Book Reviews

The Happiness Project

Gretchen Rubin puts us in the sidecar for her wonderful yearlong experiment called the Happiness Project.  It took a while to write this review because each time I went back to look at my notes I got sucked back into a particular passage or story.  Like any good writer she is brutally honest about herself and where she succeeded and just as importantly where she failed.  While she was clearly the centerpiece of the experiment, she did not curate any of the unpleasant parts.  If anything, she is a little too harsh on herself.  That’s what makes it so approachable.  This is the opposite of a Facebook post.  The book overflows with authenticity.

The underlying theme feels like an academic study with a mindset for personal growth.  There is no painful origin story that launched this hero’s journey.  She freely admits that she is not doing this to overcome an addiction or get over the loss of a loved one or any other brutal obstacle.   Instead, she wonders, what can I do to become happier?  Is it even possible for us to change our happiness level or are we stuck with it?  In her words, “the ‘set-point’ theory holds that a person’s basic level of happiness doesn’t fluctuate much, except briefly.  My conclusion: yes, it is possible.”  Finding out how she came to that conclusion is well worth the journey.

She breaks the book down into twelve chapters, one for each month of the project.  Each month she tackles one primary issue like Boost Energy / Vitality for January then breaks this down into three to five smaller steps.  January was – go to sleep earlier, exercise better, [toss, restore, organize], and act more energetic.   Throughout the chapter she then shares her struggles and successes with each.  This is a great way, especially for us Type As, to approach any task.  Define the problem, then break it into small enough tasks that can actually be accomplished.  Solve.  She’s hitting all of the marks on setting SMART goals – specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-boxed.  Throughout this journey, she also discovers four Splendid Truths that we will explore as we go.

We’ll take this in quarters.  In the first quarter she focuses on vitality, marriage and work with the goals of boost energy, remember love and aim higher.  There was tons to learn from these chapters but I’ll focus on the ones that stood out to me.  The first was the G. K. Chesterton quote: “It is easy to be heavy: hard to be light.”  She talks about this several times throughout the book but it rings so true.  Everyone knows the party mosquito that sucks the life out of every gathering.  They focus on nothing but the negative, which can actually come across as smart, but they drag everyone down.  These people typically think of themselves as ironic or counter culture but it’s so much easier to poo-poo than it is to embrace.  It also grabs the victim mindset attention that these folks thrive on.  It is far harder to be positive and to bring the group up.  Unfortunately, it also means those that bring joy often get taken for granted because nobody is worried about them.  They’re the happy ones after all, right?  Not necessarily, it takes a lot more effort to buoy than it does to sink.

That brings us to the next point, “you have to do that kind of work for yourself.  If you do it for other people, you end up wanting them acknowledge it and to be grateful and to give you credit.  If you do it for yourself, you don’t expect other people to react in a particular way.”  Making people happy and personal growth brings its own joy, don’t expect rewards.  This falls into another learning she was forced to acknowledge, “I couldn’t change anyone else.”  You can take people along for the journey, you can show them way but you can’t force anyone to change.  That has to come from within.

One quote that I absolutely loved is: “In fact, for both men and women – and this finding struck me as highly significant – the most reliable predictor of not being lonely is the amount of contact with women.  Time spent with men doesn’t make a difference.”  Yes, ladies, men really are a lot shallower when it comes to things like vulnerability and feelings.  Not just your man.  This doesn’t really tie into the splendid truth but it was too good not to mention.

When she takes us through work and aiming higher one of her focuses is on challenging yourself.  “One reason that challenge brings happiness is that it allows you to expand your self-definition.  You become larger.  Suddenly you can do yoga or make homemade beer or speak a decent amount of Spanish.  Research shows that the more elements make up your identity, the less threatening it is when any one element is threatened.”  On top of that, when you’re feeling happier it is much easier to risk failure.  Failure can be fun provided that you look at with a growth mindset.  If you learn, you never fail.  Finally, she also broaches the arrival fallacy.  “The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because, though you may anticipate great happiness in arrival, arriving rarely makes you as happy as you anticipate.”  Embrace the journey.

