Would You Rather Be Happy Or $uccessful?

david lockhart 52 mar Contrary to what some might have you believe, the two terms are not interchangeable.

And contrary to what some others might think, it's possible -- even desirable -- to find happiness and meaning in one's work.  I know I do...

Truth be told, no matter how much money you have in the bank, you won't be happy unless you can live by certain basic guidelines.

...and if you can live by those guidelines, then it really doesn't matter how much money you have in the bank.

About half of happiness is genetically determined.  Up to an additional 40 percent comes from the things that have occurred in our recent past — but that won’t last very long.

That leaves just about 12 percent.  That might not sound like much, but the good news is that we can bring that 12 percent under our control.  It turns out that choosing to pursue four basic values of faith, family, community and work is the surest path to happiness, given that a certain percentage is genetic and not under our control in any way.

The first three are fairly uncontroversial. Empirical evidence that faith, family and friendships increase happiness and meaning is hardly shocking.  Few dying patients regret overinvesting in rich family lives, community ties and spiritual journeys.

Work, though, seems less intuitive...

This shouldn’t shock us.  Vocation is central to the American ideal, the root of the aphorism that we “live to work” while others “work to live.”  Throughout our history, America’s flexible labor markets and dynamic society have given its citizens a unique say over our work — and made our work uniquely relevant to our happiness.  When Frederick Douglass rhapsodized about “patient, enduring, honest, unremitting and indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put,” he struck the bedrock of our culture and character.

...rewarding work is unbelievably important, and this is emphatically not about money.  That’s what research suggests as well.  Economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor.  But scholars like the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.

So relieving poverty brings big happiness, but income, per se, does not.  Even after accounting for government transfers that support personal finances, unemployment proves catastrophic for happiness.  Abstracted from money, joblessness seems to increase the rates of divorce and suicide, and the severity of disease.

And according to the General Social Survey, nearly three-quarters of Americans wouldn’t quit their jobs even if a financial windfall enabled them to live in luxury for the rest of their lives.  Those with the least education, the lowest incomes and the least prestigious jobs were actually most likely to say they would keep working, while elites were more likely to say they would take the money and run.  We would do well to remember this before scoffing at “dead-end jobs.”

...Work can bring happiness by marrying our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others. .Franklin D. Roosevelt had it right: “Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.”

In other words, the secret to happiness through work is earned success.

-- Arthur C. Brooks, "A Formula For Happiness" NY Times Dec. 14, 2013

 art by David Lockhart

Heading For The Last Round-Up (On This Story At Least...)

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