"So, we need a way to be happy at work as well as at home, but that's not always easy. Let me give you an example of a friend of mine. I gave her a copy of The Art of Happiness shortly after it came out. She told me that she kept it on her bedside table and read from it each night before she went to bed. She was tremendously inspired by your words, and she said that when she read it she felt it was really possible to be happy. But then she told me, 'When I go to bed, I'm thinking that if I make the effort, happiness is within my reach, genuine happiness is out there waiting for me. But then the next morning I have to get up at five o'clock in the morning and face an hour-long commute to work. And the minute I step into the office, everything changes--I have to deal with the pressures, the demands, my boss is a jerk, and I can't stand my co-workers. And suddenly it seems like the idea of happiness slips away. It just evaporates. Things are so hectic that I barely have a chance to catch my breath, let alone think about training my mind or inner development. And of course the company I work for doesn't care a bit about my happiness. But I need to work. I need the money. I can't just quit and expect to get another job. So, how can I find happiness at work?'
"And of course my friend isn't an isolated case," I continued. "In many countries throughout the world, there seems to be a kind of widespread dissatisfaction at work. In fact, I recently read a survey that reported that nearly half of American workers are dissatisfied at work, unhappy with their jobs. I've talked to some experts who say that the number may even be higher than that. And things seem to be getting worse. According to the Conference Board, the nonprofit organization that conducted the survey, that same survey showed that over the past five or six years the percentage of people who are satisfied with their job has dropped by around eight percent."
The Dalai Lama appeared surprised. "Why is that?" he asked.
"Well, according to the studies I've read, there may be a variety of reasons, ranging from inadequate compensation, or simple boredom, to more complex factors related to the specific nature of the work or the workplace conditions. There are all sorts of things that can make a person miserable at work: poor social atmosphere, lack of recognition, not enough variety, and other things. In fact, I'd be interested in hearing your opinion on each one of these factors. But let me give you an example. A few days before leaving for Dharamsala, I had dinner with some friends who were both in the software industry and worked for large corporations. They spent most of the dinner sitting around complaining about their jobs. Even though they worked for different companies, one thing they both mentioned was that they felt they had no control over what they did every day. They had no sense of autonomy, no freedom to do their work in their own way. They both complained that they didn't get enough information and direction from their bosses, but once they were finally given a clear-cut task or assignment, they wanted to carry out the assignment in their own way. Instead, the supervisor seemed to be standing over them breathing down their necks, giving them no room for creativity or personal initiative. They resented the fact that not only didn't they have any control over the kind of work they are required to do, they couldn't even choose how to go about doing it.
"So, do you have any thoughts about how a person could go about increasing their feeling of autonomy or freedom at work?"
"I don't know," the Dalai Lama responded. "Of course it will completely depend on the person's individual circumstances, what position they are in."
"Any general suggestions?"
He reflected for a moment. "Let's take the example of a prisoner. Now of course it is best not to be in prison, but even in that situation, where a person may be deprived of freedom, he or she may discover small choices that they are able to make. And even if somebody is in prison, with very rigid rules, they can undertake some spiritual practices to try to lessen their mental frustrations, try to get some peace of mind. So they can work on internal development. In fact, I've heard that there is a program here in India where prisoners are being taught meditation.
From The Art of Happiness at Work. Copyright The Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler 2003. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Riverhead Books.
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