An Interview with Sanjiv Chopra & Gina Vild on The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Happier, Healthier Life

Bringing Joy to the World

Sanjiv Chopra and Gina Vild Compel Readers
Find Happiness by Living a Purposeful Life



Mark Twain famously once said, ‘The two most important days in your life are the day you were born and the day you find out why.’ Hence the title, ‘The Two Most Important Days: How to Find Your Purpose and Live a Happier, Healthier Life,’” said Sanjiv Chopra, a professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, bestselling author and sought-after inspirational speaker.


(Sanjiv Chopra)


He co-wrote the book with Gina Vild, associate dean and chief communications officer at Harvard Medical School.


(Gina Vild )


Both live in Boston and worked together on other projects.

The book is an offshoot of a talk he’s been giving around the country and around the world for about five years, called, “Happiness and Living with Purpose.” People began asking for a DVD and a book, so he turned to his Harvard Medical School colleague; in an earlier book, he’d retold one of her stories.

It was originally a book on happiness,” Vild said.

We sat with our creative agent in New York and learned there were more than 200,000 books with the word happiness in the title so we purposely chose to focus on living with purpose,” Chopra said.

What makes it different from other books is that it provides the scientific data behind happiness, draws on the wisdom from ancient philosophies and poets, tells compelling stories, and guides readers on a journey toward a life filled with purpose and ultimately, joy.

It’s a unique genre,” Vild said of its multifacetedness. “In the book we discuss very practical things you can do that affect your own happiness quotient. … We talk about mediation. We talk about music. We talk yoga. We talk about living in community. We talk about friendship.”

There are suggestions for films, TED Talks, books, apps and songs to boost happiness as the result of the transformative power of gratitude, forgiveness and serving others. “The Two Most Important Days” reveals how these qualities become catalysts for resilience.

There’s a lot of practical exercises,” Vild said.

Many are those she’s done herself, such as sharing gratitude journals with a friend.

The book took about two years to write and was published by Thomas Dunne Books. It was released in December 2017.

When I began working on this book with Sanjiv, I was very happy. I had a very wonderful life … but during the course of writing this book I wound up having … dramatic change in the trajectory of my life. It was unexpected and so I found myself, ironically, if you will, writing a book about happiness during the most unhappy time of my life. And as I wrote I had to learn and practice what I had really believed and was teaching other people to do,” Vild said.

You bring to your life the lessons your soul requires,” she said.

One of the interesting sort of ah-ha moments from this book is that so much of how I was raised – the underpinnings for this book were really in my childhood, in terms of being raised to value things we talk about in this book: attitude, seeking resilience when you have turbulence, friendship, community,” she said, noting that “back then … there was no science to show that these things actually were demonstrated to boost happiness quotients. There was just no scientific evidence and today there is. That was a wonderful surprise as we researched the book,” she said.

She found there were studies that showed optimism could cut coronary disease in half, and evidence that happy people live longer.

One of the things my mom would say to me, ‘Even if you’re unhappy, smile,’ and I would say, ‘That doesn’t make sense.’ Data actually shows now that people smile when they’re happy and are happy when they smile and there are actually endorphins that are released when you smile so by smiling you can create this chemical cascade. It creates a positive feedback loop.”

Children, she said, smile 400 times a day while the average adult smiles perhaps 40 times a day.

Calling herself an optimistic person, Vild said after both her parents died suddenly when she was young, someone gave her a quote by Albert Camus: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger.”

I carry it with me … to every house I’ve ever lived in. I think that’s the key – to find that within yourself,” she said.

One of the many inspirational quotes in the book is by Pablo Picasso: “The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.”

Both share their life’s purpose.

Chopra wrote, “To fulfill my dharma to teach medicine, leadership, and happiness and to do this grounded in humility and with an ardent desire to learn every single day. To treasure with gratitude my family, friends, colleagues, and students who inspire me in countless ways, and, in some small measure, to inspire everyone that I encounter during this amazing life journey.”

