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Rob Dubin, happiness expert, on gratitude & resilience, employee happiness & ‘quiet quitting', a story of surviving against all odds & learnings from 17 years at sea

(Publication Date: 12.12.23)

In this episode of the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with Rob Dubin, an international keynote speaker and former filmmaker who has become an expert on happiness and resilience.


Rob and his wife, Dee, made national news 30 years ago when they survived several days in the backcountry during a phenomenal blizzard near Aspen, Colorado. Adam talks with Rob about that experience and not only how but why survival against all odds was possible.


A few years later, Rob retired from filmmaking at 42. He and Dee sold their home and bought a 40’ sailboat. They sailed the world for what would become a 17-year-long adventure, and a study of human happiness and fulfillment.


The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.


Along with being distributed on popular podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via

Rob Dubin

To download free e-book: Text “happier” to 33777




We Are Chaffee





Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams

Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray

We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin

We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby

Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom


Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service.

Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.


[Intro music, guitar instrumental]


Adam Williams (00:00:14): Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community and wellbeing, rooted in Chaffee County, Colorado.


I'm Adam Williams. Today I'm talking with Rob Dubin, an international keynote speaker and former filmmaker who has become an expert on happiness and resilience.


Rob has an incredible life story, even beyond all that he's accomplished professionally. It's a story of optimism, adventure, and survival, among other things. He's a pilot. He's a mountaineer. He's a sailor. He's many things. He and his wife, Dee, they made national news 30 years ago when they survived several days of the unimaginable in the back country during a blizzard near Aspen, Colorado. We talk about that experience and not only how, but why, survival against all odds was possible.


A few years later, Rob retired from filmmaking at 42. He and Dee sold their home, bought a 40-foot sailboat, and they sailed the world for what would become a 17-year-long adventure and a study of human happiness and fulfillment.


Rob shares what he thought about while at sea during those years and what he figured out about life, its meaning and purpose, why we are here. We talk about the keys to relationships and how he and his wife navigated life aboard a sailboat with only 300 some odd square feet of space for all those years at sea.


(01:41): Rob also shares what he has determined are the factors needed for a life of happiness and resilience. We talk about cultivating optimism and the magic that lies outside our comfort zones. Rob speaks to toxic positivity versus realistic positivity, and I ask him about his relationship with the renowned coach and speaker, Tony Robbins.


For those of you interested in organizational leadership, he also shares his insights on the lose-lose of quiet quitting in the workplace and the costs of not caring about employee happiness.


Lastly, listen for Rob to share information along the way on how to download his free ebook with strategies for cultivating happiness in your life. I'll also include that information and the link to his website in the episode show notes at


Now here we go with happiness expert, Rob Dubin.


[Transition music, guitar instrumental]


(02:43): Rob, welcome to Looking Upstream.


Rob Dubin: Thanks so much for having me here, Adam. I'm excited for our conversation.


Adam Williams: I am too, believe me. I have watched your TEDx Talk that you gave a few months ago in Manitou Springs, Colorado, and I mean, there are so many amazing things that are in there and the way that you present them and the way that you tell a story. 


But I want to start at the start of that because you had such an incredible life-changing sort of event that you referred to back in 1993. I would like for us to start right there, if you can, if you can take us through that story. And then we'll proceed with all these amazing things that you've done since.


Rob Dubin (03:18): Well, it was February of 1993, and my parents were desperate to find out whether my wife and I were still alive. Days earlier, we had headed off on a backcountry ski trip to a cabin deep in the mountains up above Aspen, Colorado. And partway there, the weather changed dramatically. And in those days, of course, weather reporting wasn't as good as it is now or weather forecasting. And this unprecedented storm came in, and it proceeded to snow 10 feet over the next five days, trapped people at Monarch Ski area overnight. 


There was hundreds of people stuck at the ski area overnight. Threatened the water supply for the entire town of Aspen. There were avalanches all over the state that trapped people in their cars. And so the news media was reporting about this unprecedented storm, and when they heard about the lost skiers, the story went viral. So millions of people around the country were just like my parents, listening to the hourly news reports to see if we had been found.


(04:17): And so on day three, they heard the county sheriff say that there was only a 10% chance that we could have survived multiple nights in this raging blizzard. And then on day four, the sheriff at Aspen said it was just too dangerous to be sending live rescuers after our dead bodies. And then on day five, they said they were calling off the search for us, and they would recover our frozen bodies the following spring.


And so just when the entire country was about to give up hope for us getting out alive, we actually made contact with the rescue team, and we got out of the mountains. And we were both quite healthy, but my wife had severe frostbite on her hands and feet, so they put her in an ambulance to the hospital in Aspen. And moments later, the first phone call I received was from the president of the United States congratulating us on our perseverance and our survival.


