We all want to make the most of our precious lives, and to many people, that means having work we enjoy and relationships we value. But although this desire is so universal, many of us struggle to achieve it. Some people might like their jobs, but the daily grind makes them stressed. Others may have partners they love but might find it difficult to negotiate differences of opinion.
Even if our circumstances aren’t ideal, there’s always scope to improve our happiness levels. So says Dale Carnegie in his book - How to Enjoy Your Life and Your Job; originally published in 1970. Carnegie goes on to say that the best way to do this is by understanding human nature. Once you know how you – and every other person – is hardwired, you can approach work and relationships more strategically to find happiness and meaning in each day.
The three most powerful points I took from the book were;
Being tired doesn’t mean you’ve worked well, it means you’ve worked inefficiently
We all carry this need to feel important, but few people harness its potential. It’s actually the secret to motivating another person
Once you understand the ways your emotions influence how you function, you can take control and begin to improve the quality of your life
It’s not work that makes you tired, it’s your emotions.
Take a moment to think about how you feel at the end of a grueling workday. Do your muscles ache? Does your head pound? Have you completely run out of energy? Now reflect on what you’ve been doing all day. Is your job physically demanding, or do you spend most of your time sitting at a desk?
If your job doesn’t involve hard labour, it’s easy to put work exhaustion down to mental fatigue. After all, your brain is doing some serious thinking for at least 40 hours a week. It may surprise you then to learn that your brain can work just as effectively after 12 hours as it can when you sit down at your desk with your first cup of coffee. So, why do you feel tired all the time?
The influential psychiatrist Dr. A.A. Brill believed that emotional factors are the primary cause of fatigue for desk workers. Anxiety and feeling unappreciated make you produce nervous tension. And that tension is what wears you out. Think about what happens to you physically when you feel stressed at work. You might scowl, strain your eyes, and hunch your shoulders. But these actions don’t improve your performance. Instead, they squander your precious energy reserves, which is why you feel so tired at the end of the day.
Luckily, there’s an antidote says Carnegie – relaxation. Being tense is a habit – a bad one – but you can choose to make relaxation a habit instead, even one you practice at work. Effective relaxation begins with the eyes. Our eyes require a significant amount of our body’s nervous energy. That’s why they can feel strained even if you have 20/20 vision.
Get into the habit of closing your eyes several times a day, and spend a full minute silently telling all the muscles that control your eyes to let go. Slowly, your muscles will start to obey and the tension will fall away. Once your eyes are relaxed, you can shift your focus to another part of your body, like your jaw or your shoulders. Picture your body as a floppy sock. Carnegie even kept an old maroon sock on his desk to remind himself to relax.
Being tired doesn’t mean you’ve worked well, it means you’ve worked inefficiently. At the end of each day, evaluate your tiredness and identify whether it was work that wore you out, or how you worked that did.
Don’t confuse exhaustion with boredom.
It’s Friday evening, and you’re home from another exhausting workweek. Your back aches, your head hurts. All you want to do is go to bed. But then your friend calls and invites you to go clubbing. Straight away, you perk up, get changed, and head out for a night of fun. When you get home at 3:00 a.m., you’re not tired at all – you’re buzzing. You wonder where all that energy came from.
Often, it’s boredom that causes tiredness – not work. In the 1930s, psychology professor Dr. Joseph E. Barmack had a group of students take tests that he knew wouldn’t interest them. The students reported feeling drowsy, weary, and irritable. Some of them even had headaches and upset stomachs. These students weren’t pretending to be sick. Boredom lowers blood pressure and oxygen consumption, which is what caused the students’ physical symptoms.
You’ve probably experienced a renewed burst of energy from doing something that excites you. That’s why if you love an activity that’s physically demanding, like mountain climbing, you can do it day after day, even if your muscles are sore. Mental exhilaration overcomes your physical fatigue. Work is no different. If your job doesn’t interest you, you’ll end up feeling exhausted. You might theoretically enjoy your work, but incidental activities in the office – like dealing with constant interruptions or sorting out issues that other team members have caused – stop you from making progress. It’s that lack of progress that leaves you weary and with a pounding headache. But when you’re productive and in the zone, you’re flooded with energy.
