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You set your own Happiness and Fulfilment

The Sunday Times have numerous articles today that are interesting to read but I find what Lydia Lim wrote on Happiness is not consuming but learning to thrive to contain good lessons for us.

The article shares that we often are blind ourselves to what makes us happy at work. The easiest answer to this is that if the job pays me very well then I am happy at work. I wonder how true is that.

A friend with a degree in positive psychology and who is a “psychotherapist and resilience coach” distinguishes between two ideas of happiness: hedonism and eudaimonia.

The first is defined by pleasure and consumption, the second by virtue and excellence.

If the survey mainly asked people about their salary, bonuses and other material things, he says, the likely conclusion is that they would not be happy. This is due to hedonistic adaptation, a process of adjustment that results in people getting used to whatever level of material comfort they attain such that it no longer thrills them, and desiring to move up to a higher level.

Hedonism, in other words, is a source of fleeting feelings of pleasure, but it ultimately fuels dissatisfaction.

Indeed, this state of restlessness, of insatiability, of “getting bored with what we’ve got”, is why people work so hard even when they do not enjoy their work, says Emeritus Professor of Political Economy Robert Skidelsky at Warwick University in a recent interview. And capitalism, he says, “inflames insatiability”, and makes it the engine of the machine.

Eudaimonia, by contrast, is the idea of human flourishing, of how human beings thrive when they choose certain ways of living. A central concept in Aristotle’s Ethics, it is about the good life as an end to strive for, not as a thing to possess or consume.

I find that at most times, being adequately compensated is sanitary (if you have it, it doesn’t make you happy, but if you don’t have it, you will definitely be pissed) but most of my happiness at work stems on sense of fulfilment in milestones. Milestones that are internalized by me not my boss.

The folks who have much issues, by and large are those who can’t seem to internalize any happiness in their jobs.

A friend of mine told me about his national service buddy, a remarkable man whose job at the airport is to deal with angry passengers at the lost luggage counter. My friend asked him how he could possibly enjoy such work.

His reply: He sees it as a game, a way to challenge himself. If he manages to get the irate customer to calm down, he scores a point. If he succeeds in getting the customer to smile, he wins!

He sets his own rules, which gives him a sense of autonomy. And he charts his own progress, which gives him a sense of mastery. Every encounter becomes a chance to learn new skills and master the art of managing angry people.

Another friend surprised me when – knowing how overworked he was – I urged him to slack off on a project that his instructor might not take the time to grade. He shrugged his shoulders in response and said: “I just want to learn.”

He was not put off by what his instructor might or might not do. Instead, he was energised by the prospect of learning something new.

Do pick up the Sunday Times to read this (or wait long long for Asia one)

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