CPA 18 | Get Happy

Everyone seeks happiness, but life doesn’t always agree. Despite all the challenges, we can all be happy, and Mark Jaffe, the former senior executive at The Walt Disney Company, will show you how. Janine Hamner Holman dives into the search for happiness with Mark as they discuss what gives people joy. From living in the moment to keeping an attitude of gratitude, we look at how people can stay happy. Keep smiling even when you’re sad with these life-affirming words from Mark.

HOST: Janine Hamner Holman | [email protected]LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter | Subscribe to my Newsletter! | Book me to Speak!

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Get Happy! And It’s OK If We’re Sad Too: A Conversation with Mark Jaffe

What am I paying attention to now? The difference between who we are and what we do. What I mean by that is for those of us who have had the privilege of raising or being a part of helping to play a role in raising children. When we are working with children, we try to remember that there’s a big difference between someone being a bad person and someone doing a bad thing.

I know in my life, I have been a good girl who did some bad things. When we grow up, it can get a little harder to have those distinctions. I was talking with one of my coaches about how I have it that it’s a bad thing when I feel like I need to seek reassurance from somebody about something. What we unpacked is that, as my life’s work, I have chosen to get into what John Lewis called good trouble.

The mission of my company is to have the world of work be one in which everyone can thrive. To make that happen, I have to disrupt the status quo. I also have, in general, a keen sense of when something is awry, something is amiss or there’s a big elephant in the room that we are all trying to ignore. It’s courageous of me and you when we speak up, seek clarity and reassurance.

For all of you other good troublemakers out there, remember to see it as a strength and not a problem when you speak up, which brings me right into my guest. Before I get into who he is, I want to tell you a bit about what he does. Mark Jaffe is a former Senior Executive at The Walt Disney Company and also has been the President of Strategic Growth Consulting. They enable entertainment, manufacturing, other kinds of technology companies. Also, other product and service companies to achieve breakthrough revenue growth with sustainable profits from a foundation of strong strategic analysis and innovation.

Along the way, Mark got interested in happiness. At a young age, he realized that his happiest life was not something out of reach. He studied, observed, cultivated, and ultimately has enjoyed and enduring happiness through a singular focus on identifying what worked and what didn’t. He has also had an amazing life journey that has included a lot of career successes and some career failures, a marriage that succeeded until it didn’t, two fabulous kids, and a dog. He has created a learned ability to be happy, which has made him happy consistently for over 40 years. Welcome, Mark.

Thank you, Janine. That’s such a wonderful introduction. I have to share with you how happy I am that you introduced me the way you did with a preface about authenticity. I will tell you why. Now, as I was thinking about what we were going to talk about, I realized that overall, I wasn’t that happy. How in the world am I going to go on to this show with you and talk about happiness when there feels to be this cloud hanging over my head? I thought, “How incongruent,” but yet I felt the need to be authentic, to speak up and speak your truth.

CPA 18 | Get Happy

Get Happy: It’s really about the tools that we can use to trust our capacity for happiness because happiness is a constant process.


How can I be happy during this period of what for me is relative unhappiness? My mom passed away not too long ago and we are under this cloud of COVID. The two things that give me such incredible joy, which are travel and live music, have been virtually inaccessible. My girlfriend who moved in with me works at a healthcare facility and runs the facility. She’s out until 10:00 under total stress. I’m sure so many of us are under this horrific cloud of COVID. By the way, no one is dying, thank God, in my family from COVID. No one has gotten sick from COVID. My complaints are quite minimal, yet if I’m doing full recognition, I’m not as happy as I would like.

I have been talking a lot about health and wellness, and what’s happening in the world of health and wellness, both relative to us as individuals and to organizations. You worked for Walt Disney. You have worked for a number of large businesses over the course of your career, both as an employee, a leader, and a consultant. It used to be in those organizations that our happiness, health, and wellness were each individual person’s obligation to deal with.

In part, because of the last few years that we have all gone through and the things that have been illuminated in this time, this idea of health and wellness has transmogrified from being a personal issue to being a corporate issue. It’s also a societal issue in a way that it has never been. I love that we are having this conversation about happiness at a time when most people are not happy because of the circumstances in which we find ourselves.

What are some of the things that we can do to rise above our circumstances and understand our circumstances are what they are and they are crappy? If I had it on my way, I wouldn’t have it be different but I don’t. A great friend of mine and one of my coaches gave me a present for the holidays called an Impact Deck. Every day, I am pulling a card. The impact card says, “I am in charge of how I feel. Now, I choose happiness.”

