Blog: Tal Ben-Shahar on the secret to happiness

Employee Engagement

Tal Ben-Shahar on the secret to happiness

Studies have shown successful people are not the ones who do not experience stress, but they do this instead
Tal Ben-Shahar on the secret to happiness

Contradictory to the Mumbai traffic that denies me the necessity of punctuality, I got the luxury of reaching early at the event which gave me enough time to soak in the surrounding. The room was full of colors and decorated with marigold flowers. Little did I know that this was the place that will lead me towards the secrets of happiness. Talking about happiness, let me introduce to you the star of the event, Tal Ben-Shahar. He is the author of the book ‘The Joy of Leadership,’ that talks about how positive psychology can maximize your impact and make you happier in a challenging world. 

As people trickled in, real-time relationships were developing, and I could see cards being exchanged with the promises of staying in touch. The event started with an introductory speech by Anant Goenka, Managing Director of CEAT Limited who shares the connection of Harvard with Tal. He spoke about how complicated our relationships are getting in the modern world, but the good thing is we have a solution for it, and Tal will be talking more about it. 

With this same yet powerful introduction, we were introduced to the man himself. Throughout an hour of the session, Tal happened to give us some valuable life lessons and gems to take back to our companies. He started with a small story, A professor was teaching a class one day, and he saw one of his students sleeping. He asked the student next to him to wake him up but was astonished at the reply by the other student. He said, “With all due respect professor, you put him to sleep, you wake him up.” And that’s when I thought, Aha! This will be an entertaining session along with a knowledgeable one. Just for the records, nobody slept during this session. 

Tal started by explaining why people are so unhappy and said, ‘Success doesn’t always lead to happiness, unlike popular belief.’ After graduating, Tal taught two classes, one on Positive Psychology and the other one on Leadership Development. That’s when he came across a professor who told him, “Oh. So, you teach one class on happiness and one on unhappiness.’ This got him thinking about how happiness and leadership go hand in hand, and it is a misunderstanding that they are separate entities. More generally talking, the relationship between success and happiness, considering leadership positions are taken as a sign of success. 

There is a widespread misconception in today's’ world regarding success and happiness. Most people believe that the road to happiness is through success.  In other words, success is the cause and happiness is the effect. We raise our children with a mindset that they need to be successful if they want to be happy. But according to the Study by Daniel Gilbert, people did experience a high and low in happiness when they succeed, but it does not lead to permeant happiness.  

So, what then leads to happiness? Let's learn about some tips that you can use not only in your life but to make your organizations or workplaces a happier place.

  • Make time for recovery

Recently the Chinese government spoke about taking care of their population regarding stress levels, and that's how you know the problem is grave. It's rare for something like this to occur. But what we don't realize is, stress is good, the problem lies in not giving enough time and attention to recovery.    

Consider this analogy; you go to the gym every day and what happens is, your ability to lift weights keeps increasing. What you are doing is straining your muscles and gaining more strength. The problem occurs when you start lifting more and more weights every day rather than over few weeks. This is exactly how stress works; it can help you in your work, but the most important thing is to take a break and let your body recover from it. 

Studies have shown successful people are not the ones who do not experience stress, far from it. They are the ones who schedule their highly stressful lives with periods of recovery. Consider using small periods of recovery, like a chat with a friend, go to the gym or take 5 minutes of every two hours to take a deep breath. Being mindful of your doings will help you be much happier. 

  • Shift your perception of a job to a calling 

Tal explains about the three categories of people, first are the ones that see their work as a chore. Something they have to do and do not have much of choice. Second are the ones that see their work as a career, they are always looking for promotions or increments, something to move ahead. The third category are the ones who are happiest with their work because they see it as their calling. They love what they pursue and look forward to it each day.  

According to a Study on Janitors, it was revealed that the ones who saw their work as calling were much more satisfied. Mindset matters than objective circumstances. So, we need to switch our mindset to change our lives. In his organization, Tal asks people applying for jobs to write about their calling description rather than their job descriptions. In other words, what is it about their jobs that make it meaningful. Start seeing your work as something that you are meant to do rather than something you need to do. 

  • Connect to a purpose 

One of Tal's student did a study on people who call alumni of renowned institutions to ask for a donation for sponsorships. What he found was, in most of the cases there was a straight ‘no’ or people said they would be calling back, which they never did. So, to fix this, the head of the institution started scheduling 15-minute meetings of these alumni with the students who actually needed the money. This changed the situation drastically and more people were willing to donate money this time. 

Taking this example into consideration, notice that there was purpose earlier as well, but they just weren't connected to it. It is essential in organizations to connect people to the meaning of the larger goal. The passion, engagement, and productivity will see tremendous growth. Keep quick sessions with your teams and spend time in explaining to them the why behind their work. Small actions can lead to a much greater scope for improvement in workplaces. 

Just as he started with a story being a writer, he ended the session with another compelling account of his personal life. As narrated by Tal: 

My wife and I recently had to get our mortgage. After an extended period of searching, we found our dream home and went to the bank for the papers. As soon as the mortgage officer comes out, I notice something peculiar about her. She's usually happy; I notice these things. We sit there for 45 minutes, and she seems so excited. I go next time to sign more than 60 pages, and she's so happy about getting us to signs these papers. 

I couldn't help myself, and I asked her, 'Can I ask you something?' And she says 'Sure.' 'You really love your work don't you?'. She says I love my work and that got me curious to know why. She said to me, 'Because every day I get to help people fulfill their dreams and today I am going to do the same for you.  And she did. We are now living in our dream home. There are thousands of mortgage officers, but there are so few that see it with so much meaning.

The session ended with more mingling and book discussion. More importantly, everyone left with the broader message. We don't necessarily have to connect to the purpose of life but instead focus on the purpose in life. We need to spend time with people around us and connect with our clients to make a difference. Knowing that we as leaders are affecting so many lives, it is essential to connect to purpose most of the times. We should learn to see stress as strengthening and dedicate time for recovery. We should be a little more mindful while listening or eating or meditating. What we are doing directly is creating happiness, and though that spiral of the success of meaning, purpose, and calm we can create the joy of leadership.

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Topics: Employee Engagement

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