Be productive at meaningful work

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Be productive at meaningful work

Be productive at meaningful work

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  • 1. BE PRODUCTIVE AT MEANINGFUL WORK THE THIRD FUNDAMENTAL The basis of Fundamental Three is an ancient one. It rings across the centuries of philosophical writing: "The Life of Meaning is Critical to Happiness" So far, however, this important happiness message may have eluded you. After all, up until now, the picture we've been painting of happiness could appear to be the exclusive domain of "good times" and "fun people." Just look at what we've seen... Typically, it appears as if the happy people are spending much more of their time in fun, enjoyable activities than most of us do. They tend to be doing more exciting things; they're game for anything new and exotic; and they're having a great time in a wild, social whirl of parties, fun with their friends, good times with their families, and romantic episodes with their love-partners. So who are the happy people? Are they just the so called "party animals" -- out for a life of good times? Are they the classic hedonists: simply living for self-indulgence, pleasure, thrills, and gluttony? Or, on a more innocent level, maybe the happiest people just naively gravitate to an easier life of fun and sociality... If true, the picture of happiness might appear to be somewhat superficial. After all, if happiness is only a matter of "fun," then happiness itself becomes a trite goal in life. Well, if you get that kind of trite image of happiness, you're partially right! Happy people are out there having "the time of their lives" -- in theory. At least, according to the research, the happiest people do indeed get a much greater "kick" out of life than most of us do. But is this all there is to happiness? The answer is, "No!" Without meaning and productivity in one's life, fun and socializing only leads to a superficial happiness... THE SUPERFICIALLY HAPPY One cannot deny that thrills are thrilling, that excitement is exciting, that "fun" is fun, or that "great times" produce happy feelings. The research clearly confirms this.
  • 2. Nor does the research argue with the idea that the more thrilling, exciting, fun, or good times one has, the happier one will be. The only thing the collected research agues with is the finding that such a "fun-filled-life- style," by itself, makes for true happiness. Although those who live a more "fun" and socially active lifestyle are generally found to be happier than those who don't, it is usually a temporary happiness. Such people live lives filled with statistically higher-than-normal level of happiness producing events. But are they really happy in the manner we've described it to be in these Volumes? No, they are only "superficially happy." For the "superficially happy" happiness is merely an accumulation of short-lived, discrete happy episodes. However, few of these episodes provide a long-lasting or abiding sense of of fulfillment. Indeed, for the "superficially happy," happiness is like a drug addiction: only a steady stream of thrills and excitements can maintain their "high." And even then, the "superficially happy" never experience the deeper, more abiding sense of contentment with life that is typical of the happy people I and my colleagues have studied in our research. All this is not to dismiss the importance of fun and social activity in producing happiness. In fact, the ultimate formula of the Fourteen Fundamentals will continue to emphasize these elements time and time again. But unless there is a final element added to the happiness picture (the element of meaning and productivity), the possibility of a deep and abiding happiness will always elude you. "Good times," temporary thrills, and an endless succession of fun experiences will boost your happiness a good deal, but without meaning and productivity in your life you will only find yourself among the "superficially happy." Then you will find yourself having a "better time" than many around you, but as far as real happiness goes, such "superficial happiness" is usually rather shallow and short-lived. Furthermore, happiness based on "good times" alone is often hollow and unfulfilling. There is an emptiness in the soul of those who completely associate happiness with fun. Something is missing... It is the elements of "productivity" and "meaning." Apparently, these are the elements we've overlooked in our search for happiness, so far. "PRODUCTIVITY AND MEANING"
  • 3. When we researchers interview people about the true nature of their happiness, inevitably they answer with statements which reveal the value of "productivity and meaning" in their happier times in life. And the happiest people we've studied appear to have high degrees of both in their daily lives. Indeed, the basic data cited in Volume I of this dyad finds that happy people appear to be marvelously productive, on one hand, and find exceptional meaning in their work on the other. Clearly, there is something contributed by both these elements which leads to a deeper, more fulfilling sense of happiness. PRODUCTIVITY The happiest people, according to the research, are quite productive people. Past research clearly demonstrates that happy people are more productive, efficient, energetic, and planfull. The research similarly shows that happy people accomplish more, and tend to be more successful in achieving their goals. There is something primal about the role productivity plays in happiness. It is something akin to the role activity plays. As you remember from our discussion of Fundamental One, mere activity, in and of itself, has a