Aristotle said…

Earlier this week SAP, my employer, held their annual Developer Kick-Off Meeting event. The event took place at all labs all around the world: Walldorf (D), Palo Alto (US), Sofia (BUL), Paris (F), Vancouver (CA), Montreal (CA), Shanghai (CHN), Bangalore (IND), etc.

Before the event I was asked to do a D-talk, ie a short talk, TedTalk like about anything I wanted to talk about. I was given a 6 minutes slot. I decided to make “D” of D-talk mean “different” and I proposed to talk about “Happiness” just because it matters to me and i think we don’t talk enough about it while it affects all of us, including developers.

So on March 14th I stood up in front of the SAP developers of the Bay Area and started my talk about Happiness. I had not openly disclosed what my talk was about. I was unsure about the reception this subject would have. The title of my talk was “Aristotle said…”.

Here is what I said:

More than 2000 years ago Aristotle said that more than anything else, men and women seek happiness. Today, 2000 years later, despite technology progress, the fact that we live older, the material luxuries surrounding us, research shows that we do not understand what happiness is, better than Aristotle did and we don’t know better how to be happy. Why is that?

I am neither a psychologist nor a philosopher, but here are a few things I wanted to share with all of you.

A- The key to happiness is within each of us:

Here is an excerpt from a book by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaliy. The name of the book is “Flow”:

Happiness is not something that happens. It is not the result of good fortune or random chance. It is not something that money can buy or power command. It does not depend on outside events, but, rather, on how we interpret them. Happiness, in fact is a condition that must be prepared for, cultivated and defended privately by each person. People who learn to control inner experience will be able to determine the quality of their lives, which is as close as any of us can come to being happy.

We can’t find happiness by searching for it and expecting that it will come to us, like that. The secret for happiness is within ourselves. Mihaly in his book explains how the mind works and how we can maximize our chances to attain optimal experiences and therefore feel happy.

I can’t explain how the mind works but I have gathered several tips that I tried myself. Each helped me to attain more of these optimal experiences. Hopefully they will work for you too. 

B- Each of us can create favorable conditions for our happiness by…

  1. Deriving pleasure from the present. Being grateful for what you have helps you to get what you want.
  2. When in pain and starting to judge others or things, trying to change our view on others or things.
  3. Learning to focus our attention and energy. [About 3 years ago is did a 10 days Vipassana meditation retreat; 10 days in silence practicing observation of feelings and sensations; it has a been a life changing experience for me, not only for the learnings but also for the discovery of the limitless power of the human brain. Meditation helped me to focus this immense power on one thing, the thing that I wanted. When our brain is occupied at one thing only, magic and great things happen…]
  4. Taking risks – Mihaly says that 

    Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety.

  5. Involving the most of us (body and mind) in everything we do

C – Each of us can be happy at work

The good news is that even though work varies, we can all change something to make our experiences more enjoyable.

One of our biggest challenges is that whether work is enjoyable or not ranks quite low among the concerns of those who have the power to influence the nature of our jobs. Management has to care for productivity first and foremost. This is regrettable because if all of us enjoyed our jobs we would certainly benefit personally but also produce more efficiently and reach all goals anyway…

Despite management, we can feel happier at work by…

  1. Identifying what we enjoy most doing and trying to do more of it
  2. Finding our pieces –even small- of freedom (where we are the real boss)
  3. Trying to turn our work -especially when boring- into games
  4. Hanging out with others as much as possible. Being alive in latin is hominem esse, which means to be among others.
  5. Trying to use adversity or stress as a learning opportunity that helps us to get better next time.

I have tried and have been practicing all 10 tips. They have been helping me. Meanwhile nothing replaces knowing more about why they work. Therefore I highly recommend reading “Flow” by Mihaly Csikszentmihaliy.

I wish you happiness in life and at work and don’t forget, the key to happiness is in you, not anywhere else!

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2 Responses to Aristotle said…

  1. Nolwen says:

    I always liked the difference Christians make between happiness and joy. More or less, happiness depends on external conditions, while joy is a state of mind you decide on – almost a buddhistic discrimination. You mean to make them support each other, good quest!

  2. hi Anne—What a courageous and informational message! More and more, corporations will begin to embrace the benefits of practices such as those your describe, once they fully understand the immense benefits for success and productivity of management and staff. The HMOs are currently educating patients in classes covering this material because they understand it’s hugely beneficial, cost-effective, and has no “side effects.” Mainstream companies are beginning to get on board. Thanks for sharing—is there vid available?

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