The Algebra of Happiness | April Book Review
My monthly reading in April took me to The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love, and Meaningby Scott Galloway. This book, which is a relatively easy read, is full of life advice in the areas of financial success, love, and health. While not every section may necessarily apply to everyone, it is very practical and succinct.
Scott Galloway is a professor of marketing and brand strategy at NYU's Stern School of Business, which provides the origin story for this book, as Scott writes:
"In 2002, I joined the faculty of NYU’s Stern School of Business. More than five thousand students have taken my Brand Strategy course. My students are an impressive group, ranging from Marines from Georgia to IT consultants from Delhi. They are there to learn the time value of money, strategy, and consumer behavior. But our time together frequently veers from brand strategy to life strategies: What career should I choose? How can I set myself up for success? How do I reconcile ambition with personal growth? What can I do now so that I don’t have regrets when I’m forty, fifty, or eighty? We address these questions in the most popular session: the final, three-hour lecture titled “The Algebra of Happiness.” In the session, we examine success, love, and the definition of a life well lived."
In addition to being an NYU professor, Scott Galloway, who has a degree in economics and a masters in business administration, is an entrepreneur who has founded or co-founded nine companies, the host of The Prof G Show and cohost of Pivot, podcasts about business and tech, a blogger, investor, and at times a board member at high profile companies. He is what would commonly be considered very successful.
That's not how Galloway starts his book though. Instead he writes:
"I have no academic credibility or credentials to indicate I should counsel people on how to live their lives."
He goes on to describe mediocre grades, being initially rejected from UCLA, eventually being accepted with a grant from the state and partying his way through. After graduation he lied about his grades to get a job, went to business school, married, divorced, and started several companies which failed. He wraps up the introduction noting that his struggle with depression has led him to consider how to achieve happiness in addition to success.
If Solomon were around today, an atheist, and wrote Ecclesiastes, I imagine it would look something like The Algebra of Happiness: in turn logical, witty, crude, and brutally honest, to give everyone a kick in the pants and remind them to focus on the things that matter.
The book is concise and easy to read, with very little content that could have been omitted. This is the type of book that I always prefer. I don't have time to read anything that doesn't add something to the narrative and I find it easy to get bogged down in pedantic language (see what I did there?).
Parts of the book are based around simple equations, such as
Resilience / Failure = Success or
1 + 1 > 2. Galloway shares his tips for how to be passionate about your job (find something you are great at and do it), how to invest (always be in the market because you're not smart enough to time it), and what do to if you're in a bubble (stay in a good firm, diversify your assets, and be humble about your success).
He talks about what to measure in life. For the author, this is net worth, credit score, social media following, how often he visits his aging father each year, how many students he has, and how many of his companies have succeeded or failed.
While the first section of the book, around a third, is about how to be successful, in the second section and longest section Galloway pivots to love. Here he talks about topics such as marriage, children, showing affection, and investing in relationships, as well as sometimes doing things we don't enjoy for the benefit of those we love. He also discusses dealing with the end of life in a very practical way: make both the person passing and their caregivers comfortable, spend time with them but also set boundaries so your own life is not neglected, talk and do activities together, and so on.
Throughout this section of the book Galloway frequently mentions his atheism, but not in a pushy way. While he is positive that God does not exist, his point in bringing it up is not to convince the reader of this but rather to explain his viewpoint. In fact, I recall once hearing him say that he believes one of the problems we see in America today is that not enough young people go to church, gather with other people, and recognize that they are a part of something bigger than themselves. You won't find a section of the book encouraging you to pray with your loved ones, start the day with reading scripture, or to take comfort during someone's passing in the hope of seeing them in heaven, but I think in our Christian monoculture we've heard these things too many times and could use some secular advice now and then. Not that those things aren't very good, but chances are you've heard it before.
The final and shortest section of the book focuses on health. Galloway has no medical training, so this isn't a section about how many pushups to do each day or the advantages of yoga. But he encourages things such as reasonable physical fitness, crying when needed, being a caregiver, being a nice person, and avoiding addiction. Nothing dramatic, just little things to help you be happy.
One of Solomon's conclusions from the book of Ecclesiastes is that people are more important than material things because they are the only thing we can take with us when we die. Galloway, although he does not believe in an afterlife, comes to a similar conclusion:
"In the end, relationships are all that matters."
I can't speak for everyone, but in my current position at least, as someone in their mid 20s who is thus far moderately successful but is still figuring out the strategy for success and happiness in life, I found this book to be a very practical guide from someone who has lived longer and experienced more than I have. Our life on this earth is finite, every day we have to make a decision about how we are going to spend it, and not infrequently we look back and think maybe we should have taken a different path, so I always find it helpful to hear from someone older what worked for them and what they might have done differently. Galloway does a great job of this in his book and frames his advice in a way that I found it easy to apply to my life, rather than it reading like a memoir about himself.
If this book interests you, as always you can check it out here using my affiliate link!