Happiness According to Yauch – The Project Happiness Interview with Adam Yauch

Adam Yauch, aka MCA, is one of the founding members of the hip hop trio, the Beastie Boys. Inspired by his own extensive travels as well as the his interactions with the Dalai Lama, Adam became publicly passionate about the situation in Tibet and created “The Milarepa Fund” to help promote awareness and generate support around the world. He organized the first “Tibetan Freedom Concert” in San Francisco in 1996, which he followed with years of a similar series in the United States and worldwide. Yauch has influenced an entire generation of human souls to look deep within themselves in search of a greater truth and a peaceful, compassionate understanding of all that surrounds us.

Adam spoke with some of the students participating in Project Happiness to offer his thoughts on lasting happiness. This interview was edited for space and 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 is 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. Like, almost anything that makes you feel good for the moment. In terms of lasting happiness, one way to look at it is that anything, any happiness that you experience in life is the result of constructive things, 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, of selfish things that you’ve done in the past. I guess one way to look at it is that if one wants to create more happiness in their life in the future, then working towards doing more altruistic things or things to benefit other people, that’s 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: Well, what brings you happiness?

ADAM: Well I definitely enjoy making music. I have fun hanging out with my daughter, with 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, when you felt like the challenges in your life were keeping you from finding your true happiness? And could you describe how, 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. I think that was pretty amazing working on that. And just, you know, seeing some of the results of that, or seeing what it, what it meant to people to, to Tibet, to Tibetan people that are striving for independence. I think being involved in those concerts was pretty, 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, and 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, like the Free Tibet Movement?

ADAM: Well, 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, 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. And, and of course music is the best way for me to be able to be involved in it, because that’s what I’m around. So, that just sort of made sense.

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 mind thought, 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.

PH: A lot of what we’ve been talking about is that we’re conditioned to keep going. We need to work hard, and it’s almost like there’s no time to really slow down and take a break and really just self-reflect. In your music do you see that you’re helping people to understand how to, how to really slow down, to stop and think and how to reflect?

ADAM: I definitely agree with you. It does seem like society’s moving faster and faster, and it seems like the more machines we get to make things more convenient – computers and cell phones, and everything – it seems to make things more hectic, rather than making things more convenient. If somebody calls you or writes to you, they expect a response within five minutes rather than like, within a few days. (Laughing) What was the question?

PH: I was wondering if, if you see that your music is helping people to, to reflect?

ADAM: Oh, yeah. At certain times I’ve tried to put constructive ideas into lyrics. It’s a delicate balance. It’s easy for music, for lyrics, to get kind of preachy, and start, you know, rather than giving constructive ideas it just kind of gets annoying. So sometimes I’ve, I’ve tried to do that, to put some constructive ideas into lyrics or into songs. But sometimes I feel like it’s all right for music to just be entertainment. It’s a fine line trying to find when that works and when it doesn’t work. I think the main thing is just trying to keep it from being destructive.

PH: Well, on that note, people are claiming that this destructive media is desensitizing our generation and robbing us of our consciousness. Do you agree with that? And what can we do to change it if you think the media is so destructive towards us?

ADAM: That’s a good question. Again, it’s a fine line between entertainment and what’s destructive. I don’t really know what the solution is. I don’t like my daughter watching regular cable TV. We usually try and just rent DVDs of stuff for her to check out. There’s a lot of stuff out there that’s pretty hectic.

PH: Whose place do you feel it really is to kind of step in?

ADAM: It’s tricky. Having the government involved in censoring media is a can of worms. That kind of censorship is sort of dangerous. But at the same time, you do want some kind of guides… like with film ratings. On one level, it’s important to have film ratings to know what films to take my daughter to, what’s going to be appropriate. But, the way that the rating system works now there’s just a handful of people that are making sweeping decisions that… So I don’t quite know what the right way is to do it, but, but it needs to be figured out (LAUGHTER).

PH: Do you feel that with this question about how can we lessen the destructive media that kids our age are seeing, do you think that as a musician whose music has a huge influence on a lot of people, do you feel that you have an opportunity to help in this with your music?

ADAM: I think everybody does. Music can be a very important form of communication and it can communicate to a lot of people. But it’s not good to underestimate what any one person can do. Like I was saying before, every interaction that we have with people, every thought that runs through our heads ultimately has some effect on the world. We all kind of need to look at that. Rather than just thinking, “Oh, this person’s a celebrity, they should be doing X, X, X.” Everybody has a responsibility for what they put out into the world. Rather than trying to figure out what other people should be doing, work on your own interactions in the world, and whatever influence they have. All of it has an effect.

PH: For Project Happiness, we really want people to discover happiness for themselves. I was wondering what piece of advice you’d give about how to really help people understand, instead of forcing them to understand.

ADAM: One of the most effective ways of communicating is talking about your own experience rather than talking about what other people should or shouldn’t be doing. When I was around 15 or 16, the first Minor Threat record came out. And, Ian MacKaye, he said, “I don’t smoke, I don’t drink,” whatever. For some reason that was very effective at that time to me, that he’s only talking about it in the first person, about what he does, rather than preaching what anybody else should do. That feels like the most effective way of communicating.

PH: So we should teach with experience.

ADAM: I think so. That’s what resonates with me when I hear people talking, saying what their own experiences are.

PH: I know that technology is such a huge part of your music. Project Happiness has been using technologies to connect students in really disparate places like Nigeria and India and here. Are you positive about technology being used as a tool to connect people, or is there kind of a guiding principle for making real connections between people with technology?

ADAM: I’ll actually quote the Dalai Lama on that one, because I heard him talking about that. People had asked him whether they thought technology was a good thing or a bad thing, the sort of level of it. He basically just said, “It’s just a tool.” Tools can be used in constructive ways or destructive ways. It really comes back to motivation, to human motivation of how this stuff is used.

PH : What brings you fun in life? What’s fun for you, and what brings you peace?

ADAM: It’s such a simple question, I don’t know why it feels complicated. In terms of what brings me fun in life? Just goofing around with friends… laughing at myself. As for what brings me peace? Just trying not to do anything that’s destructive to anybody else, or trying to do things that are constructive in the world, that really brings me peace. The times when I feel unhappy, I can almost directly trace it to, oh, I shouldn’t have done that, or I shouldn’t have said this, or whatever. That’s what would take away my peace, or make me lose sleep or whatever. If I feel like I’ve done the best that I can or conducted myself in the most constructive way that I can in a situation, then I feel peace.