Who doesn’t want to be happy? Happiness is a logical goal of our lives. An American writer and journalist Emily Esfahani Smith has been exploring the science of happiness for years and found out that it is a wrong life goal. The more we try to reach it the less happy we become.
Our obsession with happiness started in the 90s of the 20th century with the theory of positive psychology. Every year, there are dozens of books and magazines on how to be happy. Along with that, there are coaches, motivational speakers and therapists. Industry of happiness.
But what is happiness?
“A number of psychologists define happiness as the state of well-being and contentment” says Mrs Smith.
Some people might consider this answer to be too simple for such a complex question.
Nowadays, we associate the sentence “I am happy” with the feeling of satisfaction, when our needs are fulfilled and nothing is bothering us. We enjoy life.
And that’s why we think that career success and money will make us happy. You can enjoy life when you have money.
We spend majority of our lives at work and we want to be happy there too. “Happy workplace” is what we hear everywhere.
Are we happy then? It’s really hard to find out with Czech people. We tend to be very negative so in global surveys, we usually end up at the bottom of the table.
Americans are a better example. According to Gallup Institute, 60% of Americans are happy – they have an easy life and no stress.
However, it is the same Americans who are fighting with the biggest drug epidemy in a log time. The number of suicides increases (just like in the Czech Republic and other happy countries) and there are more and more people growing depressed.
Something is missing.
Emily Esfahani Smith in her book the Power of Meaning says that what we miss is the feeling of fulfilment and meaning of life.
The need for life sense is one of the basic human needs.
Viktor Frankl was the first one to describe this feeling. Due to his Jewish origin, he spent three terrible years in concentration camps knowing that sooner or later he would die. One would think “What’s the point in living with this feeling?” Frankl found out that this way of thinking is wrong. We should not ask what is the sense of our life but what sense do we want to give to our life. He found out that there is meaning in life even under the most cruel and desperate life conditions and that only people who realized that survived.
He claims that these people found meaning in life in the feeling of being responsible for something that was bigger than them. For example, Frankl’s cellmate who couldn’t bear to live any longer and decided to commit a suicide finally changed his mind because he realized a reason for him to live was his child who managed to escape from the regime and survived.
According to Smith, this is the goal of people who found sense in life. Not to enjoy it selfishly but to help others. She took this definition from psychology: having sense in life means to focus on something that is bigger than us.
“According to surveys, people who find their job meaningful have one thing in common. They see their job as a way how to help others,” says Adam Grant, Wharton Business School professor and the author of several bestsellers about this topic.
Sometimes a different perspective is enough.
During a visit to the NASA space center in 1962, President John F. Kennedy noticed a janitor carrying a broom. He interrupted his tour, walked over to the man and said, “Hi, I’m Jack Kennedy. What are you doing?”
“Well, Mr. President,” the janitor responded, “I’m helping put a man on the moon.”
Adam Grant says that the ability to see yourself as a part of something big is a feature of true leaders and visionaries.
“The most meaningful way to success is to help others succeed”, says Grant.