Happiness expert Will Harper ’14 discusses ways to build fulfillment into work and life
10/14/2015 - Will Harper — happiness consultant, writer, speaker, and self-described “student of human experience” — entered graduate school like many 20-somethings, eager to learn and searching for his life’s purpose. While at Kellogg and with his “fellow overachievers” in mind, Harper organized a five-person team under the direction of Harry Kraemer ’79
, clinical professor of strategy, and turned his personal journey into a six-month research project focused on understanding the components of happiness.
Two years later, that six-month project has evolved into a business in which Harper consults with companies and works with business leaders to build happiness and fulfillment — for themselves and their employees — into their strategies for success.
In a talk hosted by the Kellogg Business Leadership Club on Oct. 2, Harper spoke with students about the need to build fulfillment in their lives while finding career success.
Barriers to happiness
While developing his business after graduation, Harper quickly learned that many professionals were so focused on being efficient and successful, they found themselves unfulfilled and struggling to find their purpose. So in his talk to students, Harper started with a few basic questions to get the conversation moving: “What are my skills?” “What am I good at?” “What do I love?” and “What are my values?”
“Where those things intersect, that’s the most powerful version of you,” he said. “And if we apply that powerful version of you to the needs in the world, that’s where you get the biggest impact. It’s also where you get the most happiness.”
But business leaders and other professionals face unique barriers to happiness and fulfillment. “We’ve fractured our lives into different pieces," Harper said. "For professionals, you often see people thinking they have to maximize work so then they can do the things they want to do.”
Harper says this line of thinking is part of the problem. He credits Kraemer, his mentor, for stating his working philosophy succinctly: It’s not work/life balance. It’s life balance.
This issue isn't limited to just business leaders. Companies contend with unhappiness in the form of employees who feel either burnt-out or dissatisfied. “Organizations are struggling with work/life balance, employee engagement and culture, and how to evolve to address these issues,” he told students.
Harper encourages developing an environment that replaces the “You’re wrong/I’m right” mentality with leadership that supports personal growth. “We shame people into hiding their mistakes,” he said, “but instead of saying that’s bad, you’re fired… let’s all get together and figure out what happened and figure out how to grow.”
Added Harper: “A 'bad result' in an organization should operate like an investment. The expense of the mistake should result in a return, but too often organizations don't have the mindset or practices in place to take advantage.”
But what’s most important is that business leaders and employees work together to put happiness first.
“We believe and behave as if our accomplishments and recognition will lead to happiness,” Harper told students. “But happiness can come first.”