(05:09): And over the next several days, I was on all the nightly news shows and all the network morning shows and sharing our story with the rest of the world because there was massive interest in it. And most of the networks interviews asked us how we had survived, the things that we had done, digging snow caves or whatever we had done to try and survive. But on The Today Show, Katie Couric asked us a different question. She asked me why had we survived? Why had we survived when so many other people perish after a single night in conditions like that? And the sheriff had said, even after the second night, we only had a 10% chance of survival. So why had we survived when others don't?


(05:53): And I hadn't thought about it before, but as soon as I heard her ask that question question, I knew immediately the reason that we had survived was because we were both optimistic, and we were resilient. And our optimism didn't allow us to see any other possibility than that we were going to get out of the mountains. 


And our resilience is what allowed us to lay in the snow all night long with no tent, not enough sleeping bags for all of the people that we had there, there were three of us, and shivering so violently all night long I thought I would crack my ribs, and then get up in the morning and put on our packs and put on our skis and continue to break trail and try and get out of the mountains.


Adam Williams (06:31): That's such an extraordinary experience, and I can't imagine. And some of the questions like what Katie Couric posed to you are exactly what went through my mind as well because we're talking about physical science here, the realities of temperature when it gets to a certain place, the conditions of blizzard and snowing like that, what can the body really handle? And certainly, there are limitations, but then this is sort of you're suggesting a mind over matter kind of experience?


Rob Dubin (06:58): Well, I guess it's a combination of things. I was an extremely experienced mountaineer. I had been climbing in the Himalayas. I'd been invited on Everest expeditions, I'd climbed Denali in Alaska. So I had the knowledge of how to survive in those kind of conditions. But that knowledge, without that optimism and that resilience, that mental commitment that we knew we were going to get out of the mountains alive, it was the combination of those two things that did allow us to survive and deal with it.


And there was so much snow. I mean, like I say, I've dug snow caves many, many times in my life. There was so much snow that we couldn't successfully dig a snow cave. The first two nights, they just collapsed because there was so much fresh powder snow, 6, 7, 8 feet of snow. The third and fourth night, I was able to dig a snow cave that we were able to get in. So it was a combination of the physical realities. We didn't have enough food, but all of us can deal with so much more than we think we can. And I believe that's true of every person, if you have that optimistic viewpoint.


Adam Williams (08:04): If I understand this correctly, you were 39, I think that's what I read, when this happened. And so it was only a few years later at 42 when you retired from your own production company for TV production, films, commercials. And you and your wife sold your home, bought a 40-foot sailboat and took off sailing around the world for what would end up being 17 years. I have a lot of questions around that. One is how this experience in 1993 might've factored into such a decision.


Rob Dubin (08:36): I guess it certainly, I mean, it makes you think about the finiteness of your own life. And I wouldn't say we had a cataclysmic sea change in our view of the world, but we definitely became more aware of what we wanted in our lives. We had always lived our lives. I've always lived my life focused on creating happiness for myself, creating a good life. And I've always felt that's what all of us really should do. I mean, I believe that's our purpose here.


And when we had time as we took off sailing, you're going around the world at six miles an hour or five miles an hour, you have a lot of time to think. And of course, the oceans connect every part of our world. We had left from Florida, and one of our destinations was Australia, halfway across the planet. But the oceans and our sailboat and a little bit of wind in our sails could connect those two points.


So as I had all this time at sea moving very slowly to reflect on things, and I reflected on this idea of connection, how the oceans connected every place. And I had been a filmmaker, and filmmakers and authors and storytellers often refer to something called the red thread or the throughline, which ties all the points of a story or a book or a film together. And so now that I had this time to reflect on these connections of our lives, I came to understand the through line of my very own life. And I realized that my throughline, my red thread, was this idea that we are here to experience happiness and joy and help other people find their own happiness and joy, and I believe that's our purpose here.


(10:23): And Aristotle, the greatest philosopher of all times, said something very similar to that, that the very purpose and point of human existence is to be happy. And more recently, the Dalai Lama said something almost the same thing. So I wasn't the first person to have this idea, but as we sailed around the world, I then focused more and more on what created happiness for human beings.


And we visited a hundred different countries. And before we had left, I had been doing films for Fortune 500 companies and TV commercials for big organizations. And I had been making films on the sailing industry as well. And I was with a lot of multimillionaires and billionaires who can afford to race big expensive yachts. And I realized that these billionaires, they would fly in their private jets to their yachts, and then we would get to go out sailing with them. And I realized some of them were happy, and a lot of them weren't.


(11:18): And then a few years later, I'm sailing around the world, and I'm sitting in dirt-floored shacks with people in third world countries. And some of them were happy, and some weren't, and the percentages weren't radically different between the billionaires and these very poor people.


So I started focusing on what created human happiness and created a fulfilling life for people. And that's today what I speak on, and I travel around the country, and I speak and teach happiness basically.


