THE PUSUIT OF HAPPINESS

“We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights: that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”
American Founding Father and principal author of the Declaration of Independence Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826)

No question that these are lofty and worthwhile aspirations, despite the fact that I have always believed that the only inalienable God-given right may be the “right to life”, as liberty is more under the control and administration of those who rule, and happiness is generally out of the list of responsibilities of both deities and governments. I also find it interesting that whilst there is the right to life and to liberty that there is no right to happiness itself, only its pursuit.

It is also worth remembering that history tells us that when the Declaration of Independence was still in draft form, some who were involved in its drafting felt that “the pursuit of property” should be included, so that the right to material gain should also be enshrined as a human right.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


I was on a flight last week between Bordeaux and Paris on my way to a series of business meetings in Germany, and found myself seated beside some visiting American wine distributers on their way home after visiting our region. I couldn’t help but listen in on their conversation which was mainly about the topic of how miserable French people are and how they seemed to have little real commitment in their national character for the “pursuit of happiness”, unlike Americans who, they seemed to feel, had the pursuit of happiness embedded deep in their psyche.

I found this conversation to be fascinating, as whilst I have long found the French to be a fairly negative, cynical and pessimistic nation and, as a generalisation, I have found Americans to be much more optimistic and positive people, I have not really found Americans to be particularly happier than the French, despite their belief in their “unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness”. In fact I have generally found Americans to be more dissatisfied with their lot in life, and always wanting more than they had, as compared to the French who tended to be more accepting of what they had, maybe in the understanding that there was little chance of them being able to drive any change in their situation, at any time.

Author: Hedfones (own work); CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Hedfones (own work); CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


This disparity therefore made me interested to at least try to find out whether there were any reasonable definitions of happiness, and after some searching I realised that it is almost impossible to define happiness, as the best that the dictionaries could come up with were “the state of being happy”, and “an experience that makes you happy”. Both may be very interesting, but neither of them actually being particularly very enlightening. Even some that attempted to be more specific such as “a state of well-being and contentment” and “a pleasurable or satisfying experience” tended to be fairly broad, and also very fleeting. A state of well-being can last a scant few minutes as can a pleasurable and satisfying experience, and surely if an entire nation is committed to the pursuit of happiness, shouldn’t the results of its endeavours be a bit more lasting than the occasional feel-good burst ?

I also struggled with the idea that contentment could be synonymous with happiness, as some of the smartest people I know are never content, but could not be described as unhappy. Even American author Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) supports me in this belief as he said “Happiness in intelligent people is the rarest thing I know”.

via Wikimedia Commons

via Wikimedia Commons


The question is whether we have all become somewhat obsessed with the whole idea of happiness, and with the need to pursue its attainment, as it seems to me that for most people happiness appears to be, at most, the absence of pain, sadness and boredom.

So if we can define some of the things that can stop happiness, can we also define some of the things that actually help to generate sustainable happiness ? For example, were some of the Founding Fathers valid when they suggested that “pursuit of property” should have been included in the Declaration of Independence, and would its attainment make us any happier ?

It appears that they may actually have been on to something, despite their suggestion having been rejected by Jefferson, no doubt through the power of holding the pen.

So, can money actually buy happiness ?

It appears that it may be able to do so to some degree, at least in the USA. A recent survey by Pew Research found that while overall 34% of people surveyed described themselves as being very happy, amongst those who earned over $100,000 annually the number was over 50%, versus only 24% of people who earned less than $30,000 annually.

Another Founding Father Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790) would not have been impressed having believed that “Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has the more one wants.”

Irish writer and poet Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) was firmly in the opposite camp as he said that “When I was young I thought that money was the most important thing in life; now that I am old I know that it is.”

I understand that happiness will mean different things to all of us and that it is totally subjective. I know that one of the things that can make me happy is to come inside to a warm house on a winter’s weekend morning after having finished all my chores outside with the animals and in the garden, and to sit in front of a log fire listening to some classical music or opera or, at this time of the year, watching the 6-nations rugby on the TV, all of which may make someone else extremely unhappy.