That is perfect. The crux of it is, how can we remain happy while being unhappy? Truthfully, happiness and unhappiness can peacefully coexist. If you think about having lost someone, how can you reconcile their loss with the incredible memories you have? You can experience the joy and re-experience the love at the same time you feel the sadness.

Think about people who are in a wheelchair or have some other physical impediment. Naturally, that causes them continual unhappiness. It doesn’t go away, yet there are these moments of joy. A lot of what I write about in the book is not about how to hold on to happiness as we idealize it indefinitely. It’s about the tools that we can use to trust our capacity for happiness because happiness is a constant process. It goes in, goes out but these tools build the resiliency we need.

Truthfully, happiness and unhappiness can peacefully co-exist. Share on X

As anyone could have told you in the last few years, the two tools we have needed the most are resiliency and adaptivity because everything changes in a moment. These tools to be happy are real tools that you can use now. I will give you an example. There are ten pathways in the book to happiness. One of them is the magic of simplicity. I was invited many years ago to this thing called the State of the World Forum put on by Mikhail Gorbachev. In this forum, there was a Buddhist monk who has passed away called Thich Nhat Hanh who invited us to a seminar. You are familiar, right?

I am.

You will love this story. There are all sorts of luminaries, politicians, and scientists. You go into these formal rooms and everyone is all dressed up. Thich Nhat Hanh’s room had one pillow for him to sit at on the floor. We go into the room and everything is still. He walks in with that presence that you know and he simply looks out at all of us. We don’t know what’s coming.

He says, “Today, we are going to peel an orange and eat it.” He takes out an orange and he slowly but surely looks at the orange and talks about the brilliance of the color. He feels the nubs on the orange and how it radiates off of his finger. He then smells it and then builds to this climax of where he sticks his fingernail in it and the spray of the juice goes on to his face. He’s getting further and further into the sensuality of this orange and by the time he eats it, the whole audience is exhausted. We are completely spent. We were so immersed in his experience. By the way, this took 45 minutes for him to take the first bite.

When you think of the completeness of that 45-minute moment and the immersion that we allowed ourselves to get into that moment, that is one of the keys to happiness. That’s accessible to anyone after they finish reading this episode. They can have a moment of simplicity. My parents who had this amazing love for each other were side by side forever. They would fall asleep on the couch together holding hands.

They once told me the story about how they were on a cruise and described how they were out on the balcony. It was 10:00 PM. The stores were out and the cruise ship was slowly moving through the water. They talked about this serenity and peacefulness that they had because nothing existed at that moment, except for the two of them holding hands in the night sky.

CPA 18 | Get Happy

Get Happy: The present moment, even in moments of unhappiness, is always accessible to us.


It was an immersion into the present moment. The present moment, even in moments of unhappiness, is always accessible to us. Before I came here, I was sitting by my window feeling the warmth of the sunshine on my skin and it was so wonderful. I run cold anyway. Anytime I’ve got to go do the work, it’s something to be celebrated. If people were to practice this magic of simplicity and immerse themselves in the present moment, they are going to see that simplicity is a gift that you could give yourself all the time. No matter what state of mind you are in, no matter what dark cloud is hanging over you, the present moment can give you happiness that can coexist with the unhappiness that you are feeling.

We have an elderly dog who is in his final weeks of life and I have the opportunity every night to go outside with him for his last potty run. I kissed his face. He has a long nose, so I kissed one side of his nose, and then he will lean his head over and I will kiss the other side of his nose. Even here in Southern California, in Pasadena, I can look up. While we have a lot of light pollution, there are still stars in the sky.

Every evening, I have this moment with my dog who I adore and I’m beginning to prepare to let go of, and then get to be present to the night sky, to the stars. That feeling of both infinity and our smallness in the hole is everything. I have this tender place in me around my dog. I can still, at that moment, have this experience of joy of looking at the magnitude of the universe and thinking of my dad who loves the stars in his final stages. He is still great and in good health.

For everybody, there have been these interesting times of a wonderful article in The New York Times called anticipatory grief. That is what I have for the future passing of the dog and the future passing of my beloved parents who I’m happy to say are both still here but in their 80s. There is so much of a sense of loss at the end of 2021. You and I were talking about how much we miss getting to be together with other people, hug other people, and have that sense of camaraderie, togetherness, and connection.