This led to her “First Splendid Truth: to be happy, I need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth.”  Very Descartes.  This is the work required though – it’s easy to be heavy: hard to be light.

In the second quarter she covers parenthood, leisure and friendship with the goals of lighten up, be serious about play, and make time for friends.  The biggest lesson I grabbed from her parenthood section was “we should acknowledge the reality of people’s feelings.”  Don’t deny what your kids are feeling or there will never be real communication.  “Crazily enough, I discovered, just repeating what my child was saying, to show that I appreciated her point of view, was often enough to bring peace.”  I can’t tell you how much this has improved my relationship with my daughters.  Telling them what they feel is sooo much easier but so toxic, “but you love carrots, just eat it” – has ended arguments in my household exactly never.

When she dives into leisure the main point I took from her was to be yourself.  She had a great quote that said something along the lines of, “we can choose what we do but we can’t choose what we like to do.”  At some point we all wish to be more sophisticated and more educated so we may trick ourselves into trying to like stuff that may not jive with who we are.  And that’s ok, because it allows us to grow.  At the same time, if you’re looking for a real break, real leisure time, acknowledge who you are.  “What did you like to do when you were a child?  What you enjoyed as a ten-year-old is probably something you’d enjoy now.”  For me, it’s fantasy novels and video games.  My tastes have evolved and my responsibilities don’t allow me to indulge often but when I do, it is super relaxing.  As a younger man, I might have been ashamed of those leisure activities but honestly are they any more ridiculous than watching grown men in matching clothes throw or kick a ball around?

When she dives into friendship she discovers her “Second Splendid Truth:  One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy.  One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.”  Friendship is critical as are interpersonal skills, Diener and Seligman point this out, “of 24 character strengths, those that best predict life satisfaction are the interpersonal ones.”  Who do you like to hang around, folks that bring you up or those that pull you down?

In the next quarter Rubin tackles money, eternity and books with the goals of buy some happiness, contemplate the heavens and pursue a passion.  Her findings on money were consistent with Shawn Achor’s in the Happiness Advantage – you can buy happiness but generally when you spend on experiences, on others and on services that will make your life easier, NOT on things.  She also ties money back to keeping score with a loved one.  Keeping score is a horrible way to go through life.  She comes to the conclusion that you spend out your time because it just makes you feel better.  “Spend out.  Don’t think about the return.  ‘It is by spending oneself,’ the actress Sarah Bernhardt remarked, ‘that one becomes rich.’  What’s more, one intriguing study showed that Sarah Bernhardt’s pronouncement is literally true: people who give money to charity end up wealthier than those who don’t give to charity.”

When contemplating eternity and thereby some elements of mortality, our author comes to her “Third Splendid Truth: The days are long, but the years are short.”  She somewhat morbidly approached the topic by reading through a ton of catastrophic memoirs.  The theme of these memoirs is often, “the admonition to live fully and thankfully in the present.  So often, it’s only after some calamity strikes that we appreciate what we had.  ‘There are times in the lives of most of us,’ observed William Edward Hartpole Lecky, ‘when we should have given all the world to be as we were but yesterday, though that yesterday had passed over us unappreciated and unenjoyed.”  When enough people come back to gratitude and mindfulness as key components of happiness, you have to start taking these things seriously.

I didn’t pull a ton out of the books section as this was more her exploring a heartfelt personal hobby.  I share a lot of that same passion so I feel I’ve already learned most of those lessons.  The biggest takeaway was her “Fourth Splendid Truth: You’re not happy unless you think you’re happy.”  She added a corollary: “You’re happy if you think you’re happy.”  This is a little meta but that makes it even more powerful.  You have to want happiness, and you do have to strive for it but when you do, you realize that happiness is actually a choice.  That is incredibly liberating.