American comedian Groucho Marx (1890-1977) actually summed it up best for me in his take on happiness. “Each morning when I open my eyes I say to myself: I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

Author: StickyWikis (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: StickyWikis (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


BUSYNESS OR BUSINESS … THAT IS THE QUESTION

“Some people can look so busy doing nothing that they seem indispensable”.
American cartoonist and journalist Kin Hubbard (1868-1930)

I was interested to read recently that Goldman Sachs has announced that it will lessen the workload for its banking staff and in particular for its junior bankers in acknowledgement that interns can be asked to work 100+ hour weeks and under tremendous pressure. Goldman has sent a memo to its executives that all staff must not enter the office between 9.00pm on Friday and 9.00am on Sunday, declaring as well that “work should not shift from office to home”, and that staff are “strongly encouraged to take three weeks holiday a year”. However, the memo does go on to say that despite all this “… junior bankers are still expected to check their blackberries on a regular basis over the weekend”.

This may well have been driven by the death of a 21 year old London finance student who died after completing a highly competitive Bank of America summer internship. It is believed that Moritz Erhardt died of an epileptic seizure after working for 3 nights straight with no sleep. Following the Goldman Sachs lead, a number of other banks on Wall Street are now also considering similar changes to their entry level programs.

Author: Alex Proimos; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Alex Proimos; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I found this all to be extremely fascinating.

At 100 hours, if one works a full 6 days per week, this translates to about 16 hours per day, leaving scant time even just for travel to and from the office, minimal sleep, some siphoning up of some fast food as nourishment, and the development of what appears to be the obligatory drug habit. Even at 7 days per week this needs about 14 hour work days, which still leaves little spare time to plan what one will be able to do with all that money that they will earn, and that will enable them to win the title of “The richest person in the cemetery”.

I have no real issue with hard work, nor with working extended hours, having had my own 60-80 hour work habits over my 40 year career. I also have no problem with the idea of pulling the occasional all-nighter, which happened to me even when I was a junior programmer in the 1960s and I became obsessed with a particularly fascinating problem that I was working on. In fact I am even a very vocal critic of the French obsession with the 35 hour work week.

However, even in the most demanding parts of my career, I still made sure that I had enough time available to shower and eat regularly, to pursue some interesting pastimes, to spend time with friends, and despite all the pressures, even found the time to woo and win my wife of now 34 years. I cannot see how one can do any of these things when working 100 hours per week when we only have available to us a total of 168 hours.

One key thing I did learn along the way was that “business” and “busyness” were not synonyms, and that one did not necessarily translate into the other.

In fact, I have regularly found that the busiest people were rarely the most effective, in the same way that the people who told me how hard they were working, usually were not. The most successful people were the ones who had built a plan to achieve their goals, and who worked steadily and systematically towards execution of the plan. This did not mean that they spent an inordinate amount of time developing a plan that was something beautiful to behold and to be worshipped by all who saw it. The best plans were the ones that could be well executed by the plan owner, with recognition of the support that s/he would need to ensure its successful outcome. The more complex and convoluted was the plan, the less likely was it to succeed, and I have never seen a plan that worked well where its success was predicated by the need to work 100+ hours per week.

Author: KVDP; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: KVDP; CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have always believed that the whole work-life balance discussion has little real meaning if we are doing something we really love to do, as work needs to be an integral part of life, and the work we apply our passion and energy to is ultimately a part of the definition of who we are as a human being. However, I strongly believe that working 100+ hours per week over a protracted period of time, not only threatens our health, but also diminishes the richness of our humanity, even though it may grow our bank balance.

Over 100 years ago, before the banking industry took over the role of defining the meaning of life, American inventor and businessman Thomas Alva Edison (1847-1931) understood this when he said “Being busy does not always mean real work. The object of all work is production or accomplishment and to either of these ends there must be forethought, system, planning, intelligence, and honest purpose, as well as perspiration. Seeming to do is not doing.

How can anyone truly believe that working 100 hour weeks will generate the quality that is needed to do anything well ?

Sadly, I now have an image in my mind of the world financial system being brought to its knees in 2008, not just by the greed that we now understand drives much of the banking sector, but also by a horde of drug-addled, coffee-driven, sleep-deprived, un-showered, unshaven, fast food-poisoned bankers, who made decisions that affected us all when using the only handful of brain cells that were still able to function.

Author: Reginald gray; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Reginald gray; via Wikimedia Commons


Sadly, it appears that American athlete Vernon Law was right when he said “Some people are so busy learning the tricks of the trade that they never learn the trade”.

