Ed Driscoll

Interview: Hugh Hewitt on The Happiest Life

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In order to write his latest book, Hugh Hewitt looked back over his 25-year broadcast career and 10,000 or so interviews to “reverse engineer” the lives of the people who in his estimation “had the happiest demeanor and the most ebullient step and what was it about them that made for the common denominators of their attitude towards living,” Hugh tells me in our new interview, discussing  The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success. “And so whether it was George W. Bush or Julie Andrews or, you know, Tony Blair, or a Pulitzer winner, like Lawrence Wright, who was happy and why?  It’s a pretty good question, actually, to pursue for anyone.”

In the introduction to his new book, Hugh wrote:

My life is now fifty-eight years along, an age by which my two grandmothers had both waved good-bye to this world. Fifty-eight was barely the third quarter for my Gramps, A. T. Rohl, who made it on his own wheels and in his own house to the age of 101. My other grandfather, for whom I was named and to whom I owe a few thousand chuckles from long-distance operators and call-center handlers, made it to ninety-one. Whether I have inherited my grandmothers’ brevity genes or A. T.’ s and Grandfather Hugh’s long-distance DNA remains to be seen; but in either case, it is time to write down my observations on the secrets to being, for the most part, happy.

Let me hasten to explain that “for the most part.” As you might have guessed, it is a key qualifier, a very important one. Nobody gets out of here without pain or sorrow along the way. “Nobody has the perfect package,” said my pal Coach Jerry again and again, who like all coaches was a font of condensed wisdom, repeated often. This hard reality about the inevitability of hardship and grief is crucial to the happiness that the seven gifts make possible. Which gifts? I’m coming to those.

As I noted above, I began this book with my three children in mind, with the hope that it would contribute to their happiness and their children’s. It is about the seven genuine gifts that they can give and receive from each other and from others— especially their own spouses and children— and why I believe the act of giving those gifts produces happiness.

During our interview, Hugh will discuss:

● Why he wants fellow talk radio host and happiness author Dennis Prager arrested!

● What role does religion play in achieving happiness?

● Does Hugh know people who are happy without faith? (Answer: Yes.)

● Was former President Richard Nixon, Hugh’s early former employer, a happy man?

● What is the relationship of over-diagnosis of mental illness and happiness?

● Is being happy hindered by a societal prejudice against that simple positive emotion?

● Who is the least emotional politician on the world stage? (And no, it’s not Obama.)

● What’s Hugh’s early prognosis for the GOP and November of 2014?

● The origins and meaning of Hugh’s catchphrase, “Morning Glory, Evening Grace”…finally revealed!

And much more. Click here to listen:

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Transcript of our interview begins on the following page; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.


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MR. DRISCOLL:  This is Ed Driscoll for PJ Media.com.  And we’re talking today with veteran talk-radio host and prolific author, Hugh Hewitt of HughHewitt.com, who’s the author of the new book, The Happiest Life:  Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success.

MR. HEWITT:  You know, Ed, when you say “veteran broadcaster,” I’m thinking of Jason Giambi at the end of the bench for the Indians.  He only got into like one of every thirty games, but he hit home runs.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, Hugh, thank you for stopping by today.

MR. HEWITT:  Thank you, Ed.  It’s always a pleasure to talk to you.  And how are you, my friend.  Why aren’t you at New Media Expo?

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, somebody has to mind the store and keep the Internet humming along here at PJ Media.com And Hugh, actually I believe the last time we spoke was when it was still called Blog World back in 2010.

MR. HEWITT:  Yeah, I didn’t get to go this year either, because I was launching The Happiest Life book tour in New York when our good friend Rick [Calvert] was organizing the mayhem that is always the New Media Expo.  And yes, it had to have the name change, because Blog World is only a small part of it now.  But yeah, I missed seeing you there.  And perhaps next year, we’ll have a reunion tour?

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, I wanted to take a tip from The Happiest Life, and thank you for having me on back then.

MR. HEWITT:  Well, thank you for having me on today.  There you go.  Mutual gratitude, the building block of happiness.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Hugh, to start at the very beginning, with the botched Obamacare rollout, the 2014 midterms looming large, and another presidential election cycle right around the corner, what made you decide to kick off 2014 with a book about happiness?

