Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

The Art of Happiness at Work

Academic journal article The Innovation Journal

The Art of Happiness at Work

Article excerpt

Dalaï Lama and Howard Cutler The Art of Happiness at Work London: Hodder& Stoughton, 2003

Reviewed by Raymond A. Lemay

In the public sector and in human services particularly, human resources - employees - are the means to the end. The old Defasco steel ad slogan told us "Our product is steel. Our strength is people" and, in the public sector where the product is the crafting of the public good, the adage about the people is likely more critical. So what about our people? Are they well enough to be the strength of the system that guarantees the public good? Recent surveys (AOL, 2011; Barrows & Wesson, 2001; Burch and Axworthy, 2010) suggest that not all public servants are satisfied with their roles, and these authors recommend systemic change, suggesting that the employer must reform its human resource practices. Organizational, employee and workplace "wellness" are strategies that put the onus on the employer to create work conditions that promote healthier and happier employees.

"If there is injustice, then I think inaction is the wrong response."

- The Dalaï Lama

It would seem, however, that the Buddhist tradition, without refuting the possibility of systemic reform, would view such problems from a different and more personal perspective. The Dalaï Lama and Howard Cutler weigh in on the issue of employee happiness in a different and interesting way.

The authors of this book had previously collaborated in 1998 on the book The art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, the purpose of which was to convey to novices the basics of Tibetan Buddhist psychology:

* The purpose of life is happiness.

* Happiness is determined more by the state of one's mind than by one's external conditions, circumstances, or events - at least once one's basic survival needs are met.

* Happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts and minds, through reshaping our attitudes and outlook.

* The key to happiness is in our hands (p. 1).

In this book they particularize the teaching to work; happiness at work is bound to have an impact on one's life more generally: we spend a lot of time at work, and Cutler quotes researchers (Harter, Schmidt and Corey Keyes, 2003) who report that "as much as a fifth to a quarter of the variance in adult life satisfaction can be accounted for by satisfaction with work" (p. 188: NB: all page references are to work under review).

The book, however, focuses only on the individual worker, "happiness at work generally from the standpoint of the worker, the employee, and measures they can take to become more satisfied at work through their own efforts, by changing their outlook, increasing self-understanding...." (p. 206). The Dalaï Lama adds that this "is only part of the picture. The employer also, the management, the organization, all plays a role in setting the tone of the workplace environment, and have an impact on the happiness of the employees, and of course if we are to discuss wider issues of ethics in business, the economy, and so on, that is another thing..." (p. 206)

The book's nine chapters discuss various sources of (un)happiness at work and the Dalaï Lama proposes ways to address and rectify sources of unhappiness.

Transforming Dissatisfaction at Work

There are many sources of dissatisfaction at work, but a good place to start is with oneself, and one's attitude. If one doesn't like a job, then one should change and get another job, or alternatively develop an attitude of contentment. There are undoubtedly worse jobs, and more trying situations. Indeed, one should come to the realization that there are a myriad of factors that make a job satisfying or not. Some of these factors (indeed many) are simply beyond our (or our boss') control. Cutler asserts that the Dalaï Lama has an "unsentimental" (p. 33) view of life difficulties:

There will always be problems in life. It is just not possible to go through life without encountering problems. …

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