Create and update an annual Joy Calendar. One of my New Year’s traditions is to create a Joy Calendar for the upcoming year so that I can plan and schedule joy in my life. You’ve heard the adage: That which is not scheduled does not happen. I believe that. Moreover, I want to make sure that each month I schedule many joyful events that I can look forward to as I start the New Year. I update the calendar throughout the year. And, at year’s end, I look back and savor all the joyful events of the past year to remind myself how much joy I experienced.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Patrice Tanaka, Founder & Chief Joy Officer of Joyful Planet, a business and life strategy consultancy focused on helping individuals and organizations discover and actively live their purpose to unleash greater success, fulfillment and joy in their personal lives, their workplaces and their communities. Patrice is the author of “Live Your Life’s Purpose and Unleash Your Joy” from Beat the Curve, co-authored with Brian Tracy, and “Purpose: A Competitive Advantage in Business & LIfe,” from Performance360, co-authored with Richard Branson and other leaders. She is also a serial entrepreneur, having co-founded three award-winning PR & Marketing firms, including the largest, employee-owned PR agency in the U.S., which have been recognized as the “#1 Most Creative,” “#1 Quality Reputation” and among the “best places to work” in PR.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My vision to create a more joyful planet began in February 2002, five months after 9/11 when an executive coach asked me to “rethink” my purpose in life. I was annoyed at hearing this because I had just finished telling her that I didn’t have the energy to get out of bed in the morning. I was depressed and in a malaise like many New Yorkers who lived through the tragic events of 9/11. And I was exhausted from building a business with 12 partners over the previous 12 years while caring for a sick husband who later died of a brain tumor after a long and valiant fight. I had no energy to envision a grand purpose for the rest of my life. Usually, I love visioning exercises, but not when I was totally burnt out.
Two weeks later, after giving this assignment much thought and still haunted by the idea that nearly 3,000 people went to work at the Twin Towers that morning on 9/11 and didn’t return home that evening, I told my coach, Suzanne Levy, that “My purpose in life is to choose joy in my life, to be mindful of my joy, and to share my joy with others.” I told her that if I could live my life this way every day that I would be “good to go” even if I was caught short like those nearly 3,000 people in the Twin Towers on 9/11.
I barely finished sharing my life purpose with Suzanne when she asked, “so what brings you joy?” I replied, “nothing right now.” Suzanne kept prodding me until I finally blurted out, “dancing.” When she discovered that my childhood dream had been to dance like Ginger Rogers, but that I’d never taken a dance lesson and couldn’t remember the last time I went dancing, she gave me homework: book yourself a dance lesson before our next coaching session. And, that’s how I started ballroom dancing, which became one of the great joys of my life. From my very first dance lesson I could feel joy flooding back into my life. Some years later, I wrote a book entitled, Becoming Ginger Rogers…How Ballroom Dancing Made Me a Happier Woman, Better Partner and Smarter CEO.
I have been on a journey of joy since February 2002 when my coach Suzanne forced me to “rethink” my purpose in life. Since then, so many amazing things have happened as a result of discovering and living my life purpose from taking up ballroom dancing, becoming a ballroom champion, writing Becoming Ginger Rogers, selling my agency and co-founding two other agencies (made possible because of lessons I learned from ballroom dancing!), becoming a trustee of a wonderful, non-profit, Dancing Classrooms, which brings ballroom dance to public elementary and middle schools as a highly effective social and emotional learning (SEL) program, starting my Joyful Planet consultancy and writing two best-selling books on life purpose and business purpose.
What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?
It means discovering and having the courage to live your life’s purpose, which involves leveraging your greatest talent, expertise and passion in service of other people and our planet.
Discovering your purpose requires taking stock of your life, including: your dreams as a young child, what makes your heart sing and soar, your unique talents and gifts, what people most value about you, what you feel supremely qualified to teach others, your core values, some of the defining moments of your life, the issues you are most passionate about, the difference you want to make in the world, your biggest dream in life, among other questions.
Your life purpose can be found in the answers to these questions.
Beyond discovering and succinctly articulating your life’s purpose in an easy-to-remember and easy-to-share, 20+ word statement that is inspiring and galvanizing to you, you must recite it often, at least daily, like an “affirmation” until you inhabit and “own” your purpose. And you must “actively” live your purpose every day. This is how our life purpose can help to focus and drive us to accomplish what matters most.
Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?
Yes. Coming to a total breakdown in my life five months after 9/11 and being forced by my executive coach to rethink my life purpose so she could help me live my purpose and bring joy back into my life. I believe that actively living our life’s purpose and accomplishing what matters most to us is what unleashes joy in our lives.
I find that most people are so busy and distracted, serving the needs and deadlines of others that they postpone thinking about and discovering their own life purpose until some devastating event — loss of a job, divorce, illness, death, etc. — forces them to finally grapple with the “why” of their one very brief and precious life.
The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
I believe that if we are living our purpose and leveraging our talents, expertise and passion in service of others this will unleash joy not just in our own lives, but in our workplaces and in our communities. Joy is infectious and contagious…and so is un-joy!
If more of the 325+ million Americans and 7.6+ billion people on our planet are living their life purpose and unleashing their joy, the world would be a much more joyful planet.
Joyful people engaging joyfully with one another and making joy-filled contributions to the world is how we humans, together, can create a more joyful planet.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Living your purpose whether as an individual or an organization is about serving the greater good. I don’t think you can lead a truly joyful and fulfilling life if you are not serving others. My life is rich and tremendously joy filled because so much of what I do through my business, Joyful Planet, and outside it is about serving countless unknown others — not just friends and family.
What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
Strategy #1: Choose joy in whatever I do.
This is the first part of my three-part life purpose:“To choose joy, to be mindful of my joy and to share my joy with others.” I am very conscious and conscientious about only choosing to do things and to spend time with people who add to my joy.
It’s not to say that something that I choose to do is not difficult and challenging and sometimes downright, hair-pulling frustrating. One of the non-profits I’m involved with that I love and whose mission I totally support is, at times, that for me. But, for the most part, I am so proud of the work we are doing that I would not think of withdrawing from the organization at this challenging time in our history..
Strategy #2: Start each day by asking for tremendous joy.
I used to ask that my day be filled with joy — not “tremendous” joy. Adding that one word made such a huge difference in the number of joyful episodes I experienced each day. Prior to asking for “tremendous” joy I could recount about 8–10 joyful episodes of the day before I went to sleep. When I started asking for “tremendous” joy I recounted 20–25 joyful episodes during the day!
This is the power of intention and clearly articulating what you want to manifest. This is why clearly and succinctly articulating your purpose is so important in focusing and driving us to accomplish what matters most.
Strategy #3: Recount all the joyful episodes of the day before I go to bed.
Before I go to bed every evening I recount the joyful episodes of the day because one part of my life purpose, as I mentioned earlier, is “to be mindful of my joy.” I recount all the joyful episodes of my day — both big and small — so that I can be “mindful” of all the joy I experienced that day. If we’re not mindful of our joy we can fail to notice how much joy we do have in life.. And I don’t want to miss out on one moment of joy!
Strategy #4: Share my joy on a daily basis.
The third part of my three-part purpose is “to share my joy with others.” I’m lucky to have many opportunities to share joy with others from dear friends and family to perfect strangers. It doesn’t matter who I share my joy with as long as I share it. Sharing joy could mean anything from making time to call a friend in need of support to attending a board meeting for one of my non-profits to having a great conversation with my Uber driver to winning a new piece of business to giving a homeless person $10 after he asks me for $1 because it’s the only cash I have on hand to sharing homemade Brownies I received with staff in my building.
Sharing my joy comes naturally because I was fortunate enough to be raised by a loving and generous mother who always commanded us to “share your cookies and toys.” If we didn’t, we’d be in danger of her taking all of our cookies and toys and giving it to the friend we were playing with.
Strategy #5: Create and update my annual Joy Calendar.
One of my New Year’s traditions is to create a Joy Calendar for the upcoming year so that I can plan and schedule joy in my life. You’ve heard the adage: That which is not scheduled does not happen. I believe that. Moreover, I want to make sure that each month I schedule many joyful events that I can look forward to as I start the New Year.
I update the calendar throughout the year. And, at year’s end, I look back and savor all the joyful events of the past year to remind myself how much joy I experienced.
