When I pick up a self-help book, I usually expect to see one of two things: a self-promoting figure selling his or her newfound path to ripped abdominals, or a handful of obscure research studies being extrapolated to the masses.
Neither one of these books appeals to me.
So, Tom Rath’s Are You Fully Charged? had me doing a double-take. Rath is neither self-promoting nor over-promising. What he is, is right on the money. He uses sound research to provide well-written guidance on how to energize your life without feeling like you have to recreate it. And rather than offering a complicated formula, Rath’s book gives numerous digestible nuggets. You can find something useful without even reading linearly. Rath has found success before with bestsellers, and in this book, too, his research on psychology, business, and economics stands out.
Rath begins by orienting the reader to what he calls “the science of daily experience.” Through what’s called the experience sampling method — a way that researchers ask participants to make notes of their experiences throughout the day about what is happening right then — he helps us realize that much of what we think will lead to happiness simply does not.
What can lead to happiness, Rath explains, are meaning, interactions, and energy. And, he reassures, “you don’t have to go on a retreat in the woods to find meaning, you don’t need to find new friends at a cocktail party to have better interactions, and you certainly don’t need to run a marathon or embark on a fad diet to create physical energy.”
Diving into that most heady of topics, the meaning of life, Rath organizes each chapter almost like a conversation with the reader — only, he targets his writing to a reader who might not have the best attention span. Using his own life examples and research, Rath is all at once informative, encouraging, and inspiring. And, again, he is easy to learn from, even for those of us with limited reading time.
“Abandon the pursuit of happiness,” he tells us. Perhaps what matters a whole lot more than happiness is meaning.
And meaning, Rath shows, just might be a lot easier to find. By exchanging extrinsic motivation for intrinsic, we can create our own mean. It is not something that happens to us, but something we can make ourselves.
How to do that? Rath offers simple ways to find meaning at work by introducing us to those who have done it, demonstrating how they made work “a purpose and not a place,” and how they found higher callings instead of just cash, avoided upward social comparisons, and asked what might help the rest of the world. “Look for ways that your unique talents, background, expertise, dreams, and desires can serve some of these local and global needs,” Rath writes.
Rath then shifts his focus to interactions. Here, he impressively makes what can be a very complex subject into a much simpler one. Telling us that we must make every action count, use positive intent, start small and be clear, put relationships and experiences first, and “win while others succeed,” Rath lays out the ABCs of relationships in a way that blends timeless wisdom with recent research. On the topic of positivity, for example, he writes that “the best research on daily experience is rooted in ratios of positive and negative interactions.”
On the subject of health, Rath goes beyond the narrow lens of what we eat and whether or not we exercise. Instead, he encourages us to “get a vaccine for the common cold” and “avoid light, heat and noise.” Exercise, too, can be simplified in Rath’s view. For many of us, the problem is the “sitting disease.” Getting healthier, for many of us, starts with spending less time sitting in a chair. Here again, Rath blends common-sense advice with useful skills in a way that makes health goals seem actually attainable.
Interactions and health blend together, too. For example, Rath writes, “Interactions with other people are at the root of most people’s stress.” One way to counteract that is to “push pause before responding” to the other person to avoid second-hand stress.
Although Rath writes in part from a business perspective, his emphasis is not on endless wealth. Buying happiness, he tells us, is possible — as long as we buy it for someone else.
Are You Fully Charged? The 3 Keys To Energizing Your Work and Life
Silicon Guild, May 2015
Hardcover, 240 pages