If you don’t enjoy your job, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed to eternal fatigue. You just need to find ways to generate interest in what you do, so you can tap into that energy. One way to do this is to set a challenge for yourself. For instance, if you regularly spend hours monotonously filling out forms, count how many forms you complete in one hour. Then, try to beat that record the next hour. The sense of competition will make a dull task more interesting. Throughout the day, redirect your thoughts to positive feelings, like happiness, courage, and peace. Reflecting on what you’re grateful for will help shift your mood when work boredom is getting you down.
Change your attitude toward criticism.
Carnegie goes on to say that when King Edward VIII was a teenage prince, he learned an important lesson about human nature. At the time, he attended Dartmouth College – a naval academy in Devonshire – where his fellow cadets regularly kicked him. When the college’s commodore asked the cadets why they bullied the prince, they confessed that, when the prince would eventually ascend the throne, they wanted to boast that they’d kicked the king.
When people attack others, it’s often because they’re like those young cadets – they want to feel important. They resent people with better education or more success than they have. So, if you find yourself in the firing line, it might be because other people envy you. If your attacker’s weapon of choice is unfair criticism, it’s easy to get angry and defensive. And while you can’t control whether or not someone will criticize you, you can control how you react.
Unjust criticism is something you can learn to ignore, even if it usually fires you up. Most of the time, while you’re busy fuming, your attacker’s thoughts have moved on anyway. Everyone’s preoccupied with their own lives, so no one is thinking about you as much as you imagine. Knowing this can make it easier to move on yourself.
One way to avoid reacting to unfair criticism is to focus on following your heart. Eleanor Roosevelt learned this technique from her Auntie Bye when she was just a girl. Roosevelt’s fear of other people’s judgment stopped her from trying new things. But her aunt told her that if she knew in her heart it was right to do something, she should do it, regardless of what other people thought. That advice saw Roosevelt through all the criticism flung at her for the rest of her life.
Another useful method is to laugh in the face of unjust criticism. American steel magnate Charles Schwab learned this lesson from an older German employee at his mill, who was thrown into a river by his colleagues during a wartime argument. Schwab asked the German how he’d responded to the rough treatment. The old man replied that he’d laughed. Firing angry words at attackers will only feed the dispute. But a belly laugh will disarm your attackers, making it impossible for them to continue their assault.
The secret to influencing others is appreciation.
All humans share a desire for food, sleep, health, sex, and money. But there’s one other powerful need that drives us all – the desire to feel important. This is what psychoanalyst Sigmund Freud meant when he asserted that people are motivated by a desire for greatness.
While not everyone aspires to be a powerful politician or the boss of a major corporation, we all long to be appreciated and valued. But unlike our other day-to-day needs – like getting enough rest or having enough food in the pantry – our need for importance often goes unmet. That’s why we’re driven to brag about our kids or buy a sports car. Even becoming president didn’t make George Washington immune to this need. He wanted his title to be “His Mightiness.”
We all carry this need to feel important, but few people harness its potential. It’s actually the secret to motivating another person. Think about the successful managers you know. Are they the most technically skilled professionals in their fields, or are they the ones who know how to inspire their teams?
Often, when we want someone to do something for us, we’ll resort to reason, threats, or giving orders. But you can’t make someone do something unless they actually want to. You’re far more likely to get the result you want by expressing sincere appreciation, because being valued makes a person feel important, satisfying that primal need. Once you know this, you can use gratitude and encouragement to incentivize others.
Sincere appreciation can transform lives. A teacher in Detroit once asked a sight-impaired school kid called Stevie Morris to help her find a mouse that was lost in her classroom. Stevie’s sharp ears were just what she needed to track down that mouse. It was the first time anyone had ever acknowledged Stevie’s special gift, and it awoke a powerful talent within him. That little boy grew up to become none other than the renowned singer and songwriter Stevie Wonder.