In her last quarter she takes on mindfulness, attitude and happiness in summary form with the goals of pay attention, keep a contented heart and boot camp perfect.  There wasn’t a ton of revelations in this quarter as she basically just found more supporting evidence of her four splendid truths.  However, it was a good wrap up for the full experience.

She closes the book with some great cue card reminders of how best to utilized her discovered wisdom.  I use them often.  I am not ashamed to say that I will read this book again.  It was that good.  Reading it inspires you to be a better person.

Book Reviews

Designing your Life

Bill Burnett and Dave Evans designed a pretty amazing book with Designing your Life.  They are both professors at Stanford but each of them had pretty amazing careers pre-Academia.  The way they write and the way they use their own goals comes across as two guys who have figured out quite a few things about life.  At least their own lives.  Not only does their communication style come across as very comfortable, both authors have that tone of calm competence that you always get from people who have mastered their craft.  The book comes from concepts that were pioneered and tested in the classroom and the boardroom.  The class they offered had the same title and it quickly became one of the most popular classes at the school.

You can see why this would be so popular.  So many kids get their first taste of freedom when they head off to college/university.  With this freedom comes some new accountabilities that can easily pile up to a massive oh shit question.  What the hell am I going to do with the rest of my life?

Up until this point, most kids have a pretty clear idea of what they are supposed to do next.  There is a fairly unambiguous scorecard that comes in the form of grades or scoreboards or even social pecking order.  Once you get into college, your previous standing in all these things becomes irrelevant.  Not only do you have to recreate who you are, you typically have to do it by yourself.  Sure, you have advisors throughout the process, but the road ahead is no longer obvious and your parents aren’t there for the day to day stuff.  Burnett and Evans help kids figure this incredibly difficult transition out.  Now that all this knowledge is in a book, they can help you figure it out too.  I don’t want to leave you with the impression that this is just for kids.  No matter how old you are, if you are contemplating any type of change in career, relationship, health, etc. the knowledge in these pages will help.  We should all actively work to design our lives no matter where we start in the process because the alternative is to let the world do it for you.  That’s how the victim mindset begins.

Our authors start with sharing some facts.  First, only 27% of college grads end up working in something related to their majors.  Second, “two-thirds of workers are unhappy with their jobs.  And 15% actually hate their work.”  With just those two statements it becomes obvious we are not doing a good job of designing our lives.

They then take us through their definition of design.  Design requires radical collaboration, talk with many people from many disciplines to design something amazing.  Designers are also great tinkerers.  “Designers don’t think their way forward.  Designers build their way forward.”  To design your life effectively, you’re going to need “curiosity, bias to action, reframing, awareness, and radical collaboration.”  They also take on the passion mindset a bit and that you can’t just fall into it, “people actually need to take time to develop a passion.  And the research shows that, for most people, passion comes after they try something, discover they like it, and develop mastery – not before.  To put it more succinctly: passion is the result of a good life design, not the cause.”

Step 1: Start where you are

They outline an amazing roadmap of how to start this design.  Step 1:  Start where you are.  This is figuring out how to place the ‘you are here’ pin.  They ask you to break down where you stand in four critical pillars of life: health, work, play and love.  They walk you through creating a dashboard of how you stack up in each of these pillars.

Step 2: Building a compass

In this stage, they ask you to define true north.  They ask you to build a Lifeview by asking some fundamental questions: “What gives life meaning? What makes your life worthwhile or valuable? How does your life relate to others in your family, your community, and the world?  What do money, fame, and personal accomplishment have to do with a satisfying life?  How important are experience, growth, and fulfillment in your life?”  None of these questions have easy answers and each of them deserves serious introspection.  It’s worth it.  They ask you to do the same for your Workview which is a similar exercise but focuses on your craft.  The goal of both of these exercises is coherence.  You want to be able to articulate an internal compass to guide you through the many shades of gray that life tosses your way.

