Short Cuts to Happiness: Life-changing lessons from my barber (book review)

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What could be better than enjoying a cup of coffee and conversation with Tal Ben Shahar, the humble and brilliant international happiness expert? Something even more delightful is having the opportunity to climb up into the barber chair to take part in forty life-affirming conversations between Tal and Avi Peretz, his trusted barber for twenty years.

Tal in the Barber Chair

French philosopher Voltaire quipped “common sense is not so common.” Wise men and women know that their hairstylist does more than simply give them a perfect coiffure, coloring, or trim. The right stylist or barber acts as a trusted confidant, advisor and friend. Tal’s latest book recounts a two-year ambling conversation that he secretly transcribed after each memorable visit to Avi’s salon.

Avi is a generous person who exemplifies Chris Peterson’s adage, “Other people matter.” Each day customers eagerly congregate in Avi’s neighborhood salon nestled on a quiet street in Ramat Hasharon, a small suburb of Tel-Aviv. The consummate host, Avi has considered every sensory detail to make time in his shop truly relaxing and remarkable. Upon entering, customers experience a beautiful fragrant floral arrangement, while listening to a luscious play list of Brazilian jazz and pop songs. Good coffee flows freely, accompanied by juicy peaches or sweet grapes that Avi found in the next door market earlier that morning. The conversation is animated as everyone patiently waits for the highlight of their visit: Avi’s life-changing, common-sense conversations when it is their turns to sit in his barber chair.

In the Safe Harbor

A Safe Harbor

Avi envisions his salon as a safe harbor, a warm and welcome refuge for him and his customers. “No matter how chaotic or wild things get, this place is always there, lighting the way back to a stable shore. We all need a lighthouse in our life.”

Tal likens Avi and his shop to 20th Century psychoanalyst Donald Winnicott’s observation that children playing in a certain radius of their mothers displayed higher creativity in their games than children who played further away. This “circle of creativity of sorts is a space in which children can take risks and try things out, fall down and stand up again, fail and succeed, because they feel secure and safe in the proximity of a person who loves them unconditionally.”

Choose by Click

Living in New York City, many people go to swanky salons that charge upwards of $250 or $400 for esoteric treatments but I’ve always chosen my hairstylist based on whether we click. Sure, my stylist has to be skilled with the scissors and blow drier but I’m searching for a soul connection.

Lisa and her hair stylist, 
Eddie Bangiyev at Le Posh Salon in Manhattan

According to Tal,

“We go to the hair salon or barber shop in search of some kind of change. We ask for anything from a minor trim to a major cut, a barely perceptible highlight to a transformational new color. Many of us, however, secretly or openly desire to go beyond external change, beyond altering the way or head looks from the outside. What we truly seek is internal change, – anything from a trim to a transformation of that which goes on inside our head.”

Tal likens Avi to Carl Rogers, considered the father of client-centered therapy. Rogers claimed that “empathetic understanding – simply the ability to be there for the other person is the key to the therapeutic process.” Each chapter conveys another Avi and Tal interaction in which Avi, once again, bestows the most fitting story or asks the right question. Exchanges with Avi provide insight or encouragement to take the next right action.

Life Changes

One morning Tal entered the salon to discover a cluster of women talking under four enormous bee-hive blow-driers that created a thunderous drone. Avi strolled over to Tal, gave him a big hug, and invited him to come back in a few hours when the shop would be quieter. Before Tal walked away, Avi handed him his cell and said, “Read this before you go. Every day my friend texts me some words to reflect upon. Here’s what he sent me today:”

Life changes,
And when life changes the rules change,
And when the rules change we need to write
a new rule book.
Today, be mindful. Maybe your life has
changed, and only you haven’t?”

Sometimes we can be transformed just from a simple statement from a trusted friend.

Tal Ben-Shahar, 
credit Judy Rand

Takeaway

Tal posits,

“Just as we go to the gym to strengthen our physical muscles, we go to our hair salon to strengthen our slowness muscles. In this way we can savor more of the beauty that lies within and without.”

This reminds me of the soaring words of Anais Nin: “What lies behind us and what lies in front of us are simple matters compared to what lies within us.”

Read this book to hang out with two radiant, loving master teachers who will connect you to your inner wisdom and joy.

 

References

Ben-Shahar, T. (2018). Short Cuts to Happiness: Life-Changing Lessons from My Barber. The Experiment Publishing Company.

Ackerman, C. (2017). Client-centered therapy + Carl Rogers’ #1 person-centered techniquePositive Psychology Program.

Winnicott, D. W. (1971). Playing and Reality.. Routledge Classics, Volume 86.

Image Credits:
Pictures of Tal Ben-Shahar and Avi Peretz used with permission from The Experiment publishers.
Picture of Lisa and her hair dresser, Eddie Bangiyev, at Le Posh Salon in Manhattan, used with permission from Lisa Buksbaum.