THE ART OF MANAGEMENT

“Art is the proper task of life”.
German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900)

I have in the past written about where management skill should sit in the palette of business acumen (see “Management … is it an art or a science” posted September 9, 2013), and come to the conclusion that it is a bit of both art and science. However, there are some elements of management that I do consider to be an art form. Here are 5 of them.

Small steps … I believe that good management is based on steady and structured small steps over a period of time, rather than happening in giant leaps. A manager who is a great speaker can whip up a frenzy in his team almost at will, but generally the effect will be short-lived if not supported beyond the rhetoric. A “the world belongs to us if we just have the courage to reach out and take it” type speech may be great for a Monday morning sales meeting, but will need to be backed up with the right leadership, behaviours, support, team culture and collaterals to result in any true business benefit. It takes time to build a set of values that your people will live by (beyond just having them posted in your vision statement), and with them the culture and acceptable behaviours that are necessary to support these. This is one of the reasons that I have never been a big fan of the Tony Robbins style one day “rah-rah” sessions that people flock to around the world, as I am sure that the “I can do whatever I put my mind to” resultant belief has disappeared in most attendees after just a few days. Managing behaviour takes sustained time, effort and energy.

Author: Steve Jurvetson; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Steve Jurvetson; CC BY 2.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


Passion more than skills … Skills are important but passion and attitude are even more so. I know that it is critical that managers ensure that their people have the skills that are needed to be able to do their job well. However, I believe that as a manager, you must put serious focus on ensuring that your people are also passionate about doing it at all. I have long told young management people (only a little tongue in cheek) that the ultimate test of a manager is that his people are prepared to get up at 6.00am on a cold, wet Monday morning and say “Thank goodness the weekend is over, and I can now go back to work”. SAP in the 1990s just exploded onto the business world, with annual growth rates of well over 100%. I have always put this down to the fact that it was mostly due to being driven by people who were “passionate, creative anarchists”. Yes, we had great technology, but this alone would not have been enough to achieve that level of success without the driving passion to change the world.

Author: Roger Wo; CC BY 2.0 license; Wikimedia Commons

Author: Roger Wo; CC BY 2.0 license; Wikimedia Commons


People need structure but not rigid boundaries … I believe that if you give people the freedom to do great things, then there is a greater chance that they will. I do believe that people need some structure in their working life, as it is important that they understand where they fit in, what is expected of them, what is in it for them and how they slot into the team. I also believe that good managers will give their people the freedom to perform their role in their own way, the right to question the status quo, to test the traditional boundaries and to regularly make mistakes. I see fear of failure as being one of the most important shackles that a manager needs to remove from his people. What we did to succeed yesterday will not necessarily work today, and what we do today will most likely not work tomorrow. Continued success needs continuous experimentation and change, which by definition presupposes that not all experiments will work, but experiment we must.

Author: Urban; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Urban; via Wikimedia Commons


Being yourself works best … there is no one management style that fits all, so you should stick with who you really are. Some managers are more controlling than others (see “Are you an autocratic or permissive manager” posted June 4, 2012), and whilst I am a strong advocate of giving your people the space to spread their wings, I also believe that people are at their best when they are true to themselves. If you are by nature a control freak, it will not be easy for you to become a laissez-faire or consultative manager no matter how hard you try. Whilst you should work hard to temper your need to try and make all decisions and be in total control all the time, you may as well accept that this is your natural style and let your people learn to work with you in a way that works both for you and for them. It does mean that you may not be able to keep some of the more creative people nor those that need more freedom, so you should let them go elsewhere and you should look for people that can survive and prosper under your specific leadership style.

Author: Vassil; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Vassil; CC0 1.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


You can’t win them all … no matter how good you are, you will make mistakes. This is as true when it comes to recruiting the right people as it is for management and team decision making. Some people will not succumb to your charms, no matter how well-honed they are, and not all decisions you take will work all the time, particularly in the fast changing business environment we all face today. You need to accept responsibility when things don’t work out as planned, learn from the mistake and move on. I believe that you should publicly celebrate failures in the same way that you do successes by sharing them with your team, and discussing the lessons that you have learned, and that they can also learn from them, and the steps that you can all take to try and minimise their occurrence in the future.

Author: MesserWoland; GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: MesserWoland; GFDL, CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


It is also critical that as a manager you remember well the words of American artist James Whistler (1804-1903) “An artist is not paid for his labour but for his vision”.

