Happiness is Hard Work

January 01, 2014
  • Bob Chapman
  • Bob Chapman
    CEO & Chairman of Barry-Wehmiller

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This quote by FDR appeared recently in a New York Times editorial “A Formula for Happiness“ by Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. FDR’s words and Brooks’ comments about the pursuit of happiness through our work resonated with me.

For years, I have known that my “work” as the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller is a source of fulfillment. In fact, whenever my team members say I am working too hard, I tell them I don’t consider it work; I tell them I am having fun.

To me, work is energizing, stimulating, and intrinsically rewarding. I feel lucky to have found joy and happiness through my leadership of the 7,600+ (now more than 12,000) people within our organization. I wish the same for every single one of them. Doesn’t every person deserve a job that makes them fulfilled?

Brooks’ article talks about the research on happiness that social scientists have been conducting for decades. It seems about half of a person’s happiness is determined genetically. In other words, to some degree, we can thank our parents for how happy—or unhappy–we are. After that, random events from our recent past are the next biggest contributors to our level of happiness. This could be news of a big promotion, an acceptance letter from a prestigious university, or a celebration surrounding a special event in one’s life.

Unfortunately, the happiness we feel as a result of these events lasts only a short while. So how can we go about finding long term happiness? According to Brooks, studies show that “the surest path to happiness is gained through the pursuit of four basic values—faith, family, community and work.”

As a business leader, I may not be able to control the first three for the people I lead but I can impact their sense of meaning and purpose at work. How does work make us happy? It’s not the financial reward, says the research.

According to Brooks, “economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor. But scholars like the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.”

In fact, one survey showed that nearly three-fourths of Americans wouldn’t quit their jobs even if a financial windfall enabled them to live in luxury for the rest of their lives.

What social scientists have found, Brooks goes on to say, is that the secret to happiness through work is earned success. Their research showed that people who feel they are successful at work are twice as likely to say they are very happy overall as compared to those who don’t feel that way. Work allows us to “marry our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others.” Work that is meaningful and allows us to see the value we add makes us happy.

That is the essence of Truly Human Leadership. Through it, we strive daily to create meaningful work for our associates. We cultivate caring, empowering environments in which our team members can come together to share their individual gifts—marry their passions to their skills— in the creation of value for themselves, for others, for the organization.  We help them see the joy and happiness that is realized from achieving our shared vision together.

The advent of a new year offers an opportunity to take stock of the past and resolve to improve the future.  For me, that means a renewed commitment to making sure our team members all over the world experience Truly Human Leadership in their corners of the organization. We realize our journey is far from over but, like I said before, everybody deserves a job that makes them fulfilled.

What do you resolve to do to improve the lives of those you lead?

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