The Secret of Happiness: An Interview with Prof. Raj Raghunathan
By admin  ||  April 27, 2016  ||  Comments

Raj-Raghunathan

Summary
This is an interview with Prof. Raj Raghunathan conducted for the acclaimed documentary “Innovation: Where Creativity And Technology Meet.” In this interview Prof. Raj Raghunathan talks about the secret of happiness and how he helps his students to follow their passion and lead a happier life.
About the Documentary
The documentary Innovation: Where Creativity and Technology Meet talks about three great forces Creativity, Innovation, and Technology. This movie takes viewers on a worldwide journey to see how great achievers, past and present, use these forces to thrive in a hyper-connected and hyper-competitive world.
Participants
Tony Hsieh, Chip Conley, Ben Zander, Salman Khan, Marshall Goldsmith, Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Prof. Raj Raghunathan, Prof. Srikumar Rao and many more..

Bio of Prof. Raj Raghunathan
Raj Raghunathan is an associate professor of Marketing at The University of Texas at Austin. He is associate editor at the Journal of Consumer Psychology, guest Associate editor at the Journal of Marketing Research and on the editorial boards of Journal of Marketing and Journal of Consumer Research. His prime interest is researching happiness and decision making. He is the author of Sapient Nature, one of Psychology Today’s most popular blogs. He is the creator of the Coursera course A Life of Happiness and Fulfillment, which was chosen by Coursera as one of their top courses of 2015. He is also the author of the bestselling book “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy?”, which takes readers through the factors that influence success.
What are the decisive factors of success?
To answer the question, a good place to start is to look at the definition of success because I think that there are a couple of ways to look at success and define it. If you just mention success to a layperson, normally the things that come to their mind are money, fame, power and so on. These to me are all extrinsic yardsticks of success. A better yardstick of success for me would be how happy they are. If you ask people why they want money and fame, they will tell you that ultimately all these things are wanted because they think it will lead them to happiness, which is what they are after ultimately. There is a lot of research on this too.

Ultimately, everything everybody does is for feeling a sense of meaning and fulfillment in life. Rather than look at those yardsticks of success, if you look at the ultimate yardstick which is how happy you are and how much of an authentic life you are leading, you will find that the factors that result in those yardsticks of success are different from those that lead to money, fame and power. Looking at the factors that lead to happiness, for me the fundamental thing is to understand yourself. Who are you? What would you like to do? What are the sets of activities that completely absorb you, that put you in a moment of flow where you lose track of time? When you get the feeling when doing something that it is the thing that you were meant to do in life and you are on a path that allows you to engage in this thing as much as possible, you are likely to be happy a lot of the time. That to me is the ultimate yardstick of success. To feel this sense of happiness and the decisive factors for that is awareness of who you are and what intrinsically motivates you.

The second factor is understanding a very important secret of success. This is a very important secret because it almost always gives you unparalleled success and happiness but is rarely ever intuitively understood as a source of happiness and success. The secret is caring for other people. You normally think that everything in life is a zero sum game. If I win, somebody else has to lose and if I lose, somebody else has to win. In reality we can all win, we can make the pie bigger, it’s not a fixed pie. Having a go-giver attitude rather than a go-getter attitude is a very important determinant of happiness. To me, if you understand who you are and understand the secret of happiness, which is, your happiness lies not in thinking so much about yourself but in caring for yourself. I would say these two things are the decisive factors in success.
What kinds of challenges are prevalent with fresh graduates?
To answer the question, one has to look at how I define success, which is leading an authentic life where you are doing something that intrinsically motivates you. One of the biggest challenges that undergraduates face is that they are often derailed from following what is intrinsically motivating for them. It starts very early through what children’s parents say about the yardsticks of success which is typically having the money to own lots of goods. Obviously the more money you have, the better the position you are in to engage in all these activities. One of the challenges I think undergraduates face is how do they not get distracted by these extrinsic rewards. How do they focus on the fact that ultimately what will give them a fulfilling life is doing the stuff that they are passionate about?

