Gretchen Rubin

The Happiness Project

"There's a Huge Difference Between Pleasure and Satisfaction."

Happiness interview with Tony Schwartz!

Posted Jun 11, 2010

Happiness interview: Tony Schwartz.

Tony Schwartz's new book just hit the shelves this week: The Way We're Working Isn't Working: The Four Forgotten Needs That Energize Great Performance. Tony is very interested in the question of how to create a work environment that helps people be not only more productive, but also more engaged, more creative, and happier. He focuses on four areas: sustainability/physical; security/emotional; self-expression/mental; and significance/spiritual.

I'm fascinated with the relationship between work and happiness, so I was very interested to hear what Tony had to say about his own approach to happiness.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Tony: I know that there’s a huge difference between pleasure and satisfaction. You can get pleasure from drinking a couple of beers. Satisfaction requires much more personal investment. When great violinists are asked to describe the most important factor in improving as violinists, they always agree it’s practice. But they also say practice is the least enjoyable activity they do.

Enduring happiness often requires delaying gratification. I can’t say that I felt “happy” during the hours I was struggling to write The Way We’re Working Isn’t Working. What I did feel at the end of each day was deep satisfaction at being able to hang in there, and an enormous sense of accomplishment and joy about the finished product.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
Regretting. At the end of a point, all great tennis players immediately turn away from the net. It’s a physical movement that helps them to let go of whatever just happened. It can be valuable, I’ve learned, to take a specific amount of time to think through what I can learn from a mistake. After that, holding onto the things I can no longer influence is just a huge energy and happiness drain.

Overreaching is another obstacle to happiness. Just as I struggle to let go of the past, I sometimes have a tendency to rush the future. I want resolution immediately. Unfortunately, the world doesn’t operate on my clock. When I simply let things play out, in their own time, I almost always feel better about myself. The outcome may not be the one I wished for at the time, but no matter how bad things seem at the moment, I’ve learned that I’ll almost always feel better about it if I just let some time pass.

Is there a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?
For me, the most important learning about happiness has been to learn to embrace my own opposites. Nothing has contributed more to my own happiness than the willingness to accept myself in spite of my many imperfections.

I first got this insight from the psychologist Jim Hillman in his book The Soul's Code, and I’ve quoted the following in two books I’ve written:

“Loving oneself is no easy matter because it means loving all of oneself, including the shadow where one is inferior and socially so unacceptable. The care one gives this humiliating part is also the cure. Thus the cure is a paradox requiring two incommensurables: the moral recognition that parts of me are burdensome and intolerable and must change, and the loving, laughing acceptance which takes them just as they are, joyfully, forever. One both tries hard and lets go, both judges harshly and joins gladly.”

[Along those lines, I remind myself to "Accept myself, and expect more from myself." Or as Flannery O'Connor put it, "Accepting oneself does not preclude an attempt to become better.]

Do you work on being happier. If so, how?
I don’t work explicitly on being happier. I do work every day on being more of the person I want to be – on adding value in the world, and treating people better, and pushing myself to grow and learn. When I do these things – when I’m willing to take on the hard work it always involves – I always feel better about myself.

Have you ever been surprised that something you didn’t expect to make you very happy did?
Giving. Ultimately, I think it’s the only thing that makes us truly happy.

* I was thrilled to get this shout-out for The Happiness Project from the acclaimed mystery/thriller novelist, Harlan Coben. Yay!

* Fathers' Day is June 20. If you're trying to think of a gift for the father in your life, may I offer for your consideration The Happiness Project? If you'd like a signed, personalized bookplate for your gift -- or if you'd like a bookplate for yourself -- email me at grubin [at] gretchenrubin [.com]. Feel free to ask for as many as you like, just remember to include your mailing address.

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