Author Pico Iyer Had It All -- But Gained So Much More When He Left It Behind (VIDEO)

04/15/2015 10:47 am ET | Updated Apr 16, 2015

By the time he was 29 years old, Pico Iyer was living the life he had always dreamed of. Or so he thought.

"I had that 25th-floor office four blocks from Times Square. I had a nice apartment on Park Avenue on 20th Street. I had this really exciting job writing on world affairs for Time magazine. Wonderful friends. No commitments," Iyer says in the above video from "Super Soul Sunday." "I was having a terrific time."

Though he was happy, the author found himself wondering if he was experiencing true, honest happiness.

"Some part of me thought, I'm so caught up in this accelerated movement, I can't even tell if this is a deeper sort of happiness," Iyer says.

To find out, Iyer came to the conclusion that he needed to make a big change: He would leave his great job, beautiful apartment and fantastic friends to live in another part of the world to see life from a different perspective. This would seem a rather unusual decision for anyone, much less an ambitious young professional climbing the proverbial ladder, but Iyer's intuition was impossible to ignore.

"This isn't the whole story," he told himself. "I'm making a great living, but that's not the same as making a life."

Having traveled to Southeast Asia for his job, Iyer felt drawn to Japan, where a long layover once turned into a particularly moving experience in the town of Narita.

"I had four hours to kill before my plane left... I just walked around the town of Narita. [I saw] wooden houses and a thousand-year-old temple. It was the last week of October. Blazing blue skies, but the first change of color in the trees," he recalls. "Something so moved me, felt so familiar in this very foreign place. By the time I boarded my plane, I decided I have to come back to Japan. I have unresolved business."

So, when Iyer had decided to make that big change in his life, he quickly settled on Japan as his new home.

"I moved straight from my apartment on Park Avenue to a single room on the back streets of Kyoto," he says. "I knew going to Kyoto -- which is a very quiet, contemplative place -- would refresh me."

Initially, Iyer felt that he would find the stillness and enlightenment he needed in a monastery. The reality of monastery life, however, was a bit different than he anticipated. "After a week... I found that a temple in Kyoto isn't like my romantic dream of it in New York City," he admits. "It's a lot of scrubbing floors and cleaning dishes; it's hard work."

Instead, Iyer continued his quest for contemplation on his own terms. Nearly three decades later, his home base is still in Japan.

"Now, I've been there 28 years, living near Kyoto. I'm actually with my wife in a much more monastic setting, and probably ended up, finally, in the life I had imagined when I was a kid," he says. "Of course, I had to go through certain obstacles to get there."

More: Iyer opens up about the fire that claimed his home and quite nearly his life.

"Super Soul Sunday" airs Sundays at 11 a.m. ET on OWN. You can also stream the program live on or

Quotes From Super Soul Sunday
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