HR Management & Compliance

Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose

Sarah Hulsey, PHR, reviews CEO Tony Hsieh’s book Delivering Happiness and finds it uplifting and motivating but not necessarily belonging in the business section of the bookstore.

You’d have to be living in a cave to not have heard about Zappos and the work CEO Tony Hsieh is doing to improve customer and employee satisfaction. Regardless of whether you drink the Zappos Kool-Aid, his first book, Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose is a worthy weekend read, but perhaps not for the reasons you’d think.

In 1997, Hsieh started studying the science of happiness and sought to incorporate his learnings not just into his company’s culture and business transactions, but into his own personal quest for happiness as well. Delivering Happiness is mainly a collection of stories about Hsieh’s business experiences, starting with his first lemonade stand all the way to the eventual sale of to It is sprinkled with copies of company e-mails, helpful Top 10 lists, employee testimonials, and Hsieh’s own imperfect-but-endearing writing style. You’ll find quotes from the Notorious B.I.G., a clever “Ode to Redbull,” and excerpts from Twitter feeds Hsieh finds amusing. The result is a positive, uplifting book that motivates the reader but doesn’t necessarily belong in your local bookstore’s business section.

From the management side of things, Delivering Happiness provides some very important lessons and interesting challenges to universally accepted business principles. Hsieh advocates a bottom-up approach to driving change, rather than the traditional top-down method. He breaks down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs into just three steps and uses those steps to represent a correlation between the secrets to happiness and the secrets to a great, successful business. I could tell you what those secrets are, but then you’ll miss out on the fun of reading this book on your own (no, that was not a paid statement from the publisher).

According to Hsieh’s research, if every decision a company makes is to maximize the happiness of the client as well as the employee, your company will succeed, you’ll be happier, and you’ll contribute to the greater good of society. Sound a little Pollyanna to you? In short, as a business reference guide, I can’t say Delivering Happiness succeeds. The examples and practices touted in the book are simply unrealistic at many companies and are better suited to companies with young, highly entrepreneurial histories and open-minded leadership.

As a human resources tool, Delivering Happiness will ring true with many HR professionals who have realized for years that employee happiness is the number one driver of loyalty, productivity, and retention.  For anyone who has fought with a CEO to put employees first, this book will make you momentarily consider dropping everything, moving to Vegas, and begging at Hsieh’s feet for a job.

Delivering Happiness actually has quite a few great ideas that can be implemented in many HR departments, from “speed dating” employee interviews to a three-page list of fun things to do at your company. More than anything, this book is an excellent case study of a dynamic corporate culture that has directly translated into a highly successful business model. HR professionals working on defining or fine-tuning their company’s culture will find endless inspiration in this book.

While Amazon lists Delivering Happiness in its Business section, I can’t really agree and see it belonging more in the personal improvement and psychology sections. Hsieh himself admits that he wrote the book to provide his own contribution to “the happiness movement,” not to tell you how to run your company.

From the individual, nonbusiness perspective, Delivering Happiness is full of great advice and has excellent entertainment value. While there are no earth-shattering revelations to be found in the book, Hsieh’s discourse on the Three Types of Happiness (Pleasure, Passion,  and Higher Purpose) is sure to get you thinking about the direction your life is going and the motivations behind what you do every day.

The Zappos corporate culture “fairytale” is an amazing story, even more so if you can adopt some of the practices and deliver a little happiness of your own. I expect Delivering Happiness is not the last book Hsieh will write, at least not while there are people out there who haven’t tasted the Kool-Aid. Buy the book and take a sip.

Sarah Hulsey, PHR is the Talent Manager for Rising Medical Solutions, Inc., a national medical cost-containment and care management organization that services the auto, workers’ compensation, and liability insurance markets.  For more information about Rising Medical Solutions, go to

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