Sadly, Tony Hsieh’s Happiness Did Not Deliver

I just read Monday’s Wall Street Journal investigative story about Tony Hsieh, co-founder and former CEO of Zappos and author of the 2010 bestseller, Delivering Happiness.

I knew Tony, and it breaks my heart to learn about his rapid downward emotional spiral since the pandemic began. He delivered happiness to thousands without first securing his own metaphorical oxygen mask.

As many of us experience more aggressive pandemic restrictions and a potential increase in isolation, I encourage you to take note of this tragedy, how our loved ones and colleagues may also be feeling similar emotions, and what you can do to help them avoid extreme emotional distress.

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The gifts and talents of this man went up in smoke too prematurely. They were sullied by his quest to seek enjoyment from life through drugs, alcohol, and risky behavior. This reportedly included refraining from urinating, excessive partying, and extreme dieting. Based on the Journal report, he may have barricaded himself in a friend’s home while it was ablaze.

I have a different memory of Hsieh. Back in 2009, Tony invited me to Zappos headquarters in Henderson, Nevada. I was given the royal treatment. Jade, one of his team “evangelists,” picked me up in a pristine black SUV at the airport and beamed about her job. Various team members asked me about my newest book at the time, EnergizeGrowth NOW.

When I arrived, his Learning and Development team lead interviewed me for Zappos’ unorthodox leadership program. For months to follow, the team produced a video to promote my book on Amazon. Zappos was way ahead of its time with video marketing. To this day, I’m grateful beyond measure.

Hsieh gave me a grand tour of Zappos’ quirky offices and creatively designed conference rooms. Some were festooned with colorful picnic tables and streamers. Others included stuffed toys, paintball guns, and colorful walls.

Hsieh made work fun—this was a somewhat novel concept in 2008-2009. I wrote and spoke extensively on how he created a can-do customer service culture (see the “related posts” below). Their service reps were known for addressing non order-related requests from customers. One rep was never reprimanded for spending nearly 4 hours with one customer. To my knowledge, reps are still expected nor paid to handle service calls swiftly.

Looking back at this sequence of events, I realize that his tragic end of life taught me a bigger lesson than his legacy as a leadership maverick, philanthropist, customer service fanatic, and entrepreneur.

Addictions are exacerbated by isolation–by living alone and cutting off those who care. Isolation also happens when surrounded by people who enable the addiction. Enablers and co-conspirators distract us from positive influences.

Addiction can also strike people at any socio-economic level. Tony Hsieh was no exception.

If you know someone who is suffering from emotional distress, addiction, or extreme isolation, please reach out to them. If necessary, contact a mental health professional and ask how you can be helpful. Invite them to a healthy, purpose-driven community in which you participate. For me, the 100 Coaches Community and Insight Meditation Community of Washington have been lifelines since the pandemic began. Insight Timer also offers group meditations and chat features. (I have no financial ties to these resources).

It is never too late to serve up a little happiness for others. And remember to deliver some to yourself, too. 

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