together we can change ourself

together we can change ourself

What brings us happiness?

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What brings us happiness?

There has been an explosion of research dedicated to the issue in the past decade. Some researchers now believe that our emotional buoyancy is genetically set within a range, which acts as an anchor to our enthusiasm in good times and as a balloon in bad.

One of the first studies into set ranges of happiness, by researchers at Northwestern University in 1978, showed that lottery winners and spinal-cord-injury victims both fall back to their original happiness ranges within a year of either event — a raft of research since has backed their findings.

This creates a happiness paradox: We may imagine we couldn’t survive the end of a marriage or death of a family member, yet our innate “psychological immune system” is well equipped to greet these disasters when they occur, says Daniel Gilbert, a researcher at the department of psychology at Harvard University. The flip side is that things we imagine will make us happy — a new car, a new career or a new spouse — may give some temporary elation, but eventually the exhilaration fades.
Within our set ranges, however, there is room to maneuver, says Gordon Parker, psychiatrist and executive director of Black Dog Institute, a Sydney-based facility for treating mood disorders.

Happier people, he says, tend to have a few key traits in common: they believe in causes larger than themselves; they are more optimistic; they don’t look to material wealth for fulfillment; and they have many meaningful relationships. “They tend to be more resilient … more flexible and more focused on the present and the future, not the past,” says Dr. Parker.
Simply being in a job for the money doesn’t deliver happiness. Research by Richard Easterlin, professor of economics at the University of Southern California, supports that: His 2003 study of 1,500 people in the U.S. over three decades found that as incomes increased, happiness didn’t.

Finding a job that offers ongoing and fulfilling challenges is essential (of course, a regular pay check helps, too). “If you don’t love what you’re doing, you are living in hell,” says Marshall Goldsmith, an executive coach who trots the globe helping business and government leaders reach their potential. “In the past, happiness on the job was much less of an issue … you could work 35 or 40 hours a week in a job you didn’t really like, but could have other things outside of work that gave that to you.” For professionals these days, globalization and communications technology make the work hours of old “look like a part-time job.”

The key, he says, to finding fulfillment at work — and to finding overall greater happiness — is “really figuring out what you love to do, and do that.”

In this second part of the Happiness series, Personal Journal looks at professionals in Asia who have sorted out what drives them in life — and are working in ways that best tap into that energy. While there is no magic bullet that brings happiness, their lessons help demonstrate how certain behaviors can keep you on the more emotionally fulfilling side of your happiness range.

* * *
N. R. Narayana Murthy: Live simply, have a mission

N. R. Narayana Murthy believes in simple habits. “If you look for self gratification through materialism, then those things become important … having the next biggest car, the biggest house,” he says. “That is a game with no end.”

Today, the 58-year-old lives in a middle-class Bangalore neighborhood, in a three-bedroom house that he and his wife bought in 1986. This is despite the fact that he’s built up a personal net worth of more than $750 million.

Mr. Murthy is chairman of Infosys Technologies Ltd., a company he started with a $250 investment in 1981. By tapping Indian software talents to write code for multinationals, it became a trendsetter among Indian technology companies. Mr. Murthy built it into one of India’s largest private concerns, creating some 145 millionaire employees along the way — many of whom, it’s a safe bet, live more extravagantly than Mr. Murthy himself.

But Mr. Murthy finds happiness in other ways. One is by having a larger mission in life. Since the early ’80s, he’s been trying to demonstrate to his country — through the example of Infosys — that it can lift itself out of poverty. “I am very happy we have created a [role] model which has enthused literally millions of entrepreneurs, to show them it’s possible to run a business legally and ethically … in India,” he says.

Choosing this mission wasn’t easy. Upon graduating from the India Institute of Technology in the 1960s, Mr. Murthy was, like many of his fellow college students, a “strong leftist” who believed “that all rich people were out to exploit the poor in all circumstances.” But after working for a time in Europe, he began to have second thoughts. The problems of Indian poverty, he concluded, “had to be solved by creating more jobs, creating more wealth. The only way to do that is entrepreneurship.”

