Having a meaningful job does not guarantee happiness.
The truth is often the other way around. It is our happiness that gives work its sense of purpose.
I have met senior executives with exciting and energizing jobs that one would imagine bring them great joy and fulfillment, but I have found them to be narcissistic and mean-spirited, able to see their success only in relationship to the failure of others.
At the other end of the spectrum, I regularly come across workers who have what some would consider to be boring or repetitive jobs, but who carry out their duties with an extraordinary generosity of spirit.
This gives credence to the Buddhist saying that there is no way to happiness; happiness is the way. But what is the most effective way to access this way of seeing the world?
One answer is to look beyond our own ego and see ourselves as primarily being in service to others.
I have learned this in my own life. When I am unhappy, the most effective way to disperse the feeling is to reach out and support someone else who is in need.
The recognition of the power of generosity is starting to make inroads into the world of business, where the traditional notion of profits being of paramount importance to the exclusion of all else, is starting to disintegrate.
Matthieu Ricard, the French-born biologist turned Tibetan monk, believes we are hard-wired to care for each other and that it is now more essential than ever to bring our humanity into our professional lives.
The altruism revolution is on its way. Let us all be part of it. Matthieu Ricard
Ricard, known as the happiest man on earth after a scan of his brain showed the highest-yet recorded activity in areas associated with positive emotions, wrote in a recent blog post that our culture is already starting to change: While businessmen and investors may continue to say it is not their job to bring compassion into the workplace, Ricard writes that “it has become almost impossible to say, ‘I don’t care about future generations,’ ‘I don’t care about poverty in the midst of plenty’ and ‘I don’t care if there are 200 million climate refugees in 2030.'”
He writes that altruism should “not be relegated to the realm of noble utopian thinking maintained by a few big-hearted, naïve people. On the contrary, it is a determining factor of the quality of our existence, now and to come. We must have the insight to recognize this and the audacity to proclaim it. The altruism revolution is on its way. Let us all be part of it.”
He encourages society to favor co-operation over competition, to revolutionize economics away from selfish interests that create poverty and environmental destruction, and to extend our sense of altruism to the 1.3 million catalogued species with which we share the planet.
The end and the means are one. And if the means did not contribute to human happiness, neither will the end.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth
In his book A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle focuses on the need for those in business to gain greater insight and understanding into the impact of their actions. Tolle, one of the most popular spiritual authors in the U.S., gives the example of a businessman who has spent two years of intense stress and strain developing a product that is successful and makes money.
“Success?” he asks. “In conventional terms, yes. In reality, you spent two years polluting your body as well as the earth with negative energy, made yourself and those around you miserable, and affected may others you never even met."
“The unconscious assumption behind all such action is that success is a future event," he goes on to write, "and that the end justifies the means. But the end and the means are one. And if the means did not contribute to human happiness, neither will the end.”
While it is essential that individuals take responsibility for their actions, it is just as important for employers to take the wellbeing of their staff more seriously.
Jody Aked, head of service design at Happiness Works, which helps organizations understand happiness and the dividends it brings, says this is especially important when work can be repetitive and dull.
Any environment where people are provided a realistic challenge and an opportunity to solve it, their interest levels usually peak, and so does overall happiness. Jody Aked, Happiness Works
She told The Huffington Post that research she had carried out in the Chinese apparel industry showed that there were always ways to make peoples’ jobs more interesting, such as offering volunteering opportunities, skills training and job rotation.
“There are so many opportunities to involve staff more in how businesses evolve,” she said. “When strategies are rolled out from the center, they miss the insights people, non-white-collar workers especially, bring."
“If you believe the philosophy of agencies like IDEO, everyone can problem-solve if you give them permission to," she added. "Any environment where people are provided a realistic challenge and an opportunity to solve it, their interest levels usually peak, and so does overall happiness.”
Aked said workers feel better about what they do when they have a sense of connection to the person buying the product.
“We have this discussion all the time with businesses who say things like 'We just sell shoes, how can we be meaningful?'" she told HuffPost. "I think these businesses forget that people are socially motivated. Just by knowing that something they helped to create was gratefully received and enjoyed by another human being is intrinsically rewarding and meaningful. So why doesn't customer feedback permeate all levels of the business?”
“Human relationships and work cultures are sources of happiness, and in many cases great unhappiness, whatever the job. When the work is dull, relationships may take on even more importance.”
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