For example, a universal principle is that people are made happy by an “atmosphere of growth.” (That’s one element of my First Splendid Truth.)
But how people achieve that atmosphere of growth varies tremendously. One person gets it from traveling; another, by raising children; another, by learning a new software program; another, by renovating the basement.
So to say that traveling is a key to happiness, or that traveling is a big waste of time, is foolish.
Along the same lines, I was thinking about the differences among people and their approach to work. Here are four proposed work styles:
Answering the call
One kind of work is a “calling.” A calling is very difficult to resist, and indeed, people with a calling sometimes find themselves working for no pay. People have callings for many different fields: science, math, music, art, literature, film, acting, finance, medicine, design, religion…I recently learned a fascinating term, a service heart, which describes the calling that people feel to provide personal service to others.
One problem with a calling is that sometimes a person wishes that he or she didn’t feel a particular call. For example, some callings are very well paid, and/or highly respected, and others aren’t. It’s very hard to get paid as a poet; it’s much easier to be paid as a doctor. It’s very painful to give up a calling, even if you want to give it up.
Climbing the ladder
Some people have a lot of ambition, but no particular calling. They want to work hard and be successful, but aren’t attached to a particular field. They gravitate to jobs that suit their skills and allow for advancement.
Some people assume that those climbing the ladder have sold their souls, or are desperately unhappy, because they work in a field like accounting or corporate law. But that’s not necessarily so.
Ladder-climbers don’t have the urgent motivation felt by people with a calling, but they can derive huge satisfaction from work. If you know a lot about any field, and especially if you’re good at it, you tend to find it fascinating.
Some people are energetic but not ambitious. They don’t have a particular calling, and they’re not particularly worried about success, but they like the bustle and gratification of working hard. They can happily direct their energies toward a wide variety of goals.
“How sweet it is to do nothing” – for some people. Some folks enjoy leisure a great deal; they can enjoy themselves without any particular work to do. They don’t seem to work at much, just live their lives.
I talked to a friend about these categories, and he added a fifth: Waiting for instructions. These folks are between stages, trying to figure out what to do next.
What’s the significance of these work categories for happiness?
The First Splendid Truth holds that to think about happiness, you must think about:
in an atmosphere of growth.
The different work categories would play out differently for happiness, because of the different satisfactions they bring — also, depending on how a person’s fate plays out.
And there are different kinds of happiness. Who is happier? The perfectionist, anxious artist who lives to paint and who agonizes over any critical word? Or the beloved receptionist who keeps the office working perfectly, from 8:59 am until 5:01 pm?
Another happiness universal: know yourself. I was on a track to “climb the ladder” of law. I was doing very well, and I enjoyed it. But when I was clerking for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, I realized I really wanted to be a writer. Looking back, it was clear that I’d wanted to be a writer for a long time, but I’d ignored that call.
Different people, different happiness – linked by the universal principle that their happiness will be determined by the First Splendid Truth.
I’m still mulling over these categories. Do I have it right? What am I missing?
I’m a member of the great LifeRemix network, and a new, terrific blog just joined up — The Art of Manliness. So much great material there, even for those of us not particularly worried about our Manliness.
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