Entertainment :: Books

Real Happiness at Work

by Kyle Thomas Smith
Contributor
Wednesday Feb 5, 2014
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It can be fraught territory for a meditation teacher to write a book about negotiating workplace minefields. When the Dalai Lama’s "The Art of Happiness at Work" was released in 2004, many people understandably balked, "What does he know about my struggles at work? He doesn’t know what it is to sweat it out in cubicle hell. He’s been Mr. Boss Big Shot since birth!" (More often than not, those who went ahead and read it anyway got a lot of it, though.)

Those with a passing familiarity of Sharon Salzberg might experience similar resistance before reading her guidebook to handling on-the-job crises, given that Salzberg began her leadership role -- at the age of 21, to be exact -- as a meditation and dharma teacher in the 1970s and has been going strong ever since, never languishing purposelessly in corporate hell realms like so many of us do.

Yet it would be the damnedest shame for even the most disgruntled Dilbert drone or widget-maker to forego her newest book, "Real Happiness at Work: Meditations for Accomplishment, Achievement and Peace" (Workman Publishing), for those reasons. They’d be missing out on an extremely well-researched book of home truths, hard-won wisdom and boundless compassion that could change the way they view their roles in their workplaces, and in life, forever.

"Real Happiness at Work" gives some of the most grounded, practical advice one can find on how to survive and thrive while fine-tuning, rather than losing, one’s ethical compass.

The sequel to Salzberg’s 2010 book "Real Happiness: The Power of Meditation" (Workman Publishing), "Real Happiness at Work" has a surprisingly hard-driven quality to it that resonates with the whirring demands of today’s work environments. Don’t forget, for all her luminosity, Salzberg is as New York as they come. (Check out her dharma talks on Youtube if you need any convincing of that.) She spends a lot of time in Gotham’s cacophony and regularly teaches people from all walks of life -- police officers, Wall Street executives, yoga students, prisoners, artists, schoolteachers, caretakers -- and advises them on how to apply Buddhist principles to the stressful situations they encounter, whether those come in the form of a narcissistic boss, a saboteur coworker, a dying patient, an unhinged criminal or just an overbooked schedule.

Salzberg invites her readers to adapt their work lives to the principles contained in what she calls "The Eight Pillars of Happiness in the Workplace," which include Balance, Concentration, Compassion, Resilience, Communication/Connection, Integrity, Meaning, and Open Awareness. She devotes a chapter to each pillar, which (much like each item on the many lists the Buddha offered) contains subtle instruction for skillful use of the mind in potentially volatile environments.

In addition to providing wonderful examples of challenges met and overcome by means of these principles, Salzberg also shows us how meditation is key to us keeping our heads and hearts amid workplace turbulence. The clarity and calm associated with the daily meditation practices that Salzberg encourages are buttressed by what Salzberg calls "Stealth Meditations," quick meditations that we can do to reclaim our deeper wisdom on the job.

Beyond conflict management, Salzberg also gives practical advice for how actively practicing mindfulness and compassion can help us make a greater success of our current career or help us wisely transition into a new line of work if necessary. Unlike many books on meditation, which can sometimes seem too confined to the retreat center, "Real Happiness at Work" gives some of the most grounded, practical advice one can find on how to survive and thrive while fine-tuning, rather than losing, one’s ethical compass.

by Sharon Salzberg

Kyle Thomas Smith is author of the novel 85A (Bascom Hill, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn with his husband and two cats.

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