Editor’s Note: Grace Ueng is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003.  Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” is what clients value most.  Grace writes an exclusive column for WRAL TechWire. 


RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – Last October, when I was deep into my depressive episode,  I summoned the energy to log into my virtual HBS 30th reunion. I have attended every reunion since graduating, and I thought I would attend if just for a few minutes. Even in my dark state, I could see light in the title: From Strength to Strength: Happiness and Success in the Second Half of Life, and one of my favorite professors while I was a student, Len Schlesinger, was presenting:  

 Many of us assume that the more successful we are, the more contentment we will experience. 

But the paradoxical truth is that the greater our achievements and worldly acclaim, 

the harder it can be to find meaning and purpose as we age. Professors Arthur Brooks and Len Schlesinger will explore an exciting new area of research that seeks to crack the code on satisfaction 

for people in the second half of life. 

 Little did I know that the other professor, Arthur Brooks, would soon become my new favorite HBS professor and author. Listening to him reminded me of how much my year long study of positive psychology six years earlier had benefited me as well as my clients.

Arthur Brooks. (Photo courtesy of Arthur Brooks)

Fast forward three months to the first week of January,  Rick Smith, the editor of a widely read online business publication [WRAL TechWire]asked me to write a weekly column which is part of Capitol Broadcasting. I immediately said yes, as I love to write as well as to work with Rick.  I had just gone into remission from my depression, the week before Christmas.  So I told Rick that I would begin in mid-February to give me time to concept the column’s theme.

 A couple of weeks before my launch column, I decided that I would combine two topics which I have passion, Happiness and Leadership, as Brooks had inspired me with his HBS course of the same title. He sent me a review copy of his new book.  

 Inspired and feeling a calling to make a difference, I decided to “come out” in my launch column and share that I had just gone through a depressive episode, the most difficult months of my life. My first column ran on Valentine’s Day and I told readers “It will be the greatest Valentine’s gift to me if my “coming out” regarding my mental health challenges, helps you or someone close to you.”

I then shared highlights of what soon became a #1 NYT bestseller in my second column  From Strength to Strength, which I have recommended to almost everyone I know around my age, is a guide to finding meaning, success, and deep purpose in the second half of life. 

 Arthur Brooks is a behavioral social scientist, prolific author and in demand speaker.  He has given over 1,400 speeches in the last decade in 145 cities around the world.  He has professorship appointments at both the Harvard Kennedy School and the Harvard Business School. Prior to that, he served as president of DC based American Enterprise Institute (AEI), one of the world’s leading think tanks. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Professor Brooks this week: https://youtu.be/adQGOHed0fE


Top Take-aways from my interview:

  • Happiness Hygiene.

Each of us must practice “proper happiness hygiene.”  Since going into remission last year, I continue to protect my happiness with ongoing work. Happiness is not wishing, it’s working. Not hacks, rather habits.  While some people are naturally happy as 50% is genetic, Brooks and I have to practice ongoing work.  Many of these are things I enjoy, like starting piano lessons to honor the memory of my mother, my first teacher.  Others, like strength training, are to keep unhappiness at bay. 

Professor Brooks shares in our interview what he does each day to maintain his happiness while he keeps a very demanding schedule which includes 50% global travel.

  • Identify teachers in your life.

The Dalai Lama has brought tremendous wisdom and insight into Professor Brooks’ life.  Brooks identified His Holiness early on as someone he wanted to learn from. His HBS class with the Dalai Lama was live streamed by 15 million viewers. He also created a documentary The Pursuit with the Dalai Lama.

Seven years ago, I identified Tal Ben-Shahar, the creator of Harvard’s most popular course ever on Happiness, as my key Happiness teacher.  I am continuing my studies with Tal and look forward to meeting with him in Mexico for a Happiness retreat this October. 

  • Reorient definition of wealth.

Brooks spoke how Harvard Business School is rewarding him generously, not referring necessarily to financially, rather giving him a home in the best university in the world to speak to a mass audience and to train the next generation of leaders to be Happiness teachers.

In his class with the Dalai Lama, Brooks shares with his students what His Holiness had taught him earlier about the definition of wealth.  He surprised Brooks by telling him that wealth can bring happiness. Brooks then realized that the Dalai Lama’s definition of wealth was different from the worldly definition.  In his mind, wealth does not mean the accumulation of money or possessions, but rather being wealthy is to be able to build something with your life and to be able to share abundantly with other people.  

  • Harvard’s mission is serving others by creating value for society.

The Leadership and Happiness course at HBS is the first of its kind and teaches that all leaders should be happiness teachers using the technology, the neuroscience and social science of happiness.  Every week, they receives calls from universities and business schools wanting to know how they can teach Happiness on their campuses too.

Next year, Brooks will be leading a master class where other universities will come to Harvard Business School  to learn how to teach Happiness and Leadership utilizing neuroscience, social science, behavioral economics, social psychology and philosophical literature.

I had shared earlier with Brooks that since my severe depressive episode last year, I’m now following a calling to take my corporate Happiness workshops to colleges and universities.  I want​ to have a positive impact on the mental health crises on campuses today. If one student in my audience who was contemplating self harm is moved to have hope through my work, it will all be worthwhile. I am starting this work with a Happiness workshop I’m leading for a university’s faculty next week. Research shows that the biggest determinant to an employee’s happiness at work is their direct boss.  For students, this direct boss can be their professor. 

Professor Brooks is my new teacher. I look forward to continuing to learn from Professor Arthur Brooks about Happiness and Leadership and to then bring my learnings to you.  

I am grateful for Arthur as well as each and everyone of you.  Thank you for being a part of  my Happiness and Leadership journey.

About Grace Ueng

Grace is CEO of Savvy Growth, a leadership coaching and management consultancy founded in 2003.  Her great passion to help leaders and the companies they run achieve their fullest potential combined with her empathy and ability to help leaders figure out their “why” are what clients value most.  

Grace’s core offerings are one on one coaching for CEOs and their leadership teams, facilitating workshops on Personal Branding, Happiness and Vulnerability, and Speaking Success, and conducting strategic reviews for companies at a critical juncture. A TEDx speaker, she is hired to give keynotes and workshops on Happiness and Mental Wellness.

A marketing strategist, Grace held leadership roles at five high growth technology ventures that successfully exited through acquisition or IPO. She started her career at Bain & Company and then worked in brand management at Clorox and General Mills. She is a graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School and holds a positive coaching certification from the Whole Being Institute.

Grace and her partner, Rich Chleboski, a cleantech veteran, develop and implement strategies to support the growth of impact focused companies and then coach their leaders in carrying out their strategic plans. Their expertise spans all phases of the business from evaluation through growth and liquidity.