In pursuit of happiness

When recommended to me a couple of weeks ago, I had never heard of Tony Hseih. However, while I had hardly heard of Zappos, I had on many more accounts heard of and read about some company who offered new employees the choice to quit with a $2k bonus anytime during their 4 week introduction period. I had heard of some online retail store with an incredible customer service that did much more than was asked for. Tony turns out to be the man behind this all, and he tells his personal story in a real, open, down to earth and humorous way.

ding dong

His story starts how he as a young boy wants to become rich by growing a worm farm, and takes you through his youth, college, founding LinkExchange and selling it off, and his almost religious experience at a rave. Eventually a turn of events leads him to take all of his experiences, acquired wealth, and efforts to bet it all on growing a small online shoe store in the way he thought it should be done. That is, growing it such that not only revenues or profitability would grow as fast as possible, but grow the shoe store such that everyone connected to the business in one way or another – employees, vendors, customers, investors, partners, local communities – could grow and prosper – prosper in the broadest sense of the word – with this company known as Zappos.

In 2016 this mindset has not become the standard of business just yet, but in 1999 this was a truly revolutionary way of thinking. In fact, I think many of the companies that are very pleasant to deal with these days (from my own experience I can think of Groupon (NL) with their tongue-in-cheek product descriptions and (NL) with their amazingly fast deliveries, the game it offers you to play as soon as you have placed your order (to kill the time until your package arrives…), or just the very human way KLM customer service talks with you for instance) have borrowed their ‘fun’ in doing business strategy from this pioneering company.

While the second part of the book is dedicated to explaining what exactly the core values of Zappos are and mean, and stresses how they should not become a ‘meaningless plaque on the wall of the corporate lobby’, Tony’s own personal story is what truly appeals to me. He signs off with an attempt to quantify happiness, with thoughts along the line of understanding the principle components, you will become better at pursuing. Most convincing there I found the three types of happiness found in time-happiness space, where pleasure, passion, and higher purpose together form a positive slope.

oh brother, where arth thou

Allow me to explain: first, with the lowest amount of gained happiness for the shortest amount of time comes pleasure: the thing we are all after when seeking thrills doing sports, going out, going travelling, etc. This can be seen as seeking the next high. Then, what leading to more happiness that lasts longer is something felt when totally engaged and in a ‘flow’ doing something, like anything from matters at work or during hobbies can give you. Finally, the largest chunk of happiness to be gained, which could be enough to last a lifetime, is the happiness – or satisfaction perhaps – felt when serving a purpose that extends beyond yourself: this, as I see it, is your raison d’être: it can be anything from having kids and building a happy family to building that company you believe in, pursuing scientific discoveries, helping people in your job, or doing charity work.

Personally, I read this at a moment when my raison d’être had ceased to be: my contribution to humanity’s scientific endeavours – though humble of course, yet personally fulfilling in a lasting way – had come to a pause as I had defended my dissertation months earlier. Upon reading this particular view on happiness, I caught myself at being unnerved by the sudden (apparent) disappearance of a life goal: I caught myself at pursuing the other, less sustainable types of happiness instead: mostly the thrill-seeking kind. The graph made me realise what we all already know one way or another: that while being in search of the next rush in sports, the next party, big dinner with family or friends is for most a necessary addition to a happy life, one should see this as it is: an addition. For if this is the only happiness one seeks, thorough unhappiness is never far away.

All this, and much more eloquent descriptions concerning this topic can be found on, go see for yourself.

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