How do you spend your time? Everyone has a different answer, of course, but I’m sure there is one similarity: work is a big part of it. We spend a big chunk of our time at work. That is why your work plays an important role in your happiness.
I recently read a book titled Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman. I like the book because it talks about happiness based on scientific research and not just opinions. Among others, it also talks about how to derive authentic happiness from your work.
But what is authentic happiness? Put simply, there are two kinds of happiness: momentary happiness and authentic happiness. Momentary happiness is the fleeting feeling you get from having fun. Authentic happiness, on the other hand, is the enduring fulfillment you get from doing things that are true to yourself.
The book says that there are three levels of how we view our work. The higher your level is, the more authentic happiness you will get from your work. Here are the three levels:
This is the lowest level. Here you view your work primarily as a way to make money. Money becomes the primary motivation. If there is no money in it, then you won’t do it.
Here your motivation is the advancement you get. As long as you can move to a higher level, you are motivated. But when the advancement stops, you are no longer motivated to do the work.
This is the highest level of all. Here your motivation is the inner fulfillment you get from doing the work. External rewards like money or advancement are not your primary motivation. In fact, you will still do the work even if you don’t get any external reward. The work is rewarding by itself.
From the description above, which one do you think applies to you? Do you view your work as a job, a career, or a calling?
Even if you now view your work as a job, that’s fine. After all, we all have needs to meet and families to feed.
However, to live your life to the fullest, you should move beyond that. Your goal should be to make your work a calling. That’s how you can have meaningful work. That’s how you can have work that is fulfilling beyond what external rewards could give.
Here are four tips to make your work a calling and thereby making it meaningful:
1. Be content
You can’t make your work a calling if you constantly worry about making more money. Yes, you need money to meet your needs. But beyond meeting the essential needs, studies show that additional money brings little to no happiness. It’s just not worth fighting for. So you should learn to be content instead. Being content frees your mind to focus on the more meaningful things.
2. Find the intersection between your cause and strengths
To make your work a calling, you should have a cause that’s bigger than yourself. What is it that matters to you? What is it that you want to contribute to?
In addition, you also need to find your strengths. What are the things that you are naturally good at? What are the things that feel enjoyable and effortless to do?
After you find your cause and strengths, you should find the intersection between them. Find ways to use your strengths to contribute to your cause.
3. Exercise your strengths
Now that you have found the intersection, you should constantly exercise your strengths. Try to use them every day. The more you do this, the more gratification you will get. This is where authentic happiness comes from.
If you work for someone else, you may need to talk with your boss about it. Ask him or her to assign you to the area of your strengths. Explain to them that it will benefit the company because you will be able to contribute more. Another solution is to start a side business where you can exercise your strengths.
4. Think in terms of helping people
A calling has a sense of contribution attached to it. So one good way to make your work a calling is to think of it in terms of helping people. How can you help people through your work? How can you make the world a better place through it?
I am lucky because my work more or less fits the description of a calling. Take this blog, for example. When I started it back in 2006, I didn’t have any motivation to make money. I simply loved personal growth and writing. As time passed, however, this blog started to earn some income. Eventually I was able to quit my day job.
I would still love to write here even if I didn’t get any income. The nice thing about having that mindset is that, more often than not, the money eventually comes.
It wasn’t always like that though. There were times when I did some work merely for the money. It didn’t feel good. It took extra effort to get through the days. Moreover, most of what I did also failed.
Making a calling out of your work is the better path to take. Yes, I probably won’t be rich, but I will have a meaningful life. That’s something that even wealth can’t buy.
Photo by Paul Bica