Follow along with the transcript below for episode: Discovering the Happiness Essentials With Maria Baltazzi
[0:00:02] PF: Thank you for joining us for episode 441 of Live Happy Now. When you’re going on a trip, it’s important to make sure you pack all the essentials. And when you’re starting a journey to well-being, you need to pack the happiness essentials.
I’m your host, Paula Felps. And this week, I’m talking with Emmy award-winning television producer, well-being teacher and author, Maria Baltazzi, about her new book Take a Shot at Happiness: How to Write, Direct & Produce the Life You Want.
A world traveler who has developed and produced TV shows around the globe, including the hit reality show Survivor, Maria has truly used the planet as an extraordinary classroom. That led her to earning her PhD in Conscious Centered Living. And her book explores the eight happiness essentials she’s discovered and teaches us how we can use them to improve our well-being in our daily lives. Let’s have a listen.
[0:00:59] PF: Maria, thank you for joining me today.
[0:01:02] MB: Oh, I’m so excited to be here. Thank you for having me as a guest.
[0:01:05] PF: You are the first guest that we’ve had who is a happiness explorer. Tell everybody what a happiness explorer is and does.
[0:01:13] MB: It’s someone who travels, who goes through the world and takes that perspective of seeing what is good, what is right, what is positive and embracing that.
[0:01:30] PF: Is that a natural talent that you have? Has that always been your mindset? Or is it something that you’ve cultivated over the years? Because we talk on Live Happy about the negativity bias that we have and the happiness set points. What about you? Are you naturally happy? Or did you cultivate this over time?
[0:01:48] MB: I promise you, I cultivated it.
[0:01:51] PF: Everyone’s like, “Okay.”
[0:01:53] MB: Yes. I 100% cultivated, which is why I wrote my book, Take a Shot at Happiness, because it came from a place and a point in my life where I was not happy and I wanted to do something about it.
And so, when you start doing those intentional activities that boost your happiness level, when you go out into the world, you notice things differently. And I travel for a living. By virtue of that, started to notice the world differently.
[0:02:27] PF: And so, you said it takes a minute. Over what period of time did you start noticing this evolution of your happiness?
[0:02:36] MB: March 21st, 2015.
[0:02:43] PF: That is specific. What happened then?
[0:02:45] MB: I just was sitting in my office in Los Angeles. I come from a television background, which is also why my book title is called Take a Shot at Happiness. Because I draw from my life in television. And as I was sitting in my office, I was at a place where I was not enjoying my career. I was not enjoying my personal life.
I felt that I had hit my lowest point personally and professionally and I just felt I did not want to stay in that place nor did I want to be defined by it. That’s what started reading my next book. Going to courses, and then certification and then degrees. It just kept unfolding.
[0:03:33] PF: And I really commend that. Because, so often times, when we hit that point, we feel so despondent that we don’t even have the energy to reach out and pick up that book or even to know that’s what we need to do. What was it that was within you that drove you to say, “I’ve got to get out of this? And this is how I’m going to do it.”
[0:03:53] MB: It was the feeling of despondency. I didn’t want to keep feeling that. And the only way that made sense to me to do something about it was to take action, which started with just reading. Starting with some affirmations and making that a conscious practice every day. And as I started to feel better, I wanted to learn more. It just kept expanding because I was feeling good and I kept wanting to feel better.
[0:04:27] PF: I love that.
[0:04:28] MB: Yeah. I think that that’s the beauty of this work once you understand it. Once you get into it, it seems that it takes a lot of effort and time. However, when you start to see the benefits that you are experiencing, you are feeling better inside your skin. You are having better relationships. You are being more conscious of the choices that you are making, the boundaries that you’re drawing. How you’re sleeping and eating and all of those things. When you notice how it’s impacting you in a positive way, it motivates you to want to keep doing more.
[0:05:09] PF: That makes absolute sense. And you are so interesting because you have a master’s in film and a PhD in Conscious Centered Living. And that’s a very unique combination. How did you combine that adventurous spirit that you have with your quest for this conscious centered living? How did those two things work together?
[0:05:29] MB: I first got the master’s degree in film. I’ve been a storyteller. I’ve Loved story all my life. It was the storytelling part that I did first. And then in my business making television, whether it’s a very small production or a very large production. When I say small, it’s myself, a cameraman, a sound guy and maybe some kind of an assistant.
