Advertising
Advertising

Focusing on four simple questions can be the key to fulfillment

Focusing on four simple questions can be the key to fulfillment

Why finding happiness at work may be less complicated that you think.
Happy girl

Everyone wants to be happy at work. Nearly everyone also wants to feel fulfilled by what they do. The Baby Boomer generation thought they could achieve both of these by hard work, long hours, and (hopefully) hard cash. Many people today are not so sure they were right.

Advertising

Their conventional approach at least had the merit of being clearly understandable and easily translated into action. It also proved to have serious drawbacks in terms of delivering either happiness or fulfillment; often providing stress and anxiety in their place as people launched themselves into a frenzy of competitive striving where losers inevitably outnumbered winners.

Advertising

I don’t believe that there are any sure-fire recipes for obtaining happiness. It’s too personal a concept. Too much of it relies on chance elements like genetic make-up, early family circumstances, and social background. The best that anyone can do, in my opinion, is make sure that they don’t choose a path that is more likely to squash opportunities for happiness that create them—which is what my generation, the Baby Boomers, has done on a massive scale.

So here’s my alternative approach. It has less to do with grim effort and following a set of rules and much more to do with creating the circumstances in which happiness and fulfillment can arise by themselves. And, since it neither prescribes what happiness is, nor assumes that what makes me happy will do the same for you, it at least has the merit of being applicable to almost anyone’s circumstances.

Advertising

The approach is based on providing guidelines for answering the four commonest questions that people ask:

Advertising

  • What should I do with my life?
  • What should I avoid?
  • How should I go about doing whatever I choose to do?
  • What else should I leave space for besides work?

What should I do with my life?

  • Do something that gives you a sense of purpose. Empty, meaningless work, however well-paid, is rarely satisfying. At best it should be tolerated only as a temporary means to raise essential cash. At worst it is a form of prostitution. The only purpose that satisfies long-term is based on expressing your deepest values in whatever you do.
  • Only do work that you believe is inherently worth doing. You won’t find self-esteem via a job you despise. Each morning you have to look at your face in the mirror. What kind of person will look back at you? One who is engaged on something worthwhile, or one who is about to spend another 8 hours or more doing something he or she cares nothing about? Do you value yourself so little that you can afford to waste your life in that way?
  • Always do what you are good at doing. It’s the simplest way to enjoy yourself and stand a chance of excelling. I don’t believe that anyone finds happiness through doing work that they’re not very good at, or work that reminds them of their weaknesses on a hourly basis. Forget whether anyone else values your particular strengths. Use them for your own satisfaction and pleasure. You may be surprised how wrong you were about what others would applaud.

What should I avoid?

  • Don’t do anything that gives you a bad conscience. Even if you don’t end up in jail, or shunned and despised by your friends, you’ll spend too much time being anxious about who will find out—and probably hating yourself into the bargain.
  • Don’t do more than is good for your health. No job—no amount of money—is worth harming yourself for, physically or mentally. You won’t be happy if you know you traded your well-being for money and a position you’re now too miserable, sick, or damaged to enjoy. Not only do the ends of life rarely, if ever, justify the means, they won’t compensate you either for the problems using those means may have inflicted on you, your family, your relationships, or your ability to enjoy what you achieved without feeling ashamed.
  • Don’t do things that rob you of your peace of mind. You have to live with yourself and others have to live with you. Inner torment is no path to happiness. Nor is trying to silence personal turmoil with drink, drugs, or conspicuous consumption. This is one situation where that old warning is entirely true: you can run, but you can’t hide. How can you hide from the accusations of your own mind?

How should I go about doing whatever I choose to do?

  • Do it with people you like and respect. The opposite is virtually certain to make your life a misery—and nothing will be an adequate compensation. Jean-Paul Sartre wrote the line: “Hell is other people” (in a 1944 play called No Exit). It’s often true of the workplace too, but only if you allow it to be.
  • Do it with people you trust and who trust you. If you can’t trust those around you, your life will pass in a blur of suspicion and paranoia. If they don’t trust you, you’ll never be given anything worthwhile or important to do.
  • Do it for enough reward to make you feel valued. That’s all you need. More than that won’t make you feel better, and will likely excite jealousy and continual competition to bring you down. One of the reasons why many super-rich people go on working, when they already have more money than they can ever spend, is the fear that, if they stop, they will discover that they are worth nothing except their bank balance. What kind of a life is that?

What else should I leave space for besides work?

  • Time and leisure to enjoy life while you’re living it. Don’t put off enjoying your life until some time in the future. You never know what may happen first. Don’t make your happiness contingent on achieving some longed-for goal. You may find what you sought doesn’t deliver.
  • Time to pursue other interests. People who are single-minded easily become narrow-minded too. An investor who puts all his or her wealth into a single investment is a fool who is asking for trouble. Someone who invests all their happiness in their work is taking an even bigger risk.
  • Time to give enough of yourself to those you love. Do they deserve only what you have left after everyone else has taken all they want? Can you build good enough relationships on putting the demands of your work above their needs? Will they accept money in lieu of your attention? I think you can work out the answers for yourself.

You can’t compel happiness. You can’t buy it—save for the briefest of periods, usually at an exorbitant price. But you can—so very, very easily—drive it away.

Adrian Savage is a writer, an Englishman, and a retired business executive, in that order, who now lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his other articles at Slow Leadership, the site for everyone who wants to build a civilized place to work and bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership and life. Recent articles there on similar topics include Why you should sometimes think very seriously about giving up and Why perfection isn’t a viable goal. His latest book, Slow Leadership: Civilizing The Organization, is now available at all good bookstores.

