It was day two at the recent SXSW Interactive Conference, and complaints from conference attendees were pervasive – about everything from waiting in insufferably long lines to get into popular seminars or getting shut out entirely. Sure, I expected throngs of people keen to see Mark Cuban, Michael Dell, Shaq, or Chelsea Clinton, who were among this year’s headliners. But I was floored to be turned away from an obscure and clearly ‘non-tech’ session titled “Make Yourself the Happiest Person on Earth.” Though I was disappointed to miss the session, as a flexible workplace consultant, it was encouraging to see the large crowd of professionals drawn to a seminar on happiness amid SXSW Interactive’s renowned programming on business leadership, innovation and technology.

Chade-Meng Tan led this surprisingly oversubscribed seminar on the unlikely topic of happiness at a technology conference designed to showcase new innovations, processes, and thought leadership. Admittedly, Mr. Tan is fairly well known in the tech world, as he’s a former Google engineer known for taking unique advantage of the company’s policy of allowing employees to devote 20% of their time to passion projects. His project of choice was working on world peace. Not wearable technology, not virtual reality, not self-driving cars but, yes, world peace. Not only did Google not try to dissuade him, but the course Mr. Tan designed on mindfulness, called “Search Inside Yourself,” became one of the most popular classes ever taught at Google University. Subsequently, he has written a book, done a TED Talk, and met the Dalai Lama. His current role entails teaching Googlers how to apply mindfulness techniques to their life and work in service of producing happier, healthier, and more creative employees.

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