BE PRODUCTIVE AT MEANINGFUL WORK
THE THIRD FUNDAMENTAL
The basis of Fundamental Three is an ancient one. It rings across the centuries of
"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
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.
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
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"
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
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.
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
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.
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."
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.
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
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
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...
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...
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,"
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
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?
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
All these jobs need to be done, and there are so few people out there who are willing to do
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
increase of mental disorders, ecological destruction, and so many more. The problems
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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