MR. HEWITT:  I owed my wonderful publisher, Thomas Nelson, a book.  And at the conclusion of the 2012 campaign, which was pretty disappointing for most of us, and the first time that I was, in my mind, completely surprised by a result.  I was wholly and a hundred percent convinced that Romney was winning and was going to win.  I did not want to write about politics.

And so looking over a 25-year broadcast career, I thought I would reverse engineer the lives of the people who, over the course of ‑‑ I think I’ve done more than 10,000 interviews, easily, and not counting callers to the radio show ‑‑ who had the happiest demeanor and the most ebullient step and what was it about them that made for the common denominators of their attitude towards living.

And so whether it was George W. Bush or Julie Andrews or, you know, Tony Blair, or a Pulitzer winner, like Lawrence Wright, who was happy and why?  It’s a pretty good question, actually, to pursue for anyone.

MR. DRISCOLL:  You mention Dennis Prager several times in The Happiest Life.

MR. HEWITT:  Well, I want him arrested.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Okay.

MR. HEWITT:  Yeah, he steals cigars.  He’s a felon.  And people ought to know that.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, Prager has also written a book on happiness; his is titled Happiness Is a Serious Problem. How does your book differ from his?

MR. HEWITT:  It doesn’t, actually.  Dennis wrote his book fifteen years ago.  And in between Arthur Brooks wrote a couple of books on happiness.  And as I write in The Happiest Life, there’s quite a developed academic literature on happiness.  But Dennis got the ball rolling in 1998 with Happiness is a Serious Problem.  And he and I have been spending a lot of time on the road together.  He’s actually a very good friend, because I believe in charity towards all and forgiveness of much.

And when Prager and I are out and about, we’re always enjoying each other’s company.  We speak to crowds of many hundreds, often thousands, of people.  And I usually just cue up the ball, I tee up the ball for Dennis and to allow him to unleash his great good humor.

And he does an hour a week on happiness, “The Happiness Hour.”  Now, I do politics.  That’s what I do.  And I mix in the Cleveland Browns, the Indians, and the Cavs, as well as a little bit of Ohio talk.  But mostly I’m politics.

It’s very hard to talk about happiness.  It’s very easy to write about it.  And I thought I would begin with Dennis’ book and Arthur’s academic research, and then do the reverse engineering of the interviews and come up with my own take on it.

And this is a long line of books that goes back to Aristotle’s Ethics, which is actually all about happiness and how to achieve it.  So humankind’s been dwelling on this most important of subjects for 2,500 years.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Religion plays a vital role in all of your suggestions in The Happiest Life, but I was kind of surprised, given what a fierce debater and culture warrior he was, that the late Christopher Hitchens from the descriptions in your new book, was apparently quite a happy fellow offstage and away from the computer keyboard.

MR. HEWITT:  He was.  I was very lucky to count him ‑‑ I wouldn’t say a friend ‑‑ but a great and close colleague.  I was welcome in his home for dinner.  I was happy to travel with him.  Did a number of appearances with him.  And he was a guest on my radio show more than seventy times, seven-zero times, which the wonderful radio blogger has transcribed, and someday we will make available to everyone in audio form.  Because he’s much missed.

And he really lived life every single day to the full.  And though we would often debate his very sincere disbelief, he is one of the few people, I found, who could consistently maintain that ebullience without repair to an understanding that there is a Creator, however one understands them and however one gets to them.  And I’m a Christian and I believe it’s pretty easy to get to the truth of that proposition.  But Christopher never did.

Nevertheless, it did not impede him.  So I wanted to make sure that The Happiest Life did not ‑‑ while obviously dependent on Christianity myself, for my happiness, happy people come in all sorts of shape, face, sizes, colors and creeds, and sometimes not at all, like Hitch.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Which leads to another question. You’re on the air three hours a day talking politics. You have to prep for your show. Politics plays a role in your fight as a lawyer against California’s crazy environmental laws. I realize we could spend the whole interview discussing this, but what’s the short form answer to understanding how someone can immerse himself in politics all day, particularly given the current state of the country and the GOP, and not let it get you down?

