By Dan King and Mark Guterman
As we celebrate another 4th of July, we need to remind ourselves that it’s not just a day off for picnics, parades, and potato salad. There are fireworks too! And, of course, a day off to celebrate our freedom to direct our own destiny.
The Declaration of Independence proclaims that we are endowed “with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Those who won our independence staked their futures on the courage to act on these beliefs.
Of signing the Declaration of Independence, John Adams, wrote, “All that I have, and all that I am, and all that I hope, in this life, I am now ready here to stake upon it; and I leave off as I begun, that live or die, survive or perish, I am for the Declaration.” Who among us would show such courage of our convictions? How many of us are similarly committed to pursuing that which brings us the greatest happiness?
Many interpret “the pursuit of happiness” to mean the pursuit of possessions and wealth. Thomas Jefferson believed, “It is neither wealth nor splendor, but tranquility and occupation, which gives happiness.” Our happiness is influenced largely by how we choose to live and work.
Although, we have the freedom to choose how to expend our time, too many still choose work with no connection to their values, and totally devoid of passion. The happiness they pursue is toward a time when they won’t have to work. As such, they sentence themselves to jobs and careers that have little connection to their purpose. Is that what the founders fought for?
Happiness, and the myriad ways people define it, exists at the intersection of passion, strengths, and values. What energizes us comes together with our talents, gifts, and skills, and is fully supported by that which we find to be of most importance, all leading to an abiding sense of coherence and meaning. This knowledge and understanding, must in turn, align with the opportunities that the world of work can provide us. Therein lies the pursuit of happiness.
This endeavor is, of course, easier said than done. It challenges us in many ways, both economically and psychologically, but staying committed to the pursuit is inevitably the route to happiness and meaning in our work lives.
So amidst the pomp and parades, the bells and bonfires, the salutes and sparklers, take some time this Independence Day to reflect on your personal pursuit of happiness.
Here are five questions to guide you:
- What is your definition of happiness?
- What comes most naturally to you?
- What gets you most jazzed?
- What do you think you are here to achieve in your work life?
- What steps are you taking to pursue your happiness?
Just as the Declaration of Independence is an aspirational document, so, too, is our career plan. Abraham Lincoln said some 150 years ago, “I am not here to win, but I am bound to be true. I am not bound to succeed, but I am bound to live by the light I have.” He didn’t mean to forgo fame and fortune; instead he wanted us to remember that the pursuit of meaning is the way to happiness. He understood that happiness is a direction, not a place.
As we celebrate Independence Day, let’s “hold these truths to be self-evident.”