Step 3: Wayfinding

In this stage, the goal is to understand what makes work fun.  One of my favorite quotes from the book came from this chapter: “Flow is play for grown-ups.”  Wayfinding takes you through a set of exercises to understand what flow means for you.  In their words, “Work is fun when you are actually leaning into your strengths and are deeply engaged and energized by what you’re doing.”  They provide you with a good time journal that asks you to track what you’re doing at work for a couple of weeks.  When you scribe the task, they ask your engagement level while the activity was happening.  They then ask you to record your energy level for the activity when it was complete.  This starts identifying those tasks that bring you to flow already or point the direction for the work that can take you there.  If this does not become obvious after a couple of weeks, you can dive deeper using the AEIOU method.  You can look at each task/experience then ask: what Activities were actually involved?  What was the Environment like?  What was the Interaction like – people or machines, new or old?  What Objects were you interacting with?  What other Users were involved?

Step 4: Getting Unstuck

This section was all about brainstorming where they walk you through effective ways to build out a mind map which is essentially a post-it note guided brainstorming session.

Steps 5 & 6: Designing your life and Prototyping

They then ask you to take some of your results from the brainstorming exercises and to build out three five year plans.  These are three completely different things that you could see yourself doing over the next five years.  “We call these Odyssey Plans.”  Once you build these plans, it’s time to start doing some prototyping.  A lot of prototyping involves just getting out there and talking to people that have done something similar to what you’re trying to do.  Figure out why these folks love or hate what they’re doing.  Get their story and try to superimpose some of it on yourself.  Is this something you could really see yourself doing?

These first steps are the ones that resonated for me.  Like a lot of these personal development books, it started very strong but faded a little as it went on.  The authors continue with really good advice on designing and landing a dream job, but most of this was not as fresh or new as the earlier parts of the book.

They close with some great thoughts on how designing your life will actually create an immunity to failure.  If you are constantly designing your life, if you are constantly self-improving, any failure you experience is just part of the process.  That’s what life is after all, a constant trial and error experiment.  The big difference is that if you choose to design your life, you’ve decided to own that experiment.  You’ve decided to call the shots and play an active role in it rather than passively let your external stimuli control it for you.

The choice seems obvious to me.

Book Reviews

Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try

Tinker, Dabble, Doodle, Try hits you like a firehose of knowledge.  Dr. Srini Pillay looks into the depths of the brain and asks the central question – what are our brains doing when they are not focused?  Why is unfocused time important?  The zeitgeist, at least in Western culture, is that focus is king.  If you haven’t started down the path of focused world domination by the time you’ve finished that first cup of coffee, you’re doing it wrong.  And if you are not still focused on that goal of complete self-improvement by the time you’ve finished you’re second power scotch of the evening then you are an utter failure.  How we acquired this attitude is the subject of countless other books.  This book talks about why focusing all the time is a bad idea.

Fair warning: this book is not light reading.  Dr. Pillay does his best to sprinkle antidotes and lightness throughout the book, even adding little sidebars that have the smell of a ‘for dummies’ book.  For Dummies it is not as any green Jedi master might tell you.  When reading the book it feels as if the author has too much to say and was told by a publisher somewhere that he had to fit all of these cool ideas into a book that’s under 200 pages long.   This makes the transitions from chapter to chapter a little stilted.  The flow from idea to idea disjointed.  Please don’t let this discourage you from the read though because Dr. Pillay has a lot to teach.  I took more notes in this book than I have in a long time.

Pillay opens the book by taking on the ‘cult of focus’.  One of the examples he brings up is the famous gorilla suit experiment.  This is the one where participants are asked to focus on a team passing a basketball back and forth and is asked to count the number of passes.  Almost all participants miss the dude in the gorilla suit that walks right through the basketball game because they are so focused on counting passes.  Dr. Pillay posits the right questions here: “If focus makes you miss seeing a gorilla, what else are you missing in life?”

Another interesting fact shared is that when we are hyper-focused we lose the ability to care.  “Hyperfocus depletes the brain’s prefrontal cortex (PFC), which helps us make moral decisions.”  I can’t imagine a scenario where that is a good thing.  Pillay goes on to talk about the importance both focus and unfocus have on the brain with a great analogy.  “Focus and unfocus are two different settings.  Focus is the close and narrow beam that illuminates the path directly ahead.  Unfocus is the beam that reaches far and wide, enabling peripheral vision.”  Both are important to living a valuable life, so why don’t we give ourselves the chance to let go more often?