Adam Williams (11:47): When you set sail, how long did you have in mind that you would be gone?


Rob Dubin (11:50): Well, when we left, we thought we were going to go for about four years. We had sort of saved up enough money to take off for three or four years and then have a little bit left to come back and get reestablished. But plans changed, and it ended up we spent 17 years sailing around the world, and we just somehow made all of that work.


And when we had left, I had been a filmmaker for 20 years. I was lucky, when I was in high school, I knew I wanted to go into photography and film, and I went straight to a film school instead of a regular college. And I started my own film production company when I was about 21 years old, right after I got out of school.


And I made movies for 20 years, and I loved it for 19 and a half years. And it was when I stopped loving making movies that we then took off to go sailing. So it was really more a fixture of that rather than that ski experience. Now, the ski experience may have made me look at the world a little differently, so I didn't get as much enjoyment out of the filmmaking, but filmmaking is such a creative endeavor. 


You pour your heart and soul into it, and I couldn't make films if I wasn't pouring my heart and soul into them. So when I stopped loving making films, I knew it was time to do something different. So that's when we closed our film production company and took off to go sailing.


Adam Williams (13:08): The sailboat had only 300 and something square feet of living space, is that correct?


Rob Dubin: Exactly.


Adam Williams: So you sold a home of whatever size, I'm going to guess larger than 300 and something square feet of space, and you and your wife decide this is how we're going to live. Now, there in more recent years, there's been trends toward smaller living, toward minimalism, toward decluttering our spaces. And you two did this for 17 years together on a sailboat. 


Again, I have a lot of questions about this. I'm thinking, I mean, I'm married. We're in relationships in life, period. This is the only person that you have constant contact with. You can't have a disagreement and decide you're going to go for a walk. There's nowhere to go. What was that living experience like to go from whatever size you were living in to such a small space, and you're at sea?


Rob Dubin (14:00): Well, I'll unpack those. There are two different questions in my mind. So when we started getting rid of all of our stuff, because we had, as you said, a 2,800 square foot house, and we moved onto a 300 square foot sailboat, so there's not a lot of room for stuff on your boat. And so the only things that we could take with us were things that would help us sail better, help us be safer, live better in our new life out sailing. And we couldn't take anything with us that wouldn't serve that purpose.


And it's really a great metaphor for all of us for life because we're all carrying with us baggage that doesn't serve us, that won't help us get to the next phase of our life. And so we threw stuff away. We had garage sale after garage sale or estate sale. And if something just wasn't going to help us sail better or live better on the boat, we got rid of it, whether it was through a garage sale or throwing it over the side of the boat.


(15:01): And we can all do this with our lives if we all go think about what things we want to become. And if we're carrying with us baggage from some past event, it doesn't matter that you failed third grade or your mom yelled at you or you got fired from some job long ago, we're all carrying around all that pain and those other hurts of life, and it's not going to help us get to who we want to become. 


So just do what we did, literally throw it over the side of the boat, get rid of it, and focus on a new life. And I actually teach a process for helping people to do exactly that, a process for getting rid of some of that old baggage in your life.


Adam Williams (15:41): Sort of like Marie Kondo, but for the psychological side of things where we're decluttering and organizing our lives. We're going through, in her case, she goes through the house and says, "These are the things you want to get rid of." But you're helping people sort through what's on their mind and on their hearts and saying, "Hey, if we shape up the optimism and the belief in ourselves, we actually can move forward."


Rob Dubin (16:01): Absolutely. And I'm not a therapist. I mean, if you have serious trauma in your past, you should be seeing a professional therapist to help you work through those things. But we all carry baggage of life wounds us as we go along through life. 


And if we can get rid of some of that stuff, take the lessons from those painful experiences because the lesson helps us not repeat the experience, but leave the pain behind. And when you can do that, you can move forward with trying to become who you want to become in the future.


Adam Williams: When you are observing things from these experiences for all these years, from billionaire yachtsmen to people who lived in developing nations around the world, what was some of this common thread of what happiness was, where it came from or not? What were the learnings that you were collecting?


Rob Dubin (16:52): Well, definitely one of the main keys is good friendships. We know that good friendships are one of the best predictors of happiness. So people don't need to have a lot of friends, but they need to have some close friends that they can count on where the friendship goes both ways, and you are a good friend to somebody else. And so good friendships are one predictor of that.


Another thing that's a good predictor is time in nature. We know, and we live in such a beautiful place here in Colorado that we luckily, most of us that live here experience that on a daily basis. All you have to do is walk outside your front door, and you're not in a concrete canyon. You're looking at beautiful mountains and a gorgeous river, so we have that here in Salida. But time in nature.


