“Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” – Aristotle
Face it – you spend a lot of time at work – often more time than you spend with your family, with friends, more than you have for yourself. If you’re going have that much time invested in your business, you might as well enjoy it. You owe it to yourself to be happy in your career.
Let me begin by sharing what I consider to be the benchmarks of a successful career:
You love what you do.
You love who you do it with.
You are adequately compensated to support the lifestyle of your choice.
You need all three to be happy. If you’re coming up short on the first two, you’re not happy no matter how much money you make. Income issues aside, let me introduce the ideas from a book called The How of Happiness. Author Sonja Lyubormirsky (I’ll refer to her as Dr. Sonja), a Ph.D. research psychologist and psychology professor, has provided useful insights on the concept of happiness.
Dr. Sonja says that 50% of our happiness is fixed – a genetically dictated set point; 10% is circumstantial, or event driven – closing a big deal, getting a new car or taking a dream vacation will temporarily make us happy before we backslide to our set point. Contrary to the popular saying, whoever has the most toys does not win, at least not in the long haul. Finally, she has scientifically documented (with 44 pages of footnotes!) the effectiveness of a dozen “happiness activities” (daily intentional behaviors) that can help us permanently increase the remaining 40% of our personal happiness equation.
Let’s look at these 12 activities in the order they’re presented in the book. I’ll raise questions to get you thinking about how each can apply to your career:
1. Expressing gratitude. How many ways can you show that you’re grateful to those you work with? Who has helped you along the way to your position today that you can acknowledge? How can you show your clients/customers (both external and internal) that you appreciate their contributions to your success.
2. Cultivating optimism. Your attitude is a reflection of your thoughts. What effort do you make to keep yourself thinking positive and hopeful daily, despite “doom and gloom” media and negative people? What kind of attitude do you bring to the office every day that lifts others’ spirits?
3. Avoiding overthinking and social comparison. There’s always somebody richer, smarter, better looking, in better shape, etc. in the marketplace than you. Are you willing to give up comparing yourself to them so you can value the unique human being you are?
4. Practicing acts of kindness. How can you be a “kinder, gentler” person in the office? Do you go out of your way to do the little things that build your emotional bank account with your associates, no matter what their position? How can you display generosity toward others, not so much with money as with your time and a listening ear?
5. Nurturing social relationships. “To have a friend you’ve got to be a friend.” How do you go about building business friendships? Do you feel you have to always compete with your peers? If so, can you turn those into friendly rivalries that spur on better performances from all?
6. Developing strategies for coping. The world of work is not always fun and games – sometimes the going gets rough, as we’ve all experienced during a recession and the pandemic. By what means do you keep yourself on a reasonably even keel during stressful periods? How quickly do you bounce back from the inevitable setbacks you’ll face?
7. Forgiveness. Occasionally (hopefully not often) people will do you wrong in your career. Do you understand that holding on to vengeful thoughts toward others holds you back? What do you do to get over a hurtful business relationship so you can move on?
8. Increasing flow experiences. We are all familiar with “being in the zone.” Are there certain behaviors you do that increase the likelihood you’ll get there more often? What changes can you make to your physical workspace to facilitate this?
9. Savoring life's joys. How often do you take time to smell the roses? Or even smell the coffee at your local Starbucks on your way to the office? Are there other things you take for granted that you could take a moment to enjoy throughout your day?
10. Committing to your goals. Goals are essential for achievement. It’s one thing to write them down – are you committed to making the effort to stretch yourself to achieve them rather than give up when things get hard?
11. Living ethically and purposefully. The most successful people have found a way to develop a strong sense of higher purpose. They have uncompromising ethics. Do you make the effort to evolve yourself spiritually, whether through a traditional religious practice or via your own path?
12. Taking care of your body. The benefits of healthful eating, regular exercise and appropriate rest are well documented. Have you been carrying around an extra 20+ pounds from a junk food diet? Does your health club membership card sit in your wallet unused? Are you getting enough sleep to be bright eyed on the job without being a caffeine junkie?
Like any self-improvement regimen, Dr. Sonja asserts that you must make a sustained effort with these intentional activities to upgrade your level of happiness. In other words, you’ve got to turn them into habits. She provides clear guidelines on how to apply each of the 12, recommending you try a combination of several to see which ones fit best for you.
Though I bill myself as financial planner who helps my clients improve their financial bottom line, having them adopt these activities is really intended to help them improve their personal happiness. Isn’t that what is life all about?
Aristotle answered that question almost 2,500 years ago. It rings true today.