One of the things I liked about the book is that Pillay had zero hesitation about diving into the science.  The part of the brain that manages unfocus is called DMN or the default mode network.  At first we did not understand much about this circuit and before the value of unfocus was discovered it used to be referred to as the ‘do mostly nothing’ circuit.  After quite a bit more study, we discovered that this DMN circuit is actually one of the greatest consumers of energy in the brain.  Pillay shares a laundry list of things that it is used for:

  • It acts as a distraction filter
  • It builds mental flexibility
  • It connects you more deeply with yourself and others
  • It integrates the past, present and future
  • It helps you express your creativity
  • It helps you dredge up intangible memories

These are all traits we would be lost without.  Pillay’s advice is take the focus with the unfocus.  His personal experiments have led him to “strive for fifteen minutes of unfocus for every forty-five minutes of focus.”

He next dives into creativity and our first of the title topics, dabbling.  He starts by talking about two of the great polymaths in recent history, Einstein and Picasso.  Both men were great dabblers.  “Einstein was strongly influenced by aesthetic theory and was fascinated by Freud’s work.  Picasso was strongly influenced by photography and X-ray technology.  Neither man felt he had to become expert in these side interests.  Both indulged their curiosity, mulled over their responses, and discussed the resulting ideas with their respective think tanks.  The results changed the world.  Deciding to dabble can be a profound choice.  It means being willing to try something out and be a student again.”  Who doesn’t want to go back to beginner’s mind?  Anytime you try a new sport or hobby, you typically gain huge strides early in the process.  More importantly, trying something new opens the brain to new experience and lets a tsunami of new thoughts in.  This is where breakthroughs are made.  If you’re not trying new stuff, you’re not learning, you’re not expanding.  Being static in this day and age is a recipe for disaster.

He dives more deeply into learning, specifically dynamic learning.  Dynamic learning is “to own up to, talk about, learn from, and correct errors rather than following a hypothetical ‘right’ way.”  If anyone thinks that there is only one right way to learn these days, they are eons behind the times.  We have even started acknowledging failure as a big part of that learning – “As long as you ‘fail forward’, ‘fail fast’, and recognize that ‘done is better than perfect.’  When you do, you ostensibly avoid intellectual stagnation and overcome fear of failure.  Put more simply. Talk is cheap, so keep on doing what you’re doing until you get it right.”  This is more of his tinkering mindset shining through.

He dives into doodling through the side door of multitasking.  Multitasking is not something I believe is ever effective but he makes an interesting argument about doodling.  “One way to activate your unconscious brain and release yourself from the clutches of focus is to doodle.  As we have previously seen, it activates the DMN and gets your focused, conscious brain out of the way.”  He segues this nicely into play by talking about how play actually helps your brain become less distracted.  Play is where we figure stuff out without the risks of commitment.  Play is basically just another form of doodling.

He also draws some interesting parallels between authenticity and possibility.  This naturally contrasts intrinsic rewards with external rewards.  When we are naturally curious and solve things using that curiosity, the rewards we gain are often deeper than an external pat on the back.  Yet we cannot find what will bring these intrinsic rewards without tinkering and finding what is meaningful to us.  That’s where authenticity comes in.  You’ve got to tinker your way down enough paths to find those that are authentic to you.  This is also a great way to find purpose.  He quotes Lao Tzu – “Lao Tzu once said, ‘When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.’  Possibility is about being and letting go; tinkering is the process of becoming.”  Powerful stuff.

