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The Business of Happiness

By Peter Mirus (bio - articles - email) | Jul 26, 2010

I just finished reading The Business of Happiness: 6 Secrets to Extraordinary Success in Work and Life by Ted Leonsis (with John Buckley). Leonsis is a former America Online (AOL) owner/executive and current owner of both the Washington Capitals and Washington Wizards.

I was eager to read this book due to the subject matter. I live near DC and Leonsis is a noted local public figure, successful businessman, and philanthropist. More than that, however: is it possible to be successful in both “work and life” by planning for your own happiness? It is an appealing proposition! I intended to find out.

The book is not particularly well written, but proves the point that a business book need not be great prose in order to be effective—it need merely tell interesting stories and make interesting points. This book accomplishes that much, as it chronicles the very interesting life and pursuits of Ted Leonsis up to the present, including the dramatic rise, fall, rise, fall of AOL.

But Leonsis tells his own tale to a purpose: to show you how his life came to a moment of crisis, and how his desire to live life to the fullest and without regret caused him to learn about how to achieve happiness.

Leonsis’ premise is that “the happiest and most successful people live by six common practices, or tenets”: set your goals and actively work to accomplish them, participate actively in communities of interest, find an outlet for personal expression, express gratitude, express empathy by giving back, and finally... find a higher calling.

Leonsis touches a lot of bases with which we, as Catholics, would not disagree. Set goals? Check. God wants us to be focused and determined in pursuing things of importance. Participate in communities of interest? Nothing to disagree with there, really.

Find an outlet for personal expression? At the end of this chapter Leonsis writes: “For millions of people, the ability to have a private conversation with a single listener provides them with the expressive outlet they need. They don’t sit at the computer to do this. Instead they get down on their knees and put their hands together. Their outlet for creative expression is called prayer.” Uh... one-quarter check. Room to grow.

Moving on... express gratitude, be empathetic, find a higher calling. Check, check, check.

The book is pretty much devoid of significant religious reflection (although God and religion are certainly mentioned, as illustrated). Thus, it presents a serious challenge to Catholics in Business (CIBs): can we, who believe ourselves to be in possession of “the full truth”, do better?

If Leonsis has come to his conclusions primarily based on extensive analysis of “what works”, primarily from a non-religious perspective, how does that correspond to what we as true Catholics believe about holiness and happiness? Shouldn’t we be as happy as Leonosis and those individuals that he has observed, if not as successful in a temporal sense?

Again, if we as Catholics know better than Leonsis about the nature of true happiness (as we might suppose)... am I happier than Leonsis? Are you?

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  • Posted by: Cornelius - Aug. 18, 2010 8:06 AM ET USA

    Interesting that he puts prayer in the "personal expression" category in which God is the "single listener". How utterly modern. God is there to listen to ME, not me to God. I think he's got it backward.

  • Posted by: jtuturic3013 - Aug. 03, 2010 5:52 AM ET USA

    From your mini-review, this book seems to be like a lot of other secular self help books. They hit on many common sense points emphaticly, but when it comes to certain points of morality or religion they chime in rather ambiguously so that as many people as possible might "get something" out of the book and buy it. The almighty dollar trumps truth ... or so they think. Interestingly enough, I've found the advice that is clear to generally be the best ... and most popular.

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