Being present and mindful. So living in the moment is very important. Happiness is an emotion that exists in the moment. You can't store up extra happiness from yesterday and have it tomorrow. So being present in those moments that are when you are creating that happiness and feeling that at a deep, deep level, that's another thing that's helpful.


(18:03): Something else that we talk about is being in flow. And again, living in Salida where we do, there are many of us that ski and kayak the rivers or raft the rivers and mountain bike and any of those sports like that that get you in flow where you can't be doing that sport and thinking about work at the same time or thinking about the dishes that have to be washed or anything else. And when you get in flow state, that's something else that promotes happiness.


So those are a few of the things that we teach that promote happiness, but probably the easiest one and one of the most effective is to cultivate gratitude. And it is so easy to do, and I tell people, spend five minutes a day toward the end of each day and get a journal and write down five things that you're grateful for. So write down five things and spend five minutes thinking about why those things make you grateful and why you're happy about those things. 


And if you do that every day for a couple of months, it'll become a habit that will change your life. And it's so easy to do because when you're feeling gratitude, you can't also be feeling anger or worry or self-recrimination or any of those other negative feelings. So gratitude is, along with friendship, one of the best ways to promote more happiness in your own life.


Adam Williams (19:27): Something I talk with my sons about, that habits form so much of our lives, whether they're positive ones or negative ones. And then also gratitudes, I love that you brought up that example because in our household, we sit around the dinner table and every day share three gratitudes from your day. Now, I'd have to admit that my sons don't always relish the experience, and we try not to get too pushy. We don't want them to push back against it, but it is one of those things that we like to try to bring into their lives, and hopefully we're setting a good example in that.


Rob Dubin (20:00): Good for you. That's so important. And you're right, it is habits. And what actually happens, the reason I said do it for 60 days, for two months, we actually know that supposedly it takes 66 days to form a habit. That's what the social scientists tell us now. And each time you do that, that gratitude practice, you're triggering the feel-good chemicals, dopamine and serotonin, in your body. 


So the chemicals last much longer than the five minutes you spend expressing the gratitude. So they make you feel good for a longer period of time. Then over time, as it becomes a habit, you relate that feeling good from the chemicals in your body to the fact that you did verbalize it or write it down or share it around the dinner table. And so when you do it over a couple of months, it becomes a habit, and it triggers those feel-good chemicals. You know they're going to be triggered so you want to do it more.


Adam Williams (20:57): I think my wife is such a great example of what you're saying there because I'm pretty sure she'll share gratitudes with me throughout the day. We both work from home, and she'll come tell me just to do that. But I'm pretty sure that she would share them even if nobody was sitting around the dinner table with her. It's just something that I know she really enjoys, and I look at her as an example of somebody with this positivity and who helps me to keep that practice in line too. 


So I think that comes down to who do we associate with? Who do we surround ourselves with? The relationships you talked about, having friendships, that there's joy in my life because of that person who's there, who's so good at expressing it herself.


Rob Dubin (21:35): Absolutely, absolutely. And I forgot to get back to your other question about how my wife and I got along on a sailboat, and that's actually one of the most common questions we get, believe it or not, is how did the two of you get along 24/7 on a small boat?


Adam Williams: I believe it.


Rob Dubin: And we were lucky because we had worked together in our film production company, and so right from the start, when we were working together, if you were at home, and you got in a fight with your partner, and you drove to the office, and that same person's there, and you got to work with them, or vice versa, if you get in an argument with your business partner, and you drive home, and that same person is there, you have to learn how to communicate and solve those differences. And so we had learned how to do that through our business. And then when we got on the boat, it was very easy to do it.


(22:22): And for us, I mean, I hear people say relationships take work, and marriages are hard. And I nod my head and say, "I guess so." But it's never been that way for us. And we celebrated our 41st anniversary this year. And as I said, 17 of those 41 years we're on the sailboat. So for us, it's always been very easy, but we have good habits. We do things like we never threaten the relationship. You can never say, "If you don't do this, I'm leaving." That's kryptonite for a relationship. You can't ever threaten the relationship.


You have to decide, do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship?


Adam Williams (23:01): Absolutely.


Rob Dubin: When you're in an argument, one of the things that we talk about so often is you can't meet each other halfway because your halfway and my halfway are two different places. So if you want to meet each other halfway, you both need to go 75% of the way to the other person's way of seeing things. And if you each go what you think is 75%, then you're going to meet somewhere in the middle. And so when we have those kinds of habits that we developed early in our relationship, and we just do them as a matter of course.


(23:33): And the other thing I would say is a lot of people, when they're different, they make the other person wrong. And one of the things we learned from our sailing was right off of the bat was to be less judgmental. And that's another thing that is going to contribute so much to your happiness because we all have different rules for life. 


What you think is okay isn't the same as what I think is okay or acceptable or proper. And it can be anything from how we run our lives to how to load the dishwasher. And if you make the other person wrong for not doing it your way, you are just setting yourself up for unhappiness.