India’s closed economy of the 1980s created problems for entrepreneurs, however. Government restrictions placed roadblocks on the importation of foreign products, for example. In the early days of Infosys, Mr. Murthy had to wrangle with government officials — and travel 25 times to distant New Delhi — simply to get the proper licenses to import a computer.

But ultimately his wife, Sudha, convinced him launching the company was worth the gamble. “She said, ‘Don’t worry, no matter what happens, at the end of the day, as long as we have simple habits, it doesn’t really matter.’ ”

Today, Mr. Murthy’s wife performs home duties, and their two children, who grew up without pocket money, are now university students in the U.S. And whether it’s watching a movie about Gandhi, reading a book or listening to traditional Indian music at home, Mr. Murthy’s habits remain pretty basic.

“My father was a high school teacher, lower middle class, and he told us all the time, ‘You must have such habits that you will be able to continue even if you have no money,’ ” he says. Playing outside, visiting the library, listening to music in public parks and “having pleasant conversations with good people” was his father’s prescription for fun. “And that’s what we did,” he says.

As chairman of Infosys, Mr. Murthy runs his company with the idea that if you give employees greater opportunities to fulfill themselves, they will be happier. That doesn’t mean coddling employees not doing their job. “I am a stickler for perfection, for excellence,” he says. “When I see people not living up to their potential, it makes me angry.”

Improving lives through his company is a source a joy for Mr. Murthy. “Beyond the hygiene factors — the basic factors that keep your body together — what makes human beings happy is the fact that they are able to make other people around them happy.”

He appears to be doing something right. The company consistently ranks as one of the best companies to work for in India, according to an annual survey done by Hewitt Associates, a human resources consulting company; meanwhile, Mr. Murthy himself also consistently ranks as India’s most admired businessperson. The fount of his happiness is not so much receiving more respect and money — it’s seeing his mission accomplished.

But he is reminded daily of how far he and his mission have to go. “Naturally, I do lapse into moments of anguish,” he says. “Leaving the warm embryo of home every morning, passing through all the pollution and poverty of the Third World, then [having to] get into the office and in an instant be prepared to get through the most stringent demands of our First World customers.”

Looking toward the future, he handed over the reigns as CEO in 2002 and took the title “Chief Mentor.” Now, he spends more time and effort on nurturing employees and on groups aimed at improving education in India. “Ideally,” he says, “I would [like] to be a professor, a teacher, when I retire from Infosys.”

* * *
Andrew and Gaia Grant: Open-mindedness, flexibility

Sometimes achieving happiness simply requires being open to new ideas. Andrew and Gaia Grant were on a year-long sabbatical in Bali when, over dinner one night, a new acquaintance made an off-hand suggestion. The acquaintance, a hotel sales director, said the Grants should leverage their backgrounds in teaching kids personal development skills and apply it to business executives staying in Bali.

Many people would disregard a suggestion that would require them to change their lives completely. Besides, the Grants had already made names for themselves in Australia. Rather than dismiss the idea, though, the Grants listened.

“We had never worked with businesspeople before,” says Mr. Grant. After thinking about it, the couple decided it made sense, and today the 42-year-olds run a successful company from Bali — and live in the same home (now rather expanded) they took their sabbatical in.

Their company Tirian, launched in 1997, designs and facilitates programs for executive team-building and crisis management in 20 countries for companies such as Citigroup Inc., Deutsche Bank AG and Accenture. Not only do the Grants get to live on the Indonesian island of Bali, but the company is profitable as well — they earn as much as $20,000 for one-day seminars, “which is more than I made my first year teaching,” says Mr. Grant.

It wasn’t the first time the Grants benefited from open-mindedness. Back in the early ’80s, the Grants were high-school counselors in Sydney, teaching religious studies and personal development classes for at-risk students. The curriculum they developed for the class, as it happened, turned out to be rather effective.

