Do You Want to be Happy?

Posted by Judy Anne Cavey on Apr 13, 2011 in , , | No Comments

Harvard Business School professor Clayton M. Christensen delivered a lecture which had students talking.

He took what he knew best–business tools–and showed students how to create a happy life with five management strategies.

On the last day of class, he asks students to answer three important questions. Take a moment to answer them, (listed below). Then read the five management strategies and answer my short questions under each of those.

First, how can I be sure I’ll be happy in my career? Second, how can I be sure my relationships with my spouse and my family will become an enduring source of happiness? Third, how can I be sure I’ll stay out of jail? (The third question is not a joke, two of the 32 people in professor Christensen’s Rhodes Scholar class spent time in prison).

Where it Began

Professor Christensen graduated from HBS in 1979 and noticed when attending reunions, his classmates seemed unhappy. This bothered him, and he came to the conclusion that they didn’t stay focused on the purpose of their lives–they wavered over the years.

How did professor Christensen find his own purpose in life? He explained to his class his purpose grew out of his own religious faith. He points out that faith isn’t the only thing that gives people direction, using a former student as an example, who decided his purpose was to bring “honesty and prosperity to his country”, raising his children to do the same. This former student’s focus was on his family and in doing what he could for humankind–identical aspirations of professor Christensen.

Five Management Strategies for Life

Use Your Resources Wisely-How you allocate your personal time, energy and talent (resources) shape your life’s strategy. Basically, we all have a limited amount of resources, therefore we must decide how much we’ll devote to each.

Professor Christensen points out that your allocation choices can change how your life plays out–and that can be good–or bad. For example, you might have opportunities come about which you’d hadn’t planned on, and those will further draw on your resources. So, if you don’t monitor your resources wisely, things could go very wrong.

He reflected on how so many of his former classmates “inadvertently invested in lives of hollow unhappiness”, which he attributes to their short term perspective. They didn’t allocate time for building their marital relationships, or those with their children, but instead spent an inordinate amount of time building their careers. They ended up with broken marriages and children who resented them for not being present in their lives. They most likely didn’t have strong friendships either, opting instead for business associates, which are not the same.

Professor Christensen points out that when a person has a “high need for achievement…they’ll unconsciously allocate it [extra time and energy] to activities that yield the most tangible accomplishments.” To these people “careers provide the most concrete evidence that [they're] moving forward.” The driven person seems to, “underinvest in their families and overinvest in their careers, even though intimate and loving family relationships are the most powerful and enduring source of happiness.” Interestingly enough, he points out that, “…the root causes of business disasters, over and over, you’ll find this predisposition toward endeavors that offer immediate gratification.” And that precisely is the problem in people’s personal lives too!

How do you currently allocate your resources?

Create a Family Culture-Like companies, families have cultures, which are either intentionally built or come into being without planning. Professor Christensen believes you have to think about this early on and “Like employees, children build self-esteem by doing things that are hard and learning what works.” He further states, that company and family cultures basically define the “…priority given to different types of problems…a powerful management tool.” Marriage and children are not for everyone, but if that’s what you decide you want in your future, make plans to learn how to build those relationships properly.

To back up what professor Christensen advocates, I’ve heard from health care professionals claiming most dying people don’t wish they had made more money, or had more success in their business, rather they always seem to understand it’s about the people in their lives that matter most.

What value do you place on your personal relationships, how much time do you invest in them?

Avoid “Just This Once”-Everyone makes decisions daily that may put them in a position to do the right thing…or not. They may try to rationalize an unethical choice by saying, “This isn’t okay, but just this once I can do it”, whatever “it” is, they’re trying to convince themselves that doing it once doesn’t count. But they’re fooling themselves, it does. Professor Christensen points out, (using a term from his course), that the marginal cost doctrine addresses this very issue. He believes, “The marginal cost of doing something wrong ‘just this once’ always seems alluringly low. It suckers you in, and you don’t look at where that path is ultimately headed and at the full costs that the choice entails.” Two good examples are infidelity in marriage and dishonesty in business, where people use the “just this once” rationalization to justify their wrongdoing.

The key is understanding we all have temptations in life and those with a mature sense of integrity resist those temptations. In fact professor Christensen says, looking back at his own decisions, he learned it was easier for him to hold to his principals 100 percent of the time than 98 percent. He believes his classmates (who chose work over relationships with family or made dishonest business choices), regretted compromising their principals “just this once”. His conclusion is, “You’ve got to define for yourself what you stand for and draw the line in a safe place.”

What do you stand for and where do you draw the line?

Remember to be Humble-Ironically, I am writing this the morning after seeing the show, “Undercover Boss”, in which a boss was dealing with his dying father who passed along these simple words, “…be humble…”, which applies to a how you do business as well as your personal life.

Professor Christensen teaches his class it’s important to understand that there are smarter people in the world to learn from, taking that attitude, “your learning opportunities will be unlimited.” It’s true that those who have a strong sense of self understand this principal. When a person is abusive, demeaning or arrogant to others, they lack self-esteem and think they’ll feel better putting others down. Sooner or later, they find out it doesn’t help them feel better at all.

Are you a humble person, valuing what others have to offer?

Choose the Right Yardstick-”Don’t worry about the level of individual prominence you have achieved; worry about the individuals you have helped become better people”, professor Christensen advocates. To some, this might be a foreign idea. If that happens to be you, it’s imperative you figure out how to incorporate this into your life. Going through life only thinking of your own needs and wants will label you as being selfish.

This is professor Christensen’s final recommendation: “Think about the metric by which your life will be judged, and make a resolution to live every day so that in the end, your life will be judged a success.”

If today was the last day of your life, how would you want people to remember you?