful. That’s beautiful. I talk a lot about, with my clients, separating what happened from the story about what happened.

[00:41:48] You know, my boss is a jerk. That never happened. Your boss said something to you. He used these words. That’s what happened. Your boss being a jerk is your story about that situation, you know? So that’s really, really good. Oof. Okay. We could go all. Robert, I maybe do this for me and, and you used some words before we hit record today.

[00:42:07] Maybe that’s where, but if you were gonna summarize the message here about happiness, what’s the bottom line? 

[00:42:17] Robert Mack: No matter what you want, you really want happiness, prioritize happiness above everything else, because happiness is the greatest success and it also leads to. empirically, scientifically, we know that we’ve got decades of, of research to support that.

[00:42:37] Happiness is presence ultimately, and presence is less about thinking and more about not thinking. 

[00:42:46] Zach White: Hmm. I’m gonna be hitting the back 30 seconds button on my podcast player to listen to those words over and over and over. I I love that so much. Robert, if someone is resonating with this work, wants to connect with you, grab your book, follow your amazing content, maybe reach out to you for coaching.

[00:43:05] Where can people find you and get more of Robert Mack? 

[00:43:09] Robert Mack: Yeah, uh, you can find me at my website at coach rob mack m aac You can find me on most all social media platforms, probably most consistently Instagram at Rob Mac official, and you can find both of my release books, love From the Inside Out and Happiness from the Inside Out Everywhere Great books are sold, including Amazon, Barnes and Noble, target, Walmart, all 

[00:43:29] Zach White: the places.

[00:43:30] Beautiful. Robert, I always end with the same question and it’s rooted in the truth that you know as well as anybody I’ve ever interviewed. That questions lead, answers follow, and if we want better answers in our lives, we wanna make sure we’re asking better questions and so many of us are seeking happiness as the answer.

[00:43:55] So what would be the question that you would. Us with today.

[00:44:01] What am I? 

[00:44:04] Robert Mack: Ooh, what am I right? I have a mind, but am I a mind? I have a body, but am I a body? I have a personality, but am I a personality? What is it that’s aware of the mind and the body and the personality and the possessions and the achievements, but not. . So what am I really? 

[00:44:28] Zach White: Whew. I love that. Thank you so much.

[00:44:31] Welcome. What am I, not who? What am I? Robert? I just wanna say and acknowledge you. This has been one of the most powerful conversations I’ve had on the podcast in a long time. The work that you do preparing for this, it’s so obvious. You’re having a massive impact in the world. I love. That reframe you gave about now is a time where happiness has a greater opportunity than it’s ever had.

[00:44:56] You know, the Happy Engineer Podcast has been blessed by your generosity today. So thank you, thank you, thank you. This has been awesome. Your pleasure. 

[00:45:05] Robert Mack: Honestly, Zach is all mine. I feel so uplifted. I feel so touched and honored and humbled that you would have me in conversation. Clearly, brother, you have done the work yourself over and over and over again, so thank you for that and your blessing, me and all of us with your phenomenal