strong correlation to happiness. The more active and busy one is, generally, the happier one is. Well, it is the same with productivity, but perhaps more so. Being active is important, but being productive may be critical! Periods of productivity are often ranked as among the happiest periods of life -- not just over long periods of time, but even within an average day. It seems, when we are accomplishing, being constructive, making progress, hacking away at problems, forging ahead, "taking care of business," or however you want to put it, a sense of satisfaction inevitably occurs. And such everyday, satisfying feelings are major building blocks to an overall sense of happiness. Thus, according to Fundamental Three, a little dose of productivity, each and everyday, could go a long way to building your own happiness. It takes a little effort to keep up with your chores and work responsibilities. It's not easy to turn off the T.V. and tackle some of those backlogged projects around the house. It can be tough to turn down a fun, social invitation in order to work on a report for your boss or professor. But the effort is worth it, in terms of your overall happiness. More than your happiness, however, is at stake here. Being productive should not be seen simply as just another way to boost your present happiness-level. It should also be understood as a way to avoid one of the most insidious and least recognized causes of depression.
  • 4. THE LEAST RECOGNIZED CAUSE OF DEPRESSION Personal productivity is one of the major sources of happiness in life. In general, the research shows that the happier of lives involves one of continual progression and success. The data especially shows that those who feel they are doing "better than they hoped" are far more happy than those who are doing "worse than they hoped" -- and those who are doing "just as they had hoped" are usually very happy. Such findings not only describe one's general progress in life, they also hold true to everyday happiness. Naturally enough, a "successful and productive day" is almost always ranked happier than a non-productive day. But as clearly as most of us recognize how productivity and progression contribute to our sense of happiness, what few sense how devastating a period of non-productivity can be to our happiness... Non-productivity is among the least cited, yet most common sources of depression. And because it goes largely unrecognized (both by clinicians and the individuals affected), I believe it is the most insidious cause of depression there is. In general, the professional, as well as the average person, is prone to blame depression on major crises in life. There is nothing ill-based about such assessments, since most depressions are, indeed, precipitated by major defeats or losses in life. The loss of job or status, the death of a family member, the breakup of a love relationship, the guilt over personal indiscretions, the reaction to traumatic events -- all these will typically cause depressive periods. But sometimes, the "cause" of an individual's depression appears to be unidentified and mysterious. Because of such baffling cases, more and more psychiatric and psychological professionals are coming to believe that a good proportion of depression disorders are more likely biochemical than psychologically caused. Thus, these days, the typical treatment for depression has come to rely far more on pharmaceuticals than traditional psychotherapy. And the evidence does suggest that in some cases (at least on a temporary basis) many patients can profit from a regime of anti-depressant drugs and allied medications. However, in most of my own cases, I have found that such "unidentifiable and mysterious" depressions are not baffling at all, nor, except in rare cases, are they biochemical in origin. They are due to such a subtle cause, that most
  • 5. patients would never notice and few therapists would think significant enough to question about. They are mostly due to minor, but ongoing, lapses in productivity. There's an old maxim among psychotherapists. It goes: "Show me a depressed person, and I'll show you a guilty person." Guilt and depression usually go hand in hand. It is the guilt one feels about the object of a major loss in life that is the underlying cause of most depressions, not the loss itself. Typically, a man who looses his job suffers greater depression if he, himself, knows he didn't give his best. Depression after a parent dies is greater for those who hated the parent. Post-partem depression is stronger for a woman who had conflicts in her marriage. And most typical of all: the person who grieves the most and longest after the break-up of a love relationship is the one who had a bad relationship to begin with. I have often been amazed at how quickly and happily people recover from major life-crises when guilt is not a factor. Those who were truly happy with their marital or family relationships are much less damaged when those bond are broken by separation or death. Those who've done their best are rarely devastated when life deals them a fall. As I've been oft quoted: Those who've given their finest, suffer least when reversals come their way. Yet how does guilt tie with our discussion of productivity? Because non-productivity is the most common source of everyday guilt there is. Yet, it is a subtle guilt. It goes virtually unnoticed and usually lives on a subconscious level. Take these examples: "It's time to clean-out the garage." "I need to start studying for the real-estate exam." "I ought to take my wife out to dinner sometime soon." "The house needs painting." "I've got to take my car in for an oil-change." "I've got to start exercising again."