One of the amazing things that Zoom and these forums like this show have created is a sense of connection and knowing, and being able to know and meet people that we wouldn’t know and meet otherwise. There is so much in there for which I am grateful and happy, at the same time where I have deep sadness.

I’m so present to this other pathway of happiness which I call the joy of connection. I went through times of pain with my mom’s passing. I remember waking up the morning after she passed and I said, “I want people I care about to be with me.” That joy of connection during times of pain, don’t you always wonder how people can laugh at funerals? Doesn’t it feel like, “It’s so disrespectful. You can’t laugh.” That’s part of the acceptance of the grieving process and that’s part of the connection.

No matter what state of mind you're in, no matter what dark cloud is hanging over you, the present moment can give you happiness that can co-exist with the unhappiness that you're feeling. Share on X

Even in these times of trouble, when one can connect with another person on any level, especially on a level like this conversation is going, there is neurological and scientific proof that that creates and triggers these endorphins of happiness. I will give you an example. I was one time with my best friend, which automatically was a sense of connection, and we were wandering around Baja, California. There was this area on the Eastern side, South of San Felipe Bay called Puertecitos.

Someone local had told us to go there and there are a bunch of hot springs. There was this hot spring that was right next to the ocean. You could stand up and walk into the ocean and walk back into the hot springs. We went there and it was desolate and beautiful. Right before the sun started setting, all of the local villagers came in their bathing suits to the hot spring. We didn’t speak Spanish that well but no one seemed to care. They welcomed us in that circle and I have such wondering warm feelings of all the “communication” that took place without any words. It was because we were all sharing in that common experience.

People underestimate the joy of connection. I remember there’s this one quote, I forget where I read it, that defined this two-year period by saying, “Never have many spent so much time with few.” On some level, it’s by necessity. On some level, it’s by design. We sought happiness and connection during this profound period of disturbance and disruption. Through connection, we are able to achieve that.

I love that image of you and your best friend and then all the villagers there for sunset. There is a wonderful thing that happens in many places in the world. My husband and I, several years ago, were in Greece. It felt like at every sunset, everything would stop and everyone would pay attention to the sunset. My brother is boarding a plane coming back from Kenya. One of the big things that everyone would do every day was to pay attention to the sunset.

I love both of that imagery because when the sun is setting, we are at the close of a day, we are at a point of introspection and reflection. Also, often it is spectacularly beautiful. It’s taking those moments to be present to the beauty, to be present in a collection of people as much as we can and as safely as we can. To have that sense of community of place, pause, beauty, all is one of the amazing things that we get to do every day if and when we take the opportunity to do it.

The journey is the destination. My girlfriend and I love watching the sunset. We live right at the beach in Santa Monica, California. We always look for this illusory and we all ridiculously thought we would create them. Have you ever heard of the green flash? It’s a total fabrication. It never happens. We would always look for it though because that was our thing. We are like, “Maybe it will happen.”

CPA 18 | Get Happy

Suitcase of Happyness: A Roadmap to Achieve and Enjoy Your Happiest Life

It was not only a green flash, it went for at least a second, a full beat. It is green. It exists. I wonder if it was that special moment because we saw it or because, for months, we have built ourselves up to the thought of the green flash. This is in the midst of this whole pandemic. There was this amazing moment of joy. We had joy. Thinking about it makes me happy again, which is the concept behind this book.

You are thinking, “Where does Suitcase of Happyness come from?” There’s a story of this guy and his wife. He is a famous commercial photographer in France. She was with some friends at a cafe in 2015 in Paris, which was the cafe that was bombed by terrorists. Of course, you could only imagine. They had two kids, a tight family, everything was perfect. At her funeral, he was talking about this incredible pain of losing her and said, “The one thing that has kept us going is her valise de bonheur.” In French, it means her suitcase of happiness.

It wasn’t a real suitcase. It was a metaphorical suitcase. What she would do is she would consciously collect all these moments we have been discussing. I don’t think I will ever forget that visual of you and your dog kissing. That is such a precious moment. Imagine if you had hundreds and thousands of those moments and you have collected them in your suitcase of happiness and can unpack them at any time. They are always accessible to you.

