Monday, December 28, 2009

Working Your Way Toward Happiness

Ask yourself what makes people happy and you will likely find the answer Prof. Sonja Lyubomirsky gave: good relationships. At least, that was her answer before she researched the question in depth.

After she and two of her colleagues did their research they discovered that people gained and sustained happiness, in part through relationships, but, more importantly, through ... work. Link here.

Anyone who has lived in our therapy culture will be shocked by this answer.

Not so, Harvard psychiatrist, Dr. Richard Mullican who famously once said: "the best antidepressant is a job."

If you are looking for happiness, work will take you there. As Lyubomirsky explained in an article that accompanied the publication of her book, "The How of Happiness," work structures your life, it structures your relationships, it directs your efforts toward a productive end, it provides opportunities for success, and it allows you to fail.

You have to start with a job, but having a job is not enough. You have to be good at it; you have to work hard at it and to take it seriously; and you have to succeed at it.

Shockingly, happiness seems to involve competition!

When self-proclaimed self-esteem gurus decide that they do not want children to compete in spelling bees or dodgeball games-- lest the losers feel badly about themselves-- they are really, according to these research findings, making it more difficult for the children to be happy.

When people like your humble blogger make much about the value of work and the importance of following a work ethic, they are not trying to cause you to repress your instincts. They are trying to point you toward the road to happiness.

I will mention that Lyubomirsky's conclusions predate the advent of this blog.

While I was not at all surprised to read her conclusions, the point that struck me most forcefully was what she left out of the equation.

That was: all of the prescriptions offered by the therapy culture. Happiness did not involve the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure's sake. It did not privilege true love or romance. It cannot be attained by following your bliss or by getting in touch with your feelings. It does not involve acting according to your heart's desire, having a rich fantasy life, or living your dreams. It definitely has nothing to do with expressing your emotions freely and openly. And it does not require an interminable experience of psychotherapy.

If this is true, and I believe that it is, then the prescriptions that the therapy culture has been peddling as antidotes to the modern condition, or even as cures for what ails you, will do nothing more or less than distract you from the task at hand: working your way toward happiness.

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