  • 6. Generally, we tend to ignore such minor responsibilities without taking any productive action on them. There are usually more pleasurable distractions which can occupy our time. And even if there aren't any, we can come up with something! Yet as much fun as these diversions might provide, we are shirking our basic responsibilities. And here comes the guilt! Now it's not a great deal of guilt. It's not like we've lied to a friend, been unfaithful to our spouse, or murdered someone. Indeed, we may not be really conscious of it. After all, how guilty should we feel if we put off an oil change for a few more days? Mechanically speaking (as far as the car goes), it probably won't make any difference at all! But personally speaking, putting that oil-change off, gnaws at us... Any real thought given to the problem will likely occur in our Friday afternoon drive home from work. We get in our car and it comes to mind again: ("this damn car needs an oil- change!") Likewise, we don't think too much about painting the house until we drive up to it and think how badly it looks ("This damn house needs painting"). Parking in the driveway, other lost thoughts come to mind: ("Hell, that garage needs cleaning-out"); ("I've got to start studying for my real estate exam"); ("My wife will kill me if I don't go out for dinner this weekend"). And then, to top it all off, you see the neighborhood joggers down the street and think, "Damn, I've got to start exercising soon." But, by the time you've made it in the front door, your mind has quickly refocused on a more pleasurable weekend spent with sports-television and a couple of rounds of leisurely golf with your friends. The more needed and productive requirements of your life have been put on the back burner. One week of ignoring one's responsibilities in favor of having fun cannot damage your happiness at all. Indeed, the Fourteen Fundamental recommends it! Two weeks of ignoring responsibilities might also be prescribed! But the long-term tendency to slack on duties which you have agreed to, only leads to depression. It is with such little things that depression takes its foothold. One weekend's projects get postponed for another. One day's job assignment gets pushed to another day. One day of study is put-off for a later day. One good intention is saved for another day. With each postponement a smidgen of guilt develops. And it's a circular trap! Each time one postpones, the larger the remaining task becomes. The larger the task becomes, the more easily we can rationalize to postpone it further, because it seems too big to tackle.
  • 7. But the trap doesn't stop there. The longer we postpone an important task, the worse we feel about putting it off. And the worse we feel about it, the more likely we are to postpone it again. Subconsciously, this growing guilt gnaws as us -- and subtly, almost imperceptibly, a sense of depression sets in. Generally, we're consciously unaware of the cause of such depression, we simply know it exists. Moreover, it's hard to identify the cause, because the cause is so minor. Nothing major has happened to us. No catastrophic loss has occurred. Our life seems quite normal -- yet, somehow, we feel depressed. It's easy to understand why such "mysterious" depressions set in, precisely because its cause is so minor. Indeed, nothing major or catastrophic has happened, it's simply the result of an ongoing series of minor procrastin -ations. Periods of non-productivity have a long, historical association with unhappiness in the research literature. Indeed, as we detailed in Volume I, many of the unhappiest groups in society (e.g., the unemployed and the elderly) are largely unhappy because they find themselves in a non- productive status. Few factors contribute more to unhappiness than the loss of a job or the physical ability to be productive. All of us can sympathize with such major causes of nonproductive depression, yet, as we have seen here, it is often those everyday, little non-productivities which affect most of us when it comes to our happiness. In our discussion of Fundamental One, "Be More Active and Keep Busy," we suggested that keeping busy was one of the best antidotes for common, everyday depression. The message is much the same here. Being productive, keeping up with one's responsibilities, making a bit of progress toward one's goals are also important in avoiding a slide into depression. If such procrastination is robbing your happiness, then you'll especially profit from the discussion of the next Fundamental, "Get Better Organized and Plan Things Out." There, we'll present a few strategies to help you reduce your counterproductive tendencies. But for now, the message is that being productive is a critical part of the happiness formula. MEANING Hopefully, we've made a case for productivity in a happier life-style. But now the question arises, productivity at what? The research shows that activity helps, that keeping busy is important, and that remaining productive is imperative. But is that all there is to it? Simply stated, no! A complete formula for happiness has to include "meaning."
