Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Review - "Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful - No Matter What" by Srikumar Rao


Do you label your experience? Do you break down thoughts, feelings, experiences into good and bad, pleasurable and pleasurable, positive and negative? Do little things get you down and feel overwhelming? This book might be able to help.

Publisher's blurb:
Learn the secrets to creating joy in your work and in your life, no matter what is happening around you-as taught by Professor Rao to business students at top business schools including Columbia, London Business School, Haas, and more.

Many upheavals are beyond any individual's control, as the whole world has recently experienced. Professor Rao's message is that when the inevitable “bad stuff” happens, you can not only survive, but thrive. A short, but profound book, Happiness at Work is easily digestible, featuring short chapters of 2-3 pages and thoughtprovoking exercises that are similar to the “time-in” element in our bestselling Happier. The ideas are influenced by Buddhist thought but presented in a down-to-earth manner that anyone can relate to. This is a book for the current times and any time.
Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful - No Matter What
by Srikumar Rao, PhD
McGraw-Hill; May, 2010
256 pages, $22.95

Here is a brief biographical sketch from Rao's website.

Dr. Rao received his Ph.D. in Marketing from the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University and his M.B.A. from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad. His undergraduate training was in Physics at St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University.

He conceived the pioneering course Creativity and Personal Mastery.

He has done pioneering work in motivation and helps senior executives become more engaged in work and discover deep meaning in it. He also works with teams and groups and has been extraordinarily successful in using group dynamics to foster lasting personal change. Many who have been through his program experience quantum leaps in professional and personal effectiveness.

Dr. Rao is the author of Are You Ready to Succeed: Unconventional Strategies for Achieving Personal Mastery in Business and Life, Hyperion, 2006. The book has been translated into many languages. He is also the author and narrator of The Personal Mastery Program, Sounds True, 2007.
By way of a further introduction, here is an article from Dr. Rao that presents some of the ideas you will find in the book:
A Surefire Method to Experience Joy in Your Life

By Srikumar Rao,

Galileo got it wrong.

The earth does not revolve around the sun. It revolves around you and has been doing so for decades. At least, this is the model you are using.

You live in a "me-centered" world in which you interpret everything that happens in terms of "What is its impact on me." Your spouse gets a great job offer and you wonder what effect this will have on your relationship. Your daughter drops out of high school to begin an in-depth exploration of controlled substances and you wonder what your friends will think about your parenting. Your boss leaves the company and you wonder whether you will be promoted or what your relations will be with the next person to take that position.

You are constantly preoccupied with "me" and what you like and what others think of you and why things aren't going your way. It reminds me of the joke about the gorgeous girl who spoke about herself endlessly and then tried to make amends "But enough about me. Lets talk about you. Tell me what you like about me."

Do you think I am exaggerating? That this is certainly not true of you because you are a concerned citizen and care about the environment and poverty and have actually campaigned against land mines? Oh, Yes, Victoria. This is true of YOU, yes you!

Think back on the last few conversations you had with a good friend. Did you sometimes lose thread of what your friend was saying because you were busy crafting the perfect response in your head? Have you ever been introduced to a person and, ten seconds later, forgotten his/her name? Go back in time and recall the most boring class you took in college. Do you, or do you not, remember the one time you made a comment that was brilliant -- or at least you thought it was.

Here is something for you to know -- if you live the vast majority of your time in a "me-centered" universe, then you are going to get more than your share of depression, angst, sorrow and all of the things that make life terrible. That's just the way it is.

If you want to experience joy in your life, you have to be able to step outside yourself and become part of a cause that is much larger than you; one that brings a greater good to a greater community. You have tremendous flexibility in defining both the greater good and the greater community. If you don't succeed in this, then you will continue to pull that heavy wagon up the mountain and despite the fact that you are pulling it, it will somehow run over your foot.

Try this experiment -- the next time you have a conversation with a good friend, do not use the words "I", "me" or "my". This simple device prevents your from expressing your opinion and many are astonished both by how difficult it is and by how much the depth of listening goes up when you are no longer preoccupied by thinking of what you are going to say.

Now try another experiment. Try living for a week in an "other centered" universe. In this universe others are not put in this world to serve your needs so you cannot legitimately get frustrated by the elderly lady ahead of you on the checkout lane who takes forever to put her change away or the stout man who stands in the aisle of the plane blocking you while he removes his magazine from his bag and tries vainly to stow it in an overhead bin that is patently too crammed to accept it.

See what you can do to serve others. Smile cheerily at the elderly lady. Point out to the stout man that the bins further on are empty and offer to put his bag there as you move on. What is it that you can do to brighten their day somewhat?

Have you ever had a random encounter that was so refreshing that it made your day? I was on a message board yesterday admiring a comment made by a reader about a rant posted by another. It was a very reasoned statement that pointed out the flaw in the ranter's reasoning and asking why he felt compelled to say what he did. Another reader jumped in and said something to the effect that "Without saying anything on the merits of the case I really like the way in which you responded to his post. Thanks for keeping civility in the debate." With this opening others chimed in as well and she replied with a heartfelt "Thank you" and that this had made her day.