So the very first country we sailed to when we left the United States was to The Bahamas, and this was, as you said in 1995, and we checked in, and they were having us check in and fill out paperwork with carbon paper. Probably most of your listeners don't even know what carbon paper is anymore, but we're filling these things out by hand with this carbon paper. 


And I just said, "This is so backwards. We do it so much better in the United States. Why don't they have computers?" And then a moment later, I literally slapped myself and said, "If I wanted it done like they do in the United States, I should have just stayed home."


Adam Williams (24:52): Oh, wow. Yeah.


Rob Dubin (24:53): And so my point, my purpose for being there was not to be judgmental, but was just to observe and learn. And so I do this with my wife when something will happen, and she will have a different response than mine by radically different response, I don't make her wrong for not responding the way I do, I just observe that, and then that sort of makes me endlessly fascinated by my wife. So I see a new side of her all the time, and that's contributed to our relationship rather than detracted from it.


Adam Williams (25:23): I think there's a rigidity in judgment. When we are assessing someone else's way of talking or doing a certain something, that's because we're so rigidly adhering to the way we think is "right." So I think that's a wonderful lesson, and it certainly is something I've learned along the way in marriage, being right is less important. And my wife has made it clear to me that how I say things, the feeling with which I say things has a big impact. So it doesn't matter how right I am if I'm wrong in a way that has so much feeling to it.


Rob Dubin (26:00): Absolutely. And that's what I say where do you want to be right, or do you want to be in a relationship? There are a lot of times when it's a lot more important to be in the relationship than to be right about this little thing or that little thing.


Adam Williams: I've taken that into my parenting with my two sons as well. I think about is it better for me to control this moment, to demand and be the authority of the moment or to do this in such a compassionate way, maybe a lenient way, maybe a way that allows them the space to be what I think isn't right in order to have longer-standing relationships that I hope that when they are grown men, we still have a good close relationship because I didn't burn it down by being right and righteous and in control all the time when they were kids.


Rob Dubin (26:43): Absolutely. I think that's great parenting advice.


Adam Williams (26:47): I want to refer to something in your TEDx presentation, which I imagine is actually part of what you do in presentations when you go talk to corporates or organizations of whatever kind. And you said do we play it small and avoid risk, or do we have courage to step outside our comfort zone again and again and again? And it's that question that determines our lives. You said many wonderful things, again, in that presentation, but along with that thought, a moment later, you said magic lies outside your comfort zone.


I want to talk about comfort zone. I want to talk about fear and how we break through that. And did you come to these realizations, again I'm referring, I guess, to that 1993 experience, and it sounds like you were already an optimistic person and that that's actually what saw you through that. But I wonder how you cultivated this understanding about breaking through fear in your comfort zone and just what you've learned since.


Rob Dubin (27:42): Well, life beats us all down in some way. We've all had failures in our past, whether it's a teenage broken heart or losing a family member or getting fired from some job or something in our lives, we've all had a number of disappointments. You just don't get to be an adult without having disappointments in your life. You really don't get to get through fifth grade without having disappointments in your life. And so we all have those kinds of things.


(28:09): And then what do we do with those experiences? So do we say, "Well, I failed at this, and I failed at that, and I failed at that, so I'm not going to try the next thing anymore." And I don't know, there is some research that suggests that the kind of optimism that I have is partly in our DNA. There is some research that suggests that. So maybe I've got some of my natural optimism for free in my genes, but I'm confident that everybody can learn to have more of it if they practice a certain way of developing this optimism.


And it's not, we often hear that's whether you see the glass is half full or half empty, and I don't believe that's what it is because I believe it's something different. So when the sheriff said we had a 10% chance of survival, I assume he was basing that on however many people had been lost in the past in search and rescue situations, and he was stating an actual fact that we had a 10% chance of survival. And the conditions were as bad as I've ever seen in my life, and I've spent my life in the outdoors. So maybe he was right, we had a 10% chance of survival.


(29:20): But optimism is looking at that glass as it is, maybe that glass was only 10% full, and recognizing that it's 10% full, and then recognizing what that 90% empty part means. It means we don't have enough sleeping bags. We didn't have a tent. We don't have any dry clothes. We don't have enough food for all of us. Those things are real. But now focus on the 10%. 


So recognize that that 90% empty part exists, but then focus on what you can do with the 10%. So what was our 10% was I had a massive amount of experience in the back country. I was an experienced mountaineer, and I knew what I could do. I knew my wife would follow my optimism and follow my lead. We had a third person with us who did not, and I had to continually bring her up because she wanted to lay down in the snow and die, but we focused on that 10% that what we had going for us.


