This review first ran in the Nov. 7 edition of The Hamilton Spectator.
If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?
Portfolio / Penguin
A Bay Street investment banker from Ancaster is on vacation.
The banker is sitting on a dock and drinking a Modelo.
She offers a beer to a local fisherman and strikes up a conversation.
The banker quickly realizes the fisherman is wicked smart.
“You should consider working on Bay Street,” says the banker.
The fisherman asks why he’d want to work on Bay Street.
“Because you could make a fortune,” says the banker.
The fisherman asks what he would do with his fortune.
“You could retire early and enjoy the good life,” says the banker. “With enough money, you could even move to Mexico, settle down in a small village and spend your days fishing.”
And that’s when the banker realizes the fisherman is even smarter than she first thought.
Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy, tells a version of this story to his business students at the University of Texas and the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad. He says the story underscores how easy it is for us to fall prey to the happiness paradox and confuse career success with life success.
“Although happiness is a very important goal for most people, they also seem to devalue it as they go about their lives,” says Raghunanthan. “People seem to routinely sacrifice happiness for the sake of other goals.”
Raghunanthan didn’t want his students to make the same mistake.
“I wasn’t sure that I was helping my students lead happier, more fulfilling lives. If our education system doesn’t ultimately lead to a better quality of life for all concerned, how good is it? I doubted that my courses – or for that matter most courses offered at business schools – were helping students lead happier and more fulfilling lives, and this troubled me.”
So Raghunanthan created a course that takes a scientific look at the determinants of happiness. He put his oversubscribed course online and also turned it into a book.
He’s identified seven deadly happiness sins and seven corresponding habits of the highly happy.
“The things that lead to happiness and fulfilment are the things that make us not just better – more kind and compassionate – but also more successful. The recipe for happiness is a win-win-win recipe.”
According to Raghunanthan, lots of smart and successful people tend to botch the recipe and willingly or unwittingly sacrifice our happiness for other goals like money, fame and status.
Some of us make that sacrifice because don’t have a clear or concrete idea of what it means to be happy. “We tend to devalue things when they are abstract, ambiguous or otherwise difficult to understand.”
Others of us have deeply held negative beliefs about happiness. We worry it will make us lazy since the only time we’re truly happy is when we’re on vacation, sitting on a dock and doing nothing.
We worry that prioritizing happiness will make us selfish although the research shows exactly the opposite happens.
And we lose sight of the ultimate goal of leading a happier, more fulfilled life and instead focus all our time and attention on pursuing the means to achieving that goal. “People can get so caught up chasing money that they forget all about why they wanted the money in the first place.”
Along with explaining the seven sins and habits, Raghunanthan offers seven happiness exercises that make a strong case for why we need to smarten up and change our ways.
As Raghunanthan asks at the end of his book, “if you aren’t happy, how smart are you really?”.
Jay Robb serves as director of communications at Mohawk College, lives in Hamillton, Ontario and has reviewed business books for the Hamilton Spectator since 1999. He would happily move to a villa in southern Mexico.