TO SLEEP PERCHANCE TO DREAM

“Morning is wonderful. Its only drawback is that it comes at such an inconvenient time of day.”
Glen Cook, author of Sweet Silver Blues.

Author: Ceridwen (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Ceridwen (own work); CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I was asked not long ago to talk to a group of young people in a software development centre in India, about how to get the most out of their lives, based possibly on the fact that as I was at least twice or even three times their age, I may actually know something about the topic. Despite the fact that I disagreed with the logic, I agreed to do the talk.

I called the presentation “Life Laws from Les”, of which there were 10.

The most contentious of my 10 laws and the one that generated the most discussion afterwards, was the one that said “If you feel that you do not have enough time to do the things that you want to do in life, just get up an hour earlier”. I have long believed this “life law” based on the fact that I have never seen an epitaph that read “I wish that I had spent more time sleeping”, and the fact that I feel that the belief that we need at least 8 hours sleep per night is not based on any established fact, as much as being based on some old adage.

Author: Liquid 2003; GNU FD/CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: Liquid 2003; GNU FD/CC BY-SA 3.0 license; via Wikimedia Commons


I have no question that there are some people who may actually need 8 hours sleep or even more per night, but I feel that these are few. I also believe that the goal must surely be to achieve a high quality of sleep rather than quantity, and that most of us can get by on 6 or 7 hours per night, if we have built a suitable sleep pattern.

However, I was really just trying to make a point.

We all get the same number of hours per day, and yet some people have the ability to achieve an incredible amount in the time they have available while others don’t, and I don’t believe that this is just because some people are better organised than others (though they are), or that some people are just smarter or more driven than others (and they are). I believe that the difference is mainly one of attitude to how one should spend the waking hours, and that this is what also drives how we feel about when we get up in the morning and how we feel about doing so.

To add to their anxiety, I told my young audience that I had received agreement and approval from their management to run a follow-up session with them the next morning, but because of my tight schedule we would need to start this session at 6.00am. Their reaction was one of disbelief and despair. I then told them that to make the session more interesting for them, Kareena Kapoor and Akshay Kumar (2 top and unbelievably good looking Bollywood stars) had agreed to come and join us. Their first reaction to this news was one of visible joy and excitement, which was very short-lived, as they started to think it through and then question the reality of what I had told them. I admitted that I had not been serious about either statement, but that I wanted them to think about their first reaction to both.

When I first suggested a 6.00am start, most of them would have worked backwards to a 4.00am wake-up which didn’t appeal at all. When the thought of meeting the Bollywood stars was mooted, a 4.00am start was suddenly not an issue. I even suggested that some of them would have been thinking about whether they should just spend the night in the office to ensure that they would not risk missing the event, and also to enable them to secure a prime position. The general conditions of their planned morning activity which was their having to wake at 4.00am to be in the office by 6.00am had not changed at all. The only condition that had changed was what was waiting for them when they got there.

Author: User:Sherurcij; via Wikimedia Commons

Author: User:Sherurcij; via Wikimedia Commons


The reality is that the way that we get up in the morning is based entirely on for what reason we are getting up.

My advice to them about when to wake was that it was not really a question of getting up an hour earlier, but that no matter what time they did get up, they should get up to an activity that they loved to do. This meant that they should not get up leaving only just enough time to get ready and go to work. It was really important that they also had enough time to do something wonderful before they started all the activities that were related to their job, including not looking at their email, Facebook, Pinterest , Twitter etc., etc., until after this emotionally enriching activity had been accomplished.

This was even more seriously important if they didn’t particularly like the job that they were getting up to go to.

Getting up to do something you dislike is really hard. Getting up to do something you really love to do, and that excites you, is significantly easier, whether this is exercise, reading a book, writing poetry, playing with your children. or anything else that is important and exciting in your life, but it should be something not associated with your work, no matter how much you enjoy your job, and it should be done regularly enough and in a way that it becomes a habit.

It is extremely hard to get very young children to go to bed at night, and generally they are also the first to leap out of bed early in the morning, usually in a state of high excitement and anticipation. The reason is that they just don’t want to miss anything, as there are so many new things to discover and to learn, and so many fun things to do, so there is no attraction to staying in bed and keeping on hitting the snooze button.

Source: ArtDaily.com; via Wikimedia Commons

Source: ArtDaily.com; via Wikimedia Commons


We can make our life significantly more worthwhile if we can relearn the ability to wake up with this same childlike sense of anticipation.