Stumbling on happiness while on a walking tour.

You may have seen my post[s] last week on Linked In or other social channels about stumbling on happiness. I was in Las Vegas to celebrate my partner’s birthday last week. One of the things that we’ve always enjoyed is walking tours of the historic parts of cities. So I booked a walking tour of Downtown Las Vegas with TripAdvisor. 

Old is new in downtown Las Vegas


While I was getting ready to board my flight, I mentioned to another passenger that I was planning to tour downtown. He warned me that it’s not safe but that a tour would be the best way to see it.

Downtown Las Vegas wasn’t safe years ago but it has been undergoing a revitalization with the help of local business leaders. Hotels, restaurants and the Freemont Street experience have been updated and reimagined. If you’re looking for a fun, budget friendly Las Vegas recharge, everything downtown is cheaper than The Strip. Our guide highlighted the fact that you can get a bottle of water for $1, a shrimp cocktail for $2.99 and a full steak dinner for $14.99. For some, that alone might sound like stumbling on happiness but there is more to this story.

Freemont Street East

Our tour ended at The Container Park which is a complex of repurposed shipping containers used to create affordable space for small businesses. It is one of Tony Hsieh’s projects to help entrepreneurs and to revitalize Freemont Street East.

If you’re not aware, Tony Hsieh is the co-founder of Zappos and author of the book Delivering Happiness. I met him at the Common Wealth Club of San Francisco during his book tour and he made an impression. Ending the tour at one of his projects was a highlight of the tour for me.

Delivering Happiness

If you haven’t read Delivering Happiness in a while or ever, it’s worth picking up especially if you’re an aspiring entrepreneur, entrepreneur or business leader.

1/ The stories of Tony’s childhood ventures are priceless. You’ll laugh but more importantly, you’ll get an appreciation for his early aptitude for business.

2/ The parallels Tony draws between poker strategy and business are insightful for all business leaders but especially for first time entrepreneurs. In short, he realized that he didn’t have to win every hand or every deal to be successful. That realization played into how they treated Zappos business partners and the company’s success.

3/ The importance of good alignment with investors. He referenced the liquidation preferences as one of the challenges that eventually led to the Zappos sale to Amazon. They got lucky because Amazon allowed them to preserve their independence and culture.


Building the Zappos culture was really important to Tony. Reading the book in the context of current corporate wellness frameworks, they got so much right.

1/ Leadership

Leadership buy in is essential for creating a healthy culture. Tony and his partners were by definition Transformational Leaders interested in the growth and wellbeing of their employees and business partners.

2/ Values

The company formalized a list of 10 values. Ten is a lot but reportedly, they were memorable to all employees. The Culture Book likely had a lot to do with it because all employees were invited to contribute to the book.

The Culture Book was initially created to help distill the company’s values but it was updated and published annually as a way to gage how the company’s culture was evolving. The book included everything written whether it was good or bad because the company embraced transparency and continuous improvement.

3/ Values become your brand

When you operationalize your values, your company’s values become your brand. The Zappos values were operationalized in various ways but one of the ways that resonated with me was the library. The company’s library was established to encourage continuous learning and growth. Everyone was encouraged to check out books and those who finished a set number of books per year were rewarded. The books are now available to everyone including visitors.

4/ Communication

Encouraging open and honest communication is encouraged at all levels but also guard railed with several other values that guided employee conduct. The guard rails on conduct likely helped to create psychological safety in the workplace.

Stumbling on Happiness

The book ends with Tony’s conclusion that everything they did at Zappos and everything people strive to achieve in life boils down to one thing, happiness. He arrived at this conclusion by continuously asking Why to people’s responses about their goals.

He researched Positive Psychology and the Science of Happiness to understand what makes people happy so that he could infuse those principles into the company. He discovered four principles make people happy:

1/ perceived control

2/ perceived progress

3/ connectedness

4/ vision/meaning

He also discovered that the fractal properties representing the needs of businesses and people were basically the same: money/profit, passion and purpose. Purpose produces a longer lasting sense of happiness than money. He concluded that we should all start with purpose and pursue passion to realize the money/profits needed for everyone to live a happier life.

For me, stumbling on happiness was ending at the Container Park, talking with some of the shop owners who were there from the beginning and remembering the person who touched a lot of lives, including mine. Rest in peace Tony!

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