IDEA Box #3, June 2020, Happiness and Success

Happiness and Success

Welcome to our June 2020 IDEA Box blog where we are discussing ‘Happiness and Success’. We have reviewed books from the Dalai Lama, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Adam Grant. This month’s article is a Financial Times interview with Warren Buffett, while the podcast examines ‘Why Happy Brains Perform Better’ and our video is a Forbes interview with Arianna Huffington. We’d love to hear from you so please keep sending in your suggestions. If you enjoy reading this blog please follow our Twitter and LinkedIn pages where we post additional nuggets of inspiration from the content we have reviewed each week.


The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living, Dalai Lama & Howard C. Cutler

Is the Dalai Lama Yoda for grown ups? Maybe. The Art of Happiness combines his eastern spiritual tradition with psychiatrist Cutler’s western perspective. Covering all key areas of human experience, this book gives thoughtful insights for dealing with everyday problems. Here are four happiness and success takeaways that Yoda would be proud of:

1. Altruism is key to our survival instinct: An altruistic perspective leads to better outcomes than one focused on hostility and aggression. This principle has become a rallying cry for SMEs in Ireland and the UK over the last number of months. Businesses and other stakeholders have worked together like never before to find creative solutions to the societal, health and economic challenges we are all facing.

2. Success and happiness requires the input of others: The Dalai Lama believes that self reliance is a fallacy. We rely on others for happiness and success in all aspects of life. Research has shown that reaching out to help others can induce a feeling of happiness and a calmer mind. This is one of the benefits of mentoring, where the mentor often gains as much as the mentee from sharing their knowledge.

3. Pain is necessary …. but don’t overdo it: Pain warns us of danger. It needs to be unpleasant to be effective, however, the attitude we cultivate determines how we perceive and endure painful setbacks. While suffering is a natural part of life we often magnify it unnecessarily. Clinging to negative experiences and overthinking future events are examples of this according to the authors. As Michael Jordan put it in the recent Netflix documentary The Last Dance; “Why would I think about missing a shot I haven’t taken?”. Indeed.

4. The elements of happiness and success: According to the Dalai Lama learning and education is the foundation of happiness and success while positivity, determination, effort and time are the pillars. Cutler believes this aligns with scientific research which has drawn a causal link between positivity and good health. Conversely a hostile mindset is believed to be very damaging for the cardiovascular system and is a major factor in heart disease.

This book is well worth reading and given Cutler’s perspective is very accessible to non-Buddhist Western readers like me. It is available in paperback and audio book.

Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Csikszentmihalyi believes we can experience enjoyment in our lives by focusing our attention and strengthening our resolve. The state of Flow occurs when we immerse ourselves fully in the work we do. Here are four happiness and success takeaways:

1. Live in the present: To find lasting happiness we need to find joy in the things we do on a daily basis rather than continually focusing on future outcomes. Having binge watched The Last Dance this week I feel like Michael Jordan is living with me, possibly as an under-qualified nanny. We all have our strengths though and one of the talking heads in the documentary describes Jordan as the greatest athlete of all time, not for his athletic ability or dedication, but because he was always present in the moment. Actually, maybe he would make a good nanny.

2. Find balance: Balance between our level of skill and the complexity of the task at hand is required to attain flow. If the task is too easy we get bored and quit. If it is beyond our level of skill we struggle.

3. Have clear goals: The ultimate goal of every activity together with the individual steps required to deliver a successful outcome should be clear. A mountain climber, for example, must have clarity on the series of small actions she must successfully carry out if she is to reach the summit.

4. Be focused: In everyday life we split our attention, monitoring what is going on around us while trying to complete tasks. When our attention is split we are less effective, when we are focused we accomplish more.

This groundbreaking study, which was first published in 1990, has stood the test of time. It is available in paperback and audio book. You can also view Mihaly’s 2004 TedTalk here.

Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, Adam Grant

According to Wharton Professor Adam Grant there are three types of people; takers, matchers, and givers. Whereas takers strive to get as much as possible from others and matchers aim to trade evenly, givers are the rare breed of people who contribute to others without expecting anything in return. Grant argues that these styles have a surprising impact on success with givers often coming out on top. Here are four happiness and success takeaways:

1. Good guys / girls finish last, right?: Wrong, according to Grant’s research. Givers rise to the top of their professions at greater rates than takers because success is often determined by reputation and relationships.

2. Network reciprocity: According to Grant; “If we create networks with the sole intention of getting something, we won’t succeed. We can’t pursue the benefits of networks; the benefits ensue from investments in meaningful activities and relationships.” As a lack of social support is linked to burnout the importance of networks cannot be overstated.

3. Seek advice: Seeking advice is one of the most effective ways to influence peers, subordinates and superiors but only if the request for help is genuine.

4. Everyone benefits from true success: As Grant puts it; “This is what I find most magnetic about successful givers: they get to the top without cutting others down, finding ways of expanding the pie that benefit themselves and the people around them.”

Part pop science, part how to guide this book is a welcome reminder of the importance giving and rewarding the entire group. It is available in paperback and audio formats.


Warren Buffet:  ‘I’m having more fun than any 88 year old in the world’, Financial Times Magazine Interview, 25th April 2019

Buffett explains the factors that have led to his long and successful career, and why at 88 he still gets joy from work. Here are two happiness and success takeaways:

  1. Love what you do: Although now 88 Buffett continues to run Berkshire Hathaway. He says the secret to his longevity is loving what he does; “Why do I get up every day and jump out of bed and I’m excited at 88? It’s because I love what I do and love the people I do it with…I’m having a vacation every day. If there was someplace else I wanted to go, I’d go there.”
  2. Accept the ups and downs: Buffett argues that you have to accept and appreciate inevitable setbacks. He believes the struggle is often what makes a job worth doing; “If you played golf and you hit a hole in one on every hole, nobody would play golf, it’s no fun…You’ve got to hit a few in the rough and then get out of the rough…That makes it interesting.”

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HBR Ideacast: Why a Happy Brain Performs Better

Sarah Green speaks to Aspirant CEO, Shawn Achor about his book The Happiness Advantage. Here are two happiness and success takeaways:

1. A positive brain outperforms a negative brain: Conventional wisdom states that if you work hard you’ll be successful and if you’re successful you’ll be happy. Achor argues that you’ll never actually attain happiness using this formula because every time you achieve success the goalposts move. This leads to negativity, however ……

2. The brain can be trained to be positive: Achor outlines simple techniques that can bring about positive change in our mental state, such as starting each day with a small task that you know you can manage successfully. This will start a pattern that he calls the “happiness booster” which will lead to positivity.

You can listen to this thought provoking 15 minute podcast here.

For Your

Thrive: Arianna Huffington, Forbes Interview

Arianna Huffington, co-founder of The Huffington Post, discusses a new metric for success which she calls Thrive. Thrive has four pillars; Well-being, Wisdom, Wonder and Giving. Here are two happiness and success takeaways:

1. Money and power isn’t everything: Our relentless pursuit of the two traditional metrics of success; money and power, has led to an epidemic of burnout and stress-related illnesses.

2. We all need ‘me’ time: Whether its meditation, prayer, exercise, fly fishing or any other activity that helps us to disconnect from the world we all need sufficient time to unwind. Taking time to ourselves makes us more resilient and more effective.

You can view the interview here. Arianna’s book Thrive is available in paperback and audio book.

And Finally…
For Something

Headspace: Heavily Meditated 

Believe it or not accountancy training doesn’t include a module on mindfulness and meditation so we’re probably a little late to this particular party. Punctuality aside we’ve loved using the Headspace app during lockdown. You can check it out here.

And if you’re trying to maintain your Zen this playlist will keep you relaxed.