I think a lot undergraduates when it comes time to choose what career they should pursue, they may be aware that job X would make them really happy because they will have a great culture where they will do the things that they love. It is job X vs. job Y, which may be a completely unfamiliar environment doing things that I do not like but it pays a lot more money so I want to take it. How do you give people the confidence to choose job X, which is better for you? In the long run, you are probably going to make more money and you are certainly going to be much happier doing Job X. Ultimately what matters is how fulfilling your life is and that is what Job X will give you.

That is the biggest challenge and I don’t think our current university education system has enough processes and content in place, which enable students to feel the confidence necessary to follow their passion. It is a vision of a lot of universities for people to follow their passion but when it comes to putting it into practice, there is a big divide. People are told this vision, but the message they get from peers and even professors is one of following fame, money and power.

For example, I am at the McCombs School of Business in the University of Texas in Austin. If you look at the roster of people who are called into speak in the distinguished VIP series, it is all CEO’s with a lot of money. It is hardly ever people who do social work or have thrown away a cushy life to follow their dream. It is always these kinds of CEO types. Also, if you look at the yardstick by which a journal like BusinessWeek measures the success of a MBA program, they look at what salary students make before they come into the program, how much they make after the program and what the difference is. The more the delta between what you were making before and after, the more successful the program.

What that does is it makes business schools attract people who want to pursue careers that are going to pay them more. So for example, finance is encouraged a lot. Even though people may not be intrinsically interested in finance, schools want to give them admission because there is going to be a bigger difference in pay between what they were making before taking the program and after because finance firms happen to pay more. So everybody is driven towards something that is extrinsically motivating rather than intrinsically motivating. To me that is the biggest challenge. How do you find what your true passion is and how do you find the courage to make the decision that is going to be intrinsically motivating.
How do you motivate students?
The most important challenge that students face is finding the confidence to follow what intrinsically motivates them and the extrinsic rewards will follow rather than being distracted by the money, fame and power. I use a couple of strategies to motivate students. One of them is to be open about these challenges that I faced myself. I got an MBA in India and I could have got a job that paid a lot of money, but I chose a job that I found intrinsically motivating. So, I kind of put myself as somebody who has trodden that path and emerged reasonably successful. In a way, I provide a template to them that they could follow.

The more important thing that I do is to create a sense of community. Everyone faces these stresses because they have all come from a family that has emphasized making more money and becoming famous in one way or another. Of course the family talks about following about your passion, but there is a big emphasis on making the money and that gets reinforced, especially in a business school among the peers. What I do in my classes is to get the students to talk with me and their peers about these pressures that they face so that the students realize that they are not alone in being pulled into something they don’t like doing. Once they hear a lot of people talking about it, they feel like they have a lot of people around them and find it easier to do things that they would have a hard time doing by themselves. There is strength in numbers.

The final thing that I do is have students maintain a journal throughout the semester while I am giving this alternative perspective of following their passion and what intrinsically motivates them. Hopefully what the students discover through keeping the journal is that when you follow your intrinsic passions, you are naturally happier. At the end of the semester, they look at the journal from the start to the end where they have entertained the possibility of pursuing something that’s more ideal to what they want to do. And they recognize it for themselves. They see that if they pay more attention to what they love to do and get absorbed by it, they are happier. That is the ultimate yardstick, if you feel happier, you are convinced and get the courage to choose the job that is more satisfying for you.
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Bio of Host Satheesh Gopalan
Satheesh Gopalan is an entrepreneur and philanthropist driven to uplift humanity by unleashing creativity and embracing innovation. He is a graduate of Telfer School of business in Ottawa, Canada, and a certified management consultant. Satheesh also attended positive psychology program at University of Pennsylvania and Creativity and Personal Mastery (CPM) program in NY.

Satheesh Gopalan had interviewed many rock star entrepreneurs, professors, and leadership thinkers for his film. Marshall Goldsmith, Phil Libin, Tony Hsieh, Chip Conley, Prof. Srikumar Rao, Benjamin Zander, K.B. Chandrasekhar, Dr. A.K. Pradeep, N.R. Murthy, Kris Gopalakrishnan, Vivek Wadhwa, Prof. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Sonjay Lyubomirsky, Michael Gelb, Robin Sharma, Dr. Shabbir Amanullah are just a few prominent names in the list.

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