Chris Gardner addresses students about his pursuit to ‘happyness’


For Chris Gardner, it all started with a desire to become world-class. He made that decision at a time when he was living out of a transit-station bathroom with his infant son.

The odds were not in his favor, but with a positive work ethic and love for his son, Gardner was able to get a job as a stockbroker and eventually start his own multimillion-dollar firm.

He published his autobiography, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” in 2006. The book became a New York Times best-seller and was made into a movie starring Will Smith.

Gardner became financially successful through his firm, but after Gardner’s wife’s death in 2012, he decided to pursue a career in happiness. He has written two more books on the subject and travels 200 days out of the year to speak to audiences about reaching their full potential. Through his story, he hopes to show people that it is possible to be successful, but only with hard work.

On Thursday, March 2, Gardner shared his story with students at SLU.

One wouldn’t expect Gardner to be formerly homeless as he is a large man, wearing sleek clothes that showed off his figure. His voice was authoritative, explaining how his dark days were behind him. But he vividly remembered the experience and used it to motivate others.

Sitting down with Gardner before he went on stage, the conversation started casually as Gardner was asked if he had ever been to St. Louis. Gardner replied, “Oh yeah.” When the lack of a football team was brought up, Gardner chuckled. “Even when you had a team… you didn’t really have a team.”

After Gardner was asked what he would want someone who had no idea who was (“Now who would that be? Was he locked up for the past ten years in solitary confinement?” he joked) to remember him by, he said, “That guy was real. He was real, and he was talking to me. At some level, he was talking to me. The truth is, the most important things in all of our lives are the universal experiences, the birth of a child, a graduation, a wedding, a new job or business opportunity, a new home, the loss of a loved one. Those are the universal experiences that create a family called humanity. Now they feel the same, no matter where you are on the planet.”

Gardner relayed a story about a man that he had encountered once. While on set in San Francisco with Will Smith, Gardner and Smith met a man on the street named Theo. Theo said that he was on the streets because he still had something to learn. Gardner described Theo’s interesting talent. “You know a typical Coke bottle? Well, Theo could stand on his head, on an upside-down Coke bottle. Will and I looked at each other. Mother fu… If he can learn to do that, he can learn to do damn near anything. He wasn’t ready, that’s all.”

After being questioned about how he embodies the “American Dream,” Gardner promoted his new book, “Happyness 2.0: Love, Spiritual Genetics and the New American Dream.”

“When you’re trying to write, you have to block out a whole lot of other stuff. You have to ignore a lot of static. You know static? That’s probably before your time,” he said. Gardner shared that he had been dealing with a lot of “static“ recently.

Gardner elaborated, “Ideas don’t come spontaneously. You have some idea of what you want to write. The ideas are marinating, they’re simmering… and then you get a catalyst, the pen gets hot! I do all my work longhand.”

Questioning Gardner whether “luck comes into play at all,” Gardner challenged the claim to a hypothetical run on a treadmill. “One of two things will happen. Either you’re going to quit, or I’m going to die, trying to beat you,” Gardner explained. “I got that attitude by knowing that that’s what it takes.”

Gardner also shared how he thinks we can change the world. “When you recognize that [someone homeless] is ready… Stick out your hand. That’s how you change the world, one person at a time. People that are ready will receive.”

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