And when I say big production, I could have a team of 120 people. And the shows that I did, did and do, are in remote locations. They’re shot on location. I’m already out into the world. And what I was noticing is that just the demands of production. The demands of being responsible for so many people or even a few people in environments that don’t always have the creature comforts, or the necessities, or medical help or whatever it is being in these remote locations.
After a while, the demands of television production and trying to please the network, trying to please the production company, trying to please the talent, yeah, it just got to me. And I was noticing that other people’s stuff was becoming my stuff in a very unhealthy, unsustainable way. And that’s when I was sitting in my office in Los Angeles saying, “This is not working. We have to do something different.” It was an act of self-preservation.
[0:07:12] PF: That makes complete sense. And let’s talk about that past of yours a little bit. Because, fun fact, you were one of the original supervising producers of the TV show Survivor. I find that so fascinating. Because that changed everything for people. What an incredible show to be part of. First of all, can you talk about how that became part of you and you became part of that? And then how that opened up your mind to more exploration?
[0:07:41] MB: When I came to Survivor, I was already traveling and doing shows. What was unique about that particular show is there had never been a competition show set on a remote island. That’s what made it different. And I always did the very last episode. I was with the Survivor contestants all the way through.
And the thing that always struck me is you would get towards the end of the game. And time and again, I would sit in interview with the contestants and they would be saying, “You know, this isn’t really me. This is just me playing a game.” And I kept thinking, “But it is you. Because your actions and behavior.”
And what I came to realize, and I think about this all the time still, is that we don’t know what we are capable of doing until we are in that situation. That shade of your personality hasn’t been put into an environment for itself to express. And that’s what I thought was so interesting. Because I just saw it time and again.
[0:08:56] PF: And how did it affect you to be in that environment? Because you weren’t having a cushy life either. It’s not like you’re going back to a five-star hotel at the end of the day. You were toughing it out as well. We would follow their stories and see how they evolved and changed. What was going on behind the scenes with you?
[0:09:14] MB: Interesting, oddly enough, I liked it. I like being out there. I like being in the environments where you didn’t have everything with you. And it taught me to not need so much. And that started me to understand the beauty and blessing of detachment. That you didn’t need to have just 500 pairs of shoes and a hundred dresses. You didn’t need all of that stuff. In many respects, I arrived in that environment. I liked it.
[0:09:55] PF: And that’s interesting. Because LA is such a glitz and glam town. And so, to go, to have that juxtaposition between those two worlds, what was that like? Were you like getting back to LA, “I’m glad to be back home? But I want to get back to the island.”
[0:10:10] MB: I have said for a very long time that I have my bush world to appreciate my urban world and my urban world to appreciate my bush world. Each one has its specialness. And I would not want to exist in either world exclusively.
[0:10:32] PF: That makes perfect sense. Because you get lessons from both of them.
[0:10:36] MB: Absolutely.
[0:10:38] PF: what would you say are like the greatest happiness lessons that you learned from Survivor? You talked about the detachment and not needing stuff. What are some of the other things that you feel it taught you being out there?
[0:10:50] MB: I would say the majority of my happiness lessons came after I left the show. That show taught me what I was mentioning before. It taught me you that your personality has different shades to it and has to be in the right environment for it to express. And it also taught me not to judge a book by its cover. Because you have people in every size, shape, ethnicity, the diversity that is on the show. Not to judge a book by its cover. Because we could be interviewing somebody in a hotel room and they are physically fit. They are articulate. And you think, “Ah, they’re going to be great.” And then they get out onto an island, into an environment that they’ve never been in before and they just collapse. They can’t handle it out there.
And what I saw through that is that there is different kinds of fitness. There can be a gym in urban fitness and then there can be an outdoor being in the elements fitness. Those were the two big lessons that I took away leaving that show. The real happiness journey happened after the show at that moment on March 21st when I was realizing, “This isn’t happening. And I got to change things.”
[0:12:21] PF: As you change things, you’ve done a lot of amazing things. You have done charity walks and treks on all seven continents. Talk about how that came about and what that means to you. Why you do that?
[0:12:32] MB: I have this misi-like ability to walk distances. I don’t have to think much about going and walking three, four, five, 10 miles. It doesn’t faze me. I can just go do it. And I wanted to do something useful with a natural ability. And it came by way of Ethan Zohn who was the Survivor Africa Season 3 Winner. He came down with cancer.
