Scott Galloway teaches brand strategy at NYU's Stern School of Business, but his most popular lectures deal with life strategy, not business. In the classroom, on his blog, and in YouTube videos garnering millions of views, he regularly offers hard-hitting answers to the big questions: What's the formula for a life well lived? How can you have a meaningful career, not just a lucrative one? Is work/life balance possible? What are the elements of a successful relationship?
The Algebra of Happiness: Notes on the Pursuit of Success, Love, and Meaning draws on Professor Galloway's mix of anecdotes and no-BS insight to share hard-won wisdom about life's challenges, along with poignant personal stories.
Whether it's advice on if you should drop out of school to be an entrepreneur (it might have worked for Steve Jobs, but you're probably not Steve Jobs), ideas on how to position yourself in a crowded job market (do something "boring" and move to a city; passion is for people who are already rich), discovering what the most important decision in your life is (it's not your job, your car, OR your zip code), or arguing that our relationships to others are ultimately all that matter, Galloway entertains, inspires, and provokes.
Brash, funny, and surprisingly moving, The Algebra of Happiness represents a refreshing perspective on our need for both professional success and personal fulfillment, and makes the perfect gift for any new graduate, or for anyone who feels adrift.
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About the Author
Read an Excerpt
The Algebra of Happiness
In 2002, I joined the faculty of NYU’s Stern School of Business. More than 5,000 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 40, 50, or 80?
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 May 2018, we posted an abridged version on my YouTube channel. The video was viewed by over 1 million people in the first ten days. My publisher was nudging me to write a follow-up book to The Four: The Hidden DNA of Amazon, Apple, Facebook, and & Google, and, much to their horror, I informed her my second book would be about happiness.
I have no academic credibility or credentials to indicate I should counsel people on how to live their lives. I have had several businesses fail, was divorced by 34, and (recently) had the most successful venture capitalist in history contact the partners at General Catalyst—my backers at L2—to discourage them (no joke) from investing in L2 as because I was “insane.” Note: General Catalyst invested anyway and did (really) well.
In fact, you’d need to squint pretty severely to view my life as a framework for happiness. I grew up an unremarkable kid in California in the ’70s, skinny and awkward, who received mediocre grades, but didn’t test well either. I applied to UCLA and was rejected, which didn’t seem like a big deal—my father assured me that “Someone with your street smarts doesn’t need college.” I had no street smarts, just a father with a new family who didn’t want to pay for college. He did, however, secure me a job installing shelving. The job paid $15 to $18 an hour, which seemed like a lot of money. I could buy a nice car, my only real goal at the time.
During the twelfth grade, after school, we’d walk into Westwood Village, get ice cream, and; my friends would shoplift. I’d head home when my friends started shoving Peter Frampton shirts into their pants—not because I was more ethical than them, but because my single mother couldn’t handle a call from the LAPD to come get me. Walking back from Westwood Village I crossed Hilgard Avenue, where UCLA sororities lined the street. It was homecoming week, and there were thousands of young women standing in front of their houses singing songs and generally looking like a cross between a Norman Rockwell painting and a Cinemax movie.
At that moment, I decided I needed to go to college and wrote another letter to UCLA admissions. I told them the truth: “I am a native son of California, raised by an single immigrant single mother who is a secretary, and if you don’t let me in, I’m going to be installing shelving for the rest of my life.” They admitted me nine days before classes started. My mom told me that, as the first person to attend college on either side of the family, I could now “do anything.”
As my options were now limitless, I committed to spending the next five years smoking a shit-ton of pot, playing sports, and watching the Planet of Apes trilogy several dozen times, only taking breaks from this routine for random sexual encounters. Except for the last part, I was hugely successful.
