Happiness interview: Reid Hoffman.

Years ago, when I was just starting to blog, one of the first people I met from blogland was Ben Casnocha, who wrote a great blog about entrepreneurship, books, and ideas, and who was still in college (if I remember correctly) at the time.

He does a lot of things and has a lot of interests, so I wasn't surprised to hear that he was teaming up to write a book with Reid Hoffman, the co-founder of LinkedIn, the wildly popular social network particularly useful for business connections and job searching.

Their book, The Start-up of You: Adapt to the Future, Invest in Yourself, and Transform Your Career, just hit the shelves a few months ago and has generated a lot of buzz. It's about how to think about yourself as a start-up business: to invest in yourself, to build your networks, to take smart risks, to exploit uncertainty.

Thinking about the elements of a happy life is one aspect of doing a start-up based on yourself, so I was curious to hear what Reid had to say.

Gretchen What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Reid: Long conversations with friends about interesting ideas. And helping my friends solve important problems.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
What I realize now more clearly than before is that happiness comes in part from choosing what you stand for, and then living it. “This is who I am, these are my values.” And then building a network of friends whose values align with your own. Of course, who you are and what you stand for can change over your lifetime. Adaptation is a key idea in the The Start-up of You. So long as you’re tracking how you are changing and how the people around you are changing with respect to what matters, you’re good.

Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful? (e.g., I remind myself to “Be Gretchen.”)
One of my favorite quotes is from Hillel: “If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, what am I? If not now, when?”

It speaks to the importance of both taking care of yourself and taking care of others. In the book, we call this dynamic IWe. Your individual professional abilities—and arguably your individual happiness, too—get magnified by the network of folks around you. But just as zero to the 100thpower is still zero, if you individually lack skills or self-responsibility, no amount of help from others will matter.

The last part of the quote reinforces urgency: focus on the now. This is it.

Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
People are happier when they’re adding positive energy to their networks and to the environment they’re living in. Smiling, laughing: these simple things. Helping people makes you happy (and it’s also smart career strategy).

What I see detracting from happiness is when people are trying to benchmark and compare themselves to other people. It’s hard to overcome the instinct of upward comparison, but we should try.

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
It’s said that making money and being successful won’t make you happy beyond a certain point. I’ve always believed that, but over the years it has been a bit surprising just how true that wisdom really is. I’m happy, but I can’t say I’m especially happier now than I was 15 years ago, even though I’m comparatively more successful today.


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