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BLOG: Learning to be happy

Zafar Anjum | March 13, 2011
At first glance, the phrase ‘happiness at work’ sounds like an oxymoron. How can one be happy at work—most would ask.

“Remy: At the end, a job is not just a job, is who you are, and if wanna change who you are, you have to change what you do...”              – Repo Men (2010)

At first glance, the phrase ‘happiness at work’ sounds like an oxymoron. How can one be happy at work—most would ask. A job is a job and more often than not, one’s job is associated with life’s myriad miseries and a source of all kinds of troubles—competition, jealousy, a burning out of oneself, not to speak of numerous psychological and somatic illnesses.

This is exactly the problem (the perception of dissociating happiness with one’s work) Dr. Srikumar S. Rao seeks to address in his book, Happiness at Work (New Delhi: Tata McGraw Hill, 2010, pp. 235, Paperback, Price not mentioned). Dr. Rao, who is known for his pioneering course, “Creativity and Personal Mastery”, has taught at many prestigious global business schools including Columbia Business School, Kellogg Management and London Business School, among others. Because of his vast and variegated experience, he is able to bring a refreshing style to the discourse in this book which is so relevant to our times when job-related unhappiness and general stress in life are rampant.

I tried to look up some figures for unhappiness (disengagement) at the workplace. In one of his interviews, Dr. Deepak Chopra, a well-known name in the field of new age spirituality and mind-body medicine, speaks of a Gallup survey in the USA. According to the survey, 56 per cent of workers sleepwalk through their work—they have no passion for their work. Only 29 per cent of American workers are happy at work. Worst is the case of the remaining 15 per cent of workers who are ‘actively disengaged’ with their work—that is, they are not only unhappy with their work, they try to make everyone unhappy at the workplace.

I couldn’t find similar figures for Indian workers but I guess the ratio of happy to unhappy employees will be more or less similar to what we see in the USA. This level of unhappiness at the workplace not only takes a psychological toll on the employees but also costs the nation’s economy. Unhappiness at work costs the US economy a whopping US$285 billion per year. That is not a joke. Multiply that number with the loss of human potential and the numbers will go through the roof so badly it will stop making any sense.

Clearly, there is a need for people to recognise that unhappiness at the workplace is undesirable for their own good. But most people will have no clue how to go about it—much less finding that elusive happiness where they least expect to find it.

Rao’s solution for this search for the spiritual El Dorado is so radically simple that it makes your jaw drop when you first read it: Happiness doesn’t come from your job, house, or bank account—it comes from within yourself.

You might have heard this aphorism before—it is almost grandmotherly—or you might have encountered it in one or another form in the stories of Tolstoy (‘The Kingdom of God is within you’, for instance) or Paulo Coehlo or in the earlier classics and religious literature.

Interestingly, Rao takes a different approach in this book—he diagnoses general behavioural problems and demolishes them one by one, supplanting them with the right attitudes that will enable one to see a formerly unhappy situation as a happy or agreeable situation. And like a seasoned storyteller, he has a story for every occasion. Though this storytelling sometimes slows down the otherwise logical narrative, it adds colour to the text and illustrates human behaviour.

There are 35 short and snappy chapters in the book, each containing an exercise at the end. My favourite chapter is chapter 13, ‘Happiness is your birthright—grab it now!’ In this chapter, he talks about the if-then model that beguiles most of us: If I get -- (fill in your desires here, says, a Ferrari or a trophy wife), only then I will be happy. “The pernicious effect of the if-then model is that it is supremely effective in preventing you from experiencing the happiness that is an inextricable part of you,” Rao says (page 73).

He asks us to drop this if-then model. Then, what can we do to be happy? “There is nothing that you have to get, do, or be in order to be happy,” he says. “In fact, happiness is your innate nature. It is hardwired into your being. It is part of your DNA. It is always with you.”

We almost don’t believe him when he says this. If happiness is always with us, how come we don’t find it, don’t experience it? Rao has a startling answer to this question. “You do not experience the happiness that is your innate nature,” he says, “because you have spent your life learning to be unhappy.”

Rao’s book is full of such insights—those little things, sometimes just the way we look at the world, that can transform our lives. Moreover, the book is so fact-paced and such a fun read that you don’t want to put it down. I would want to recommend this book to anyone who wants to be happy, not just at work but in life in general.

A happy worker will make a happy workplace and happy workplaces will make a happy—and prosperous—world. How nice would be our world if happiness, and not money, becomes the ultimate currency and marker of success!
Zafar Anjum is the online editor of FBM Asia’s online properties.



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