A Wealth of Happiness: Finding the Balance

By Kevin Voigt: Asian Wall Street Journal

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.

AWSJ: A Wealth of Happiness: Finding the balanceOne of the first studies into set ranges of happiness, by researchers from Northwestern University in 1978, showed that lottery winners and spinal-cords-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 manoeuvre, 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 hey traits in common: they believe in causes larger than themselves: they are more optimistic, don’t look to material wealth for fulfilment: and they have many meaningful relationships. “They tend to 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.

AWSJ: A Wealth of Happiness: Finding the balance Finding a job that offers on going and fulfilling challenges is essential (of course, a regular pay check help, 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 fulfilment at work – and to finding overall greater happiness – is “really figuring out what you love to do, and to 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 behaviours can keep you on the more emotionally fulfilling side of your happiness range.

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.

by Kevin Voigt: Asian Wall Street Journal Nov 04 (used with permission)