“Happiness is a present attitude — not a future condition.”
Hugh Prather, author
It’s a fairly common practice to survey employees and survey the general population. Employees are asked what they want from their companies. And the general population is asked what they want out of life. In both cases, the vast majority says they just want to be “happy.”
Now “happy” sounds like a simple-enough demand, but in both cases, there’s a flaw in the survey question. The question tends to imply that it’s the company’s job to “make” their employees happy, and everybody has a right to expect life to “make” them happy.
Unfortunately, no company can ever do that, and neither can life itself. Happiness is not something somebody else can give you. It’s the result of the choices YOU make.
If you want to be happy, you need to make these choices.
Choice #1: Discover what interests you.
John D. Rockefeller, industrialist and philanthropist, said, “The road to happiness lies in two simple principles.” The first one, he went on to say, was to “find out what it is that interests you and that you can do well.”
And some people never take the time to figure that out. They spend their whole life whining, “I’m not sure what I like” or “I don’t know what I want to do when I grow up.” They’re the ones who finish life in a state of bitterness.
Take time to discover what interests you.
Choice #2: Pursue excellence.
You could choose to do “just enough to get by.” You could choose to do the “bare minimum.” And you could choose to do work that is “good enough.” But you’ll never find happiness in those choices. . You must choose to live with passion and work with passion. You must choose to pursue excellence. As Rockefeller said, “The road to happiness lies in two simple principles.” The first one was discovering what interests you. And once you’ve discovered that, the second principle, according to Rockefeller, is to “put your whole soul into it — every bit of energy and ambition and natural ability you have.”
Pearl S. Buck, the American author and missionary, echoed his conclusion. She wrote, “The secret of joy in work is contained in one word — excellence. To know how to do something well is to enjoy it.”
Unfortunately, some misguided fools think happiness is found in leisure or is found in doing nothing. They’ll even say, “When I retire, I’m just going to sit back and do nothing. No more work for me.”
Years ago, Napoleon Hill, the leading researcher on success, debunked that myth. He said “Happiness is found in doing.” It is not found in laid-back laziness.
And most recently, Dr. Dan Baker spent several years poring over hundreds of studies on happiness. In his book, “What Happy People Know,” Baker concluded, “Leisure is one of those luxuries that’s best in small portions. When it’s all there is to life, it’s as boring as being locked in jail.”
Choice #3: Take pleasure in the little things.
One of the most fascinating studies done on achieving wealth without work was a study of lottery winners by Dr. Ronnie Janoff-Bulman and her colleagues. They compared 22 winners of major lotteries to 22 average people and 29 victims of sudden paralysis. The lottery winners had a temporary high but soon found themselves NO happier than the control group of average people. In fact, they even lost the joy that came from the small pleasures in life.
They also found that the paralysis victims … once they got over the shock of their illness or injuries … were not as unhappy as might be expected. They had a greater capacity for enjoying the little things in life than the lottery winners. And the real shocker … the paralyzed victims were more optimistic about their future happiness than the lottery winners.
As I say in my program on “Take This Job and Love It! Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life … On and Off the Job,” count your blessings. Don’t measure wealth by the things you have, but by the things you have for which you would not take money.
That statement became especially real for me this summer. I hiked to the top of a mountain in Utah, fell off, and slid 200 yards down a glacier at lighting speed. I could have died. But the whole ordeal taught me that happiness is not always found on the mountaintops of life. Happiness is more often found in the little things of life.
Choice #4: Focus on the positive.
As Anonymous wrote, “Every life has its dark and cheerful hours. Happiness comes from choosing which to remember.”
Along similar lines, in my “Journey to the Extraordinary” program, I teach the participants how to use the “positive but” to ensure their happiness. I ask them to take a piece of paper, draw a line down the middle, write the word “Problems” across the top of the left column, and write the word “Blessings” across the top of the right column. I ask them to list all their problems, but for each problem they list they must write down a counteracting blessing.
One participant wrote this: “I lost my husband recently, BUT I still have my children. I lost a lot of money when my stocks dropped drastically, BUT I have my house which is paid for. I lost a lot of my hearing, BUT I can still see very well to read. My son moved out of town, BUT he still calls me three times every week.”
Do you see the point? She could have focused on the left-hand side of her paper. She could have focused on her problems and could have been miserable. By choosing to focus on the right-hand side of her paper, by choosing to focus on her blessings, she was intensely happy. You need to make the same choice if you want to be happy.
Choice #5: Explore the wonders around you … without neglecting the things closest to you.
It’s the lesson Paul Coelho wrote about in “Ode” magazine when he wrote “All the Marvels of the World.” He wrote about a boy who set off on a quest to discover the meaning of happiness. He trekked 40 days through a forest until he reached the mountain fortress of a wise man. When he entered the compound, he saw the wise man sitting on a throne in a great hall offering counsel to many visitors. After waiting several hours, the boy finally stood at the wise man’s feet and pronounced, “I am here to learn the secret of happiness.”
“Unfortunately,” said the wise man, “I cannot explain that to you at this moment. But do this for me: Take a tour of my palace. Do not hurry yourself.” The wise man then handed the boy a teaspoon and placed two drops of oil in it. “And take this with you, but don’t spill any of it.”
The boy obeyed and began to tour the rooms and grounds of the estate. He walked slowly and focused all his concentration on the oil in the spoon. After two hours, he returned to the grand hall.
This time the wise man approached him. “So, did you explore my library? What did you think of the tapestries hanging in the dining hall? Were the fragrances and textures of the garden to your liking? It took 10 years to complete, you know.”
The boy shook his head. He admitted that he had been so preoccupied with the spoon, he’d overlooked the palace treasures. “Then you must go off again and have a better look at all the wonderful features of my home,” said the wise man.
And so the boy did. This time he focused more of his attention on the objects in the house and less on the spoon. After many hours, he returned to the wise man and told him about the many things he’d experienced while touring the estate. But the wise man interrupted, “Where are the two drops of oil that I gave you?”
The boy looked at the empty spoon and reddened in embarrassment.
The wise man placed a firm hand on the boy’s shoulder. “You want to know the secret of happiness?”
“Yes,” said the boy.
“It is simple,” said the wise man. “Happiness is being able to explore and appreciate the many wonders of the world without forgetting or neglecting the things that are nearest to you.”
Take a moment to apply this choice to yourself. Are you noticing, enjoying and appreciating the wonders of the world around you? Or are you too busy to stop and smell the roses? And are you taking time to savor the things and people closest to you? Or do you wait until you get around to it?
Choice #6: Make somebody else happy.
You see … unhappy people focus on themselves. They think happiness is all about me, me, me … doing what I want and getting what I want. But every religion and every spiritual philosophy teaches just the opposite. You find happiness by helping somebody else find it.
As the 20th century military general Peyton Conway March put it, “There is a wonderful law of nature that the three things we crave most in life … happiness, freedom, and peace of mind … are always attained by giving them to someone else.”
You can be happy … IF you make these six choices. The results will be good for you, good for your relationships, good for your company, and good for your customers. As Google co-founder Larry Page points out, “It’s common sense: Happy people are more productive.”
One final caution: Happiness is great, but there’s nothing wrong with a little unhappiness. In a survey reported in “Business Week” magazine, survey participants rated themselves 1-10 in life satisfaction, with 10 being the most satisfied. Those giving themselves 10’s generally achieved and earned less than those who gave themselves 8’s. The researchers concluded that a little discontent can give you an edge when it comes to recognizing problems and overcoming them.