Monday, November 5, 2012

Work and Happiness

Evidence suggests that the happiness we seek is to be found, not at the top of the ladder, but in the climb, itself.
Evidence suggests that the happiness we seek is to be found, not at the top of the ladder, but in the climb, itself.

Happiness is an elusive thing in success driven New York, which, according to common knowledge is the most neurotic state in the union.  There are many rungs on the idiomatic ladder to success, and for every one we climb, another often seems to appear at the top. Those who decry the futility of the rat race say that happiness is to be found by getting off the ladder. Perhaps that's true for some.  But for many - in fact probably most - evidence suggests that the happiness we seek is not to be found at the top of the ladder, but in the climb, itself.

Note the words of King Solomon, written over 2,000 years ago:  I applied my mind to...discern which is best for mankind to do under the heavens during the brief span of their lives.  I acted in grand style: I built houses, I planted vineyards; I made for myself gardens and orchards, and planted in them every kind of fruit tree...I acquired stewards; I also owned more possessions, both cattle and sheep, than all of my predecessors in Jerusalem; I amassed even silver and gold for myself, and the treasure of kings and the provinces; I provided myself with various musical instruments, and with every human luxury - chests and chests of them…(here it comesIndeed, my heart drew joy from all my activities, and this was my reward for all my endeavors. 

Carlin Flora, writing in Psychology Today ("The Pursuit of Happiness," January 1, 2009) says that "getting what you want doesn't bring lasting happiness." She says that "happiness lies in the chase." She says: "Action toward goals other than happiness makes us happy.  Though there is a place for vegging out and reading trashy novels, easy pleasures will never light us up the way mastering a new skill or building something from scratch will.  And it's not crossing the finish line that is most rewarding; it is anticipating achieving your goal."
Thomas Jefferson is credited with having authored the famous words of the Declaration of Independence.  "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness." Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project agrees that when it comes to the pursuit of happiness, most of the happiness is to be found in its pursuit.  She writes, "First of all, by the time you've arrived at your destination, you're expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness."

If you're an investor in stocks, you're probably acquainted with the old adage, "Buy the rumor; sell the news."  The reason is found in Ms. Rubin's explanation.  Stocks usually run up in anticipation of an event, such as the introduction of a new product, and when the event occurs, the stock sells off.  The stock price of Apple, Inc., has generally followed this pattern in connection with the introduction of its Iphone and Ipad products.  Buying the rumor equates with striving to reach a goal; selling the news equates with reaching the goal. By the time you've arrived at the anticipated announcement (the goal), the value has already been incorporated into  the stock's price (happiness).  What usually follows is a sell off, which is the disappointment people often experience when reaching a goal.

Illustration by Rebecca Church


  1. Jack, I think that this is spot on. As a sales trainer I see many excellent sales reps that are absolutely driven to exceed their quota; they are financially secure but the act of achieving/exceeding equates to happiness for them,. Once they reach it they don't stop because beating their goal is even better.

    1. Adrian, thanks for the acknowledgement. After all your years of sales training, you should be an authority on the subject.

  2. I couldn't agree more. I've never felt lasting satisfaction upon reaching a goal. The journey is the prize. Regretfully we're often so focused on reaching our objective that we lose sight of the tresures along the way. I suspect you found no joy in finishing this blog! Great job!

  3. Dan, I'm afraid there is never any rest for you in your line of work. One year's gains can be erased by the next. It's a good thing you take pleasure in the day to day battle for success.