Book Reviews

The Happiness Advantage

Happiness and Positive Psychology

I first heard about Achor’s work through his brilliant Ted Talk.  The thing that struck me about the Ted Talk was how funny  it was and how obviously delighted the speaker was about the work he was doing.  He clearly practices what he preached because Shawn Achor looks and sounds like a very happy man.  This, more than anything, sold me on the book.  Just like choosing a personal trainer who looks fit him or herself over some overweight alternative, you want your happiness expert to be a happy guy.  Not only is Achor happy, as a Harvard researcher he also has the credentials.  In this book he is presenting a fair amount of his own research as opposed to just taking you through one man’s personal experience.  The book is written with a fun, anecdotal and playful tone but backed by some hard data, as Mark Watney would say, ‘he scienced the shit out of this thing.”

Achor’s primary thesis is that due to the data gathered from the cutting edge science of positive psychology, “we now know that happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result.  And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement – giving us the competitive edge that I call the Happiness Advantage.”  He starts by getting into the sad reality that most of us are very unhappy with our jobs and the work we do.  In fact, “A Conference Board survey release in January of 2010 found that only 45% of workers surveyed were happy with their jobs, the lowest in 22 years of polling.  Depression rates today are ten times higher than they were in 1960.”  This is an unhappiness epidemic.  The good news is that we can do something about it.  As he and other researchers have discovered, “Once our brains were discovered to have such built-in plasticity, our potential for intellectual and personal growth suddenly became equally malleable. … studies have found numerous ways we can rewire our brains to be more positive, creative, resilient, and productive – to see more possibility where we look.”

Happiness Definition

Before he takes us into the detail of how we get closer to happiness, he does us the favor of defining it first: “Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future.  Martin Seligman, pioneer in positive psychology, has broken it down to three, measurable components: pleasure, engagement, and meaning.”  After that definition he pounds home the point again that, “based on the wealth of data they compiled, they found that happiness causes success and achievement, not the opposite.”  In short, if you want to be successful work on being happy first.

Happiness tools and methods

What I loved about the book is that he didn’t stop there.  He then takes us into some real life, helpful tips about how to get us to our happy place.  Here are the biggies:

  • Meditate.  Meditation takes practice, but it’s one of the most powerful happiness interventions.  I highly recommend Buddhify if you haven’t tried it.
  • Find something to look forward to.  One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27%.
  • Commit conscious acts of kindness.  The important note here is that they need to be conscious, you need to make the intention to commit these acts.
  • Infuse positivity into your surroundings.  Look at the desks of your co-workers that have tons of pictures and memes, those folks are normally the happiest of the group.
  • Exercise.  If you’re not doing this already, it’s time to start.  Not only does exercise pump up the endorphins, it also boosts mood and enhances work performance in many other ways.
  • Spend money (but not on stuff).  “Contrary to the popular saying, money can buy happiness, but only if used to do things as opposed to simply have things.”
  • Exercise a signature strength.  Do the things you are good at every once in a while to boost positivity.

This is a wonderful  DIY road map to getting on the happy train.  I’ve done some of these in the past but have since added several more of these arrows into my quiver.  It is definitely making an impact.

He also covers the concept of the fulcrum and the lever and why that physical principle has an impact on our brains.  Archimedes once said, “Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.”  Achor takes this into psychology, “What I realized is that our brains work in precisely the same way.  Our power to minimize our potential is based on two important things: (1) the length of our lever – how much potential power and possibility we believe we have, and (2) the position of our fulcrum – the mindset with which we generate the power to change.”  This is another way of saying that if you look at every task you do with the mindset that you can pull something positive from it, you probably will.  One of the things I liked the most about this approach was when he brought it to our jobs.  “We view our work as a Job, a Career, or a Calling.”  Guess which one will make you the happiest?  In his consulting work, he encourages employees to “rewrite their ‘job descriptions’ into what Tal Ben-Shahar calls a ‘calling description’.”  This highlights the meaning of the work that we do.  When I first read this book, I did this process starting with myself.  I then asked my employees to do the same.  It is incredibly illuminating about what people find important.  The other side of the coin of happiness is bringing it to others.  He dives into the “Pygmalion Effect: when our belief in another person’s potential brings that potential to life.” Another way of saying, pass it on.  He challenges all managers to ask these three questions: “Do I believe that the intelligence and skills of my employees are not fixed, but can be improved by effort?  Do I believe they want to make that effort, just as they want to find meaning and fulfillment in their jobs?  How am I conveying these beliefs in my daily words and actions?”  The world is not fixed, it is relative and we can have a serious impact upon it.