  • 8. Activity, busyness, and productivity contribute to happiness all by themselves, it's true. But for such to really make a profound impact on our happiness these efforts need to be directly related to pursuits which hold meaning for us. They have to hold some significance; some importance. The issue of meaning in life is a critical issue which goes right to the core of our being human. If life affords us nothing to do that is significant, redeeming, or contributory, life becomes truly empty. On the other hand, as the research indicates, if one is blessed with the opportunity to peruse a life of meaning, deep and abiding happiness is its reward. One of the common findings regarding happy people is how much meaning they find in their lives. They typically describe most of their daily activities as significant, gratifying, and important. They live lives which they perceive are making a contribution; in which they are progressing toward important goals; in which they are developing as a person. They are, as Carl Rogers put it, "becoming," or as Abraham Maslow termed, "self-actualizing." They have found meaning in what they do, and this meaning has enriched and deepened the happiness they find in living. What have they found to do? It's hardly mystical or religious. The happiest people aren't living on a mountain top in Tibet or studying in a monastery in Italy. Rather, they've found their meaning in the everyday things we all do -- particularly their work. WORK Fundamental Three says "Be Productive at Meaningful Work." But "work," as we mean it here, has a rather broad definition. Your "work" in life goes far beyond any employment or job (though it may include that). Our term is meant to cover whatever your major occupation is in life. Such things as housewife or househusband, surfer, biker, street- person, retiree, adventurer, world-traveler, student, or religious cult leader would certainly be included. For most of us, however, our "work" is our job. And there is where the vast majority of happy people find meaning for themselves. Happy people report a highly significant degree of job satisfaction with their work, and typically feel that their chosen work is highly meaningful and significant to them (21, 63, 74, 130, 139, 147, 216, 259, 310). Indeed, universally, around the world, there is global evidence that satisfying, meaningful is a basic staple for a happy existence (21, 27, 50, 63, 64, 74, 75, 76, 81, 96, 108, 129, 130, 143, 147, 152). Given the fact that recent surveys find almost 3 out of 4 of workers in the United
  • 9. States "hate" their jobs, is it any wonder that those who find their jobs meaningful and rewarding are happier? THE NUMBER 1 HAPPINESS CHOICE Based on all this, I often suggest to my college students that their choice of career is the "number 1 happiness choice" they will ever make. As one will spend around 80% to 90% of one's waking life working, one's job-choice is crucial to overall happiness. Thus, I encourage my students to take a diverse curricula of introductory courses, have their aptitudes and abilities tested, and think a great deal about their potential career options. Especially, I emphasize the factor of "meaning" in their future choice, for as the "Happiness Doctor" (as most students around campus refer to me) I know how important a career-choice is to lifelong happiness. Typically, young college students make their career choices based on factors such as money, prestige, or family expectations. My teachings try to counterbalance these heavy social pressures by presenting an alternative route of happiness and meaning in occupational choice. Yet, however clearly the research shows the difference in such career goals and the happiness one eventually finds in life, many times the research findings I present in class fall on deaf ears. I've often joked with my colleagues at the college that there are only two types of students who enroll in my "happiness classes." The first type is the students above age thirty who tell me, "I wish I had learned all this when I was younger," and the second type is the younger students, who visit me later, and say, "I wish I had paid attention when I took your class years ago." Returning to the point, however, it's clear from the research on happiness that a job which is meaningful and significant provides far more happiness in an individual's life than does a less meaningful job at higher pay. Thus, if you have the option of career-choice (and few of us do), the happiest selection would the a choice of "meaningful work." The point here may appear to be in conflict with some earlier theory we covered. In our preview of The Fourteen Fundamentals we stated that "close relationships are the Number 1 source of happiness." Yet now, we're saying that your choice of career is the "Number 1 happiness-choice" you'll ever make. I'll try and clear-up any confusion...