More by this author

Have You Ever Wished Your Kids Will Beg To Do Their Chores? How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps 20 Things People Regret the Most Before They Die Overcoming The Pain Of A Breakup: 3 Suggestions Based On Science Quit Your Job If You Don’t Like It, No Matter What

Trending in Featured

1 The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work) 2 How to Master the Art of Prioritization 3 40 Top Productivity Apps for iPhone (2020 Updated) 4 How to Break Out of Your Comfort Zone 5 How to Find Time for Yourself

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on January 13, 2020

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

The Importance of Reminders (And How to Make a Reminder Work)

No matter how well you set up your todo list and calendar, you aren’t going to get things done unless you have a reliable way of reminding yourself to actually do them.

Anyone who’s spent an hour writing up the perfect grocery list only to realize at the store that they forgot to bring the list understands the importance of reminders.

Reminders of some sort or another are what turn a collection of paper goods or web services into what David Allen calls a “trusted system.”[1]

A lot of people resist getting better organized. No matter what kind of chaotic mess, their lives are on a day-to-day basis because they know themselves well enough to know that there’s after all that work they’ll probably forget to take their lists with them when it matters most.

Fortunately, there are ways to make sure we remember to check our lists — and to remember to do the things we need to do, whether they’re on a list or not.

In most cases, we need a lot of pushing at first, for example by making a reminder, but eventually we build up enough momentum that doing what needs doing becomes a habit — not an exception.

Advertising

From Creating Reminders to Building Habits

A habit is any act we engage in automatically without thinking about it.

For example, when you brush your teeth, you don’t have to think about every single step from start to finish; once you stagger up to the sink, habit takes over (and, really, habit got you to the sink in the first place) and you find yourself putting toothpaste on your toothbrush, putting the toothbrush in your mouth (and never your ear!), spitting, rinsing, and so on without any conscious effort at all.

This is a good thing because if you’re anything like me, you’re not even capable of conscious thought when you’re brushing your teeth.

The good news is you already have a whole set of productivity habits you’ve built up over the course of your life. The bad news is, a lot of them aren’t very good habits.

That quick game Frogger to “loosen you up” before you get working, that always ends up being 6 hours of Frogger –– that’s a habit. And as you know, habits like that can be hard to break — which is one of the reasons why habits are so important in the first place.

Once you’ve replaced an unproductive habit with a more productive one, the new habit will be just as hard to break as the old one was. Getting there, though, can be a chore!

Advertising

The old saw about anything you do for 21 days becoming a habit has been pretty much discredited, but there is a kernel of truth there — anything you do long enough becomes an ingrained behavior, a habit. Some people pick up habits quickly, others over a longer time span, but eventually, the behaviors become automatic.

Building productive habits, then, is a matter of repeating a desired behavior over a long enough period of time that you start doing it without thinking.

But how do you remember to do that? And what about the things that don’t need to be habits — the one-off events, like taking your paycheck stubs to your mortgage banker or making a particular phone call?

The trick to reminding yourself often enough for something to become a habit, or just that one time that you need to do something, is to interrupt yourself in some way in a way that triggers the desired behavior.

The Wonderful Thing About Triggers — Reminders

A trigger is anything that you put “in your way” to remind you to do something. The best triggers are related in some way to the behavior you want to produce.

For instance, if you want to remember to take something to work that you wouldn’t normally take, you might place it in front of the door so you have to pick it up to get out of your house.

Advertising

But anything that catches your attention and reminds you to do something can be a trigger. An alarm clock or kitchen timer is a perfect example — when the bell rings, you know to wake up or take the quiche out of the oven. (Hopefully you remember which trigger goes with which behavior!)

If you want to instill a habit, the thing to do is to place a trigger in your path to remind you to do whatever it is you’re trying to make into a habit — and keep it there until you realize that you’ve already done the thing it’s supposed to remind you of.

For instance, a post-it saying “count your calories” placed on the refrigerator door (or maybe on your favorite sugary snack itself)  can help you remember that you’re supposed to be cutting back — until one day you realize that you don’t need to be reminded anymore.

These triggers all require a lot of forethought, though — you have to remember that you need to remember something in the first place.

For a lot of tasks, the best reminder is one that’s completely automated — you set it up and then forget about it, trusting the trigger to pop up when you need it.

How to Make a Reminder Works for You

Computers and ubiquity of mobile Internet-connected devices make it possible to set up automatic triggers for just about anything.

Advertising

Desktop software like Outlook will pop up reminders on your desktop screen, and most online services go an extra step and send reminders via email or SMS text message — just the thing to keep you on track. Sandy, for example, just does automatic reminders.

Automated reminders can help you build habits — but it can also help you remember things that are too important to be trusted even to habit. Diabetics who need to take their insulin, HIV patients whose medication must be taken at an exact time in a precise order, phone calls that have to be made exactly on time, and other crucial events require triggers even when the habit is already in place.

My advice is to set reminders for just about everything — have them sent to your mobile phone in some way (either through a built-in calendar or an online service that sends updates) so you never have to think about it — and never have to worry about forgetting.

Your weekly review is a good time to enter new reminders for the coming weeks or months. I simply don’t want to think about what I’m supposed to be doing; I want to be reminded so I can think just about actually doing it.

I tend to use my calendar for reminders, mostly, though I do like Sandy quite a bit.

More on Building Habits

Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Getting Things Done: Trusted System

Read Next