Writing the book, I thought would be a great joy. One thing I hate is being alone in writing. Why in the world would I write a book? I wrote it for my kids because it’s a legacy to them. What I didn’t realize that happened was I loved writing the book because I was fully in the moment. All these anecdotes that I share and I’m sharing with you bring me happiness. In essence, it was a real-life unpacking of my suitcase of happiness that overcame how much I hate being alone than I hate writing.

If you are out there reading and you are thinking, “This sounds like a pretty good idea. I should start creating a suitcase of happiness that I could go to at any moment.” How does one start creating a suitcase?

We have talked about a number of ways but I will give you the easiest way. The easiest way has three letters and it’s called the Rule of Yes. Say yes. Yes, leads to such an infinite world of possibilities. I will give you an example. Some of your readers may have gone to improv where they give you a situation and then on-the-spot actors create everything.

Saying yes leads to an infinite world of possibilities. Share on X

The Rule of Improv is yes and. Imagine the situation is we had a great ride on the train and then the next guy goes, “Yes and can you imagine that pig that was running down the aisle had started nibbling on my slipper?” The first guy goes, “There wasn’t any pig.” There goes the end of that skit. It’s over. It died. If we continue to say yes, we open ourselves up to these experiences. Yes, I’m going to watch the sunset and enjoy it. Yes, I’m going to try to connect with someone now, someone I don’t know.

I had a situation a couple of years back where I was walking down the street in Santa Monica and this older woman might have been 90-plus, was slowly making her way down the street. I decided I was going to say good morning to her and connect with her in some superficial way and see what happens. I said, “Good morning.” She looks up at me in shock. She goes, “Good morning.”

She was thrilled that somebody had acknowledged her, that someone realized she was walking in the street. For me, I know that made her happy. My cup runneth over. The thought that I was to create such incredible joy for someone is such validation and acknowledgment because I decided to say yes to greet her. I didn’t know what would come of it.

Think about if you have a partner, a spouse, a loved one, a brother, a sister or a child, have the conversation of yes relationship. Of course, if they are going to say, “Let’s jump off a cliff together,” you won’t say yes to that. What if they say, “Let’s try a new restaurant we haven’t had before or let’s take a walk down the path on the right rather than the path on the left.”

I remember one time, I was traveling with a friend to San Diego and we decided to go on a kayak and it was a cold day. She could have said, “I don’t think so. The wind is blowing and we are out in the middle of the ocean. I’m exerting effort.” What part of that do you think we had in common? She said, “Why not? Let’s try it.” It turned out that day, unbeknownst to us, was the red tide.

I don’t know if you are familiar with red tide but that is when there’s a certain type of algae in the ocean. When the water is disrupted, it turns a brilliant turquoise blue. That moment would have never happened if she didn’t say yes. Let’s not forget the validation of you saying, “How about if we do this?” Your partner says, “Yes.” You don’t even have to do it and you already feel good.

CPA 18 | Get Happy

Get Happy: Say yes to something that you’ve wanted to do that you haven’t done and decide to really experience it rather than gobbling it down.


The easiest way to get started is to say yes. Say yes to something that you have wanted to do that you haven’t done. Say yes to trying new foods. Say yes to going to a different place. Say yes to peeling an orange and deciding to experience it rather than gobbling it down. I can tell you, I have tried that and it’s awesome.

I remember one time, we used to live about 25 miles from Westwood where UCLA is. I was describing to my kids this place called Diddy Riese. It used to have these fresh chocolate chip cookies and any type of ice cream you want in the middle. My son said, “Daddy, let’s go.” I could have said, “It’s 25 miles away. I don’t think so.” I had always wanted to say yes to them.

Think about it, it’s the same thing as the green flash. Now we are in traffic. It’s taking almost an hour to get there. We can’t wait to have this ice cream in the middle of a cookie. It was one of the most delicious desserts we have ever had partly because it was delicious but it’s mostly because of the anticipation and because we went on an adventure together.

My parents both grew up with no money. My dad was a relatively successful architect. It was always interesting to me the things that they chose to spend money on. They spent little money on stuff, cars, jewelry, not interesting to them. They spent a lot of money on experiences. We would travel. We would go to good restaurants.

We would have fun times together, which then become those suitcase moments. It becomes those moments when they are not here. They live on the other side of the country. They are in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I’m in Pasadena, California. We don’t get to see each other much. We try to talk frequently. Those are the suitcase moments.

One of the things I did for my husband for the holidays is I gave him indoor skydiving. He and I went indoor skydiving at Universal City and then went out to dinner. It was ridiculous and it was so much fun. We had a ball. We were with these 20 and 30-year-old kids. We were the old people. They were like, “Have you guys never done this before? This is cool that you are doing this.”

