It was wonderful to see so many of you at Workhuman 2019 in Nashville! The Workhuman Book Club was created to inspire you with thought leadership from our speakers all year long, help you connect with other people who love to read, and provide exclusive opportunities to ask authors questions about their books and subject-matter expertise. Join us on Facebook: Workhuman Book Club.
Last year, when I filed for divorce, I tried to go on a sort of “Eat, Pray, Love”-esque journey to uncover meaning in my life and find true happiness. I wasn’t backed by major publishing company funding, however, so I took some PTO from my job at the time, packed up my car, and embarked on a 10-day, 4,000-mile solo road trip through the American Midwest.
While bunking with friends along the way (and spending one very uncomfortable night in the front seat of my Corolla), I drank cocktails atop the Hancock Tower in Chicago, ate the best barbecue of my life in Kansas City, Mo., touched dinosaur footprints and fossils outside Denver, and strolled along the Mississippi River in WWE Superstar Seth Rollins’ hometown of Davenport, Iowa. I drove for 24 of the last 30 hours I was on the road, from a rest stop outside Cleveland back to my home north of Boston, and I’ve never felt so determined in my life.
The experience was life-changing. It gave me a boost of adrenaline and confidence, along with a deep sense of short-term accomplishment. But soon after, I was back in my routine and feeling just as lost as when I started my divorce paperwork. Why? Because happiness is a choice – and not necessarily an easy one. I wanted a perfect life, and I thought some signatures on court documents and a once-in-a-lifetime adventure would create it. However, I slowly figured out that I was running away rather than doing the hard work it would take to live a truly happy life.
This is the lesson Nataly Kogan teaches us in “Happier Now: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Embrace Everyday Moments (Even the Difficult Ones)” – and she does it step by step, very strategically, so we never feel so overwhelmed that we throw down our journals and try to drive cross-country instead.
The root of being happier
Part memoir and part guide, “Happier Now” takes readers first through Nataly’s own journey, beginning with her immigrating to the United States as a refugee from the former Soviet Union. She chronicles her time as a young teenager struggling to learn English and her hesitation to have fun along with the rest of her family when they found joy in simple experiences. She felt a certain power in wallowing in her misery – and it took her years to learn it wasn’t worth it.
After climbing to the highest echelons of corporate success in her early 20s and during the initial period of launching her popular Happier app to help people practice gratitude, Nataly hit rock bottom. She felt crippled by the responsibility she had to her staff, family, and community members, and she continually denied herself self-care, choosing instead to embrace grit and push forward despite feeling exhausted and overwhelmed.
Seeing her pain and desperation, a friend and investor finally convinced her to begin working not with a therapist, she says, but a “spiritual guide.” With the help of her guide, by doing tons of research, and practicing what she learned through trial and error, Nataly discovered that happiness isn’t just an emotion, but a skill that can be honed.
“To survive, we have to quickly learn how to overcome challenges and get used to the changes they bring. But this adaptability also means that we can easily take for granted the good that is already present in our daily lives,” she writes in the chapter on gratitude. “That means we need to fight a bit harder for our moments of joy.”
While fighting for joy may sound counterintuitive, it makes sense when you put it into perspective. We’re all struck with moments or even days of elation, but many of us struggle to cultivate long-term, consistent, unbridled happiness in this tough, busy world. We look outside ourselves to other people and experiences while neglecting to deal with the discontent within.
Actionable lessons in happiness
In “Happier Now,” Nataly teaches us how to develop what she calls “daily anchors” – small habits that help us to cultivate our emotional health, resilience, and joy. She intersperses journaling exercises throughout the narrative, all designed to help readers uncover what’s holding them back and how they can push past it.
“Anyone can practice becoming happier – we don’t need to dramatically change our lives or, say, go to Nepal for a year to meditate,” she writes. “For me, reframing being happier in this way was a life-altering shift. Once I let go of the idea that more hard work and suffering were going to bring me to a state of pure bliss, I could consider what I needed to do to be happier now, in the present moment.”
In later chapters, Nataly walks us through her “five core Happier Skills”: acceptance, gratitude, intentional kindness, the bigger why (connecting to purpose and meaning), and self-care. They are all backed by research in psychology and sociology, and the exercises Nataly gives for each were inspired by her own experiences and those of her community members, whose stories she also shares throughout the book.
While I’d already figured out that trying to escape the negative feelings that come along with divorce wasn’t going to work, I didn’t know for sure what would. Using the guidance and practices in this book, I’ve begun journaling again and processing the last few years of my life, which includes being deeply grateful for the support of my family and friends and for my current relationship. If you’re going through any kind of struggle in your personal or professional life, this kind of in-depth personal exploration can only help.
Discussion questions for April
Join us over in the Facebook group all month long to chat with your peers and answer these book club discussion questions, adapted from Nataly’s practices:
1. How does practicing gratitude when you’re feeling annoyed or challenged help you? (Related practice: “Gratitude Antidote”)
2. What small moments, when you stop to savor them, give you joy? (Related practice: “Five-Minute Joy Break”)
3. How often do you practice gratitude at work? What would make it easier and more of a habit? (Related practice: “Creating a Gratitude Ritual”)
4. What strengths do you have, and how do they contribute to meaning in your life and career? (Related practice: “Identify Your Strengths”)
5. How do you connect to a sense of purpose or meaning (your “bigger why”) as you move through your workday? (Related practice: “To-Do List Makeover”)
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