“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” is a well-known phrase from the United States Declaration of Independence.
Pursuit sounds like you will never get there, you will always be in pursuit.
Is that the case?
Well, it can be, and will be, if you will never be satisfied somewhere. As in, even the number two richest person, may not be satisfied – because in their mind the only time they will be, is if they are the number one richest person.
So the goal, and the point in which you feel satisfied and happy – is totally within your mind.
It is not like the situation is a binary switch: you are happy, or you are not happy. You can live in squalid conditions and be happy, and you can be the second richest person and live in a palace and still be unhappy.
For this post, I will not use the squalid conditions, as most readers are simply not experiencing it.
How do you know if your current job is making you happy?
Here are a few tests you can conduct on yourself, and only you will know the answer.
- Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
What Maslow’s pyramid framework says, is that if you did not have water and food, you are in the bottom. There is a lot more you NEED to have in your life, in order to be happy and satisfied.
As you go up the pyramid, after you have food, water, warmth and rest… you need shelter and security.
Then you NEED relationships and friends, and then you need a sense of esteem and to feel accomplished, maybe some prestige.
Yet that is NOT the top of the pyramid. Above that, there is this magical region called Self Actualization. Maslow describes this as “the desire to accomplish everything that one can, to become the most that one can be.”
For business executives, you could be happy in the fourth stage, for all your life, as the CEO of a public company. If you do not have the need, desire or aspiration to invent the product that your company sells. However, even if you were the CEO of a publicly traded company, yet all your life you were seeking the opportunity to start you own company and sell you your invention – you may NOT feel satisfied.
The feeling of satisfaction, at your station in life, is within you.
2. To know if you are happy, and getting closer to self actualization (or maybe you are there already) – you need to ask yourself these questions:
a. Am I doing something that I would do without getting paid?
Now, I know that you need to pay your bills to live in the western world. You think that you NEED to get paid. Yet, there are many things you do, even if no one pays you – because they represent what you are all about.
For example, say that you love dogs. You would be happy to volunteer as a dog sitter for your friends and family, even if they did not pay you to do it.
Why? Because when you are with a dog, your soul feels something that you don’t feel when you hear music, watch a painting, or play basketball. You feel something resonating so deep inside you, that the thought of dog-food costs is not crossing your mind.
Vincent van Gogh was painting, even when he spent his money on paint instead of food. If you review the pyramid of needs on top, you will see that something is askew.
When you pursue the thing that makes you happy, this would happen. You would trade the basic need of food, with what makes you, you.
“I can do nothing about it if my paintings don’t sell. The day will come, though, when people will see that they’re worth more than the cost of the paint and my subsistence, very meager in fact, that we put into them.”
-Vincent van Gogh
What I mean is that you can test your current station in life, and ask yourself these questions – not to become a starving artist, yet to assess if you are doing something that makes you come alive.
Then, you still need to find a source of income, from this pursuit or not. But if you are working ONLY to pay your bills, and you forget the pursuit of happiness, you are probably not going to be happy.
It is OK to be a bank manager in the day, and an amateur violinist at night. The only question is, why not be a professional violinist every day, all day long?
If you are thinking “I never got the opportunity…” – think again. Did you seek the opportunity? or you may think it will knock on your door some day?
Are you afraid that quitting the banking job to pursue the violin dream is risky? Do you have a family and obligations that make it seem impossible?
Welcome to life.
Everyone you see that has their “dream” job, once worried about this conundrum. It is easier to pursue the dream when you are young and single, as you have only yourself to worry about. Nonetheless, some famous people lived in their cars, as single people, chasing their dreams. That was not easy either.
Living in a car does NOT equate to being unhappy… Read Jim Carrey’s story: https://www.ladbible.com/entertainment/celebrity-jim-carrey-was-once-so-broke-he-lived-in-a-van-20210421
I think of it as a “Happy Struggle”. Meaning, that eating ramen, in the car, and playing violin in the street – could be more satisfying to your soul, than living a cushy life in the suburbs as a bank manager (who thinks every day about the missed opportunity of becoming a famous violinist).
Because you are struggling, yet it is YOUR struggle. You set yourself on this course, because playing music makes you HAPPY.
Even, if no one else listens to you (yet), and no one else pays you (yet).
You are the happy one for doing the thing you were born to do.
So even if the food is crappy, and the bed is not as comfy… your soul is happy.
Yes, it will be happier once you can live off your talent. But living with a job that pays your bills, and never gives you an hour to be who you were meant to be – is just a struggle. It is not a happy struggle.
The struggling artist in the street actually has a SHOT, every day. Someone can pass by and decide to recruit them to a project, or even just to refer them to someone they know. They have this shot because they put themselves out there, they are trying, actively.
In today’s internet, one simple video taken from a phone, could lead to worldwide success.
Like this kid, Justin Bieber playing his song in the street
Or this lady, Allie Sherlock, who just does what she was born to do
What have you done today to put yourself out there?
What have your done today to get you closer to where you belong?
What have you done today to create your opportunity?
b. How does Sunday night feel?
This question is relevant to people who live in countries where the work week begins on Monday. So Sunday night, is the end of the weekend for them. If you read this and your workweek begins on Sunday, then ask yourself “How does Saturday night feel?”
Why does that matter?
Say that your favorite vacation place in the world is Hawaii. You have only good memories from your past vacations, and you feel amazing when you are there. If you are about to go on vacation to Hawaii on Monday, and now its Sunday night – how do you feel?
You feel that the hours are going too slow, and you can’t wait for Monday to arrive – so you can go do the thing that makes you happy.
If you hate your job, and you dread every single day there… how does Sunday night feel?
While not every day at work will feel like going on vacation – you can measure the delta in feelings this way.
You now have a yardstick to test with.
If you are happy at your job, you should experience neutral to positive feelings on Sunday night.
If you are self actualized, you should experience antsy feelings that Sunday is taking too long to be over…
It is OK to have these good feelings at your job or occupation for a while, and then feel that the chemistry changed. You no longer feel exhilarated on Sunday night. That is a good cue for you to start looking for something that will reignite your passion for your job.
Many people think that being the CEO of a company will make them happy. Once they get there, they really see what the job is all about – and it may not make then happy.
I hear this from many lawyers, who spent years in school studying the law, and then when they work in the field – realize it is not what they expected.
Similarly, you can love going to Disneyland as a customer, and think that the employees there must have a ball. But working in the amusement park serving customers, is not the same as being the customer.
Using Apple products does not equate to working at Apple and so on.
So, are you happy?
Are you happy as Josh Harmon making SFX for cartoons?
And then… when you do what you love and don’t care if anyone is watching, or paying you… this happens:
References and Notes:
How can I get a job at Pixar as an animator?
If had my life to live over – poem by Emma Bombeck
Happiness inspires us to be more productive and work harder – TED Talk