The Happiness Project for Organizations

by cv harquail on January 5, 2010

Like many fans of Gretchen Rubin’s blog, The Happiness Project, I spent a lot of time last week checking my front porch for a heavy box from Amazon (pay phrase: “biblio hyperemptor”).  Once my 9 my pre-purchased copies of her new book arrived, and after I gifted away 8 copies, I was able finally to settle down and enjoy the remains of my vacation days munching on book that launched the blog.

My enthusiasm was rewarded — Gretchen’s book is as thoughtful and lovely as her posts. Although most of her blog readers are by now familiar with her main insights, there were still treats on every page. I’ve spent the past week or so feeling much happier myself simply because I’ve been inspired to pay more attention to happiness as an experience.

But i was also a little piqued by the book.

201001051452.jpgAs I read about Gretchen’s efforts to boost energy (ch. 1) , remember love (ch. 2), and contemplate the heavens (ch.8), I couldn’t help but wonder–

Could The Happiness Project apply to organizations?

Well, truth be told, that thought actually crossed my mind about 3 minutes into the book, on page 10, about 2/3rds of the way down the page, where Gretchen lists her overarching happiness-related principles, her Twelve Commandments.

What’s Gretchen’s very first Commandment for Happiness?

1. Be Gretchen.

Gretchen’s very first overarching principle is to be authentic— to recognize who she is, to let go of expectations that she should be something different from who she is, and to pursue what is genuinely right for Gretchen, so that she can be more of, well, Gretchen.

Perhaps a step towards organizational happiness is simply to 1. Be Authentic?

Being Authentic isn’t easy.

It’s not that being authentic is a particularly easy path towards (more) happiness, for the individual or the organization. Gretchen is honest about how Being Gretchen is challenging. As in the book, she notes on her blog that thinking about Being Gretchen makes her sad:

It makes me sad for two reasons. First, it makes me sad to realize my limitations. The world offers so much!–and I am too small to appreciate it. … (T)o be Gretchen means to let go of all the things that I am not — to acknowledge what I don’t encompass.

But it also makes me sad because, in many ways, I wish I were different. … I have a lot of notions about what I wish I liked to do, of the subjects and occupations that I wish interested me. But it doesn’t matter what I wish I were like. I am Gretchen.

These are also challenges for any organization striving to be authentic. Organizations can’t “wish” to be different — they are what they are. And, organizations can’t be everything to everyone (you can’t be an ambidextrous conglomerate with unlimited core competencies).

Being Authentic means being more.

And, yet, organizations can still be more.

Gretchen notes that there is room for growth even within the (relative) confines of her authentic identity, and wonders:

So, knowing this about myself, how do I harness my natural strengths, but also shore up my weaknesses? How can I “Be Gretchen” – but an improved Gretchen?

She devotes a chapter to pursuing a passion (ch 9) as a natural way to push her own boundaries by indulging herself in an area that is completely ‘her’– books. And, as part of her month of paying attention (ch. 10) Gretchen ‘stimulates the mind in new ways’ by taking some drawing classes and trying some different activities.

Some of these activities were new (e.g., hypnosis, laughter yoga) while others were activities she’d done as a child and then dropped. Although they were all billed as exercises in paying attention, activities like dancing around the room and listening to music can also be seen as activities that recaptured part of what it was at one time to Be Gretchen. These activities expressed parts of herself that she’d somehow lost track of and that she enjoyed rediscovering.

Where is self-expansion?

Interesting (to me) was the recognition that although the entire Happiness Project was about paying attention to the author’s self, especially in terms of her roles (mother, wife) and her individual skills (keeping a contented heart), themes like self-discovery, self-actualization and self-expansion were sublimated. This is one place were The Happiness Project for organizations would diverge from the one Gretchen engaged in.

[Maybe this was because Gretchen wanted to make The Happiness Project less about her per se and more about a process that others could experiment with? She did go to great lengths to remind readers that everyone’s happiness project is different.  Perhaps it was a conscious choice, too, not to dwell on the ‘self’ but instead of the self-in-context. Maybe I’ll ask her about that at a book signing….]

For organizations, identity scholars and strategy consultants would argue that (after some good self-reflection) the way organizations grow stronger (and happier?) is through self-expansion– being more of who the organization authentically is.

In any case, I’ll be thinking more about this:

If an organization were to have a Happiness Project, wouldn’t it begin by striving for more authenticity?


jamie showkeir January 6, 2010 at 3:53 pm

another well done post! will be reading this book. thanks for sharing. hope you are well, j

Alison Moore Smith April 1, 2010 at 5:47 am

Honestly, I don’t even know what it means to “be authentic.” Perhaps it’s because I don’t know what it means to be inauthentic. Sometimes I think people spend to much time analyzing and not enough time doing.
.-= Alison Moore Smith´s last blog ..Big Top Cupcake =-.

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