And my mother had cancer. And my sister passed away from cancer. And so, I wanted to do something that was supportive of Ethan. And he was that year’s LIVESTRONG Ambassador for the New York Marathon. And I just asked him, I said, “Well, I’ve never done a marathon, but can you hook me up and let me support you?”
Next thing I knew, I was doing the New York Marathon and walking it. And after I did the New York Marathon, I thought, “Well, I’ll do Los Angeles.” I did Los Angeles. And then I found out that there was the 2500th Anniversary of the original marathon in Greece.
[0:13:49] PF: Oh, my God.
[0:13:50] MB: Having a Greek background, I now had to go do that. And there, I found that you could do a marathon on every continent. And I’m like, “That’s fantastic.” Because I’ve always admired the seven summiteers. The ones who climb the tallest peaks on every continent. As soon as you put on crampons, I am over it.
[0:14:11] PF: Not going there.
[0:14:13] MB: No. I’m not going there. But walking on every continent, now that was a great goal. And so, I set out to do it. And it was always for charity and primarily for cancer awareness.
[0:14:25] PF: That is so terrific. And so, it’s interesting how you’ve really created this mission, this happiness explorer mission that you’re on. And how did all of this journey lead to you writing your book?
[0:14:39] MB: As I was feeling better and better about my life and seeing what intentional activities can do. And this is something that Sonja Lyubomirsky talks about in her how –
[0:14:54] PF: We love Sonja.
[0:14:54] MB: Yeah, she’s fantastic. As soon as I was seeing that I could do specific activities to make me feel better, I thought, “I have to share this with other people,” and especially other creatives and other creatives in the entertainment industry. Because the business that I come from, it’s very demanding. There’s a lot of ups and downs. It’s a tough business emotionally, physically.
And I wanted to help other creatives, which is also why I take a creative approach in how I share what I consider the happiness essentials, which there’s eight of them in my book that I talk about.
[0:15:40] PF: Yeah. Can you share your favorite three? Are they like children where you say, “Oh, I don’t have a favorite.” But you do. Or is it, “Ah, these are my favorite three.”
[0:15:47] MB: I have a favorite foundational three.
[0:15:50] PF: All right. Let’s talk about those.
[0:15:52] MB: In my mind, everything starts with faith, however you define that. I’m not pushing any sort of religion or spiritual doctrine. And I think that faith can be defined in so many ways. But for me, faith is believing in something greater than yourself. Something that’s going to support you. Something that’s going to give you hope and solace. That is my first foundation. The second is love. How many things in the world can be solved if we were just more loving?
[0:16:31] PF: That is huge. And I think that’s often overlooked when we’re talking about happiness. I think about that and that doesn’t really come up. We talk about kindness. We talk about gratitude. But we don’t talk about love. I’m so glad you brought that up.
[0:16:45] MB: And then the third one is health, three dimensionally; mind, body and spirit. You have to have it all. That’s where I begin. And I keep adding on to that.
[0:16:56] PF: I love that. Because with a good foundation, you can really build as high as you want and as wide as you want. And that’s obviously what you’re doing. And with this book, explain to our listeners a little bit about what this book will do and kind of take them through what they can expect from it.
[0:17:12] MB: The book goes through eight happiness essentials. And they are virtues, and qualities and habits that I qualify for myself and then went out to find the research to back it up. And that became my book.
[0:17:31] PF: Love it.
[0:17:32] MB: And what I do is eight is very significant. Because you see it throughout my book. There’s eight happiness essentials. There are eight bullet points. And eight is important to me. When you take the number eight and you put it on its side, it’s the sign of infinity.
[0:17:53] PF: Yes, it is.
[0:17:54] MB: And we’re always continually ebb and flow, growing, expanding. That’s one of the reasons that 8 is so significant to me. And then coming from a creative background and a television background, a visual background, I use a lot of terms as a fun way to frame the book.
Each chapter begins with my viewfinder. It’s my macro idea of how I think about faith. And then I go through eight different points. And then at the end, I have a big picture, which is a summation of everything that I’ve just talked about. And then with each, what I call snapshots, talk about faith. There are eight snapshots. There is then a photo op and an action opportunity.
