What is happiness to you? Steven Adams, the author of the new book, “On The Way,” is coming to SOHO to introduce people to a practical approach to manifesting and sustaining happiness by focusing on behaviors over outcomes. Steven sat down with Alternative Apparel to talk more about his book that defies our perception of happiness.
- Where did the title “On The Way” come from? Can you give us some context?
What’s interesting about the title for the book is that fact that I’ve been historically awful at coming up with titles. I could write an entire song’s worth of lyrics and yet freeze when it came time to give the song a name. To be honest, the title “On The Way” just came out of nowhere and instantly I knew that’s what it was supposed to be. After all, one of the main points of the book is that we should be able to be happy “On The Way” of our life path, not just when we arrive at certain points. Most of us have been convinced that we should expect the majority of our lifetime to be filled with struggle, only to occasionally stumble upon brief moments of happiness. I take significant exception to this and “On The Way” flips this way of thinking completely on its head.
The same was true for the concept of the book’s cover, which is obviously unconventional. The idea just seemed to materialize out of nowhere. The title itself is nowhere to be found on the front cover…you only see the “chaos” artwork that wraps around the spine from the back cover, as well as my name. We all have different attachments and cognitive biases toward certain words and ideas. I didn’t want anyone initially looking at the book to think anything other than, “what is this?” or “who would publish a book with no title on it?”. Admittedly, there are many other books already out there that are focused on happiness or adjacent topics and I didn’t want “On The Way” to be easily dismissed in light of that. I wanted people to see it, pick it up, flip it over and read the description before deciding whether or not it resonated with them. The spirit of this book is all about honest and deep questioning, a sincere curiosity, and I believe even the cover aligns to that.
- What encouraged you to help people find their way to happiness?
I’ve always envisioned doing something with my life that would impact people in a big and positive way, even if I wasn’t necessarily always sure what that was going to look like. I’m so incredibly fortunate, in so many ways, that I couldn’t help but feel a certain responsibility to leverage my advantages for the benefit of others. As far as “On The Way” is concerned, I didn’t initially set out to write a book. I actually just began to write notes to myself as a way of trying to make sense of one of the most challenging periods of my life. It seemed that no matter how much effort I was putting into both the personal and professional sides of my life, nothing was happening.
My life was beginning to feel like an endless series of “almosts”. I think most people who know me would characterize me as an exceptionally positive and optimistic person. However, that was starting to turn…I was beginning to feel increasingly bad about myself and confused by everything that was, and was not, happening in my life. So, rather than beginning yet another inconclusive mental tennis match, I started to actually write little notes to myself in the hope that I’d be able to happen upon a moment of clarity and some direction.
The more and more I thought, the more and more I wrote. After some time, I had enough written down that I thought this collection of thoughts could be turned into a book. I honestly believed that even if this impacted just one other person’s life, then the whole endeavor would’ve been worthwhile.
I’m proud to say that after just two months since the book was published (independently), that it has already reached readers in eleven countries around the world. The book’s reception so far has been nothing short of incredibly humbling, it’s almost hard to describe how good all of this feels. The reality of it began to hit me when I started receiving letters from people I don’t know, who not only thanked me for writing this book but also shared their stories of how it was impacting their lives and their relationships in positive ways.
- Describe your childhood and some important leaders in your life.
I grew up in what you could consider to be a fairly typical middle-class family in central New Jersey. Looking back, it seems almost strange that I had chosen the path I did, at least up until somewhat recently. My parents have always been unbelievably supportive in whatever I wanted to do and they never pressured me to go one way or the other. I was always a good student, so I think they just trusted that no matter what road I decided to go down, I’d figure it out. Ironically, even with that amount of freedom and the absence of the kind of pressure that a lot of people experience from their families, I ended up pursuing finance in school, after a short stint as pre-med.
Until relatively recently, practically all of my work life has been either directly or indirectly related to the world of finance. To be honest, none of it has ever really resonated deeply with me or even utilized all of what I believe I am capable of. Actually, I knew this wasn’t what I was supposed to be doing with my life even right after I graduated. However, I didn’t know what to do our how to change my direction. I also wasn’t wise enough, at the time, to know to trust my intuition. When I moved to NYC about seven years ago, I actually began to play shows (I’m also a musician) at night while working in finance during the day. Looking back, I believe that experience really opened me up to the point where I began to feel more and think less. There was a growing roar inside of me that was trying to tell me the true direction I was supposed to be taking in my life and I was no longer capable of stifling or silencing it.
In terms of leaders that have really had an impact on my life, I’d have to start with my parents, first and foremost. I can honestly say that they taught me what I believe to be the two most valuable things any parent could teach their child: to always be yourself and how to love one’s life, and the people in it, with everything you have. I guess you could say that I’ve been looking for something, be it my purpose or my happiness, for most of my life. Yet, no matter what I did in search of that, my parents support and encouragement has been nothing short of unwavering. I was also very fortunate to have some fairly progressive teachers early on. I was raised in a Catholic household and attended an all-boys Catholic high school. However ironic, it was actually there that I was exposed to other ideologies and modes of thought that inspired me to begin asking life’s big questions. Around the age of 16, I began heavily experimenting with meditation and studying the works of some of the great Eastern thinkers. Perhaps the most influential of them was Jiddu Krishnamurti…his ideas completely upended my worldview and everything that I had known or been taught, up to that point. Again, to my parents’ credit, even if they didn’t agree with or understand what I was doing or why, they trusted me and loved me enough to let me follow my own path.
