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Book Review of: Happiness at Work

Be Resilient, motivated, and successful--no matter what

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Review of Happiness at Work, by Srikumar S. Rao (Hardcover, 2010)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

I like this book. I believe in its philosophy. Most of it, I have been practicing for years. It really does work on the job, too.

Here's an example, from years ago. An incompetent boss of mine had this idea that giving someone a dishonest performance appraisal was a good way to get employees to work harder because it put fear into them. He would make up "deficiencies" out of thin air, and if you reacted strongly he'd write down whatever he had made up and then later tell you the company isn't sure about your future. He actually began with a blank appraisal form, and filled it out based on how his imaginative criticisms stirred a response from the victim.

In my first "appraisal" with him, he tried this with me. Since there was no basis for his claims, I did not react. Flustered, he asked, "Are you listening to me? I replied, "You can neither motivate me nor demotivate me. Thus, this appraisal serves no purpose. Why don't you sit here and write what you think is correct, and then bring it to me to sign when you're done? If it's honest, I'll sign it. If it's not, you can explain to HR that you were unable to conduct a performance review." I then got up and walked out.

You see, I was happy with my work. The quantity of it was easily measured, and far more than expected. The quality was also highly regarded both inside and outside the company, including by major customers. I was not going to do a better job or work any harder. Nor was I going to let my boss demotivate me into working less or working worse.

I was just going to do a job that I enjoyed, regardless of any mind games or manipulation from a boss. I couldn't help that he was a poor manager with a poor attitude toward his subordinates, but I could very much control my own attitude. It's why I got significant raises, despite rejecting the "appraisal" game. It's also why I was a repeated layoff survivor there.

At the time of this "review," there were about 15 other people in this company who had my job title. Three years later, I was the only one left (those jobs were eliminated, but I was kept on by order of the VP of our division). Three years after that, we were going through yet another round of layoffs. I had a new, competent boss by this time (he was a fine person, and we are friends to this day). I told him I hoped I would get the axe, instead of a particular coworker who was having personal difficulties. I got the axe, and was happy when I left the building that day without a job.

This is not to say I am an enlightened being who is in perfect control. That is not at all the case. I'm only saying that it is possible to control your attitude in such a way that you are happy in conditions that are miserable. This concept is at the heart of this fine work by Dr. Rao. It is a concept I wish to embrace more fully. His explanations and examples will be helpful to me in that journey, and I think they will be helpful to any reader who seeks happiness.

There is much wrong in the world. If we wait for things to "be right" before we are happy, we will always be waiting. This is not to say we can never be angry or unhappy. We can, and we should. But as Dr. Rao points out, happiness isn't a mood. As he points out, the word has been diluted by misuse to mean "pleased." You can be displeased and happy at the same time.

Consider the example I gave. I was displeased with this incompetent boss, but still very happy about my job. His toxic attitude was for him to have if he wished to have it. I did not wish to have a toxic attitude, so I recused myself from his toxicity party. His wish to have a toxic attitude did not compel me to have the same. I could have sat and absorbed his nonsense, gone away with those thoughts, and become unhappy. I chose to let him do his thing, while I did mine. And that was greatly beneficial to me.

In this situation, I was (refer to the book cover), resilient, motivated, and successful. I know that others who submitted to the toxicity party process spent days feeling demotivated. They moped and complained. The thing was, though, they previously enjoyed their work. They let an incompetent boss take that away from them.

In other situations, people trade their happiness for the sake of "winning" a squabble with a coworker, neighbor, or other person. They think if they "win" this squabble, then they will be happy. But afterwards, they aren't happy because the other person is not happy with them. So, the hollow "victory" does not produce happiness.

People watch the brainwashing machine (television) and see the "news" about so many bad things going on (sensationalized to really get you in the gut, too). Then they feel unhappy.

There are many other examples. The preceding are just my own, to illustrate an aspect or two of why I believe so strongly in the concepts of this book. Dr. Rao provides other (better) examples to illustrate the life-enhancing concepts of this book.

The cadence and tone of Dr. Rao's writing style make this book pleasurable to read. In the self-help genre, some authors are well-meaning but so over the top they are obnoxious. Dr. Rao does not try to wow the reader with "hyped up" speech.

I think one reason this book will be useful to many people in the American audience is Dr. Rao's perspective. He's from India and thus from an entirely different culture. The folklore and cultural references are different and thus provide insight and perspective that will be new to most Americans. I don't think there's anything earth-shattering or ground-breaking here, in terms of the actual concepts--if you are from India.

But most prospective buyers of this book are from a high-pressure culture that seems geared toward defeating the individual on the deepest levels. It is natural, but not necessary, to let your perspective be shaped by this culture. There is another way, and Dr. Rao explains it well.

This book consists of 230 pages, divided into 35 chapters. That seems like too many chapters, but the idea here is each chapter is for a concept you can use. As the concepts are not overly complex, there isn't a reason for one to take up more than a few pages.

The challenge with these concepts is to be mindful of them when the right time arises for a given one to be of use in a given set of circumstances. If you can make a point of doing that, this book will help you increase your happiness significantly. Even at work.



About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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