MR. HEWITT:  I had the great good fortune of leaving college in 1978, in the middle of the Carter years, which were grim.  Cubans were all over Africa.  The Soviets had invaded Afghanistan.  Iran was about to topple.  Inflation was high.  Interest rates were ridiculous.  The country really didn’t know that it would ever recover.

And I was in San Clemente working for the late Richard Nixon as a ghost writer, when Ronald Reagan began his return to politics after losing the ’76 nomination, telling everyone it could be different, and doing so with a great joke and a step in his stride.  And it was my great honor to work for him in the White House and to serve in the administration for six years.

And ever since then, I have always believed, no matter how bleak it is at a particular moment for America, the Clinton impeachment, the roll-out of Obamacare, the disaster that is ‑‑ what is unfolding right now in Syria, western Iraq and Iran, that we can always come back from that, because we’re blessed with that amazing document, the Constitution, that allows our people to figure it out and redo errors.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, you mentioned working for Richard Nixon.  And the day before we recorded this interview, you spoke at the Richard Nixon Library in Southern California.  What was it like working with the former President, and how happy a man was he?

MR. HEWITT:  In retirement, he was very happy.  He never looked back, Ed.  And he was the best boss I’ve ever had.  And I’ve probably had twenty-five bosses.  And, you know, I owe to Richard Nixon and two other guys, Ed Atsinger and Stu Epperson, who owned the Salem Radio Network, all of the success I’ve achieved; because Nixon cleared the way for me to get a couple of gigs in DC.  I’m sure I was hired on the DC Circuit out of University of Michigan Law School, because the judge that hired me had been a Nixon appointee and was intrigued that I’d been a ghost writer for President Nixon, knew I could push a noun against a verb with some ‑‑ with some skill, and had a good performance at Michigan Law School.

So the attachment to Nixon’s always been very good to me.  And when he brought me back to California and asked me to return in ’89 to oversee the construction of the library, and I was there again last night ‑‑ you know, twenty-five years later ‑‑ Nixon’s just been the spinal column of my career ‑‑ not of my life; that’s the fetching Mrs. Hewitt, to whom I’ve been married for thirty-one years, and our three wonderful children.

But the professional side has always been connected up with R.N.  And I can tell even your most disbelieving, hard left listener, Richard Nixon was a very happy man, post-Watergate.  From the time the memoir was closed ‑‑ and I was not on the memoir team, that was Frank Gannon, Ken Khachigian and Diane Sawyer.  And I wasn’t there for the Frost interviews.  I arrived about a month after that.  But from ’78 forward ‑‑ late ’78 forward, I had an association with him, and he was never not forward-looking.

Nothing you could do about the past.  You can’t re-write it, you can’t undo your mistakes.  And he made many.  You can’t live in your ‑‑ in your glory, unless you just want to sit on the back porch and rock.  He was all about the future.  And that made an extraordinary difference in the way that I live my life.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Hugh, this is sort of an offbeat question, but do you think that the tendency these days to put a name and diagnosis on everything, excuses the lack of happiness?  For example, someone who in the past might find himself fighting off a bad mood is now labeled Bipolar or Clinically Depressed and therefore has an excuse to can’t help but be negative.

MR. HEWITT:  I have to think about that.  That’s a very good question, Ed.  We over-diagnose.  You’re absolutely right.  We over-diagnose everything.  On the other hand, we know for a fact that we’ve had an explosion, for example, of autistic conditions among young children, and it’s absolutely demonstrable and it’s true and it’s real.  And we do know that meds help a lot of people who struggle with chemical imbalances in their brain which are physiological, not psychological.

And so I do worry about over-diagnosis and over-worrying about depression, when, in fact ‑‑ you know, Churchill ‑‑ the legendary black dog, which he really didn’t suffer from — the Paul Reid book, which just came out, which was the third of the William Manchester volumes on Churchill, dispels this quite thoroughly.

He has his down days.  Who couldn’t, when you were on the brink of extinction and you’ve overseen Dunkirk, and the first year of your prime-ministership is nothing but a string of defeats, which you’ve got to stand up in front of the House of Commons and explain?  But he was not a depressive, and ‑‑ but he did have his black dog moods.  And we all do.  And The Happiest Life, part of it is about the disciplines that allow you to fight through those inevitable onsets of gloom, because we all have rotten days.