  • 10. Close love-relationships (as we will discuss in great detail when we come to Fundamental Thirteen) do, indeed, represent the most potent and impactful of all happiness sources. The problem is, however, they are also one of the least controllable sources. Human love- relationships are delicate, to say the least, and despite our most earnest efforts, love often has a capricious and fleeting mind of its own. As much as we want love (and as much as we know it will make a big difference in our happiness), we have little control over the outcomes of our romances. On the other hand, career choices are a bit more dependable -- especially when we examine the skills and talents we have developed to get us there. Unlike relationships, the abilities and knowledge one acquires throughout a lifetime are competencies we can always count on. In sum, it is true that close love-relationships will have the greatest effect on your happiness. But, they can always end or be taken away. Skill, talent, and competence, on the other hand, are generally yours to keep for a lifetime. As I've said before: Love may come and go, but your abilities will never leave you! (videos) Thus, in terms of life-choices, one's choice of career may well provide more lasting happiness benefits than one's romantic choices. Still, for many of us the choice has already been made, and sadly, we find ourselves in jobs that are far from meaningful. And we are not unique in this situation: polls show that the vast majority of Americans, for example, don't like their jobs -- and these figures include many people who are among the very happy! How is it possible for some happy people to be as happy as they are in work-situations they don't like or that hold little meaning for them? The answer for them (and it may be for you) is that they find it on a part-time basis... VOLUNTEERISM As we've mentioned briefly before, one of the more characteristic traits of happy individuals is their voluntary participation in community and charity "help work." We might even call such volunteerism as "the hidden source of personal happiness," research-wise.
  • 11. Actually, such "community work" went undetected as a major source of happiness in research surveys conducted in the United States over the years, primarily since the area had never been a target of investigation. However world-wide distillations of the research, most notably conducted by psychologist Ruut Veenhoven in Holland, have found a marked connection between happiness and social contribution that American studies have apparently missed. Other factors, like "socializing," "social position," "self-esteem," "income," "close social networks" and the many other factors we have mentioned, rank about the same as U. S. studies have reported. But the factor of "volunteerism" is something earlier American studies never thought to examine. Therefore, it has come as quite a surprise to find that there is a "hidden source of happiness," volunteer community participation, which appears to rank among the "top ten" happiness sources in international studies. Apparently, those who volunteer some of their time to charities, civic organizations, community service, and the like are happier than those of us who don't. And why not? Helping others, it would appear, is part of our mission as human beings. As a social animal, mutual helping and cooperation has been the hallmark of our evolutionary success as a species. So much so, that, even today, contribution is among the most lauded of human motives. The most admired professions in any society are those that are viewed as the most helping - and among the most honored individuals in any society are the those who've unselfishly given aid and benefit to others. Indeed, "doing for others" is at the core of virtually all major religions. It is at the foundation of almost every philosophical system. Kindness and generosity are among the most highly revered of human traits. Self-sacrifice and concern for the well-being of one's fellows is at the heart of most ethical codes of conduct (even among military organizations whose essential mission is destruction). And, practically everyone, from the priest to the used-car dealer, would like to believe (or at least rationalize) that the majority of their occupational and personal actions serve this higher social goal. At first glance, a visitor from an alien planet might consider we humans as a helpful species indeed! Unfortunately, we here on this planet know that much of our, so called "giving" behavior is usually corrupted by an equal dose of personal greed and self-interest. This is not necessarily a criticism of humanity - our conflicting motives between selfishness and selflessness serves us well. But it does raise a basic question about "giving" behavior as it is actually practiced: is there any reward for true charity?
