Around this time of year, I start hearing and reading about people’s resolutions for the new year. A portion of them deal with their level of happiness and this idea that folks are going to resolve to be “more happy”.
I struggle with this for a couple of reasons.
1. Happiness is a byproduct and not a goal. It seems everyone’s time would be better spent understanding what actually causes them to be happy than making that itself the goal.
2. Constant happiness is unsustainable. Emotions are relative and in order to feel the peak sense of happiness, you also need to experience states of indifference or unhappiness. Every peak has two valleys after all. Maybe I’m getting hung up on semantics and the definition of happiness. I don’t know.
Beyond having our basic needs met, I tend to think people want to sense that they are fulfilled. Not content or happy, but that they are contributors and part of something greater. I know I do.
A Work Tale
I had an interesting happening at work recently and I’m still feeling its effects.
I was called on to help with a special project. This required me to meet with dozens of people across the company to understand and document all the different ways we execute a certain business process. We needed this because a third-party vendor was hired to help make this particular process more efficient. They needed to understand our current state and “how we do things”.
There were several problems with this request.
- I had no former knowledge of this particular business process
- There was no existing documentation
- There were a bunch of people who knew just their little piece of the process
- The vendor was coming into town the following week
So I busted my behind day and night for a good week straight including weekends. This consisted of conference calls to Europe in the early morning, chats with U.S. business units during the day, and calls with Japan late at night.
For my management, this was of the highest priority so they made a point to have regular meetings to review my progress. The general consensus was that I wasn’t moving fast enough and that my deliverables weren’t up to the quality or at the detail they needed. This was tough to hear because in the back of my mind I felt I was getting really good information. It wasn’t in the prettiest format, but it would do its job given the tight timeline.
Anyway, the vendor arrived on site for a two-day project kickoff and I reluctantly presented my materials. At the end of the sessions, the president of the vendor who was in attendance pulled me aside and complimented me on all the work I had done. He went on to say that this was the best project kickoff he had ever been a part of and that the work I had done saved several weeks of additional time.
Wow, was that good to hear! It’s seems like such a little thing to be acknowledged for your work but it really made an impression on me. Unfortunately moments like this at work are becoming fewer and further apart. I did, however, get an ‘atta-boy’ email from my boss after all was said and done. The cynic in me thinks this was only after the vendor president talked about how productive the on-site meetings were.
Since then, I’ve spent some time thinking about this experience and why it made me feel so good. It is this exact feeling that I want to experience on a regular basis, even when I’m not working. I think there are a couple of things at play here and I’ve boiled them down to the following:
- I worked really hard at something and was able to see the benefits
- I collaborated with a bunch of people in the effort
- I came up with solutions
- In the end, I received feedback that my work helped a lot of people
It’s these things that don’t necessarily make me happy, but they make me feel fulfilled.
After I quit my job, I’ll be pursuing this sense of fulfillment by:
- Being around more for our kids – keeping them on top of their homework, playing, educating, and disciplining.
- Supporting my wife by running the household including cleaning and meal duties.
- Increasing my volunteering and just generally trying to be of legitimate help to others.
That’s it. When I’m helping others, I feel my best. This is what will drive me after I stop working for a paycheck. Instead of rewarding myself by buying more stuff, I plan on rewarding myself with the most soul-filling kind of fuel – interacting with and helping others.
My goal isn’t to be happy. I want to be fulfilled. This comes from making someone else happy. It’s like gift giving – it feels better to give than to receive.
Am I in the pursuit of happiness? Naw. I prefer the pursuit of fulfillment.