By senior year, most of my friends were getting their act together, focusing on grades, grad school, or getting a job. As no good deed goes unpunished, I rewarded the vision and generosity of the regents of UC and California taxpayers with a 2.27 GPA. I needed a fifth year at UCLA, as I had failed seven classes and didn’t have the credits to graduate. Again, not a big deal, as there was more pot and sci-fi movies to be consumed, and there was nothing compelling waiting for me in the real world.
My last year in the fraternity, I had a roommate who was very ambitious, and I felt an odd sense of competition with him. He was obsessed with being an investment banker. I didn’t know what investment banking was, but if Gary wanted to do it, I would do it too. I interview well, lied about my grades, and secured a job as an analyst with Morgan Stanley. It helped that the head of the group, like me, had rowed crew in college and had decided that all oarsmen were destined to be great investment bankers.
After an unremarkable stint in investment banking, I decided I’d apply to business school, as I had no idea what I wanted to do, and my girlfriend and best friend were both headed to bB-school. The state of California took yet another risk on me, and I was admitted to Berkeley’s Haas School of Business. During my second year I was inspired by a professor, David Aaker, who taught brand strategy, and in also during my second year I founded a strategy firm, Prophet. Prophet did well, and I eventually sold it to Dentsu, and in 1997 we decided to incubate several e-commerce firms in the basement of Prophet’s office, as that’s what an MBA with a shaved head did in the nineties in San Francisco. In sum, I was beginning to hit my stride with the winds of processing power and the internet at my back.
One of the firms, Red Envelope, got swept up in the prosperity of the age, culminating in a NASDAQ IPO—the only retail IPO of 2002. Blessed with extraordinarily good luck, a great partner (my wife), and the wisdom to be born into the most prosperous era in history, I decided that rather than take stock of my blessings, I wanted more. More, goddamnit. I wasn’t sure what “more” meant . . . so I opted for different. I resigned from the board of Red Envelope, asked my wife for a divorce, moved to New York City, and joined the faculty of NYU’s Stern School of businessBusiness. (The correct diagnosis of me in my thirties was “character deficiency.”)
In 2010, while on the faculty of NYU at Stern, I published a piece of research ranking luxury brands based on their digital competence. Many of the firms I had researched reached out, and, recognizing there was a commercial opportunity, I founded the business intelligence firm L2. L2 now works with a third of the 100 largest consumer firms in the world. In 2017, L2 was acquired by Gartner, a publicly traded research firm (NASDAQ: IT).
In entrepreneurship, the highs are very high and the lows very low. I struggle with mild depression (anger, mostly) and spend a lot of time thinking about how to manage it, without drugs or therapy (note: not judging either). This struggle has led me to a pursuit of knowledge on how to achieve not only success, but happiness. I share my findings on my blog, No Mercy / No Malice, but not in any organized fashion. This book is an attempt to remedy that.
In the pages that follow, I’ll share what I’ve observed as a serial entrepreneur, academic, husband, dad, son, and American man, coupled with a decent amount of research. It’s important to acknowledge that my thoughts in this book are observations, and not peer-reviewed academic research or a map sketched by someone who has already arrived.
I’ve shaped this book into four sections. The first outlines the basic equations my students and I review together each spring: if one were to boil down the formula for happiness into a finite number of equations, what would they be? The second part delves deeper into what I’ve learned about success, ambition, career, and money from my experience as an investment banker, entrepreneur, business school professor, and voice on the impact of big tech on our economy and society.
The topics in sections one & and two are meaningful. However, the subject matter for section three is profound: love and relationships. Young people, especially young men, struggle to square the mixed messages about how to thread the needle of relationships and success to achieve personal and professional meaning in our capitalist world. The fourth and last section challenges the reader to turn to the (wo)man in the mirror, and address issues including the care and feeding of a physical body; , inner demons, and our last days on earth.
Taking life advice from a depressed and insane professor may not make sense. Maybe. But I’ve done my homework, and for the next 200–odd pages, I’m your insane professor. I hope these no mercy/no malice observations on success and love help you register a more rewarding and joyous life.