Every person you interact with – whether they’re family members, work colleagues, or members of your community – shares this desire to be valued. That means you’re in a position to empower and motivate everyone you meet by expressing appreciation. It could be as simple as admiring the birdhouse your child has made or thanking a sales assistant for their help. In return, you’ll gain deeper relationships and dedicated followers.
Connect with others by showing an interest in them.
When it comes to forming friendships, humans can learn a lot from dogs. Think of what happens when you meet a dog. He’ll look at you and wag his tail. He might even bound over to you and lick your hand. What’s happening is that he’s showing genuine interest in you, and that draws you to him.
People are no different. If you show sincere interest in someone, you’ll attract them to you like a magnet. This is because humans are more interested in themselves than anything else. So, by showing interest in someone, you’re appealing to their greatest concern.
If you have any doubts that each person is primarily occupied with themselves, consider a study conducted by the New York Telephone Company. After analyzing phone calls, it found that the word most frequently used was “I.” In just 500 calls, “I” was used 3,900 times. If you’re still in doubt, think about where your eye first goes when you look at a group photograph you’re in. Straight to yourself, right? Humanity’s self-centric inclinations are why you’ll always be attracted to someone who takes an interest in you.
Showing an interest in others is a powerful way to win loyalty. Everyone who worked with Theodore Roosevelt loved him – even his servants. This was because he took the time to learn their names and greet them all in person. He’d remember their hobbies – like bird watching – and make a point of taking an interest. No one was beneath his notice, which made him win the hearts of everyone at the White House. This endeared him to his staff, who remained fiercely loyal, even when his time as president ended.
To connect with others, shift your focus to what you can do for them. You don’t need to perform grand gestures. Small, selfless acts are powerful. For example, when Carnegie met someone he wanted to form a friendship with, he’d fake an interest in astrology and ask them when their birthday was. He’d commit the date to memory, then write it in his diary when he got home. That way, he could send them a message on their birthday, which made them feel valued, deepening the bond between them.
You can’t change someone’s mind by telling them they’re wrong.
Theodore Roosevelt was one of the most distinguished figures of the twentieth century. But despite his intelligence and power, he knew he wouldn’t be right 100 percent of the time. In fact, he humbly believed that being right 75 percent of the time would be an extraordinary achievement.
The average person isn’t a great leader like Roosevelt. And yet, most of us behave like we’re always right. We’re quick to tell others that they’re wrong too. But this rarely leads to the outcome we’re hoping for. Instead of changing our opponents’ minds, we just hurt their pride and self-respect. This makes them resentful or aggressive. And once a person is in this state, you can’t influence them.
If you’re given information that you think is wrong, instead of saying so outright, suggest that perhaps you’ve made a mistake and that you’ll need to explore the facts so you can put the matter right. No one can ever object to you wishing to reconsider your position by reexamining the facts. And in doing so, you and your opponent will unearth the truth. Regardless of who’s right, when you admit that you may be wrong, you transform the situation from a potentially aggressive encounter to one with scope for open-mindedness. By admitting that you aren’t always right, you create space for your opponent to do the same.
All humans are illogical, biased, and susceptible to pride and fear. So, unless we feel safe and supported, we’ll passionately stick to our positions. For instance, Carnegie once bought new drapes for his home. The bill was enormous and Carnegie lamented about this to a friend. She smugly told him that the decorator had taken advantage of him and overcharged. This hurt Carnegie’s pride so, even though his friend was right, he defended his choice by saying that quality came with a price.
The next day, another friend visited. She enthused over the new drapes, wishing she could afford such fine furnishings herself. Her gentle nature made Carnegie feel comfortable enough to admit that he couldn’t really afford them either and that ordering them had been a mistake. Carnegie was able to own his error because he didn’t feel berated or attacked. If there’s space for understanding, we’re more likely to admit we’re wrong.
Use positivity to win support.
Socrates was one of the world’s greatest philosophers. His method of exploring an argument revolutionized the course of human thought. Instead of forcing his ideas on others, Socrates would ask his opponents a series of questions, phrased so that they would answer yes. Each question acted as a stepping stone, leading the opponents to a conclusion that they may never have originally agreed to. In this way, Socrates changed their point of view.
