Adam Yauch on Happiness: Part One

When I started the Project Happiness organization, I wanted young people to be able to speak with luminaries, people that they looked up to. I'm grateful that so many icons -- from filmmakers and actors to scientists and world leaders -- have supported the idea that everyone deserves to find their happiness, and opened up to the kids to share with them their wisdom and passion for life. Adam Yauch, aka MCA, of the Beastie Boys was one we will always remember.

Last Friday, I was getting ready for a screening when I learned the devastating news that Adam had lost his battle with cancer. He was an inspiration to me and to so many through his music, but there was much more... We were so fortunate that he took some time to sit down with some student leaders that are part of the Project Happiness program for one of the most insightful interviews that anyone has ever given to us. It revealed that he was not only an amazing artist, but also a visionary humanitarian. We recently published portions of the interview on our website but I wanted to share all of his inspirational words and insights with you so here is the full interview, edited only for flow.

PROJECT HAPPINESS: I was wondering what your definition of happiness is, and whether it is in the long-term or short-term spectrum?

ADAM YAUCH: It's good that you're making the distinction between short-term and long-term. I think there is a big difference. Short-term could be almost anything that makes you feel good for the moment. In terms of lasting happiness, one way to look at it is that any happiness that you experience in life is the result of constructive or altruistic things that you've done. It's all kind of the karma of past actions. In the same sense, any unhappiness that you experience in the present is the result of selfish things that you've done in the past. One way to look at it is that if one wants to create more happiness in their life, then working towards doing more altruistic things or things to benefit other people is the way to get there. I don't know if that exactly answers your question in terms of the definition of what happiness is, but I'll throw that out there anyway.

PH: What brings you happiness?

ADAM: I definitely enjoy making music. I have fun hanging out with my daughter, my family, with my wife.

PH: We're part of this project called Project Happiness, trying to help or have people understand how to get back to their own happiness. Can you describe a point in your life when you felt like the challenges in your life were keeping you from finding your true happiness? And could you describe how you overcame those challenges?

ADAM: I don't know if I have any good anecdotes for that. I think one of the most fulfilling things that I've been involved in was doing the Tibetan Freedom Concerts. That was pretty amazing. Seeing some of the results of that, or seeing what it meant to people, to the Tibetan people that are striving for independence. I think being involved in those concerts was pretty amazing.

PH: What would you recommend to people who don't feel like they could have that much influence on society to bring their happiness, to do something that they can be proud of and that they feel is helping others?

ADAM: Everything we do affects other people. One doesn't have to be doing something that has some huge sweeping change on a lot of people at one time. Every way that we interact with other people, even if it's like, you're at the store and buying something -- it's the way that you interact with the clerk at the store. EVERY action that we take has some motivation of either being selfish or altruistic. All that adds up. I've heard the Dalai Lama talk about how it's important to watch your thoughts. Thoughts are what lead to actions. If you are striving to have more happiness in your life, it helps to guide your mind towards starting to recognize what are selfish motivations and what are constructive motivations. The more you look at that and recognize it, the more that's going to influence your actions.

PH: You mentioned the concert you did for the Free Tibet Movement. What in your life inspired you to use your passion for music to really promote something that was significant to you?

ADAM: In terms of what inspired me to be involved with Tibet specifically is, I guess I just came across it. I was traveling in Nepal and met some Tibetans. They had just come over the Himalayas escaping from Tibet, and they were on their way to Dharmasala to see the Dalai Lama. I just got interested in why they were trying to escape from Tibet, and why they were so interested to get to the Dalai Lama. I started researching that a bit more. The more I looked into it, I just wanted to help out with that situation. Of course music is the best way for me to be able to be involved, because that's what I'm around. It just sort of made sense.

PH: We all hear about Tibet but most people don't take action. What inspired you to take action?

ADAM: I think I was in a place in my life where it was the right time for me to do that. I felt like I wanted to do something constructive, something that could possibly effect some positive change. It was strange for me doing it because I was very critical up to that point of musicians trying to do constructive things in the world.

A lot of times I'd see musicians out there doing benefit concerts or slinging some cause and I always felt like "Oh God, just shut up." It felt like a big risk because I knew that it would probably have pissed me off seeing someone else do it. But it just felt like something that I really wanted to be involved in, so I did it. Some people were pissed off about it. But there were some people that it had a real positive effect on. So, no regrets.

PH: Do you feel that people don't take you seriously in this cause? Does that frustrate you at all?

ADAM: Some people don't take it seriously. But some people do, so... It was interesting when we were on the Lollapalooza Tour, we brought out some Tibetan monks. This was even before the first Tibetan Freedom Concert. We brought a group of monks over from India and had them on the tour. There were certain times that the monks would go on stage and get booed. I remember in Philadelphia, people were throwing stuff at the monks. I don't remember if it was me, but somebody asked the monks, "Is this really worth it?" "Do you really think you should be here?" And one of them said "If this has a positive effect on even one person, then doing this whole tour is worth it." I'll always remember that.

PH: With your time spent with these monks, is there anything in specific that you've learned that you think has really impacted you?

ADAM: One thing that surprised me when I was first was meeting some of the monks and some of the teachers in the Tibetan tradition -- they have such a great sense of humor. They're dead serious about their studying in terms of their religion, but there's often a real sense of humor about life that surprised me. The Dalai Lama once tried to tickle me!

PH: I've heard you say it before in past interviews, and I definitely agree myself that greed is a big problem today in America. It seems that people view wealth as a measurement of their success in life, or even a measurement of their own happiness. How can we change this mindset, which most of us have been brought up believing?

ADAM: It's pretty easy to see that wealth doesn't really equal happiness. We can, just by looking at the news you can see that a lot of people in the world who have ridiculous amounts of money are not too pleased with their lives, and spend a lot of time being unhappy.

This is part one, part two to follow.