Strategy #6: Create a business that allows me to live my life purpose.
I started my Joyful Planet consultancy after a 35+ year career, co-founding three award-winning PR & Marketing agencies. I loved my PR career and the success we created for clients, building and burnishing their reputations and brands and making a difference on important social and health issues, including domestic violence awareness and prevention, breast health, literacy, financial literacy, youth education and character development, hunger relief, prescription drug abuse, among others.
When I thought about what I might want to do post-PR, I realized that the most powerful thing I ever did for myself was to discover and actively live my purpose. That realization led me to start Joyful Planet, which is my vision for the planet if more of our 7.6+ billion people are living their life purpose and unleashing greater joy into the world.
We live our purpose through our entire life both at work and outside it. I created a job that allows me to live my purpose through my work. And because of that, my work is part of my joy. It doesn’t really feel like work-to-pay-the-rent work. It’s work that I would do even if I weren’t getting paid to do it.
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?
Some of the authors and books that have informed and inspired who I am and what I am doing in the world include: H. Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled, Thomas Moore’s Care of the Soul, Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces, David Whyte’s The Heart Aroused, Yongey Mingyur Rinpoche’s The Joy of Living and Aaron Hurst’s The Purpose Economy, among others.
I love listening to Oprah’s SuperSoul Conversations podcast with guests from researcher and author Brene Brown to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner to comedian Trevor Noah. And, I love Melli O’Brien’s Mindfulness Summits. She interviews thought leaders and luminaries in the mindfulness space and does it so gracefully without her ego getting in the way.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
It’s so hard to pick one life lesson quote! There are so many I love. I guess I’d have to go with: “Don’t ask yourself what the what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” This quote is from Howard Thurman, the African-American author, philosopher, theologian, educator and civil rights leader.
I love the idea of people “coming alive” with excitement about their life and purpose. I’m always conscious of people who have a fire in their eyes because I know they are doing what excites them and makes them come alive. There is nothing sadder than to see people riding the bus or subway train with no light in their eyes. They might just be tired. But, I’m worried that they aren’t just tired. I’m worried that they feel half-dead inside, going through the motions, unexcited and uninspired by their own lives.
When I’m sitting next to someone like that I might try to startle them to life by asking something like: What is your biggest dream in life? A woman just a few years older than me once told me that she didn’t have any dreams. I replied: that is unacceptable. If you’re alive you should have a dream, I said. I talked to her until she timidly offered up some dreams she had. I knew her son and shared her dreams with him. He was surprised to learn that his mom’s dream was to travel to Hawaii or go on a cruise. He made it happen for her and she’s gone on several cruises now. Whenever I see her on Facebook, she is smiling, full of life and radiant! This brings me great joy!
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
I am working with college students to help them discover their life and leadership purpose to give them greater clarity about the kind of impact they want to make in the world. It’s very rewarding work. One of my dreams is to work with a college or university to equip every graduate not just with a degree, but with a clear sense of their purpose in life. That would probably be the most valuable piece of knowledge that an academic institution could impart to its graduating students. Ideally, I would help students discover their life purpose in their freshman or sophomore year to inform the choice of classes and majors they might pursue and extracurricular activities they might engage in.
I’ve also been invited to Rwanda to work with a group of women leaders in business and government to discover their life and leadership purpose so that they might return to their work with greater clarity and excitement and be able to make an even stronger contribution to their country and continent.
This opportunity happened because two years ago I helped a woman from Rwanda discover her life purpose which we determined to be: “To communicate the exciting stories of transformation taking place in Africa to challenge and inspire Africans to work together to create a brighter future for our continent.” Earlier this year this woman contacted me to let me know that she was living her purpose through her business now and that she was excited about the work she was doing. She invited me come to Rwanda to help other women leaders to be informed and galvanized by discovering and living their life purpose so that they could contribute even more strongly to their families, their country and Africa.
I am always thrilled to hear what happens when people I’ve helped discover their purpose start actively living their purpose. This brings me great joy and only reinforces the importance of the work I am doing through Joyful Planet.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to encourage and work with more of our planet’s 7.6+ billion people to discover and live their purpose to unleash greater success, fulfilment and joy in their personal lives, their organizations and their communities. This is my big dream and vision — a more joyful planet!