MR. DRISCOLL:  And somewhat similarly, do you think being happy is hindered by a societal prejudice that links the appearance of happiness with being sort of stupid, or at the least, non-intellectual.  Or to put it conversely, do you think people associate somberness and even perhaps anger with insight, intelligence and “deep thinking?”

MR. HEWITT:  Absolutely.  In fact, I laughed last night.  Chris Cillizza of the Washington Post put out a very funny map of the United States which labels every state.  And Ohio is labeled “The Nerdiest State,” and my youngest son’s middle name is Ohio, right?  I love Ohio.  I’m from Ohio.  And nerdy is happy.  But I don’t care.  People always think I’m a little too upbeat and too optimistic for everything.  But I try to work my life that way.

I do think that we tend to over-estimate the value of sobriety.  And I don’t mean non-alcoholic sobriety; I mean, just being Eeyore-like and furrowed brow and knitted hands.

Most of the ‑‑ you know, watching Christie this week.  Here’s a guy in the middle of a very serious problem.  The word he used the most was “sad,” which is the opposite of happy.  It was an emotional press conference.  He’s an emotional guy.  And I think he’s healthier for it.  And I don’t discredit anyone.  I think our best politicians are the people who understand that emotion is going to be interconnected with any human endeavor, especially politics.  And they’ve got to let it show.

The least emotional person on the world’s stage, who comes to mind?

MR. DRISCOLL:  These days, it seems like Barack Obama.

MR. HEWITT:  I was going to say Putin.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Putin, yes.

MR. HEWITT:  You know, have you ever seen Putin smile?  Really, when Nick Saban leaves Alabama, I think they’re going to offer the job to Putin.  Because ‑‑

MR. DRISCOLL:  You know, Roger L. Simon once asked me to do a Photoshop of Putin for one of his articles, and I went into Google Images, and every shot of him has that same stone face. There are no photos of him smiling!

MR. HEWITT:  He’s a grim man for a grim country.  And that’s the Russian soul.  That’s what, you know, Tolstoy wrote about and Solzhenitsyn chronicled in Gulag Archipelago.  It’s just a grim, grim place.  And I’ve been there a couple of times.  And I don’t ever need to go back to Moscow ‑‑ God love it.  And I hope the Sochi Olympics are joy-filled, but it’s going to be, you know, the grimmest Olympics, I think, ever, because they’re under threat of terrorism all the time, and they’re going to arrest the gay people.

It’s a grim country.  And that’s unfortunate. I mean, they drink a lot and they dance a lot and all that good stuff.  But nevertheless, I think Putin is, you know, the Belichick of presidents.  And I would much prefer to have the happy warriors out there ‑‑ Harbaugh.  I like Harbaugh, even though he is a ‑‑ he’s not in the real league, because the American Conference is the real league.

But I like the 49ers, that Harbaugh.  And I like the fact that he embraces the full range of emotions on the sidelines.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well, Hugh, I’ve been listening to your show for about a decade now, ever since I first heard about it from reading posts from Glenn Reynolds and James Lileks.

So I have to ask you, what is the origin story behind “Morning Glory, Evening Grace?”

MR. HEWITT:  Okay.  Okay.  Here it is.  On the first week of the show, which was July 10, 2000, it aired originally on six stations, one of which was in Louisville, Kentucky.  And an old guy named Elden called up.  And I’m sure he went to meet the Lord a long time ago.  And Elden, I imagined in overalls and a gun across his lap and a jug at his side, would call up in the morning and he’d growl out, “Morning glory.”  And I was on in the morning.  I started the show for eighteen months, AM drive, 6 to 9, until I was blessedly paroled to afternoon drive, which is 6 to 9 in the East and 3 to 6 in the West.

And Elden would call a lot.  And in the early days of a show, you’ll take any caller, because people don’t know you’re there.  They have to find the show.  And Elden would always say “Morning glory.”  And pretty soon, other callers started to say “Morning glory,” and mocking Elden.  Then I started saying it.  And everybody loved it.  It became a signature, morning glory.

