It’s not for nothing that Dr. Rajesh K Pillania, a Strategy Professor at Management Development Institute – MDI Gurgaon, is called India’s happiness guru. A columnist and author of 10 books, Dr. Pillania tells Education Post’s Tanay Kumar that happiness is the all-important route to success, wealth and health.
You are a trained professional in strategy with a Ph.D., and you are now a well-respected authority on happiness. Please tell us how did this come about?
My happiness work journey started more than a decade ago. I was satisfactorily employed in strategic management, particularly innovations strategy and international strategy. However, I realized that a very small percentage of the population gets access to formal business education. I was looking to make some positive difference and I zeroed down on happiness. Initially, it was quite difficult to identify where to start, as there are so many possibilities for happiness. But then it struck me—the importance of humor in happiness and in learning. Gradually, I started focusing on using humor in business education. It subsequently resulted in several humorous books and articles in popular media.
After that, I worked on relationships, which are very important for happiness. That resulted in another application-oriented book that used humor in the context of a group of friends in a campus setting to show how to build good lasting relationships. Six more publications followed this book. These research outputs also became an integral part of my teaching and training and I could make some positive difference in the classroom and training sessions.
Your latest book titled India Happiness 2022 is releasing in November 2022. Please tell us something about it.
India Happiness 2022 is my 10th publication after Strategic Humour: Democratizing Strategy; Start-up Strategy Humour: Democratizing Start-up Strategy; Learning Strategy in a Fun Way with The Big Bang Theory; Love Strategy: A New Perspective on Love, Relationships, Life and Strategy; Happiness Strategy: Strategy and Happiness for Everyone; Happiness Diary: My Experiments with Happiness; India Happiness Report 2020; India Cities Happiness Report 2020; and, World Happiness 2021.
India Happiness 2022 has 50 winning photos from the first annual India Happiness Photo Contest 2022, brief insights (within the 100-word limit) from 2 global experts on happiness, 22 industry leaders, and 10 media people. It also has 10 ideas and exercises for experiencing happiness. Fortunately, it has got great endorsements from many experts.
This book is an attempt to create more awareness and focus on happiness in India. I sincerely hope India Happiness 2022 brings some smiles to readers’ faces and that we all see and appreciate happiness all around us in our daily life.
You are popularly called India’s happiness professor and India’s happiness guru. Were you expecting such good accolades for your work?
All I can say is, these experts are very generous. I am still on the learning curve and need to learn a lot, experiment a lot, and keep doing much more hard work. When I started working on happiness, I knew what I was trying to do was new and challenging for me, but I felt strongly about working on happiness and pursued it. Most of these works are the first of their kind in business education or in India. It was very humbling to receive endorsement for many of these works from leading global thinkers and industry stalwarts. It has been a very fulfilling journey so far.
Your elective course Happiness Strategy has become the most popular course in the shortest time in Gurugram’s Management Development Institute (MDI). What is this course and what is your experience with this course?
The Happiness Strategy is an elective course in the last term of the two-year MBA (called PGDBM) program in MDI. The course has three parts, namely the shortcomings of strategy, formulating happiness strategy, and implementing happiness strategy. Its focus is on application and the format is experiential learning. It is very humbling to see a very good acceptance of this course by students.
You also train corporate professionals on happiness strategy. Why does the corporate world need to take happiness so seriously?
There are many arguments for the need for happiness in the corporate sector. I would like to share the most important one—corporates need to take it seriously for their own selfish interests. Happiness can minimize the losses due to stress etc and can help in improving performance in terms of productivity and innovation. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the need for happiness.
How do you define happiness and what is the best way to achieve happiness in life?
There is a huge amount of literature and a number of definitions of happiness. I love keeping things simple, fun, and applicable. I define happiness as a simple equation: Happiness = Pleasure + Purpose.
There are many ways to be happy. What I suggest is to make happiness a part of daily life. Using the above simple equation, we can list down what gives us pleasure and what gives us purpose and throughout the day try to engage in these activities alternatively. For example, one can work for 45-50 minutes, which takes care of the purpose part, and then take a 5-minute break to enjoy a coffee or a short walk within the office which takes care of the pleasure part.
What are your future plans for happiness?
In terms of writing, I am currently working on my next book World Happiness 2022, which should be released in December 2022. The Dalai Lama has written the foreword for World Happiness 2022. I am also writing a column on happiness.
We have heard of your unique and innovative teaching and training methods. Please tell us something about this.
Teaching and training are very fine arts and one needs to evolve one’s own style of it. Over the last two decades, I have evolved my own teaching and training style. I follow three principles, namely learning needs to be simple, learning needs to be fun and learning needs to be applicable. This has really worked well for me as well as the participants. Also, I love to experiment a lot and that has really helped in creating a portfolio of options to try in a class. I think we professors are like magicians with an invisible bag of options, and we take out interesting options for different situations.
How has this work journey on happiness impacted you personally?
It has had a very positive impact on me. As I learn about happiness, I am the first beneficiary. I have made it a part of my daily life. I have created a portfolio of activities to live a happy life. For example, I enjoy badminton, juggling with jogging, cycling, swimming, adventure sports, traveling, watching movies, listening to music, spending time in nature, spending time with family, partying with friends, playing with dogs, eating food and so on. My favorite quote is: why professors can’t have fun? Many people, including my friend Prof. Rohit Parsad at MDI call me the happiest professor.
You have been the best research professor at MDI a number of times. We have also heard you are among the best badminton players on the MDI campus. Would you like to say something on that?
I would say I am just lucky. There are many more intelligent and deserving people out there, many of whom do not even get a chance to go to a school or college or university. My parents and siblings from a young age have contributed a lot to my learning and growth. My maternal grandfather who was a landlord used to tell me to study to get the highest educational degree.
Also, from a young age, I was lucky to get good teachers, mentors and friends who have helped me a lot.
About badminton, I learned it seven years ago and I do challenge every batch of students to try and defeat me. In almost every batch, there are a couple of good students whom I find difficult to beat. It is all in good humor and we have lots of fun on the badminton court. My colleague Dr. Anthony Jose and I enjoy playing against youngsters and we win most of the games, but also lose a few.
What is your philosophy of life?
I can say it is about to continuing to challenge myself, keep experimenting, keep learning, and keep enjoying this journey and be happy about giving my best. I have a firm belief, that I will be able to make some positive difference, howsoever small it may be.
With all your academic and life experience, what message and recommendations would you like to give to the people, especially the youth?
My message is, please choose happiness. Happiness is simple. It is fun. It is applicable. One can experience it all around us.
My three recommendations for youth are:
- While success and money are important, do invest time, energy and attention in relationships, health, giving back to society and spirituality. Keep a daily track of your investment of time, energy and attention.
- Find out what happiness means to you and what really matters and stay focused by following recommendation number 1.
- Within all complexities of life, keep life simple and develop a sense of humor.