Friday, January 06, 2006

Happiness in hard work

The BBC reported recently about a Gothenburg University (Sweden) study of "published data on what makes people happy." The secret lies in "hard work towards a target".

Lead researcher Dr Bengt Bruelde, from the university's philosophy department, said: "The important thing is to remain active.

"From our research the people who were most active got the most joy. It may sound tempting to relax on a beach, but if you do it for too long it stops being satisfying."

The report goes on to quote Averil Leimon of the British Psychological Society: "the [hard] work has to use a person's strengths otherwise it can be demoralising."

Martin Seligman is a professor of psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, wrote the book "Authentic Happiness", and founded the Positive Psychology movement (I had a chance to mention him here). In a website devoted to the topic of his book, he has quite a few questionnaires that will help you figure out (if you need them figured out ;-) many positive things about yourself. One of them, for example, aims to identify your core 'virtues' (Selgman calls them signature strengths, and there are 24 of them!), such as wisdom, compassion and perseverence. If you are lucky enough to have an organizational role that plays to your strengths, it's all the better.

There is a lot of emphasis on work-related happiness, not only because organizations are interested, but also because (and let's face it) many of us spend about half our waking hours at work! Therefore, it is important to find -- to the extent you have that luxury -- the kind of work that matches your strengths. In the absence of such a strength-role match, just switch to Plan B: spend as much of the remaining time as possible on things that match your strengths.

And of course, going by the advice given by Darrin McMahon (whose article I linked to here), you shouldn't think too much about whether the stuff you are doing is producing happiness. The key quote is from John Stuart Mill: "Ask yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." In other words, Nike got it right when it chose its motto: "Just do it!"