And when I moved to the afternoon, I didn’t want to let it go.  And so I had to find a transition to the afternoon in evening grace.  Now, it is vaguely Solomonic.  It has some sort of connection.  But in fact, morning glory is a saying of the South.  Morning glory, and that’s where it comes from, Elden in Louisville.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Hugh, since I have you on the line, I have to ask you a few questions about the state of 2014 politics to ‑‑

MR. HEWITT:  Okay.

MR. DRISCOLL:  ‑‑ start to wrap things up.  You mentioned Christie.  We’ve had dueling scandals this week involving Robert Gates’ book and its references to Hillary and Obama, and we’ve had Chris Christie and Trafficgate.  How do you see these stories playing themselves out in the coming weeks and months?

MR. HEWITT:  Well, 2014 is going to be about the Senate, and it’s going to be about whether or not we’re going to allow the Supreme Court to go left; whether or not we’re going to allow Harry Reid to ruin this great institution; whether or not we’re going to do anything about Obamacare.

And I ‑‑ I resist any storyline that will take me for more than a day or two away from the 2014 elections, because it’s so crucial to saving the country’s economic wellbeing that the Republicans gain at least six in ’14.

And right now, there are thirteen or fourteen seats in play.  And we’ve got a couple of gimmes.  We’re going to win South Dakota with Mike Rounds.  We’re going to win West Virginia with Shelley Moore Capito.  And I think Tom Cotton is our number one challenger.  So we’ve got three gimmes.  Right?

Then out of the other ten, we’ve got to pick up three.  There are no Republican seats that are, for all intents and purposes, endangered.  They’re not going to get Mitch in Kentucky.  He’s a great leader.  They’re not going to get ‑‑ they’re not going to knock off any Republicans.  So it’s all about which Democrats lose.  Can Terri Lynn Land pick up Michigan?  Can we agree on a very viable candidate in Colorado?  Can we get into the game with Steve Daines up in Montana, even though Max Baucus fled to China and they’re getting the gimme pickup there for an incumbent?

And I think we can.  So I resist the stories.  You have to cover Christie.  I covered Christie three hours yesterday.  The Gates book was all duty all day on Tuesday.  I will cover them as they come along, but I’ll keep reminding people, it’s all about the Senate in 2014.

MR. DRISCOLL:  And conversely, where does the President go with his signature socialized medicine initiative?

MR. HEWITT:  You know, I think he’s done.  I watched him yesterday.  I don’t know if you watched him yesterday.  Listless, canard after canard, a cliché machine.  His already weak writing staff has been depleted even further.  He doesn’t have the energy.

I write about in The Happiest Life that people have to have energy every day to be happy.  I just thought he was listless and out of gas, and nobody takes seriously these promise zones.  Nobody takes him seriously.  We are effectively without a President for thirty-six months.

We’ve never done this before.  We’ve never drifted this badly, this far.  We’ve never had this weak a bench in the cabinet or the White House staff in the second term.  So it’s going to be bumpy, but it’s a great country and a uniquely great Constitution.

MR. DRISCOLL:  And last question.  Other than buying your book, what’s the best way for someone to brighten their outlook and improve their happiness this year?

MR. HEWITT:  Well, I think they ought to follow you and me on Twitter.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Okay.

MR. HEWITT:  If they’re following Ed Driscoll and Hugh Hewitt, they’re going to get some funny tweets now and then.

MR. DRISCOLL:  Well on that note, This is Ed Driscoll, and we’ve been talking with Hugh Hewitt of Hugh Hewitt.com,  who can be found on Twitter at the address of @hughhewitt, all one word, and is the author of the new book, The Happiest Life: Seven Gifts, Seven Givers, and the Secret to Genuine Success. It’s published by Thomas Nelson Books, and available from Amazon.com and your local bookseller. And Hugh, thanks for stopping by PJ Media.com today.

MR. HEWITT:  Ed, always my pleasure.  And Happy New Year to you, my friend.

(End of recording; for our many previous podcasts, start here and keep scrolling.)

Transcribed by eScribers.net, with minor revisions (including hyperlinks) by Ed Driscoll. Artwork created using elements from Shutterstock.com.