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How to Pursue Professional Happiness

07/28/2015 05:31 EDT | Updated 07/28/2016 05:59 EDT
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If you think you've been reading a lot about the concept of happiness these days, its because you probably are. The obsession around has always been a topic of interest but recently has gained momentum. In one of my first trips to New York City, I remember quite distinctly the moment when I stood at the Rockefeller Center and read a plaque that expressed the words of John D. Rockefeller Jr. himself. The first of the 10 principles, arguably through the sheer eloquence of its prose is riveting:

"I believe in the supreme worth of the individual and in his right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

The first line is as memorable as others made by others in history, including "I have a dream," (Martin Luther King) and "ask not what America will do for you, but what together we can do for the freedom of man" (John F. Kennedy) which, whether you are American or not, are meant to inspire. For me, the idea that the pursuit of happiness is a right could have stirred a greater sense of personal empowerment.

Nobody would argue that each of us are deserving of happiness. Most parents, despite layering on other expectations including self-sufficiency, want their children to be happy. But does happiness just happen or is it, indeed a pursuit?

Less elusive than other parts of our personal life, the pursuit of happiness in our work life does require perhaps a higher degree of discipline. According to vocabulary.com, "pursuit" is derived from the Anglo-French purseute -- pursuit means the act of pursuing or striving towards goals. However, from a career perspective, if the goal is happiness, what are the motivators to get there? I propose the four Ps:

Pay

The one that's easiest of course of understand is securing fair compensation for your contributions. But as referenced by an article in the Globe and Mail, money drives a sense of "subjective well-being." In other words, it's your perception of compensation that leads you to believe that it's enough and research shows, that most believe that making $75,000 annually is an inflection point, where the value of earning more decreases. So your pay can only get you partially down the path to happiness.

Passion

The idea that your own passion could magically lead to a successful career is likely the nirvana of all scenarios that we could dream of, right? If I'm passionate about yoga, it would make perfect sense for me to pursue yoga as a career. Maybe I can be a teacher, maybe open a studio, maybe a string of yoga studios, maybe become a master. Or perhaps, I can continue to love practising my passion a few times a week. You get where I'm going. Not every passion needs to turn into a professional pursuit in order to continue bring you happiness and have an important place in your life. In fact, the Passion Tract referenced by an article in Fast Company argues the opposite, a "rarer kind of practical passion built on commitment, mastery, and pride."

Power

The state of pursuing achievement and recognition seems almost human nature. In fact, the phenomenon that "everyone deserves a participation ribbon" will breed widespread meritocracy in our children is hotly debated. Doesn't everyone want to win? Professionally, getting promoted is one of the best things that can happen. A promotion means a more senior role, bigger scope, greater insight into the business, and most importantly, the power to make a larger impact. While employers work hard to harness employees sense of empowerment, or the sense of power or control over their work. The more power we achieve, the better we should feel about work. A letter to expert Lolly Daskal asks whether you should even take a promotion if you don't love your current job. Power is one of those finicky things though, in that it is limited. At all levels, there are limitations to what you can do to impact your workplace.

Purpose

Finding purpose in your work and pursuing meaningful, intuitively should result in a greater sense of professional satisfaction. But a study by Stanford draws a clear distinction between meaningfulness and happiness. Not surprisingly, the most meaningful experiences in life and your career are the most difficult times. Insights from professional pivots, like employment disruption or displacement can be incredibly stressful. No question, these experience serve an important purpose in our careers, often times, making us much more resilient in dealing with change or uncertainty. There are careers, like teaching and priesthood, when, if pursued for the right reasons, purpose plays a critical role to feeling successful.

So what is the penultimate path to the pursuit of happiness? Well, why not consult a website dedicated to its very name www.pursuit-of-happiness.org? The reality is that professional and personal happiness is a personal pursuit that requires you to evaluate the relative value of pay, power, purpose and power in where you are in your life right now. There will be trade-offs. Also, periodically assessing if you are on the right path and determining how you need to course correct is important.

The bottom line is that at the end of the day, being happy is not a feeling, it's a choice.

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