He then dives into what he calls the Tetris effect.  The Tetris effect comes about when people spend tons of time playing the game to the point that everything looks like a block to be arranged somewhere.  Most of us fall into the negative Tetris effect where all we see are problems.  If everything looks like a problem it is very difficult to find happiness.  Achor encourages us to rewire this into the “Positive Tetris Effect: Instead of creating a cognitive pattern that looks for negatives and blocks success, it trains our brains to scan the world for opportunities and ideas that allow our success rate to grow.”  If you are constantly scanning and focusing on the positive, you end up with a lot more happiness, gratitude and optimism.”  The road map here is: “start making a daily list of the good things in your job, your career and your life.”  At the very least, start by covering the three good things that happened today.

His next section was about Falling Up instead of Falling Down.  “Study after study shows that if we are able to conceive of failure as an opportunity for growth, we are all the more likely to experience that growth…the people who can most successfully get themselves up off the mat are those who define themselves not by what happened to them, but by what they can make out of what has happened.”  I found this personally true after getting broadsided with cancer and thankfully beating it.  Many years after the experience, I am grateful for the disease because it helped mold me into who I am today.

The next principle he covers is what he calls the Zorro Circle or as Covey has called it your circle of influence.  “Feeling that we are in control, that we are masters of our fate at work and at home, is one of the strongest drivers of both well-being and performance. …these kinds of gains in productivity, happiness, and health have less to do with how much control we actually have and more with how much control we think we have.”  Back to the lever and the fulcrum, we have a lot of power by using our mindset of how we look at control in our own lives.  The only way to find this control is to start small.  Recognize the little things that you have absolute control over, own it, then start to expand upon it.  Don’t play the victim, take responsibility.  One way to do this is to make two lists, the first of the things that you do that are within your control, the second is those things that you don’t control.  It is always surprising how many things fall in the first list.

Principle #6 is the 20 second rule.  In countless studies we have found that we have a finite bucket of willpower and that “our willpower weakens the more we use it.”  I loved this quote, “Inactivity is simply the easiest option.  Unfortunately, we don’t enjoy it nearly as much as we think we do.  In general, Americans actually find free time more difficult to enjoy than work.  If that sounds ridiculous, consider this: for the most part, our jobs require us to use our skills, engage our minds, and pursue our goals – all things that have been shown to contribute to happiness.”  He also goes on to show that we are drawn to what is easy even when we know that active leisure is much more enjoyable than sitting on your ass.  The problem is that it takes action to be active, where sitting on the couch doesn’t.  His advice is, “Lower the activation energy for the habits you want to adopt and raise it for habits you want to avoid.”  His example is that he pulled the batteries out of his remote and instead put books in his living room.  When he did this, it became much easier to read a book then getting up, grabbing the batteries to the remote and turning on the TV.

The final principle he covers is social investment.  He starts off with a very powerful piece of data, “researchers have found that social support has as much effect on life expectancy as smoking, high blood pressure, obesity, and regular physical activity.”  These relationship, especially at work, are your lifeline to being happy or not.  “When over a thousand highly successful professional men and women interviewed as they approached retirement and asked what had motivated them the most, overwhelmingly they placed work friendships above both financial gain and individual status.”  One of the most important relationships at work is the boss to employee relationship and it is critical to get this right.  One of the ways to get this right is to share positive news and react with authentic positivity to those that share positive news with you.  If you are a boss, master this.  It seriously impacts the happiness of your employees.  Finally, gratitude and sharing that gratitude with your employees is also critical to their success.  Do it often and do it publicly.

What a great book.  It’s rare to find such clear direction around something as murky as happiness.  Definitely worth the read.