Pursuit of happiness?

MLK - What are you doing for othersAround 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.

8 thoughts on “Pursuit of happiness?”

  1. Great article. I think the end result of fulfillment is happiness. I agree with you, it is much more effective to find out what makes you unhappy and work on that. I find l am a pretty cheery happy person, always have been, but when l feel sad, l wallow in it for a bit. I think it’s important to experience all cycles of life. Your goals are pretty cool, there’s nothing like helping others , gives you the warm fuzzies. I think you guys are going to have an awesome time in Spain.

    1. Hi Kemkem. “I think you guys are going to have an awesome time in Spain.”

      I think you are right but as you say, without doubt we’re going to experience all cycles (and emotions) of life as we navigate through that adventure. Sometimes I have to remind myself that despite my best laid plans to get to the end-goal, it is often the journey that is the most fun, even if it’s off script.

      Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Your blog looks great and you’ve definitely gained a reader. I’ve never been to Malta and frankly never thought much about it, but your pictures of Gozo make me want to go!

      1. Malta and Gozo are truly beautiful. Slower pace of life for sure, Gozo even more so but there are plenty of expats. It’s the perfect base to explore around Europe…and not having to learn another language helps. I’m waiting for Ryanair to have their crazy 20 euro each way fare to Seville to visit. Scored some good Madrid ones already. Thanks for the kind words about my blog. Off script is the best!!!!

  2. I was thinking along these same lines a while back. Instead of focusing on attaining “happiness” I though about what makes me content. Money, mind, health, family, and friends all lead to happiness or contentment.

    As a result, I try to spend most of my time on things that fall within one of these five categories.

    Oh, and money is instrumentally valuable and very useful to benefit mind, health, family, and friends. Money can’t buy happiness, but well deployed money can bring about happiness. And lack of money can certainly be an impediment to happiness. 🙂

    1. I like that. I do think it is helpful to lay out those things that should take priority in your life. Let’s face it, no one has unlimited resources (time, money being two of the biggest). And in order to lead a more deliberate life, your resources shouldn’t be ‘wasted’ on those things that you haven’t identified as being in your top 5, top 10, etc. I like to call it boulder prioritization.

  3. For me, these things are very closely intertwined. Simple and hedonistic things make me happy (eating, reading, sleeping in). I also love writing and interacting on social media, and this is both my job and my hobby, so fulfilment in that sense also equals happiness.

    1. Yeah, I do think they are intertwined. I’m probably getting bogged down in how I’m defining happiness and probably thinking to it as more ‘joy’. I’m not the best at expressing myself but in my world, the sense of fulfillment is something that sustains and is slow to go away where pure happiness is something that more quickly wanes.

      Anyway, thanks for stopping by. I really like your blog and am amazed at the quantity and quality of your posts. Keep up the good work.

Your Thoughts?