Heeding suggestions to develop their curriculum into more of a business, the couple started their own publishing company (also called Tirian), which sold about 20,000 copies of Mr. Grant’s teaching manuals to schools and community groups around Australia.

With the company’s success, the couple suddenly found themselves with a degree of financial freedom they hadn’t experienced before. But rather than settle down, the couple decided it was a perfect chance to take working vacations abroad, bringing their methods for helping troubled kids to other countries. Their travels took them to Mexico City, the Philippines and war-torn El Salvador, where they worked with orphanages and relief agencies.

When the idea for starting Tirian in Bali came up, they decided it would be foolish to replace the mad-dash existence of their past — working vacations, being on-call 24 hours — with an equally hectic schedule in paradise.

Ironically, though, with the growth of Tirian — which now has 15 staff in four countries — the Grants are busier than they’ve ever been. But there’s a difference this time. “We do sometimes have 18-hour days, and the past month I’ve only spent four days in Bali,” says Mr. Grant. “But that’s my choice. We can make our own decisions about how busy we choose to be.”

In the coming years, the Grants plan to step back from their growing business, and perhaps do more social work in impoverished communities. In the meantime, going to the office means a pleasant walk across the compound they’ve created near the beach. Mr. Grant can take conference calls while walking shirtless, surfboard nearby, and two kids waiting to go out on the waves. “I wouldn’t trade it for anything,” he says.

* * *
Shafri Mohamad: Big dreams, enthusiasm

For some, happiness means never having to work again. But for serial entrepreneur Shafri Mohamad, work is primarily a source of happiness. Not only does it allow him to follow his passions, but it also gives him the variety he craves in life. “When I watch satellite TV,” says the 47-year-old, “my favorite channel is the screen showing all the channels.”

Looking at the four companies he’s founded in the past 10 years, it’s hard to imagine that one man runs them all — until you understand how Mr. Mohamad operates. “When I met my wife,” he says, “I told her she couldn’t compete with my first wife: work. I only do things that I’m passionate about.”

A look at some of these companies — all based in Kuala Lumpur, where he lives — would seem to confirm this.

Velvet Moon Travels, a multinational tour operator that specializes in scuba diving packages to Malaysia, arose from Mr. Mohamad’s childhood love for science fiction: diving, he says, is “the closest feeling to being an astronaut.”

His company Isanika is a niche architectural and construction firm, which allows him to dabble in architectural sketches and design.

Mr. Mohamad’s passion for art has been a lifelong affair. It was this passion that led Mr. Mohamad to a major in graphic design and eventually to a career in advertising. Over a span of eight years after college, he hopped from one ad firm to another in New York, London and Tokyo, where he handled accounts for Toyota Motor Corp.

This industry experience led to Mr. Mohamad setting up his biggest success to date: the ad agency Astana International. “Everything about [the ad industry] keeps me interested,” he says. “It’s long hours, but to me every advertising job is a mixture of science and art … film, human psychology, purchasing cycles …”

But the ad firm’s success was far from guaranteed. “Opening up an international agency in Malaysia was a nightmare,” he says of the company’s founding in 1994. “[Local] companies wanted to hire international firms from the U.S. It was very hard to get a break.”

Slowly, however, companies like Telekom Malaysia Bhd. and Bank Simpanan Nasional began to take notice, and now Astana has 60 employees and offices in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Dubai.

With the success and capital of Astana, Mr. Mohamad was able to start his three other diverse firms, which he says are a way to “combine work and play.”

But doesn’t attacking all these businesses with such boyish enthusiasm have drawbacks? “Sometimes I just want to turn my mind off … it’s constantly switched on,” he says. “But I welcome obstacles. It’s the only way I learn. And I’m optimistic I can solve them.”

That optimism is key for the father of three boys, age 7 through 17. Without it he could neither start new ventures nor have the faith that obstacles encountered along the way can be overcome. “I like to think big and to dream big,” he says.

