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Working your way to happiness

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in Career Management,Workplace Communication

by Morey Stettner

There's an intriguing new management book called Do Chimpanzees Dream of Retirement? I can't read it; it's in Hebrew. But I read about it in Haaretz, an English-language newspaper published in Israel.

The author, Jacob Burak, is a 58-year-old venture capitalist who's one of Israel's wealthiest citizens. Yet his book isn't about how to get rich. Instead, he reflects on the outcome-based Western business model where an intense focus on bottom-line results can undermine personal fulfillment.

He cites research that 50 percent of our capacity for happiness is genetic. The other half is influenced by both "life circumstances" (such as our work and marriage) and everyday behaviors (such as exercise, social activity and sleeping habits). "Humans have a natural mechanism designed to restore them to the level of happiness for which they were genetically programmed," he tells Haaretz. "On the one hand, it helps us survive; on the other, it erodes our ability to remain on a high after happy events in our lives. Both lottery winners and car accident victims go back to their normal happiness levels after a few months."

I don't know about you, but if I can only control about 50 percent of my happiness, I want to make sure I'm not squandering it. Whether that means turning off the television to socialize more often or allocating sufficient leisure time to disengage from workaday pressures (two of Burak's suggestions), I'm all for it. The real challenge is putting daily irritations in perspective. Managing people poses almost constant petty hassles. Some employees need coddling. Others need discipline. By deriving satisfaction from deeper aspects of our work, we can reclaim happiness that may otherwise seep away. And by choosing healthy physical and social activity, we can counter the inexorable negatives of everyday life with at least some measure of contentment. 



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