Pharrell Williams Is on track to make 2016 his Happiest Year Ever!
If there’s anyone determined to have a “Happy” New Year, it’s Pharrell Williams. The wildly popular singer, songwriter, record producer and coach on NBC’s The Voice is bringing his hit song “Happy” to life in a newly released children’s picture book (Putnam Books for Young Readers, $19.99), celebrating what it means to be happy in cultures throughout the world. Aside from the book’s upbeat messages, Happy is especially meaningful because of Pharrell’s literacy campaign with Penguin Young Readers and the non-profit organization FirstBook, as they’ve teamed up to donate 50,000 copies to children in low-income families.
“Every child deserves to experience the joy of reading,” said Pharrell when we checked in with him during his recent book-signing tour. “I hope this book inspires children and teaches them the importance of being happy and true to themselves.”
Social media is abuzz with the hash tag #ReadHappy, created specifically for people to share why reading makes them happy. For every post using the hash tag, his book will be donated to a child in need. Even though Pharrell supports numerous charitable projects focused on educating youth in at-risk communities with his not-for-profit foundation From One Hand to AnOTHER, encouraging children to read ranks high on his list.
“Reading is very important because it’s one of the main tools we use to gain information,” he said. “To be able to operate in the real world, you have to be able to obtain information. That’s why I’m committed to promoting child literacy and believe my book is a perfect vehicle to help accomplish this goal,”
Reading is also close to Pharrell’s heart because he attributes the internationally best-selling book The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho with dramatically changing his life. The book’s main premise is that life is meant to be a journey for finding one’s true purpose, and once this is accomplished, the universe will conspire to make one’s dreams a reality. Prior to reading the book and long before he was a household name, Pharrell often felt as though the universe was conspiring against him. He toiled for years behind the scenes, writing and producing songs for some of the biggest stars in the music industry, including Britney Spears, Gwen Stefani, Nelly, Adam Lambert, Jay-Z, Ludacris and Justin Timberlake. While he collected a slew of Grammys and loaned his distinctive falsetto voice to other artists’ videos, he dreamed of breaking away and having a solo career. For reasons he couldn’t fathom, success and fame continually eluded him.
“Time after time, people kept raining on me and putting my fire out,” he said. “I was at the point where I said I was going to give up and accept that I should just be content being a writer and producer.”
For more than a decade, Pharrell said he was frustrated by all of the trappings of success enjoyed by his peers, such as recording artists Sean “PDiddy” Combs and Jay-Z. They had all the beautiful women, luxurious homes, private jets and flashy cars that money could buy, and he believed that if he kept on working hard enough that all of these things would eventually be within his grasp.
“I misinterpreted what my friends were doing and thought the same thing was for me,” he said. “I was doing a watered-down version of what they were meant to do, and didn’t realize I wasn’t following my purpose.”
Disenchanted that his goals never materialized, his perspective changed when his manager suggested that he read The Alchemist. Suddenly, it was clear to him that he was meant for a much different path. He was also humbled by the realization that many people had believed in him since he was a child and had contributed to his career, including his teachers, band instructors, his family, and especially his beloved grandmother.
“My grandmother told me she had a vision that I was going to be way up high,” he said. “She said I was going to be up in the clouds.”
When Pharrell made a decision to stop chasing other people’s dreams and started focusing on his own, that’s when things finally started to click. After several years of dating, he married model Helen Lasichanh in 2013. He also accepted a project to write a song about happiness for Universal Picture’s animated film Despicable Me 2, but for some reason he encountered a serious case of writer’s block. Completely out of ideas, he realized he was “over thinking” the concept of being happy and needed to relax and let his mind flow. For the song “Happy,” he chose gospel chords and said the lyrics finally came to him while taking a shower. He submitted nine songs to the film’s producers and “Happy” was finally selected for the movie’s soundtrack and video.
Pharrell recalled that when “Happy” was first released to radio stations, it did not get any attention or airplay. However, soon after the song was released on video in November 2013, millions of people took notice and embraced the catchy lyrics and adorable dancing minions. The song rose to the top of Billboard’s The Hot 100 chart and remained there for 10 consecutive weeks, peaking at number one in 103 markets worldwide and spawning videos on YouTube of people all over the world dancing and singing along to “Happy.” It had not happened overnight, but Pharrell had finally achieved his dream of being a solo artist and a superstar. He acknowledged that it was “overwhelming” that the song, which sold 6.5 million copies in the U.S. and 1.5 million in the UK alone, resonated with so many people.
Nowadays, Pharrell is front and center and can be seen several nights a week as a coach on The Voice, where he mentors future artists with uplifting advice and much-sought-after expertise. The accolades have piled up, including Billboard’s Producer of the Decade, 11 Grammy awards, an Academy Award nomination for “Happy,” and ASCAP’s prestigious Golden Note Award. His solo album G I R L was a global phenomenon in 2014 and his song “Freedom,” launched in June 2015 on Apple Music, was nominated for Best Music Video at the 58th Grammy Awards.He’s also a successful fashion designer with his own Billionaire Boys Club and ICECREAM apparel brands and his trademark hat has its own Twitter account, making it arguably as widely known as the “Sorting Hat” in Harry Potter movies.
Despite his daunting schedule packed full of media appearances and obligations, the 42-year-old sails through it all by taking care of his health as much as possible, requesting fish or grass-fed beef, gluten-free bread and alkaline water when he’s on tour. He stays f it by chasing after his seven-year-old son, Rocket Man, and skateboarding on the half-pipe he had built in his home. And what about his contention that being happy is the ultimate state of being integral to emotional health? Numerous studies suggest the notion is compelling.
Dr. Melissa Wood of Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston recently reported that “women in a HAPPY Heart study became happy and content while improving heart risk.” Other studies suggest that states of happiness are linked with lower stress related hormones and better immune function. And it’s easy to understand how. Data shows that positive mood, humor and optimism are associated with better health and well-being.
“Happiness is an attitude that is accessible to all people,” said Pharrell. “It’s a state of mind and it’s real. You don’t have to doubt it.”