Adam Grant (Should) Think Again: How to Find Happiness & Meaning

This is the fourth of four blog posts.

Adam Grant’s previous book titled, Originals[:] How Non-Conformists Move The World was reviewed in two blog posts (Part I and Part II) titled “Ten Ideas on Originals, Non-conformists & Entrepreneurs.”

Even in a book on thinking again, Adam Grant, somewhat surprisingly, covers happiness and leading a fulfilling life. I had to think again what that had to do with thinking again. Grant doesn’t appear to have any particular qualifications or insights—so it’s odd to have throw-away lines in a carefully edited book.

Grant states, “If you can master the art of rethinking, I believe you’ll be better positioned for success at work and happiness in life.” [12] This is a weighty throw-away line. We have no idea what Grant means, so it dangles as a lonely appendage.

The last chapter of Think Again is on career and life planning and avoiding tunnel vision. This seems like oddly-placed hectoring on how to develop a career plan. In the same vein, he could have had a chapter on eating. What to have for dinner? Think again.

He starts with a person with extreme career tunnel vision and then shows how this focus doesn’t make sense; this is an inadvertent homage to a straw man. This seems to be a tenuous link to the concept of “think again,” other than thinking again about life planning. This is not a particularly useful chapter or saying anything new or interesting.

Grant notes that “The danger of these [extremely focused] plans is that they give us tunnel vision, blinding us to alternative possibilities.” [228-229]. Yes, and the counterpoint? “There’s a fine line between heroic persistence and foolish stubbornness.” [229]

Grant further explains that “We foreclose on all kinds of life plans. Once you’ve committed to one, it becomes part of your identity, making it difficult to de-escalate.” [232] Yes, this was the case with Seinfeld’s George Constanza who desperately wanted to be an architect. Other doors closed, although he did ponder becoming a marine biologist.

Grant equates these life plans with the pursuit of happiness. How to find happiness? Don’t try too hard. Chasing happiness can chase it away. Why? 

Grant lists four reasons. 

We get too busy evaluating life to actually enjoy it. Happiness depends more on the frequency of the emotion rather than intensity. “[W]hen we hunt for happiness, we overemphasize pleasure at the expense of purpose. This theory is consistent with data suggesting that meaning is healthier than happiness and that people who look for purpose in their work are more successful in pursuing their passions—and less likely to quit their jobs—than those who look for joy.” Western conceptions of happiness as an individual state leave us feeling lonely [238]

The pursuit of happiness, and life planning, is typically rooted in passion. Grant notes that “Psychologists find that passions are often developed, not discovered.” [240] In other words, it’s hard to pursue a set course when a person may not truly know their passions. Surprisingly, he doesn’t cite the work of psychologist Angela Duckworth who wrote the well-known Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance a few years back. She covers the notion of passion quite extensively.

Grant ends the book, with some sweeping inspirational thoughts: “It takes humility to reconsider our past commitments, doubt to question our present decisions, and curiosity to reimagine our future plans. What we discover along the way can free us from the shackles of our familiar surroundings and our former selves. Rethinking liberates us to do more than update our knowledge and opinions—it’s a tool for leading a more fulfilling life.” [242] Once again, not only happiness is ours, but a more fulfilling life is within our grasp. Kierkegaard’s leap of faith is modest in comparison. 

Despite Grant’s occasional bouts of guru overreach, the book has enough good insights to be a worthwhile read and enough eye-openers to justify the effort—but he should think again. 

Other blog posts in this series: 

Adam Grant (Should) Think Again: How & Why to Rethink

Adam Grant (Should) Think Again: How To Foster Innovation

Adam Grant (Should) Think Again: Creating A Culture of Innovation