The (Futile) Pursuit of Happiness: Why Being Happy Should Not Be Considered a Career Goal

Many people who suffer and endure through the rat race convince themselves that they'll eventually feel happy when they achieve what they set out to do with their careers—whether it's earning a hefty amount of money, a plum position, the respect of their peers, and so on.

Yet looking at many successful people living miserable lives, it's clear that success is hardly the measure of happiness. Because if it was, then people who practically have anything that anyone could ever ask for in life should be the happiest people on earth. And yet they're not.

Happiness is a natural goal for any individual. Unfortunately, the path to genuine happiness isn't so straightforward. In fact, dozens of studies show that pursuing happiness makes people less happy — an idea that applies at work as it does in life.

Finding happiness at work

According to Gallup's World Poll, only 15 percent of employees are engaged with their work, which means 85 percent of the world's workers hate their jobs, and this number includes those who have their career goals pegged—a bigger house, more money, lavish lifestyle, etc.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Given that you'll be spending most of your waking life earning a living, it's essential to know how to be happy at your job, but as mentioned, it's futile to make happiness your ultimate goal. This is because happiness is simply a feeling, and like all feelings, it is often temporary—a mere fleeting state of mind.

Knowing this, it helps to pause and ask one's self: If being famous, exploring the world, having lots of money, or landing your dream job actually make you happy, then what will? The answer: Instead of seeking happiness, you should strive for meaning.

A happy, meaningful life

There is a strong correlation between meaning and happiness. The more meaning one finds in life, the happier that person will feel. Consequently, a happy person will feel encouraged to seek more meaning and purpose in life. If one continues on this path, the ultimate forms of happiness—joy and contentment—will be well within reach.

Of course, this is not to say that you should stop pursuing your material and tangible goals, just understand that your goals —in and of themselves—are not enough to make you truly and lastingly happy.

Eleanor Roosevelt once said: "Happiness is not a goal... it's a by-product of a life well-lived. Someone once asked me what I regarded as the three most important requirements for happiness," Ms. Roosevelt continued. "My answer was: 'A feeling that you have been honest with yourself and those around you; a feeling that you have done the best you could both in your personal life and in your work; and the ability to love others.'

What Ms. Roosevelt is saying is that happiness is not a treasure chest waiting to be found. Instead, it's a never-ending process of doing what she enumerates as "requirements for happiness." Accepting this idea can lead to a massive paradigm shift in your life, and transform the way you think and feel about what it is you're ready to do. With that I mind, here's a list of suggestions that can help you refocus your efforts to achieve happiness in your career.

Feed your passions

Most people are not happy with their work simply because they can't find meaning in it. They believe that what they are doing is not useful. On the other hand, people who see a purpose in their work are more productive, driven, and efficient. If you can't find meaning in your roles and responsibilities, perhaps give more time to the things you like doing—your passions, causes and interests. If you can't find a way to turn these into your career, allot some time for them off work. Passions are what gives life purpose, and that's why it's important to feed them.

Make Other People Happy Instead

"Generosity is its own reward," is an age-old adage, but there's scientific evidence to back it up. Here are some studies on the subject:

  • In 2017, scientists in Switzerland discovered that generous acts, no matter how small, caused changes in the brain that made people happier, even overriding the neural regions associated with personal reward.
  • In 2008, an experiment divided people into two groups, then asked one group to splurge on themselves. Meanwhile, the other group was asked to spend their money on someone else. The experiment showed that people in the second group were happier than those on the group who spent on themselves.
  • In a collective study spanning 20 years of research, scientists found that donating and volunteering to charity had a profound effect on people's psychological health.

Man is a social being, and people function best when they feel connected to one another. This is especially true in the workplace—that's why teamwork is a vital part of any organization. Would you consider yourself generous to your co-workers? Do you think you could use a little more generosity on your part? Here are some ideas to try out:

  • Help your boss with a task that's not part of your list of responsibilities.
  • Offer to treat your team to lunch
  • Share your knowledge and experience to new hires
  • Give encouragement and support to co-workers who need it

Your generous gestures don't have to be grand. As long as you can do little things that help make the work environment slightly better for others, that adds up to a job well done.

It's the journey, not the destination

When you focus solely on achievements, you only serve to make happiness more elusive. Sure, you'll get satisfaction whenever a goal is achieved, but those positive feelings will be short-lived. Final outcomes— especially self-serving ones—are often not as significant as you've been conditioned to believe, and the journey that gets you there, whether good or bad, matters more.

The journey is where you form and realize your goals, where you develop your resolve and strength of character, where you acquire useful skills, and where you nurture relationships that matter. Most of all, the journey is what molds you into the person you become. Appreciate the journey because of the useful lessons and experiences contained within.

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