Book review: The art of happiness at work

The Dalai Lama knows a thing or two about how to be happy. Not only has he studied buddhist philosophy, psychology, history etc. all his life, he’s also a terribly nice person who has devoted his life to serving others – his own people (the tibetans) as well as the rest of us. In The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living his insights into what makes people happy were paired with those of Howard Cutler an american psychiatrist, to give us a manual of happiness based on eastern and western thought and science.

For their second collaboration, they’ve decided to look at how to be happy on the job. The Art of Happiness At Work is an exploration of the major issues confronting those of us who have jobs: Topics like stress, boredom, anxiety, meaningless jobs are given a new twist through the insights of the Dalai Lama – a man who has never held a real job. It speaks to the depth of the buddhist knowledge and his ability to apply it, that he can offer profound insights and useful advice to people in circumstances so different from his own.

One of my favourite parts of the book is when Cutler asks about how to handle stress when faced with work overload. His answer is classic:
“What is this ‘work overload,’ what do you mean?” asked the Dalai Lama. The genuine curiosity in his voice suggested that he had never heard of the concept.
“Well, you know,” I said, struggling for words, “where you are overloaded with work, and it becomes a source of stress.”
“I still don’t know what you mean by this term ‘overload.’ For example, your boss could give you some work which you could probably finish within a certain amount of time, but that’s not overload because it is something you can accomplish even if it is difficult. Or he could give you an amount of work that is impossible to finish in a certain amount of time, in which case you simply have to say ‘I can’t do this.’ So, what do you mean?”

Cutler does a great job asking the right questions and remaining open to his own biases and the result is fresh insight into many workplace issues.

Of course the topic of workplace happiness is extremely interesting to me, since that’s what I work with every day, and it was wonderful to me, that what the Dalai Lama says, is essentially the same as what we say in the happy at work project. For instance, when Cutler asks what the most important factor is in creating happiness at work, the Dalai Lama replies “Your attitude”. The most important thing, is how you relate to your job. It’s not your carreer, salary, colleagues or your boss – it’s you!

The book is an easy and enjoyable read, and the combination of Cutlers questions, the Dalai Lamas answers and little stories from Cutlers own experiences conveys the message beautifully.

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