From the CEO

Happiness Is...

Under my desk blotter is a piece of paper with the names of 17 CEOs who have told me they will be gone from their positions before the end of this year. I’m sure there will be more. Some of the 17 are already working with their replacements. Others have not yet told their boards.

Our 2020 major survey revealed that 39 percent of our member CEOs plan to leave in the next four years (by 2024). Adding the 17 on my list to the list of those who already left that year and in 2021, it appears that statistic will be fairly accurate.

Some of my conversations with soon-to-depart CEOs have to do with contentment post employment and where to find it. It’s hard to go from 40- to 60-hour work weeks to zero appointments and no executive assistant. My friend, John Pearson, told me the story of how one company president finally grasped the definiteness of retirement: On the Monday following his last Friday of employment, he called the company IT department from his home office to ask why his inbox was empty.

I’m speaking to the 17 and to those who will soon join a list of those leaving (which will eventually be all of you): Are you prepared for an empty inbox? That might sound good right now, but where will you find meaning and purpose…and happiness? There are typical Christian responses to this mostly rhetorical question, but there is also a scientific side.

Arthur Brooks, distinguished author and president of the American Enterprise Institute, teaches a class on happiness at Harvard Business School. It is wildly popular. He points out that happiness in North America has been falling since 1980 and has nosedived since 2016, even while personal wealth has increased. He goes on to say that, according to science, 50 percent of happiness is genetic, 25 percent comes from circumstances, and 25 percent stems from habits you establish. That last category, which is the easiest to control, comprises four areas:

  1. Faith and Philosophy. This must continue to grow through retirement. Otherwise, it’s like watching the pilot episode of a TV series repeatedly, and never getting into the series itself. The point is, keep going to church. Keep digging deeper into God’s word. There should be no retirement from that.
  2. Family. Strengthen relationships…or rebuild them, if necessary. One in six Americans are not talking to a family member because of politics.
  3. Friendship. Maintain face-to-face relationships, not virtual connections. Research is increasingly clear that social media is a primary source of unhappiness and leads to greater loneliness. Loneliness is turning into one of the biggest health crises in our society.
  4. Meaningful Work. This is where your skills meet your passion. Pursue something that gives a sense of accomplishment and rewards. Never stop serving others in some fashion.

Brooks reminds all of us—even those who are planning to work for a few more decades—to spend time in the Beatitudes (Matthew 5) and substitute the word “happy” for the word “blessed” and see how that changes your take on things. “It is the Christian thing to do to,” Brooks concludes, “to pursue happiness.” I hope all of you have your name on the list of CEOs who are focused on that.