(30:17): And I teach businesses, when they're launching a new product, and they're having a product meeting, and somebody says, "Well, here's all the problems." So they're pointing out that empty portion of the glass. That's fine. If you spend 10 minutes focused on the empty portion of the glass, now spend 30 minutes in your product meeting talking about what you got going for you, what the positive side of it. 


So if you spend three times more time and energy and thought process on the full part of the glass than you do on the empty portion, that's cultivating optimism. And if you get in the habit of doing that in your whole life, just like your wife's habit of gratitude in her whole life, it becomes a habit, and it becomes the way you see the world.


(30:58): And then I've tried so many things in my life. I mean, I'm a skier. I'm a pilot. I've set records, aviation records. I've climbed big mountains. I sailed around the world. So I've done all these different things. So when you try a lot of new things in your life, guess what? You fail at a lot of new things in life. So the more things you try, the more you're going to fail. But I have cultivated literally an ability to go from failure to failure without losing my optimism. 


So by cultivating that optimism, you are making it more likely that you will then succeed some of those times. So it's not that you're never going to fail again, but the more often you succeed, now you start to know what success looks like, and it leaves clues, and you see the steps that you went through to achieve your success, and now you start achieving more and more successes in your life.


Adam Williams (31:47): I think these are really important points because what we can sometimes, when we don't know how to envision amazing happiness and success in our lives, I think it can be easy, maybe for the average listener or reader, to hear someone like you who's talking so much about optimism, so much about happiness, and write it off potentially as toxic positivity because it's so far from where our brains might be. 


But what you are acknowledging is that's not what this is. We're not being delusional. What we're talking about is acknowledging the challenges in front of you, but focusing on the positive that you have to overcome those challenges.


Rob Dubin (32:26): Absolutely. I mean, I'm down on toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is saying the glass is 90% full when it's really not 90% full or saying it's 100% full. That's why I say you really need to recognize the challenges in front of you. That's the opposite of toxic positivity. This is just positivity that is realistic positivity.


Adam Williams: Yeah. Yeah. So something else that really stands out to me in this is you're talking about teaching happiness. So it's not something that is just innate. It's not something that I'm born with, or I was unlucky, and now I guess, well, I am who I am. I'm pessimistic, I am serious. I am not capable of just seeing joy in everything, whatever you're talking about. This can be cultivated as a practice in our lives.


Rob Dubin (33:18): Absolutely. And when I go into organizations, often I speak at HR conferences all over the country, and people in the HR department generally get it right away. They're people-oriented people, which is why they got into the HR field. But when they want to talk to the C-suite, their bosses don't always see it the same way.


And I say, "Yes, I teach happiness." And just the idea that happiness can be taught is foreign to most of us. We think when I check all the right boxes in life, I will be happy. When I get the good education and meet the right partner and have two cute kids and have a house and have a good job that pays me well, and I meet this next sales goal or whatever, I will be happy. And life just doesn't work that way.


(34:04): And Covid showed so many people that had reached all, they had checked all those boxes. There were millions of people around the country and around the world that realized during Covid, I've checked all these boxes. Why am I not happy? And happiness can be taught just like everything else we learn in our life. If you wanted to become a guitar player, you would decide you wanted to play guitar. So that's the first point is you decide you want this in your life. I decide I want to be a musician. I decide I want to learn how to play tennis or ski or whatever. So I decide I want more happiness in my life. That's step number one.


Step number two if you wanted to be a guitar player is you would watch some YouTube videos or take some guitar lessons or whatever it would be, but you would study the subject. Happiness works the same way. The next thing you need to do after you've made the decision is you need to study some of the techniques of happiness, some of which we've talked about here today. 


Cultivate a gratitude practice. Cultivate good friendships. Be present. So you practice the things that help you become a better guitar player or a better, happy person. And you practice those things over time, and you get better and better at it. And so happiness is no different than everything else we've learned in our life. It's something that can be taught, and I teach it every day.


(35:22): Harvard University and Yale University each started a happiness studies program. And at both universities, it became the most popular course in the history of the university at each university. So happiness is something that can be taught. You just have to decide you want more of it in your life, study the things that create happiness, practice them, and you get better and better at it.


Adam Williams (35:42): That's an example of people clearly wanting happiness in their lives and being curious, how can I get there? What can I learn? What do I need to learn? And who can teach me and lead me that way?


Rob Dubin (35:53): There's a Yale University happiness course that's online that people can take for free, and I'll offer something to your listeners here. I have a little ebook that's free. If people are interested in it, they can text the word happier, text to 33777. Text the word happier, and they'll be able to download a free ebook with a lot of the strategies that we're talking about here today.

