The Thrive Questionnaire//

Adam Grant: ‘Chasing Happiness Can Chase it Away’

The Wharton professor and author of Give and Take discusses the definitions of happiness that don't get enough attention.

Finding Happiness is an editorial package that explores what it means to be happy in today’s world. As part of it, we’re asking people known for their work on well-being and happiness to answer 7 questions about what happiness means to them. Here’s Adam Grant, Wharton professor and author of Give and Take. 

Thrive Global: What does happiness mean to you?
Adam Grant: Helping others find motivation and meaning and lead more generous, creative and resilient lives.

TG: Are you living life according to the way you’ve defined happiness?
AG: I hope so—but ultimately it’s only for them to say.

TG: If you had to pick one thing to tell the world about happiness, what would it be?AG: Chasing happiness can chase it away. There’s evidence that prizing happiness above all else actually makes people unhappy.

TG: How does our culture’s definition of happiness play a role in our ability/inability to be happy? What cultures set a better/worse example?
AG: American culture defines happiness as excitement and enthusiasm, which puts pressure on us to be exuberant. Not helpful. Let’s not forget about calm tranquility (popular in many southeast Asian cultures) and amusement (I owe much of my happiness to Jerry Seinfeld and Mel Brooks, Kate McKinnon and Ed Helms, Adam Sandler and Rebel Wilson).

TG: Do you view happiness as the ultimate human pursuit? Why or why not?
AG: No. Happiness is too much about pleasure, too much about me. I’d rather have meaning.

TG: What’s your favorite happiness quote?
AG: “We’re stuck in the tiny unglamorous folds of the fabric of life, and that’s where our happiness is determined… it’s built not out of anything poetic, but out of 20,000 mundane Wednesdays.” —Tim Urban

TG: When were/are you the happiest?
AG: Next year, I hope.


Adam Grant has been Wharton’s top-rated professor for six straight years. He is a leading expert on how we can find motivation and meaning, and live more generous and creative lives. He has been recognized as one of the world’s 25 most influential management thinkers and Fortune’s 40 under 40.

He is the author of three New York Times bestselling books that have sold over a million copies and been translated into 35 languages. Give and Take examines why helping others drives our success, and was named one of the best books of 2013 by Amazon, Apple, the Financial Times, and The Wall Street Journal—as well as one of Oprah’s riveting reads and Harvard Business Review’s ideas that shaped management. Originalsexplores how individuals champion new ideas and leaders fight groupthink; it was a #1 bestseller praised by J.J. Abrams, Richard Branson, and Malcolm Gladwell. Option B, with Sheryl Sandberg, is a #1 bestseller on facing adversity and building resilience.

Adam’s TED talks on original thinkers and givers and takers have been viewed more than 9 million times. He received a standing ovation at TED in 2016 and was voted the audience’s favorite speaker at The Nantucket Project. His speaking and consulting clients include Facebook, Google, the NBA, the Gates Foundation, Merck, Goldman Sachs, Disney Pixar, the U.S. Army and Navy, and the World Economic Forum, where he has been honored as a Young Global Leader. He writes on work and psychology for the New York Times, has more than 1.5 million followers on social media, and features new insights in his free monthly newsletter, GRANTED.

Adam was profiled in The New York Times Magazine cover story, Is giving the secret to getting ahead? He was tenured at Wharton while still in his twenties, and has received the Excellence in Teaching Award for every class that he has taught. He is the founder and host of the [email protected] speaker series, and co-director of Wharton People Analytics. He has designed experiential learning activities in which students have raised over $325,000 for the Make-A-Wish Foundation while developing leadership, influence, networking and collaboration skills. He is a passionate feminist who serves on the Lean Inboard and the Defense Innovation Board at the Pentagon.

Adam earned his Ph.D. in organizational psychology from the University of Michigan, completing it in less than three years, and his B.A. from Harvard University, magna cum laude with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa honors. He has earned awards for distinguished scholarly achievement from the Academy of Management, the American Psychological Association, and the National Science Foundation. His pioneering research has increased performance and reduced burnout among engineers and sales professionals, enhanced call center productivity, and motivated safety behaviors among doctors, nurses and lifeguards. His studies have been highlighted in bestselling books such as Quiet by Susan Cain, Drive by Daniel Pink, and David and Goliath by Gladwell. He is a former magician and Junior Olympic springboard diver.

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