How to Be Happy at Work: A book review by Bob Morris

How to Be Happy at Work: The Power of Purpose, Hope, and Friendship
Annie McKee
Harvard Business Review Press (September 2017)

“We have met the enemy and he is us.”

Annie McKee is one of the most thoughtful and thought-provoking leaders in business education and this book is the latest of several in which her cutting-edge thinking helps business leaders to make better decisions, cultivate healthier relationships, and in countless other ways ensure that their organization develops a culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive.

I selected the comment by Pogo the Possum to serve as the title of this brief commentary because it suggests, and I agree, that most of the limits that people struggle with are self-imposed. Some people may not understand what McKee means by “happiness.” Briefly, she views it as “a deep and abiding enjoyment of daily activities fueled by passion for meaningful purpose, a hopeful view of the future, and true friendship.”

For better or worse, a workplace culture is a human community. Make of it what you will, the fact remains that most of the companies annually ranked among those that are most highly admired and best to work for are also annually ranked among those most profitable with the greatest cap value. In these companies, mutual respect and trust serve as the “glue” to all internal and external relationships. In these companies, the people think and behave in terms of first-person plural pronouns.

These are among the several dozen passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of McKee’s coverage:

o Happiness at work: Purpose, Hope, and Friendship (Pages 2-6)
o Emotional Intelligence and Happiness: A Virtuous Circle (6-9)
o Defining Happiness at Work (16-17)
o Three Myths About Work (25-28)
o The Happiness Traps (30-45)

o Activate Your Emotional Intelligence (67)
o Purpose: Motivation from Within (68-73)
o Fix Problems and Contribute to the Greater Good (79-81)
o Discovering Your Calling in What You Are Doing Now (84-86)
o Three Elements of Hope: Vision, Plans, and Self-Improvement (97-102)

o Focus on Optimism and What Is Right (106-113)
o Belonging: Our Tribe at Work (128-131)
o Stress: The Happiness Killer (159-161)
o Four Stages of the Journey from Despair and Resignation to Happiness (172-181)
o Creating a Resonant Microculture (192-198)

I heartily commend McKee on her skillful provision of end-of-chapter exercises that enable her readers to interact with key portions of the material; completion of these exercises will also facilitate, indeed expedite frequent review of key points later.

That is why I strongly recommend having a lined notebook near at hand, to complete the exercises, of course, but also to record comments, questions, and other annotations. My personal notebook preference is the Mead “Marble” model.

Here are the end-of-chapter exercises:

Chapter 1. Defining Happiness for Myself (Page 21)
2. (Breaking Free from Traps and Destructive Mindsets, and An Exercise in Self-Awareness, Self-Management, and Courage 50-52)
3. Your Organization and Your Organization’s Values (82-86)
4. Circles of Life, and, Dreams, Plans, and People (114-116)
5. Examining the Rules around Friendships at Work, and, Generosity and the Extra Mile (151-153)
6. Crafting a Personal Vision for My Life and Work, Seeing the Truth of Myself, and three other exercises 181-186)

Obviously, no brief commentary such as mine could possibly do full justice to the abundance of valuable information, insights, and counsel that are provided but I hope I have at least indicated why I think so highly of her and her work. I presume to conclude with an opinion of my own. While reading this book for the first time, It occurred me that the “happiness at work” (and elsewhere) that Annie McKee could be viewed as what I would call “joyful flow.”

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has described optimal experience as a state of heightened focus and immersion in activities such as art, play and work. He says creativity is a central source of meaning in our lives. A leading researcher in positive psychology, Csikszentmihalyi has devoted his life to studying what makes people truly happy: “When we are involved in [creativity], we feel that we are living more fully than during the rest of life.” He is the architect of the notion of “flow”– the creative moment when a person is completely involved in an activity for its own sake.

I agree with McKee that happiness at work is a choice. Those who read this book will be much better prepared to make a decision that requires a commitment to “deep and abiding enjoyment of daily activities fueled by passion for meaningful purpose, a hopeful view of the future, and true friendship.”

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