Adam Williams: That's great. And I'm going to be texting you. (36:20): So as you teach happiness, and again in this video that I've referred to, the TEDx Talk with a quarter million views in only a few months, you laid out some steps toward happiness there. And the first one was being able to visualize your goals. And I was thinking about how, if we can't even imagine, I mean, that has to be the first step because if I say, well, I want to accomplish X in my life, but then I can't even visualize, I can't picture it in my mind, I can't imagine that coming true, then how can I possibly get it to come true? So starting off with what can I imagine and allow myself to dream in a big way?


Rob Dubin (36:58): Absolutely. I mean, we know that from, I mean, something like President Obama, Black children seeing a Black president, there was something they could never have imagined before. Now they can imagine it. 


And when we have a woman president, it's going to be the same thing that little girls around the world could never have imagined themselves being president, or around the country, and now they can see Kamala Harris, and they can see a woman in a leadership role. So we've moved on all those levels, but it's the same thing. If you don't see yourself in that position, it's hard for you to imagine getting there.


So the first thing that I talk about in creating your goals is imagining what your life is like after you have achieved that goal. And what that does, it's actually not just positive thinking. It actually triggers a part of your brain called your reticular activating system. And I'll give an example that everybody can relate to. You buy a new blue Chevy truck, and suddenly you see blue Chevy trucks all over the highway that you never noticed before. And so that's your reticular activating system of your brain noticing something that is now important to you. Blue trucks are now an important thing to you, so you notice a lot of them.


Well, if you visualize your goal, what your life looks like after you've achieved your goal, and you make it very real to all of your senses, what does your life now look like and smell like and sound like and feel like, and you engage all of your senses in that, you're telling your reticular activating system, now help me notice things that will get to me to my goal. 


So now the next time you meet somebody at a party, or you meet somebody through a friend and they say, "Oh, by the way, I do X, Y, Z, your reticular activating system says, "Wow, this person an expert at that thing I want to learn. This person is an expert on happiness. I can ask them how to be happier. This person is a great skier. Maybe they can teach me how to ski." So your brain notices things that will help you accomplish your goal once you do that visualization process.


Adam Williams (39:03): It just occurred to me that as we have talked about who we are associating with, what the friendships and relationships, your wonderful marriage because of the way the two of you work in that, you have spent 30 years working with Tony Robbins. 


So the way that this has to also affect you by associating with someone else who is extremely positive and extremely full of belief in what is possible in life, that hit me, that who you are associating with are people of such a high level of belief and character and accomplishment like yourself.


Rob Dubin (39:40): Well, thank you. And for sure, that is a big part of what has made my life fulfilling and wonderful is I worked with Tony long, long ago, and I wanted to work more with Tony, and so I made that happen. I had a personal relationship with him. And when that ski trip happened, after the ski trip, my wife had severe frostbite. The doctor said they were going to amputate both of her feet. And it was literally work that we had done with Tony that made us tell the doctors we're refusing to sign the papers authorizing the surgery, and we did other things, and we saved her feet. So Tony has had a giant impact on my life.


I was able to work with Tony because I did something, I created value for Tony in a way that made it possible for us to work together. And then many years later, when we were sailing around the world, we stopped and visited Tony at, he owns a resort on an island in Fiji. And we visited him there, and he asked me to speak to a group of executives that he had there. 


And I spoke there, and afterwards, Tony's wife Sage said, "Wow, you're a very effective speaker. You should do more of that." And for me, that was planting the seed for what I do today, whereas I travel around the country speaking and do things like my TED Talk. So Tony's had a gigantic impact on my life. I could never thank him enough for so much that he's done for us.


Adam Williams (41:11): I'm curious about how people respond to your presentations. When you are doing public speaking, and you have an audience, whether that's in a corporate environment or wherever it might be, I'm guessing that there are some people who struggle with maybe a cynical sort of view because they have a hard time imagining themselves just fully embracing this message that's coming from the stage, might seem too good to be true for them in their lives. 


So do they ever approach you with this cynicism and try to maybe push back a little bit or counter it or ask for help maybe in how do they overcome that and get to where you're trying to coach them to be?


Rob Dubin (41:49): I would say yes and no. Certainly, if I have an audience of 500 people, I know I'm not going to reach all 500. I know there's going to be 5% or 10% who it just doesn't resonate with. My story doesn't resonate with them. The things I teach don't resonate. Or they've had trauma in their past that they're not going to get over in my 10 minute or 30 minute talk. 


So you can't reach everybody. But my goal, I guess, is to change the lives of maybe 10% or 15% of the people in the room in a big way, and then raise enough questions for maybe another 50% of the people in the room that they're willing to explore it or ask more questions.


And a lot of times what happens is when we go to the question and answer period, if I do a 60-minute program and it's 15 minutes of Q&A at the end, usually those objections that people have might come up during that Q&A, either they don't believe it, or it doesn't apply to them, or as you said, they just want more help. And I get people ask, well, in my situation, here's my thing, what would you recommend? 