  • 12. When we eliminate monetary gain, social esteem, or other personal advantages from the motives for "giving" behavior, it would appear that truly charitable acts are few and far between. Indeed, the cynic might argue that all acts of charity are motivated by such external, selfish gains. There is little doubt that this cynical view is largely true, but not entirely... There are internal rewards to be gained from the purely selfless act. These are the personal rewards which have no account in personal profit or external gain. They are the psychological rewards of special feelings that few, except the happy, truly appreciate! THE EXCLUSIVE SOCIETY I would like to believe (as do many psychologists, philosophers, and theologians) that deep within every person lies a need to be needed. That there is an intrinsic human tendency to be helpful, loving, and giving. That there is a basic desire to do good. And that, in the final analysis, goodness will prevail. Yet, as all religious writing suggests, and all history teaches, humankind is equally capable of injustice, avarice, cruelty, and aggression. Thus some believe that the forces of evil dominate the world, and the world is headed for self-destruction. Modern social science finds, however, that this ancient debate is moot: humankind is neither good or bad -- humankind is infinitely plastic! People can be as beautiful or ugly as their circumstances dictate. In beautiful circumstances, people will behave most beautifully. In horrible circumstances. they will behave most horribly. If this, more scientific viewpoint, is true then we can blame the lack of meaning in our lives on world and social circumstance. If the more ancient religious and philosophical viewpoints hold, then we can blame the lack of meaning in our lives on the human heart. My own belief lies toward the explanation of circumstance. I am not a thorough student of history, but I (as many social historians maintain) suggest that modern society leaves more individuals alienated from the whole of their larger and community society than has ever occurred in the history of the species.
  • 13. History seems to indicate that humans have always had a meaningful place. If not the family, there was the tribe. If not the tribe, there was the culture. If not the culture there were nations. But as time has progressed, it seems these days that "it's every man for himself." On a certain level, this might be viewed as the ultimate democratic ideal! Ever person unique and individual, totally free to pursue an independent destiny unfettered by cultural restraints or confining social bonds. Yet with such freedom, something is lost -- it is a sense of commitment -- a sense of community -- a sense of being needed. As society evolves it appears to move more from "inclusion" to "exclusion." So much so, that I have termed modern society as the "exclusive society." The "exclusive society" is based on exclusion. Generally, it seems to thrive at the top at the expense of people who are demoted or dismissed at the bottom. Unlike an "inclusive society" which is dependent upon the talents of every member, the "exclusive society" is dependent on no one. In the "exclusive society," few people care about you, and even fewer care what you do. A sense of security is hard to come by. If you are among the lucky you find this with your friends and family. Yet these days, with the disintegration of the family, even this sense of permanence and place is transitory. In the outside world, things are even more less secure. On the job, one major mistake could cost us our position; one major impropriety could land us in court. And in society-at- large, unless we are one of the "rich and famous," we sense a feeling of alienation and anomie. In the "exclusive society" the aim appears to dispense and dis-value. Efforts seem more focused on exclusion than inclusion. Groups don't want to associate with you unless you're "up to their level." Employers let you know there are dozens of others who could replace you at the drop of a hat. In school they seem more content to flunk you rather than work with you. The government gives you the run-around, service persons ignore you if they find that they can't sell you anything, and seeming "friends" turn their backs when they realize they can't get what they want from you. Even at home, for some of us, it seems that the only thing our family really cares about is our paycheck.