Gratitude truly unlocks the fullness of life. Gratitude multiplies your happiness. Share on X

I love that you did that. I love that you did it here in town. I will tell you why. We normally do those things only when we are on vacation. Why is vacation so much fun? Going to beaches and mountains is fun. Vacation is fun because we have a different mindset. We think about dinner and food differently. We celebrate being together over a meal.

We celebrate going to bed late. We give our kids an extra chocolate chip cookie. We have dessert for breakfast. We are not limited in time. We will do things we normally wouldn’t do. I have often thought, “Why don’t we live life here like we are on vacation? Why don’t we give ourselves permission to enjoy life here in the course of our day the way we do while we are on vacation?” It sure sounds like you did that.

We did that for one whole evening. One of the great things about living in Southern California is you are closer to the beach than I am. Pasadena is 25 miles. With Los Angeles traffic, it’s an hour. I’m an hour away from the beach and a lot of us are an hour or two hours away from someplace that can give us joy. The beach for me is a rejuvenating place, it is a place of release and recharge, the motion, the in, the out, the sounds.

I was at the beach and it was the most multicultural event I had ever seen. There were women in saris and there were women in things that were not burkas but close to burkas. There were men in full clothing. There were children in little to no clothing. Everybody was playing in the water. There were Black, White, and Asian people. There was a dog. It was joyful.

I have made a commitment to myself, theoretically, every Thursday but that’s not how life works. If I do it two Thursday’s a month, half the days, half the weeks that I take between 9:00 and 2:00, and I go to the beach, I have that experience of rejuvenation, relaxation, a little piece of vacation in my work week, in my daily week. It is in my suitcase of happiness. I want to encourage people to think about places that give you that feeling, that sense of peace. Are there times of the day that give you that sense of peace? Maybe it’s an alone thing. Maybe it’s a community thing.

Think about how you might be able to incorporate that into your day, into your suitcase of happiness as we are all on this journey together, of life, of COVID, of this moment in time. As we start thinking about wrapping up, is there anything that you have been thinking like, “I want to bring this part in,” or any place that you would like to leave us?

There is. I don’t call it this but I feel it. It’s a happiness multiplier. How can we take those moments, that amazing description of the multicultural beach and the joy that you feel, and give you a heightened level of happiness even beyond what you have experienced and described? I will unlock the secret and the secret is gratitude. Gratitude truly unlocks the fullness of life. It multiplies your happiness. How? It’s because you have taken a moment. You have thanked God or whoever spiritually leads for you for bringing you to that moment. You celebrate the joy of that moment in the gratitude you have for living here and now.

My mom used to always describe it differently. She used to bring us on hikes. We used to do a lot of hikes in nature. She used to occasionally pull some sage and bring it up to our nose and would say, “Smell it.” Sage is powerful. We would go, “That’s wonderful.” She would say, “Bottle it.” If we had a bottle, we could take that moment, that smell, and seal it so that it’s preserved forever. That’s what gratitude does for those moments. When you preserve something forever, the effect of it grows and becomes more pronounced. I want to leave everyone with the thought of using gratitude to exponentially multiply the power of happiness you are feeling at that moment.

Many people talk about an attitude of gratitude. What you are talking about is a practice of gratitude and of using gratitude as the amplifier and the container to bottle that up. It’s to bring Mark’s mom with us and bottle that up, cork it, keep it, and use that practice of gratitude. I love it. Thank you, Mark. Thank you for your time, wisdom, authenticity, generosity. I appreciate it. This has been a wonderful conversation.

It has been a treat for me, Janine. Thank you.

I am Janine Hamner Holman. This has been The Cost of Not Paying Attention. Remember that great leaders make great teams. Until next time.

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About Mark Jaffe

CPA 18 | Get HappyMark Jaffe, a former senior executive at The Walt Disney Company, spent many years creating happy moments. At a young age he realized that his happiest life was not something out of reach. He studied, observed, cultivated, and ultimately enjoyed an enduring happiness through a singular focus on identifying what worked and what didn’t.
Along the way, he had a life journey, perhaps like yours, that included career successes and career failures. A marriage that succeeded until it didn’t. Two fabulous kids. A dog. And the learned ability to be very happy, which has kept him happy now, consistently, for over 40 years.