I am on my way to a meeting with Henry Stewart , fondly known as Happy Henry. Henry runs a company dedicated to making people’s working lives a little happier by getting people happy in the workplace.
Mr Gradgrind eat your heart out.
My interest is in how his ideas for improving the productivity of companies by making staff happier can be translated into making people want to like the idea of preparing for their retirements.
A lot of this comes down to how you look at things, the language that you use in talking about them and the attitude you display to those around you. If you are grim, things will be grimmer for it.
But I’m keen to work out where the line lies between a patronising trivialization of work, retirement and human dignity on one side and a proper understanding of how genuine improvements can be made.
I am probably using this slightly awkward language because I’ve had my nose poked into a book the last few days. The book, none less than Anna Karenina, to my mind the finest novel ever written.
Tolstoy was a man of ideas , one of the questions he confronts again and again and again is “how can happiness be achieved?”. When he writes about this in his essay he seems stilted and his ideas abstract an hypothetical, but when he imbues his characters with similar thoughts and allows them to play out within the world they inhabit, the ideas spring to life. We see what works and what doesn’t and over the hundreds of pages of this and his other great books, we get an understanding of how to avoid the tragedies of Anna and Vronsky and find the contentment of Levin and Kitty (sorry you are going to have to read the book- get your Kindles out!).
What I’m hoping in talking to Henry for the first time since we were undergraduates together at college, is how to translate the abstract principles of self-awareness ,selflessness and kindness into a world that seems to have these qualities in short measure.
Like Tolstoy and DH Lawrence, I will try to apply some of the life coaching that inhabits my head into a way of carrying on in the workplace that will make me more effective and more happy. That will, at the same time, benefit those around me at work and help my clients to get a better understanding of how what they do now – can make their retirements – as well as their day to day lives- a little happier.
It seems we spend so much time worrying about risk and so little time thinking about reward that this lunchtime will be a real pleasure!