A friend and colleague recommended this book to me, and her gift immediately sparked anxiety over whether she recommended it because she sees me as unhappy. Attempting to prove her wrong, I smiled, laughed off my nervousness, and dove into the book by Shawn Achor, the author who has accumulated a mere 4.5 million views of his TED Talk about happiness.
My history with business books is spotty. Usually I am steeled by cynicism developed from a few years spent as a corporate trainer. I dismiss most of this stuff as pure hooey paid for by some HR guy with an unscrutinized budget line. Other corporate books are just ego trips by CEOs who had a few successful years at the top. They recount their life experiences and string together a few aphorisms that will inevitably wind up on the tag line of some lame Successories tchotchke or appended to the signature file of some middle-manager.
But there are some I’ve enjoyed: Howard Schultz’s “Onward” comes to mind. Charles Handy and Ari de Geus are business writers I like. And Fisher and Ury’s “Getting to Yes” was and continues to be useful.
So, a confession: I liked this book. On balance, Achor has decent suggestions to help individuals and teams become more successful at home and in the workplace, and all of the suggestions focus on the fact that happiness leads to success, and not the other way around.
Achor bils himself as a positive psychologist, and the book is really anecdote after anecdote about various psychological studies that prove his points about happiness. This trope get tiresome after a while, but what ends up happening is that the reader embraces the studies and anecdotes that mean something to the reader, and probably discards the rest. All part of the trainer’s repertoire not everyone is going to get every exercise; and that’s why we keep it varied.
There’s a lot in this book about getting stuck in patterns and finding ways to break the patterns that are negative and unproductive. He calls it the Tetris Effect, and encourages readers to get stuck in a positive Tetris Effect. There were many dog-eared pages in this section of my book. The chapter on the 20-second rule is similarly useful. The example is that you can break bad habits–habits that lead to unhappiness–by simply inserting 20 seconds into the time in which it takes you to engage in that bad habit. Alternatively, you can make it easier to pick up a new habit by removing simple barriers that exist that prevent us from doing what we should be doing to be happy.
But the chapter that will stand out is the chapter about social investment. This isn’t purchasing stocks investing, it’s about investing in the social capital that exists with your colleagues and teams. The point is that spending time on social relationships, especially in the office, can help build happier and ultimately more successful teams. He talks about “glue guys”—people who help the team build positive relational connections, and about MBWA, which is known as management by walking around. He says that the best CEOs are the ones that have high rankings on tests of their “positive expression.” And he’s especially hard on those that fail at paying attention to building high-quality social relationships with their colleagues.
This is a good airplane ride business book. You’ll probably dog-ear some pages, like I did, and you’ll probably find yourself thinking about your own work environment—the good parts and the bad parts. With any luck, you’ll find yourself being more attuned to your own happiness in the workplace. So, give it a try.
Thanks for reading.