And the photo op and the action opportunity is a way to help anchor, help the reader absorb what they were just reading about and learning. Because I think when you can engage creatively, you just take in the information in a more heart-centered way. And the reason I chose writing, journaling if you will, and asking specific questions that relate to faith, or love, or health, whatever that snapshot is, is that, when you are writing, especially when you were in a state of upset, it takes that blob of stuff that’s going on in your head. And you start to be able to organize it and get clarity through it. And that becomes its own catharsis for you.
And then the photo assignments, one of the things that I notice is – and you don’t have to be a photographer to do my book. But one of the things that I noticed when I was taking photos with my camera is how calm I would become.
[0:19:56] PF: Oh, interesting.
[0:19:56] MB: I would find something that would literally stop me in my tracks. The way the sun is hitting a rose in the morning and there’s still dew on it. I’ll stop and I’ll focus just on that rose. Only look for the picture information that I want to represent that rose. And in that moment, everything else falls away from me.
I’m not thinking about what I’m going to eat. I’m not thinking about how I’m annoyed at somebody. It all goes away. Because I am focused. I am present on that one thing that I’m photographing. And it becomes its own kind of meditation.
I learned early on as a child reading books and then noticing my thoughts is I think in pictures. And I think most people think in pictures. And we have this constant film, this constant stream of images that run through our head usually unconscious about it. And training yourself to see exactly what you want helps you to become aware of your thoughts.
And when you become aware of your thoughts, and especially the negative ones, you can then reframe them, pun intended, to be something that’s more productive. I don’t even talk about – well, sort of do. Positive thinking. I think the better term is productive or constructive thinking. And that’s what you want to be doing with your thoughts. And doing the photo assignments, we don’t think about it. Often, we get these books. And, yeah, sure. Write this. And, yes, I have the journaling. But what are you doing to actually learn how you see the images in your head?
[0:21:50] PF: What I love about that too is there was a study that came out a couple of months ago and it was talking about how taking fewer photos will actually make you happier. Because people have gotten so into like – they’re taking photos of everything and missing the moment. What you’re doing is honing in and making them appreciate that moment. And it’s like this is why we’re supposed to have cameras, is to capture that moment and appreciate it. I love that you take that and you make a practice out of it.
[0:22:18] MB: One of my favorite teachings comes from Dr. Rick Hanson, which is about savoring the good. And taking a photograph in such a mindful way, such a present way helps you with savoring in the good. Because Dr. Hanson talks about you know really staying with a pleasant experience for 20 to 30 seconds and doing that time and time again. So, you start to create a positive neural pathway. I think that taking the photos, as I have in my book, helps you learn that lesson, learn that habit.
[0:23:01] PF: That’s excellent. There’s a lot we can learn from this book. And it is – as you said, it’s presented great for creatives. And I love that because people – to your point, we learn differently and different things appeal to us. And I think this makes happiness practices so accessible to people. And what is it that you most hope to accomplish with this book?
[0:23:22] MB: That people can understand that happiness is a choice and that’s where it begins really. You have to want to do it. And then you have to back it up. If you say, “Oh, I want to be happy.” Great. If you don’t do anything about it, you’re dreaming.
[0:23:42] PF: Right. Right.
[0:23:43] MB: I want people to understand that happiness is a choice. It’s well within their control. And there are things that they can actually learn and that they will become better, more aware, more present, more resilient. I think happiness is another word. It’s a pretty word for resilience.
[0:24:07] PF: I would agree with that.
[0:24:08] MB: Yeah.
[0:24:08] PF: Maria, thank you so much. Thank you for coming on the show. Thank you for writing this book. We are going to tell our listeners how they can find you. How they can find your book? How they can follow you? You’re going to have stalkers now. No. But I really appreciate this. I think this is so important. I love this mission. And I appreciate your time today.
[0:24:25] MB: Thank you. Thank you so much. I really feel honored to be here.
[0:24:33] PF: That was Maria Baltazzi talking about the happiness essentials and how you can discover them. If you’d like to learn more about Maria, check out her new book, Take a Shot at Happiness: How to Write, Direct & Produce the Life You Want. Or follow her on social media. Just visit us at livehappy.com and click on the podcast tab.
That is all we have time for today. We’ll meet you back here again next week for an all-new episode. And until then, this is Paula Felps reminding you to make every day a happy one.