Barry_SchwarzOn December 4, 2015, we had a Q&A Interview with one of the leading figures in positive psychology, Barry Schwartz, PhD, Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action at Swarthmore College and author of 9 books including The Paradox of Choice and the newly published Why We Work.

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The Way We Think about Work is Broken
TED talk with almost 1.5 million views, about 8 minutes


whyweworkAn eye-opening, groundbreaking tour of the purpose of work in our lives, showing how work operates in our culture and how you can find your own path to happiness in the workplace.

Why do we work? The question seems so simple. But Barry proves that the answer is surprising, complex, and urgent.

We’ve long been taught that the reason we work is primarily for a paycheck. In fact, we’ve shaped much of the infrastructure of our society to accommodate this belief. Then why are so many people dissatisfied with their work, despite healthy compensation? And why do so many people find immense fulfillment and satisfaction through “menial” jobs? Schwartz explores why so many believe that the goal for working should be to earn money, how we arrived to believe that paying workers more leads to better work, and why this has made our society confused, unhappy, and has established a dangerously misguided system.

Through fascinating studies and compelling anecdotes, this book dispels this myth. Barry takes us through hospitals and hair salons, auto plants and boardrooms, showing workers in all walks of life, showcasing the trends and patterns that lead to happiness in the workplace. Ultimately, Barry proves that the root of what drives us to do good work can rarely be incentivized, and that the cause of bad work is often an attempt to do just that.

How did we get to this tangled place? How do we change the way we work? With great insight and wisdom, Barry shows us how to take our first steps toward understanding, and empowering us all to find great work.


“Barry Schwartz has long been one of the most astute – and compassionate – observers of American life. In Why We Work , he makes a compelling case for building organizations that run with the grain of human nature rather than against it. If you want to make work more meaningful, for yourself or for your team, you need to read this wise and powerful book.”
–Daniel H. Pink, author of Drive

“In a masterful book that delivers a deep understanding why we work, Schwartz makes a convincing case that getting the answer wrong bears profound costs for employees and managers in any organization. A highly recommended, thought-provoking read.”
–Amy Wrsesniewski, Professor of Organizational Behavior, Yale University

“A meaningful look at why we’ve lost meaning at work, and where we can find it.”
–Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take

“A delightful, accessible book that glides across centuries of business and industry to reveal the underpinning moral foundations of how and why we work. If you have a job, or hope to have one, read Why We Work.”
–Laszlo Bock, Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google and author of Work Rules!

“A concise 90-page treatise on work that should be required reading for every boss and manager.”
–Chicago Tribune

“Invoking plenty of Adam Smith, Karl Marx, John Maynard Keynes, and even a bit of Bruce Springsteen, Schwartz’s inspiring manifesto forces us to question the very nature of modern-day work… Via fascinating anecdote and plenty of data, the book forcefully claims that how we work isn’t working.”
–HuffPost Books


Context. Our first interview with a positive psychology luminary, Marty Seligman was in 2003. Our second was in early 2004. It was with Barry Schwartz who had just published his now-classic book, The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less. Now after 11 years, Barry returns.

Barry Schwartz, PhD is the Dorwin Cartwright Professor of Social Theory and Social Action in the Psychology Department at Swarthmore College, where he has taught for more than 40 years. He is the author of Why We Work, The Paradox of Choice, and Practical Wisdom. His articles have been published in The New York Times, The New York Times Magazine, the Chronicle of Higher Education, Parade Magazine, USA TODAY, Advertising Age, Slate, Scientific American, The New Republic, Harvard Business Review, and The Guardian, and he has appeared on dozens of radio shows, including Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, Anderson Cooper 360, and CBS Sunday Morning. His four TED Talks have cumulatively received an astonishing 20,000,000+ views.

Barry and his wife, Myrna, have four grandchildren, ages 5 to 14.

Barry and his wife with their grandchildren


Barry’s Website at Swarthmore
Schwartz, B. (8/28/15). Rethinking Work. New York Times Sunday Review.

Audio, Video, TED Talks:

TED Talk: Barry Schwartz: “The Paradox of Choice”. 8M+ views. (19 mins)

TED Talk: Barry Schwartz: “Our Loss of Wisdom”. 2.6M+ views (21 mins)

Book Reviews:
DeVoe, S. (9/7/15). Show Me the Meaning! A Review of Barry Schwartz’s Why We Work.

Translator’s Bookshelf. Review: Why We Work by Barry Schwartz

Schlichenmeyer, T. Review: Why We Work: A TED Original by Barry …

Simon, P. (Sept 2015). Why We Work by Barry Schwartz. Huffington Post.


Barry’s Interviews on Why We Work:

Bloomberg TV. ” Cash, Happiness or More: Why We Work.” (3 mins)

Chicago Tribune. (Sept 2015). Examining why we work can make our work lives better.

Clayson, J. (Sept 7, 2015) Why Do We Work.

CNBC (9/20/15) “On the Money“. (2 mins)

MSNBC Live ( 9/18/15). ” How to find happiness at work“. (4 mins)

To the Best of Our Knowledge (9/20/15). ” Psychologist Barry Schwartz Explains the Qualities of Meaningful Work“. (10 mins)

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