  • 14. In the "exclusive society" we are needed by no one. Love relationships are short-lived, employment is terminal, family ties are loose, position is transitory, and life-dreams are suddenly altered. Unlike life in more primitive epochs, modern times render each individual expendable, replaceable, and insignificant in any permanent sense. In every sense of the word, it is a "loss of place." This "loss of place" is due to two global forces. One is the depletion of natural resources, upon which all human wealth and well-being is based. The other is the burgeoning of human population, which diminishes each of us as individuals in a growing crowd of humanity and may savagely increase the competition for the diminishing resources which remain. It is what I call The Doomsday Formula: "decreasing resources and increasing population." Eventually, it spells calamity for all humanity. Already we feel the effects of this Doomsday Formula. A new world of ethnic wars, global economic decline, increasing competition, growing ecological concerns, urban decay, heightened crime, enlarged pockets of human starvation and disease -- all these give an inkling of what may come... Not to be depressed, for this book is about happiness! And in the future, we should be optimistic about our human ability to conquer such obstacles to our eventual progress. However, for the present, given the increasing pressures which render many of us obsolescent, dispensable, or unvalued -how can we even begin to feel needed in a world which is growing so increasingly "exclusive"? The answer lies in volunteering! When you volunteer your time to people or social concerns which really need it, you not only begin to make a difference in the human problems which face our world, you also find a place in which you are genuinely needed. The choice is up to you. There are a myriad of organizations whose sole aim is to help others. There are international organizations like the Red Cross who see to the needs of those victimized by war or disaster. There are those whose concerns lie in "saving the whales" or preserving our natural environment. There are the traditional political organizations. There are the health charities. There are the national efforts to foster the arts or help in religious service overseas. There are the local efforts to house the homeless, feed the hungry, build community parks, protect local wildlife, work with family abuse, act as foster parents, help build housing for the poor, etc., etc.. The possibilities are truly endless. You could volunteer to be a "pink lady (or gentleman)" at the hospital, visit a nursing home on a regular basis, organize your church to fund a new help-facility, become a "Big Brother" or "Big Sister," coach "little league," or give your time to your favorite charity.
  • 15. All these jobs need to be done, and there are so few people out there who are willing to do them! So why should you? Unlike most situations in life, when you volunteer your time to those who really need it you finally find yourself in a position where you are truly needed yourself! Unlike paid situations, the relationships found in volunteer work are genuine. Clearly it is YOU that counts. Since you have volunteered, there is no question as to your motivations. You've come purely to help and do something worthwhile. Yet the beauty of such volunteering, as happy people already know, is that you get as much more back than you give! Community service has many happiness benefits. It makes you feel better about yourself, it makes you feel like you're doing something worthwhile, and, most importantly, it provides a new arena for socialization. For the unhappy person, especially, such benefits are particularly important. Volunteer work fulfills many of the recommendations of the Fourteen Fundamentals. In one fell swoop, you can find yourself "Spending More Time Socializing." You'll be a bit "More Active." You'll probably find yourself spending your time in "enjoyable", "novel," and possibly even "exciting" activities. But more to the point here, you'll find yourself involved in a meaningful pursuit. When it comes right down to it: To feel worthwhile, you've got to do something worthwhile. Most happy people see their lives in terms of contribution. Although they spend much of their time enjoying themselves, they also find time (through their work or avocations) doing things of worth. Life provides an obvious imperative for service. In contemporary times, is more clear than ever before. Today, we are strapped with social problems which seem to be growing beyond our worst imaginings. There is poverty, starvation, ethnic and racial strife, war, disease, crime, domestic and social violence, the
  • 16. increase of mental disorders, ecological destruction, and so many more. The problems appear endless... The question is: do we try to do something, or do we sit by and "fiddle while Rome burns?" The happiest people, according to the research, know the answer to the question is: "do something!" But what will you do? "CATCH 22 " There is a "catch 22" to the present Fundamental... To do something meaningful, you have to know what's meaningful to you, and if you already know what's meaningful, it's because you're already doing it! In other words, to add "meaning" to your life, you have to consider what's meaningful to you... Most of happy people we've studied apparently already know this. As we've cited before, happy people tend to be very certain of their attitudes and values. They've thought a lot about what is important to them. They've answered most of the "big questions" we've been asking you in these Volumes, and they've come to a point in their thinking where they sense what is truly of importance and significance in their lives. Unhappy people, on the other hand, appear to be more confused about such "big issues." Most likely because they haven't had the luxury of time, unhappy people simply don't have any answers to the "big questions." Instead of answers, unhappy people find questions about importance, meaning, and purpose un-answered. All this brings us full-circle. To devote a portion of your life to something significant, you have to know what is significant to you... As we suggested from the beginning, "happiness is not always easy." An integral part of success with the Fourteen Fundamentals Program requires some thought and soul searching. One has to spend some private time considering the "big questions" of life.