Vild described her life purpose as, “To pay attention to this precious world in which we live for such a brief time, to use the light that is our life to radiate kindness, to learn and to use that knowledge to illuminate the darkness, to appreciate, to forgive and to be grateful.”

She went on to say, “Your compassion is a verb … and that is a way of living a life of purpose, as well as living a life of kindness and compassion.”

Both authors have let their purpose guide their decisions in life.

Both call happiness a choice.

Everyone is born with a happiness quotient they believe and you can boost that happiness quotient you are born with 50 percent. Ten percent of your happiness quotient is dependent upon your living conditions, if you’re satisfied with them, but you have it within your power by the choices you make to alter that by 40 percent with the choices you make,” Vild said, adding, “Pretty empowering.”

Who doesn’t want to be happy?

It’s now the number one class at Yale,” Chopra said, citing an article in The New York Times about “Psych 157: Psychology and the Good Life.” Six days after registration opened, 1,200 students signed up for the course. That’s about a quarter of the university’s undergraduates.

There are four things you and I can do to be happier,” he said.

Number one is friends. Choose your friends carefully; celebrate everything – small and big – with your friends. Loneliness is toxic.”

The ability to forgive was his second point, made by offering the wisdom of Nelson Mandela who, after being imprisoned for 27 years, said, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.”

Vild said, “It’s certainly true that forgiveness is a precursor to change and growth. It offers you a new perch from which to live your life.”

To illustrate the third point – serving others – Chopra offered a quote by Albert Schweitzer: “I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.”

Gratitude was the fourth pillar.

If you do these four things, your happiness quotient will increase dramatically,” he said. “If you want lasting happiness, then you have to find your purpose and live it. We can find our purpose either by reflection, as I did, or by witnessing something very tragic and then saying, ‘You know, I’m going to make a difference here.’”
There are many moving and inspiring stories in the book.

It was no surprise that when Vild – who’s been curating poetry for 20 years – was asked what her favorite passage was in the book, she cited the poem “The Ponds” by Mary Oliver.

One of the reasons it’s my favorite poem is it’s about accepting imperfection,” which is a way of living a life that generates forgiveness and gratitude.

The poem talks about lilies as sort of the metaphor then it talks about ‘what I want in my life / is to be willing / to be dazzled – / to cast aside the weight of facts / and maybe even / to float a little / above this difficult world. / I want to believe I am looking / into the white fire of a great mystery. / I want to believe that the imperfections are nothing – / that the light is everything – that it is more than the sum / of each flawed blossom rising and fading. And I do,’” Vild said.

My favorite story is John Lennon,” Chopra said. “He’s five years of age, goes to school and the teacher gives the kids an assignment: write down what you want to be when you grow up. He writes ‘happy’ and he hands it to the teacher, and the teacher says, ‘John, you didn’t understand the assignment,’ and John then looks up – he’s five years old – and says, ‘You don’t understand life.’”

Along with their complicated jobs, the authors are granting interviews and promoting the book.

Sharing it has been so much fun,” Vild said.

The book does not need to be read from front to back.

We know people are busy,” she said, noting readers can turn to what’s most important to them at the time.

It’s a little gem of a book,” she said.

Amongst his upcoming projects, Chopra is writing a book on leadership for kids – whom he considers our bright, future leaders – with his 13-year-old granddaughter, Aanya.


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About the Author:

Lynn Woike was 50 – divorced and living on her own for the first time – before she consciously began practicing as a self taught solitary witch. She draws on an eclectic mix of old ways she has studied – from her Sicilian and Germanic heritage to Zen and astrology, the fae, Buddhism, Celtic, the Kabbalah, Norse and Native American – pulling from each as she is guided. She practices yoga, reads Tarot and uses Reiki. From the time she was little, she has loved stories, making her job as the editor of two monthly newspapers seem less than the work it is because of the stories she gets to tell. She lives with her large white cat, Pyewacket, in central Connecticut. You can follow her boards on Pinterest, and write to her at woikelynn at gmail dot com.