Music has also always been an inextricable element of my story and much of the music I listened to as I was growing up served as encouragement that it was not only “ok” to question the status quo but to also move in a different direction, if that’s what felt like the right thing to do.
- Who is your book for and how can people benefit from reading “On The Way”?
I can honestly say that I believe “On The Way” can benefit the lives of almost anyone from young adult to “experienced”. The moment you have some awareness of, and autonomy in, the direction of your life and your power to pursue that, “On The Way” can serve as a companion along that journey. Everything about this book was completely intentional and meant to help the greatest number of people possible. From the cover design to the interior layout to the actual wording, I wanted this book to be undeniably accessible and practically useful. I’ve read a fair amount of traditional philosophical texts, as well as many of what you could call more contemporary “self-improvement” books. On the one hand, most of the philosophical books I’ve read are very esoteric and “heavy”. It just so happens that those types of books resonate with me, but they don’t with a lot of other people. There’s an incredible amount of wisdom locked up in these works that will never see all of the eyes it should, and that’s really unfortunate. On the other hand, many of the more contemporary and popular “self-improvement” books are, in my opinion, either far too vague, tangential or repetitive.
What’s the turn of phrase, “create what you love and don’t yet see…”?
The reason that I feel “On The Way” stands out so much is three-fold: the language and concepts are fundamentally accessible, it lends itself to real-world, practical application and it only presents what I believe to be the most essential elements needed for the book and its central themes to be cohesive and comprehensive. Although “On The Way” is almost two hundred pages, it’s a book that’s fairly stripped down. The pages themselves range from being completely filled to holding just one sentence. Again, this was intentional because I’ve seen it be the case that an incredible piece of advice or wisdom is buried in a sea of text on a page. When every page is full, it becomes easier for readers to miss certain important points, especially when they become tired, distracted or “zone out” while reading. “On The Way” is structured in a manner to hold the reader’s attention and draw them into presence by constantly shifting the rhythm of the read and making sure the most important points are highlighted. In a way, reading this book is itself an act of meditation.
I think that, at a minimum, “On The Way” will inspire people to begin asking themselves the right questions about how they’ve constructed their lives and the ways in which they seek happiness. Beyond that, I believe it also has the potential power to completely revolutionize the way in which people are living and what they ultimately value.
- What is the biggest myth about happiness that you’ve ever heard?
As far as happiness is concerned, I believe the biggest myth that (unfortunately) most of the world operates under is that happiness can be found in things outside of the self. “On The Way” is broken down into two relatively distinct parts. The first half discusses the two most fundamental issues people encounter when seeking happiness. The first being that almost all of us live our lives without a clear definition of what happiness is to us, on the deepest of levels. If we don’t really know what we’re looking for, how can we find it in the first place, or recognize it, if and when we do find it? The second being that we’ve been socially conditioned to look for happiness in objects and outcomes. “I’ll be happy when I get “this” or when “that” happens” are very common things we’ve all heard or said. But what happens if you don’t get “this” or “that” doesn’t happen? Are you now just supposed to acquiesce to never becoming truly happy? On top of that, even in the situations where we get “this”, or “that” happens, any type of happiness derived from that experience is usually pretty short-lived. So, you end up with a picture of happiness that looks quite close to the “chaotic” artwork on the cover of the book. It’s not self-manifested and not self-sustainable. The majority of our human experience is completely outside of our control, even if we have some degree of influence over it. The physical world around us…the thoughts, emotions and behavior of others…even our own thoughts and emotions…are all outside of our control. The only thing we have complete control over is what we do or don’t do, our behaviors. That realization led me to believe that if we want to manifest and sustain a consistent and durable kind of happiness, we need to make sure it’s rooted in the only thing we actually have control over in our lives, our behaviors.
- What is self-love to you?
Thanks for asking this question, it’s something I’ve really been thinking about lately. I think self-love, or maybe self-actualization, is the result of self-knowledge/awareness and self-acceptance. I feel that one of the reasons that most people aren’t happy or can’t experience self-love to the degree they should is that they’ve never actually taken the time to go inward and find out who they are and what resonates with them. I think it’s a fundamental flaw in our social fabric and our educational systems. From the very beginning, we are taught to be voracious and thirsty for knowledge of the world around us but very little attention is given to learning about ourselves, at least in a direct and intentional way. Our educational curriculums have been, and continue to be, reflective of that. So, we end up spending the majority of our lives looking for answers in everything around us and nowhere within us. That leads us to begin imitating and copying others, more often than not doing things that don’t resonate with us or make us happy. I think love requires trust and trust requires knowledge and acceptance. This applies as much to the self, as anything or anyone else.
- Any advice for those who feel defeated? Or any call to action for your readers?
I’d say the first step toward a sustainable happiness is allowing yourself to look at every aspect of your life (work, relationships, etc.) with true honesty. You can only begin making decisions about your direction, once you know what’s working and what’s not. I stress the honesty aspect of this because I think that we often dodge the right questions in fear of the answers we’d give. Most people aren’t very comfortable with uncertainty or change, but this is the essence of life and there’s no way to run from it if you want to become truly happy. We have to be able to let go of the things that no longer serve who we are and make room for that which does. That’s true courage. I believe once you get to a place where you know who you really are and have accepted who that is, you start vibrating on a different level. It’s at this point that all of the things that will support your happiness are attracted to you and those things which hold you back naturally fall away. Getting to this point can take some time and you might have to work through some challenges along the way, but it ultimately results in a foundation that’s truly unshakeable, regardless of what’s happening around you in your life. It really begins and ends with us. Taking responsibility for our own lives and our own happiness is essential and, more or less, a one-person task.