  • 17. What is significant? What is important? What really matters in life? How can one make a contribution? What really makes a life worth living? Once these questions have been satisfactorily answered, the way becomes clear to add meaning to one's life. And if you do, you will be one of the rare persons who has discovered the deep and enriching form of happiness that only comes when one finds meaningful ways to spend their time. Meaning is indeed "the hidden source of happiness," not only in the research, but, in the main, for the average individual. Sadly, it is a source of happiness few ever discover. It is unfortunate, but true, that the vast majority of people live their lives never considering the issue of meaning at all. Largely, it is not their fault. Many citizens find their lives so completely absorbed by the demands of everyday living (earning a living, raising a family, etc.) and pressing personal concerns, that looking for "meaning" just has to take a back- burner. But, many more individuals fail to discover "meaning," mainly because the issue has never occurred to them. Because they were never exposed to the idea during their formative family or educational experiences, "meaning" is a factor in life which is never thought about at all, or if thought about, is trivialized and viewed as unimportant. Thus for millions on this planet, perhaps a majority of its inhabitants, this major source of happiness is never considered (or considered trivial), and thus never found. No wonder so few people can be ranked as truly happy... A LIFE OF BALANCE So far, our journey through the Fourteen Fundamentals for happiness may have given you a sense of impending overload. Fundamental One, "Be More Active," stressed having more "fun" in your life. Fundamental Two, "Spend More Time Socializing," directed you to expand your social time. Now, we are further adding to your burden by suggesting that you find a way to include "meaningful activity" to your daily lifestyle. It may seem a lot to manage (and we still have eleven more Fundamentals to go), but fortunately, many of these requirements can be met simultaneously. For example many happy people report that their career includes all of the elements we've covered. They consider their work highly meaningful, but they also enjoy it immensely. In addition, they see their jobs as providing excitement, novelty, and enjoyable social contact.
  • 18. Many other happy people describe their family or married life as incorporating all these qualities, as well. Apparently, a wise selection of activities can kill several birds with one stone! What's meaningful, can also provide social opportunities. What's social is usually fun. What's exciting is often meaningful. And so it goes... The important point for happiness, however, is the critical value of balance between these various elements. One of the primary characteristics of happy individuals is the balance they have in their lives. As we've seen, "fun" makes a significant contribution to happiness. So do social activities. Meaningful activities are also important, and things like productivity, excitement, novelty, and close love relations play their roll as well. However, no one of these activities, alone, is potent enough to rely upon exclusively. In fact, there is ample evidence to indicate that individuals who focus almost entirely on just one of these happiness-sources to the exclusion of all others never achieve a very high degree of happiness. No, it appears that happiness is based on "The Life of Balance," a philosophical theme which was originally recognized long ago by the ancient Greeks. True happiness depends on doing many things successfully. It requires a balanced dose of "fun," social activities, meaningful pursuits, and close relationships. The exact proportions of each will vary from person to person, but all need inclusion in an overall strategy for greater happiness. TO NEXT CHAPTER TO TABLE OF CONTENTS