Everyone is measuring their worth in money and profit.
But strangely, despite the fat salaries and fancy benefits, this doesn’t mean everyone’s actually having a great time.
In fact, earning big bucks doesn’t make you any happier. According to two Princeton professors, the link between income and happiness is mainly an illusion. Another psychologist, David G Myers, proved money and happiness were not a great influence on our overall happiness, but connections were in his study ‘The funds, friends and faith of happy people’.
In fact, it seems like there is a far more achievable and interesting way to be happy- namely through action.
So how do you make yourself happy without the big pile of money? Read on!
Happiness through accomplishment
Accomplishment isn’t how loud your voice is, how much money you earn in a year, or how many people signed up to your online seminar last month.
Nor is it that moment where you can command a room, sell a product, make a mint or be such a household name that the PR people are thrilled to have you instead of asking what the angle is.
Jim Henson said it best when he said:
The feeling of accomplishment is more real and satisfying than finishing a good meal or looking at one’s accumulated wealth.
Elizabeth Hyde Stevens takes the idea one further:
You don’t want to die with the most money in your account. You want to leave art that is as alive as you once were.
It’s a lovely sentiment, isn’t it? Leaving something alive as we once were… those are words that truly speak to me.
And it makes sense. You don’t have to be creative like Hyde Stevens (an author) or Henson (father of the Muppets) in order to understand.
After all, humans are action orientated. Its part of the reason why we love participating in organised sports, making films, creating foods, growing children, and competing for the next wrung in the workplace.
Industry is something that keeps our brains happy. It influences mood for the better and it gives us something to derive satisfaction from.
Sweating, working and toiling are all part of the game.
We derive happiness from what we do because it’s part of our nature. We like to build and create. We love to hustle. Challenging ourselves and moving the needle, stretching how far we can go and making our mark in our own way is something that gives us part of our identity as well as our satisfaction.
But it’s not usually something that satiates us our entire life.
Knowing when to move on (but still remaining accomplished)
As a teenager, I knew my father was finally over his job when he turned to me one day and said:
I like seeing what I build come alive. But I’m not getting enough time to do that anymore.
His occupation was an electrical engineer. He worked with other engineers and builders to create wheat and starch factories. It may not have been the most glamorous work, but it was work he found challenging and interesting.
He’d bootstrapped his career from electrician to leading a team of engineers. He flew around the country and to New Zealand on a regular basis. And he saw his handiwork bake a lot of bread through his engineering plans.
Through an eye complaint and a desire to find something more, he retired early. He waited for the right moment and took a redundancy. He wanted to leave with a bit of grace and he managed it very well.
Now he spends his days travelling around Australia and overseas, cracking jokes about how he doesn’t know how he ever had time for a career.
But even as a retiree, he’s plotting and planning trips. He’s baking his own bread and brewing his own beer. Time is taken up cataloguing family history. And of course making sure his regular trips are as interesting as possible.
Doing things, being active, making a mark and exploring new places and ideas are what keeps him happy and vital. Part of that vitality is now essential as he battles prostate cancer. Satiating the desire to keep accomplishing things has to play an enormous part in his overall wellness and ability to face his illness.
Your circumstances may be different, but the message is still the same.
Setting yourself a challenge and feeling engaged and invigorated by the things you do is going to do a hell of a lot more to make the day and your life interesting than settling for boredom or tedium. And knowing when it’s the right time to bow out and look for the next phase is a very big part of this.
Banishing the Joneses
Your friend’s career progression, the guy who stole your promotion, the freelance client that is doing your head in, the angel investor who keeps asking more and more of your startup, the meaningful friend who keeps telling you you’re underrating your talent, the parents that had such high hopes, the bank account that doesn’t have the money you wanted, the revenue targets you had but didn’t hit, your own chattering demons that mark you as a failure- these guys don’t understand accomplishment.
Sometimes, we don’t even understand our own accomplishments.
I’ve spent the morning doing a LOT of work. But it wasn’t the work I set out to do. It was the work that came through via email and phone. It was the bits and pieces that shouted stupidly from a TO DO LIST I had not anchored properly.
It came from skipping my walk, thinking about my detractors in the shower, and letting them live rent free in my head.
But the Joneses don’t walk in my shoes- or yours. They don’t know you well enough to know what is good for you. But you do.
And you have to protect what your idea of accomplishment from being chipped away by other people’s wonderfully well-intended, misguided or just plain mean intents.
Slay expectation and potential to embrace accomplishment
Nothing makes you feel better than feeling useful. Yet nothing ties you up in more knots than keeping up with expectation. The problem with expectation is that expectation looks like accomplishment. It looks like the hard work you need to do to feel useful.
But in actuality, expectation is unrealistic.
It’s optimistic but not involved with the facts. Expectation has a faint whiff of entitlement. And it sours when it’s been left too long.
Expectation is that silhouette someone had of you in their mind’s eye that they gave to you against a backdrop of another precariously clueless word, potential. Potential has that loose, expansive nature that may encompass something you could obtain, but covers it in mist.
The two walked hand in hand before alighting at Frustration Station, patting the seat next to them and inviting you to stay.
But expectation doesn’t accomplish things. It just wants them. Potential is all ribbons and bows, gadding about the place in its finery. It’s making a show, but not much else.
And while expectation and potential jump up and down and distract from the corner, accomplishment and achievement are spotting for each other at the gym.
Accomplishment and achievement are sweating and dirty in track pants. They’re grunting, foaming and difficult for people to stomach. And they are not pretty, at least not at the start. They’re cross-eyed with an eye on the work ahead and another on their personal best.
Their personal best. YOUR personal best.
Not someone else’s envied career, or the dude at work who always pips you to the post.
Today’s accomplishment and tomorrow’s achievement has very little to do with that client’s attitude or that angel’s desire for control if you don’t do the work.
Friends, parents and people who want to drop their oar in don’t matter if you know you worked your butt off.
Revenue and money doesn’t make the beer taste sweeter after a hard day, but the sweat sure does.
And demons can hardly echo when we fill the space in our head with pride in our work as opposed to empty with doubt.
Money can be taken away. Fame can turn to something on the wrong end of a pitchfork. But no one can take away the things that make you feel accomplished.
Wouldn’t you agree?
If you want to set your head to a different station, join us for ‘The myth of work-life balance in a get-ahead culture’ as part of Vivid Ideas, June 7th.