When you say no, your whole body goes on guard to protect itself from rejection. Your nervous, glandular, and muscular systems steel themselves, closing you off to other possibilities. A yes response, on the other hand, opens your attitude. That’s why skilled speakers always start any discussion by prompting a yes response from their audiences.
We’re always more invested in thoughts we feel are our own, which is why this method is more effective than trying to force ideas onto others. Adolph Seltz – an automobile showroom manager in Philadelphia – was aware of this when he needed to motivate his underperforming sales team. He called the team together and asked them what they expected of him, noting their ideas on a blackboard. Next, he asked them what he could rightfully expect of them in return. This created a kind of moral bargain between manager and employee based on the team’s ideas. The exercise reenergized the team because they had buy-in, and sales increased exponentially.
Using buy-in can help resolve differences of opinion between friends or family members, too. For instance, say you want your family to vacation in Washington, DC, but your partner wants to head to California. One night over dinner, you could ask your daughter if she’d like to see all the places she’d been studying in her US history course. If she loves this idea, her excitement will plant a seed in your partner’s mind. A few nights later, he or she will likely suggest that the family vacations in the nation’s capital, since your daughter is so interested in American history.
Letting others claim ideas as their own in this way not only gets you what you want, but it ensures that others feel good about the decision too. By creating space for people to embrace ideas on their own terms, you all end up with a positive outcome.
Change how you deliver criticism to get results.
One day at the steel mill, Charles Schwab noticed some employees smoking. They were standing directly below a No Smoking sign, which irked him. But Schwab was a master of human nature. Instead of getting angry, he gave each employee a cigar and said he’d be grateful if they smoked them outside. It was clear that he knew they’d broken the rules. But handling the situation in a way that didn’t bruise the men’s egos won their respect and compliance.
There are plenty of misconceptions about delivering constructive criticism. Most people think that starting with a compliment is the right technique. For instance, a mother might say to her child, “Reese, I’m proud your grades have improved but you could still do better in algebra.”
In a statement like this, what sticks is the but. Reese will either forget the praise quickly or will wonder if it was just a frame for criticism. Because of that but, Reese won’t be inspired to try any harder. If you want to avoid a situation like this, swap out that but for an and. For instance, Reese’s mom could say, “I’m proud your hard work has improved your grades and I believe if you continue to work hard, your algebra grades will improve too.” This is far more effective than suggesting that Reese has failed because it indirectly draws his attention to where there’s room for improvement.
Talking about your own mistakes is another useful way of delivering constructive criticism. For example, E. G. Dillistone, an engineer from Manitoba, Canada, found that his new secretary was repeating the same spelling mistakes in correspondence she was typing. So, Dillistone shared with her that he also struggled with spelling and that to overcome it, he wrote difficult words in a little index book that he kept on his desk. He was never sure whether she adopted his system or not, but after that conversation, the quality of her work improved enormously.
Dillistone didn’t tell his secretary what to do; he role-modeled a potential solution. If you’re a manager, this is far more effective than simply giving orders, because no one likes to be told what to do. It also gives employees the chance to grow, while making them feel valued. And a valued person is far less likely to rebel or become resentful.
What I took from it.
As humans, we’re deeply influenced by our emotions. They even affect our metabolism and energy levels. If we feel underappreciated, we become tired, unhappy, and less open to constructive criticism. But once you understand the ways your emotions influence how you function, you can take control and begin to improve the quality of your life, decreasing your stress levels and defusing tension with others. You can also use your insight to make others feel more valued, fostering positivity wherever you go.
Fear of what other people think prevents many of us from living authentically. As a result, most people develop just 10 percent of their potential mental capabilities, which is a loss to them and to the community. If you struggle with living authentically, reflect on the odds of you existing at all. The chance of you being conceived is just 1 in 300 trillion! And yet here you are – alive right now. So, embrace the unique set of genes and circumstances that have made you who you are, and live authentically. This is the truest path to happiness.