And maybe at that point, I'm able to tailor an answer to them that does resonate. And usually, if it resonates with one, there are two or three other people that are nodding that actually had the same question, and that it helped resonate with them as well.


Adam Williams (43:11): Do any specific examples of the doubts or people who are trying to kind of counter what you're saying, when they get up to the microphone or something in that Q&A and ask you or say, "Well, I don't really quite buy it," what kinds of feedback in that lane are you getting?


Rob Dubin (43:29): Well, I spoke at a conference, I've spoken two years in a row at a cybersecurity conference, and so it's a little different than my normal audience, which might be a lot of HR people. This was people at every level of companies in the cybersecurity field. And there was a CEO there, and he raised his hand, and he said, "Wait a minute. You're telling me now, even though I pay my people well, and I give them all these benefits, and I spend, I think he threw out a number of $7 million on benefits or something, I got to make them happy too?" 


And everybody else in the room turned and looked at the guy. And I said, "No, you don't have to make them happy. You can let them leave and go to another company that will then make them happy."


And so he sort of got the message, and it reminded me of my uncle was a dentist, and I remember when I was a little kid, and I wasn't so good at flossing my teeth. And my uncle said to me, "Well, you don't need to floss all your teeth, just the ones you want to keep." So I sort of say that when I talk to C-suite people, if they don't get the concept of employee happiness, their employees will go somewhere else that will help them become happier.


(44:39): And it's certainly becoming much more prevalent today. And it's percolating up to the C-suite that employee engagement, employee burnout, employee retention, these are major strategic issues for every business today. Five years ago, the attitude was, if this guy quits, I can just hire somebody else to do that job. And today, very few C-Suite people are thinking that way. 


They're much more on board with avoiding burnout, increasing retention, increasing employee engagement. I mean, Gallup tells us that disengaged employees cost the economy $8 trillion a year now, and something like 70% of your employees may be partially or completely disengaged at work.


So it's a challenge for every business. And the solution to that challenge is to care about your employees as human beings and work towards things that will create happiness for them. And I'm so excited, what we're doing here in Chaffee County that Andrea Carlstrom, the head of Chaffee County Public Health, came to me and said, "We want to start a Happiness Project. We know you teach happiness. How can we work together?" 


And so we've had our first Lunch and Learn for, I think, 75 county employees in person. I know it made a big impact on a whole lot of people, and it was streamed for the rest of the county employees. And I know that video is circulating now, and we're getting ready to do more countywide programs on where I'll be teaching these happiness strategies throughout our county. Because Andrea, our head of Public Health has realized that unhappiness is a public health concern.


Adam Williams (46:22): It sounds like something you're referring to there. There's a term that I at least have become more aware of only in recent years, and that's quiet quitting, when employees disengage, and they put in the minimum because they are burned out, and they are tired of giving in a place, in a company, to a mission that maybe they don't feel connected to.


Rob Dubin (46:42): Yeah, and that's a big, big problem. So disengagement is a giant problem. And quiet quitting is mostly a lose-lose proposition. There's one little glimmer of positivity in the quiet quitting idea, and that's where an employee is putting up a boundary that says, "No, you can't call me at 7:00 PM on a Sunday night and expect me to respond." So if employees are putting up some reasonable boundaries on their work situation, that's good.


But most of quiet quitting is a lose for the employer, and more importantly, it's a lose for the employee. For most of us, our job is where we get a huge portion of our purpose in life, and having purpose and spending our hours doing things that add meaning and purpose to our lives is probably the number two or three-way to create happiness in our own lives. And so if you're disengaging from your employment, from your job that is your source of purpose, you're hurting yourself.


And really the solution for it is both sides being flexible. Employers are starting to be more flexible in helping employees design their jobs so that they're doing more of the stuff that they enjoy and less of the part of their job that they don't enjoy, and that's one solution. But for the employee, you have to do something that creates purpose and meaning in your life. And if your purpose and meaning is aligned with your company's mission, that's how you create that purpose that leads to much happiness in our lives.


Adam Williams: Rob, you are an inspiring person to me. We've covered so many incredible topics here and things that have personal meaning to me, like purpose. I want to thank you. Thank you for this fascinating conversation.


Rob Dubin: Well, thank you for the opportunity. That's my goal in life these days is to make a difference in other people's lives. I've had a very rich career and a rich life myself, and it's time for me to give back as much as I can. So I appreciate the opportunity.


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Adam Williams (48:57): Thanks for listening to the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast. If our conversation here today sparks curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode's show notes at


If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at


We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality. We also invite you to tell others about the Looking Upstream podcast. Help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation.


Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. John Prey is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado, to Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, Community Advocacy Coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.


(49:55): The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities.


You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at and on Instagram and Facebook at We Are Chaffee. Lastly, until the next episode, as we say here at We Are Chaffee, share stories, make change.


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