Be Happy

Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.
If you love what you are doing, you will be successful. 
— Albert Schweitzer

I’m obsessed with happiness. Probably because it has been so elusive.
Looking back on my career, I realize that the times I have felt most
fulfilled is when I have been trusted and given the freedom to do what I
believe is best for an organization. I wanted to use this space to
reflect on what each of us can do to make both ourselves and our teams
happy. Not just because it’s good for the company or even for each
person but because it elevates us as a culture. The great thing about
happiness is that it’s infectious (just as unhappiness is).

So this article is about happiness but it’s really about
creating a work environment where people can achieve happiness or at
least discover what
would make them happy. It’s okay if where
you are is not where you believe you should be. But I truly believe that
most people can get a lot more out of their current environment than
they think.

I’ve divided happiness at work into three different high level
concepts that intersect to build a happier person, team and company.


As social animals, it’s crucial that teammates feel a connection to
others on the team. Without that, we start to form theories and
explanations for behavior that are almost always wrong. We are much less
likely to do that if we connect and understand others. Simply speaking,
there are those who are good at forming those connections themselves and
others who are not.

I reel at the thought of team building activities, birthday
celebrations, and anything else that would tickle the fancy of any
extrovert. But these events are a dead simple way of forcing that
communication no matter what your comfort level. Also, team building can
take many shapes. If crafted well, it can be used to great effect.
Understanding your team is an important first step in deciding on how to
strengthen the ties between them. 1-on-1s are a great way to understand
the personalities of your teammates.

I would go further and say that you should find ways to weave team
building into the fabric of your organization. A team that is a bond is
a team that is happy and therefore successful. This can be extremely
difficult and could take time but can be achieved through frequent
passive internal communication that is a constant reminder of the common
goal the team has. A team that loses sight of their shared purpose is a
loosely coupled set of workers.

Final Thoughts On Team

Winning and losing as a team is both rewarding and crucial to a
company culture and to our happiness. Finding ways to strengthen the
bonds of a team is an important part of building a great culture.

Team building exercises are a good way to jump start a team that may
not be acting like one. But ultimately, weaving a common sense of
purpose into everything the team does is the best long term solution to
this. Passive communication can be a great way to keep the team working
toward that common goal.


No one wants to work on something that they don’t believe in. You are
much more likely to produce higher quality output if you believe in what
you’re doing. The question arises: how can a team, especially large
ones, ever hope to achieve broad agreement in not just the what and why
but also the how.

I agree that this is difficult and will never be perfect. It’s work
to foster an environment where these conversations can be had in a
healthy and productive way. In my experience, challenges arises because
of three types of human behavior. We can get most of the way there if we
can address each within our organization.

Clinging to Our Ideas

We have a tendency to cling to our own ideas even when faced with
strong evidence to the contrary.

We cling to our own ideas when we feel threatened. To overcome, it
takes a joint effort by both parties to agree that all suggestions have
advantages and disadvantages. The good ideas are not good because
they’re necessarily smarter but because the advantages are more
advantageous in these particular circumstances and the disadvantages are
less disadvantageous. You wouldn’t say that a square peg is a bad peg
because it doesn’t fit in the circular hole. It’s just that, right now,
we have a round hole so the square peg isn’t ideal.

Assuming the Worst

We have a tendency to assume the worst when not all the facts that
drive a decision are presented.

Assuming the worst about others’ ideas is a consequence of other
factors in the organization. Lack of trust is fueled by a lack of team
bonding. We are much more likely to take something on faith from someone
we know and trust than from others.


Some people are simply not interested enough — for them, work is a
place to make money. To the extent that one can continue doing so, they
will do what is necessary. Nothing more and nothing less.

This can be addressed in one of two ways. One way is to avoid the
situation altogether and try to identify this prior to hiring. Failing
that, have frequent 1/1s to try and understand the source of the
ambivalence and work to create an environment where he or she can extend
their reach and become a part of the team.

Final Thoughts On Ownership

In the end, a feeling of ownership can make the difference between a
happy employee and a deflated one. For most, feeling powerless to affect
change or be heard is a miserable feeling. Do everything you can to
mitigate — on both sides. Giving others the benefit of the doubt on
occasion can be a great way to establish trust and get there faster.


Over the past 15 years or so, the startup culture has created an
enviable environment for employees. In certain areas, this has become an
expectation that can help lure candidates and encourage employees to

But the truth is that it only softens the edges but doesn’t make the
case for staying. If someone is truly unhappy, they are unlikely to stay
because of an amenity unless it serves some crucial need (such as
healthcare). But co-dependency is not a good alternative to true

But if these amenities are treated as what they really are — a symbol
of appreciation for the work that employees do, it’s a great addition to
an otherwise happy culture.

Feeling a sense of appreciation varies from person to person. For
some, being given more responsibility is the key. To others,
compensation. And others, caring about their well-being day to day. In
fact, all of these things inject a sense of pride in most of us.

Final Thoughts On Appreciation

Appreciation is crucial but not a replacement for team building and
ownership. I’ve always seen it as a way of strengthening other cultural
pillars but not something that can stand alone. As a leader, the key is
to try to understand how your teammates feel appreciated. And as a team
member, take a look inward and think about what makes
you feel
appreciated. Then share your thoughts during 1-on-1s.



Pillars of Happiness at Work

Happiness at work is the confluence of Team, Ownership and
Appreciation. If you believe that, then we can get to work to start to
affect change in each of these areas.

I wish I could give step by step instructions to get from here to
there but I hope that this helps at least let you pick the right path.
It’s important to remember, though, that the path doesn’t end and it’s a
rocky one. Some people will move on, others will be asked to move on but
in the end everyone on the team will have learned something about
themselves and become better for it.

And something that has been left unsaid so far is this: happy people
means happy company. I truly believe that and it drives many of my day
to day decisions. As a mentor or leader, you cannot make people happy
but you can create an environment where they
can be.

By Karim Shehadeh on September 24, 2017.

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