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May 10, 2010

News & Opinion: Happiness at Work (and beyond)

By: Dylan Schleicher @ 5:14 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture

Srikumar Rao's book, Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful - No Matter What, is getting a lot of attention these days (it even made the April edition of the Inc./800-CEO-READ Business Book Bestseller List). I can imagine the title itself draws a lot of attention, as turning work into happiness is certainly not a new challenge. Within the pages, Dr. Rao draws on Eastern philosophy, human nature, and plenty of educated research and insight. In some ways, the book makes large leaps into philosophy, and that's what makes it so interesting - there's an ancient truth to some of his words that are easy to debate, but difficult in the end to disagree with.

After reading the book, I hopped at the chance to do a Q&A with the author, and below are the results. I think readers will find his answers a good intro to some of the concepts discussed within the book. Do check it out - as happiness is not just a business issue (and it certainly is one), but also a thing that most of us spend our entire lives seeking.

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What are some ways people can better manage themselves?


A common way in which people try to manage themselves is by an exercise of will such as in “I will exercise regularly” or “I will not have seconds at any meal” or “I will quit smoking.” This generally does not work well and lapses are routine.

A much better way to proceed is to examine the underlying mental model that leads to the behavior and change that. Then behavior changes effortlessly and the change is lasting.

For example, a female executive had frequent run-ins with her boss and was convinced that he was sexist and had it in for her. On more careful deliberation she was open to the explanation that he was socially inept and used brusqueness to try to disguise this. This actually led to her feeling compassion and an attitude of “Let me see if I can actually help the guy get over his definite handicap.” Her relationship with her boss improved dramatically.

You advise to not label things as 'good' or bad.' To avoid labeling things as 'bad' is certainly a challenge, but why must that also stop us from labeling things 'good?'

An excellent question. Actually I recommend that persons be generous in using the “good thing” label but to also be alert to the sometimes unfortunate ramifications. Thus finding a convenient restaurant that serves excellent food is “good” but only if you are alert to the dangers of excessive caloric intake.

On a more philosophical level, exulting at “good” things and lamenting “bad” things leads us into constant cycles of mood swings and this is emotionally draining. You can eliminate this by simply accepting what is without labeling it. This does not lead to a flat, boring life. On the contrary when you become established in it you find that there is a feeling of deep well-being that surfaces. This is not subject to fluctuation and once you experience it you will not surrender it to the temporary thrills that you sought earlier.

Your book strongly addresses things on an individual level, but how can teams and entire companies start adopting a perception shift to make a difference in the world?

Another excellent question and one that is shaping up as the next phase of my work. Many senior executives are thinking along the lines of “The program had such a powerful impact on me. What would happen if my entire team went through it?” If many individuals in a work situation undergo the kind of transformation that the exercises I have designed produce, then they relate to each other in an entirely different manner. This, by itself, leads to a change in company culture. And when such teams start defining their mission in terms of what the organization they are a part of can do to make the world a better place, magic can happen.

In your book, there's a great chapter on 'outgrowing things.' How might people consider this when thinking about their professional lives - salary, position, etc.?

Virtually everything we seek and strive for is “within time.” And whatever is within time WILL disappear. It will corrode or rust or fail or be lost. Can you remember how desperately you wanted your first car? Seems laughable now, doesn’t it? Sooner or later whatever you are presently obsessed with will go the same way. Recognize that this is the ultimate end of all that ambition leads you to. Go to the library and look at the covers of business magazines three decades old. The persons portrayed there were movers and shakers then and you probably don’t even recognize most of them.

So, by all means strive for advancement or whatever you wish to have but – simultaneously – understand that it is transitory. In the grander scheme of life it matters not a whit whether you succeed or not. So do the very best you can but drop your obsession and do not hitch your well being to the achievement of a particular goal. Recognize that you are OK and always will be. This is hugely liberating. Paradoxically, if you are genuinely detached from the outcome the probability that you will achieve it actually increases.

How can people know that they are really happy?

When the question itself seems meaningless and irrelevant!! If you ask yourself “Am I happy?” you are not. Fulfilled persons have become part of a cause that is greater than themselves and one that brings a greater good to a greater community and that is what brings the stars into their eyes. They don’t have to ask if they are happy. Life is full and interesting and they are growing each day in spiritual awareness so what more can there be? They have a sense of equanimity and the knowledge that they can cope with whatever comes their way.

About Dylan Schleicher


Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.