John Lennon famously said that when he went to school, they asked him what he wanted to be when he grew up and he wrote down ‘happy.’ They told him he didn’t understand the assignment, and he told them that they didn’t understand life. There is such a focus on SMART goals (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic/relevant, timely) when it comes to career planning, that we often forget that how we feel about our jobs, our lives, ourselves, is a vital element to think about.
When you consider that we spend up to 75 per cent of our lives in work-related activities (preparing for work, travelling to work, working, thinking about work, talking about work, complaining about work, etc.), it becomes apparent that it is really important that we get it right. We don’t want to be investing so much of our time and energy in a pursuit that makes us miserable.
Many people equate success to happiness with the belief that if they become successful at work, then the transition to happiness will be automatic. Happiness then becomes a destination, a reward for hard work. How happiness feels for me, will be different to how it feels for you, so how will you know it when you feel it? What will you do when you ‘arrive’ at happiness? Do you stop trying? Is the incentive still there to keep plodding along? Does it mean that you can lose happiness?
Psychologists generally agree that happiness is not actually a ‘destination’ that a person can ‘arrive at’ but is instead ‘the joy we feel striving after our potential.’ This concept of happiness, then, is intangible, adaptable, and dependent on the belief that we are working towards something bigger. That could be something as simple as providing for our family, or it could be as significant as working for the UN; how we define our potential shapes the way that we feel about happiness. Perhaps, we can find our purpose beyond the world of work and seek our happiness outside the bounds of the nine to five slog, while working at a job we aren’t drawn to because it provides the means to an end. Or perhaps, the way we earn a crust is how we seek to meet our potential, and the successes and progress in our daily working lives is the recipe for happiness that feeds the fire in our bellies.
However we perceive our potential, whether it be within or outside of work, our general sense of happiness is influenced by our daily grind. Research indicates that 50 per cent of our sense of happiness is innate; 10 per cent comes from circumstance and 40 per cent comes from our mindset. Our mindset is largely influenced by what we do every day and thus work is a huge influencer in our sense of happiness.
Not only does our work influence our sense of happiness, but our happiness levels influence our ability to work well. When employees are happy workers, they are more engaged, efficient, creative, productive and higher performing than employees who are unhappy. It is in the employers’ best interest to ensure that they pay more than lip service to the idea of building team morale, empowering staff members to identify and reach their potential, and to encourage training and growth within the workplace.
Happiness generally gets a bad rap – you are considered naïve and ‘wishy-washy’ if you pay attention to the role of happiness in your life. However, striving for how you want to feel in your job is often the first step towards identifying what you want to do in your daily life which can lead to realistic and fulfilling career planning. Don’t overlook the lesson to be learned from John Lennon – happiness is the key to life.