The same thing has happened to you many times. Perhaps the stranger who cracked jokes and kept everyone upbeat in the slow-moving line. Perhaps the jovial taxi driver who told you that you were looking really gorgeous when you were feeling bedraggled after a five time zone flight. Perhaps the salesman in the clothing store who told you that you looked really handsome in that suit and you knew that he was not merely trying to make a sale.

Do the same yourself. Deliberately, each day, do something to make someone's day. Plan it. Exercise your creativity. This is one of the exercises in my program and I am amazed at what participants come up with when they set their minds to it. An executive in a European city saw a group of foreign students anxiously counting change to see if they had enough for train fare and anonymously bought tickets for all of them by putting it on his credit card and instructing the ticket attendant to run the charge. He said he hadn't felt that good for years.

So make someone's day, every day. Strangers, colleagues, friends, parents, your spouse, children, relatives -- even the ones you don't particularly care for!! -- and all fellow travelers on this spaceship we call Earth. Do it deliberately. Invest emotional energy in making it happen. Do it anonymously whenever you can. Don't expect thanks -- what you do and the opportunity you have to be of service is its own reward.

© 2010 Srikumar Rao, author of Happiness at Work: Be Resilient, Motivated, and Successful -- No Matter What
You can read a similar article at Huffington Post: Why Positive Thinking Is Bad for You (which riffs on Chapter Three in the book).

The above article serves as a great introduction to the book - in very short chapters (often 2-3 pages), Rao suggests that the best way to be happy and resilient, no matter what life throws at us, is to stop being self-obsessed and to stop being attached to labels, to outcomes, and to how things might have been different.

This is very Buddhist approach, which is why I am reviewing this book - and liking it. The press packet (and the quote at the top) acknowledges the Buddhist influence on Rao's ideas, but I could find nothing about any Buddhist practice or background in his biographical materials. Either way, this is a great approach for those in business to be learning. In fact, it's a good reminder for all of us.

However, like most books that offer to help us change our lives in some way, if you just read it and put it down, you're not likely to get much out of it and it's not likely to change anything. Rao recommends reading a chapter or two every couple of days. Each chapter ends with an exercise, and it is highly recommended that a reader wanting the most from this book do all of the exercises.

He also recommends keeping a journal for the exercises and working with a group of like-minded people (preferably a group that is also reading the book). Although most book groups choose fiction, I think this would make an excellent book for a group that is willing to do the work and share honestly about their experiences and observations.

* * *

Early in the book, Rao argues that positive thinking, which is a culturally embedded - and sanctioned - response to life's challenges is only a partial solution. He contends that embracing positive thinking necessarily sets up the duality of positive/negative thoughts, in which we are told to embrace the positive - only the positive.

In order to do this, we must deny the negative, press it down, repress it - this takes energy and it creates stress. We will fail often and sometimes badly. In a sense, we have created a struggle and an obstacle all on our own - one that does not exist in the world as it comes to us through experience.

However, if we do not label some thoughts bad, or negative, in the first place, then we have no duality to overcome, no self-generated struggle by which to waste our energy. This is the crux of of Rao's argument.
Reflect on this: You need to "think positive" when a "bad thing" happens to you. This takes energy and causes tension. It creates a tiny bit of stress, even as it dissipates the much larger stress caused by the "bad thing."

But what if no "bad thing" happens to you because you refuse to use that label? You no longer have to a put a positive spin on whatever life gives you. (p. 16)
But simply learning not to label experiences (and this is not nearly as easy as it sounds - it's an ongoing practice for many of us) is not enough, Rao wants us to develop extreme resilience.
With extreme resilience, you recover so fast that, to an outside observer, it does not seem as if you were laid low at all. So fast that you yourself are not aware of having gone through the cycle of misfortune and snapping back. (p.20)
He illustrates this point by making reference to a Daruma Doll (also known as a Dharma Doll), modeled after Bodhidharma, the Zen patriarch.


According to Helen B. Chapin (Three Early Portraits of Bodhidharma), legend has it that Bodhidharma sat in meditation, facing a wall, for nine years, causing his limbs to fall off from atrophy. Not a pretty picture, but the doll makes a nice symbol.

The Japanese doll is their equivalent of a Weeble Wobble - "weebles wobble but they don't fall down." With the Daruma doll, knock it down ten times and it springs up ten times (it has a weighted bottom). Possessing extreme resilience is like being a Daruma doll.

The book continues along this same line, in many ways reframing traditional Buddhist ideas in a very modern and down-to-earth way. For those who are Buddhist, there will be nothing new here. For those who are not, and who want to find a way to be happier at work or at home, this is a great little book to launch you on the Buddhist path (without ever having to call yourself a Buddhist).

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