Finding happiness and contentment in life and working to live have often been at odds with each other. In the late 20th Century, it became popular advice to quit an existing job to create or find a career aligned with one’s passion. Though this has worked for some, cancel culture advice – to quit that which doesn’t fit – isn’t research based or, in many cases, realistic.
Almost fifty years ago, I read the summary of a research study about happiness. It was designed to discover whether there was a link between money and happiness. And, to the surprise of the researchers, they discovered that there wasn’t a correlation between financial “success” and happiness at all. They discovered that the key to happiness didn’t lie in obtaining some magic goal. Contentment was equally distributed along all socioeconomic tiers, and happiness resulted when a person found joy where they were and with what they had.
Around the year 2000, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk, spoke to prisoners about happiness. This speech was later transcribed into the book, Be free where you are. Thich Naht Hanh describes how finding an ability to be kind and compassionate, to be appreciative of others and experiences in basic moments, allows one to be free – no matter what the location. Many have spoken of how transformative this lecture was for them while incarcerated, hearing it in person, and reading it years later. The ability to live in the current moment and find something of value in it can lead to an ability to find purpose even in prison.
A new study has just been released, coming to a similar conclusion. Purpose in life, happiness, doesn’t have to ride on having accomplished a major life goal, career objective, or “success.” It can be found throughout the day, in finding appreciation in simple moments no matter where you are. There are many examples of this in the workplace. One can walk into most places of business, from coffeeshops to hospitals, gas stations to law firms, and discover people who are jovial, living each moment of service and appreciation to the benefit of themselves and others.
It is important to remember that our home, our work, our lives are truly what we make of them. This doesn’t mean we have to move to Hawaii, buy the house on our “dream board,” or start our own business doing the “only thing we love.” What it does mean is we can find moments we love and create experiences we cherish right were we are. This happens when a task just clicks at work. This happens when we make a connection, through laughter or real collaboration, with someone during the workday. Every new moment is a chance for connection, appreciation, and accomplishment. With this we can create a niche for ourselves right in the career or workplace where we are.
Hạnh Nhất. (2002). Be free where you are. Parallax Press.
Kim, J., Holte, P., Martela, F., Shanahan, C., Li, Z., Zhang, H., Eisenbeck, N., Carreno, D. F., Schlegel, R. J., & Hicks, J. A. (2022). Experiential appreciation as a pathway to meaning in life. Nature Human Behaviour, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41562-021-01283-6
Sussex Publishers. (n.d.). Research suggests a new way to make life feel meaningful. Psychology Today. Retrieved July 7, 2022, from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/between-you-and-me/202206/research-suggests-new-way-make-life-feel-meaningful