His latest dream is to someday build a resort in Malaysia that’s built by his design firm, marketed by his ad firm, and peopled by customers of his travel agency. “I want to get rid of as many ‘what-ifs?’ in life as possible,” he says. “I don’t want to end up being 60 or 70 years old and be harassed by the ‘what ifs?’ ” he says.

* * *
Nami Takenaka: Optimism, determination

Some people find happiness despite — or even because of — the most trying of circumstances.

In 1973, Nami Takenaka received a death sentence. At least, that’s the way many in Japan would have seen it. Her second child, Maki, was born severely physically and mentally disabled. This meant, the doctor explained, that Maki would not mentally mature beyond the level of a 2-year-old and would require special attention all her life.

But Ms. Takenaka, a natural optimist, decided there had to be a better way. “I was determined to prove there could be happy times with Maki around.” Thirty some years later, the 54-year-old is widely recognized as one of Japan’s top advocates for the disabled. She heads an organization that has helped more than 2,000 disabled people get tech-related job skills. She’s written two books and has the ear of Japan’s prime minister. Maki is not only alive, but well cared for at one of Japan’s better institutions for the disabled.

Ms. Takenaka, faced with a situation that has ruined some lives, has instead achieved happiness and fulfillment. How did she do it? With optimism, determination and flexibility.

She needed those characteristics.

The first 10 years of caring for Maki were particularly harsh. At night Maki would have seizures and long crying fits. Nearly blind, deaf in one ear and with few basic motor skills, she could speak only in guttural moans. Rarely did Ms. Takenaka sleep for more than three hours a night; meanwhile, her husband, a conservative laborer, believed in strict gender roles and did little to help care for Maki.

At age 12, Maki began spending her days at a school for the disabled in Kobe and Ms. Takenaka began volunteering at Aoba-en, an institution for the severely handicapped near her home. Working with other handicapped children caused her to look broadly at how disabled people in Japan were treated. She saw the difficulty they had getting jobs, yet through volunteering she knew many of them had potential to contribute in some way.

Ms. Takenaka began to think big, envisioning a society where Maki and those like her were given the best possible care, and where disabled people who were able to work were given an opportunity to do so. Driven by this vision, in 1991 she founded Prop Station, a nonprofit company that trains the disabled in computer skills — despite having few resources or computer skills herself.

Her husband didn’t approve. Her actions and her cheerful disposition, he said, were not appropriate for “a mother with a handicapped kid.” They divorced, and a year after founding Prop Station Ms. Takenaka found herself a single, jobless mother with a severely handicapped daughter in a conservative society.

Ms. Takenaka was forced to look for an institution for Maki. She eventually found a quality one — Aonogahara Hospital in the Hyogo prefecture — but many of those she looked at were, she says, scary. The experience only strengthened her resolve to improve the lives of disabled people.

Today, Prop Station is by almost any measure a success. More than 200 students have found jobs at companies such as Microsoft Japan and Kobe Digital Labo, and hundreds more work as freelancers from home. After years of living off Maki’s welfare checks, two years ago Prop Station earned enough funding to start giving Ms. Takenaka a monthly paycheck.

Today Ms. Takenaka visits her daughter monthly, and brings her home during holidays. She also takes her on occasional outings: Last summer, at an outdoor festival, Ms. Takenaka was dancing in the street, carrying her daughter on her back. She suddenly felt something that in the 30 years since Maki was born had never happened before: Her daughter hugged her around the neck. “It was the best summer I ever had,” says Ms. Takenaka.

Written by Bhushan Kulkarni

January 15, 2007 at 11:32 am

Posted in Psychology

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One Response

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  1. Thank you for a great post. The great Western disease is – “I’ll be happy when.” When I get that money, when I get that promotion, when I get that BMW. You can never be happy with more. You can never be happy with less. You can only be happy at one time – now. You can only be happy at one place – here.

    Marshall Goldsmith

    January 16, 2007 at 4:56 am

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