happiness is infectious

How do you respond when you are asked to tell someone a little about yourself? You might start with your hometown or your position in the family relative to your siblings, but most people will turn to their careers. I’m a writer. I’m an engineer. I’m a teacher.

For better or for worse, our jobs have come to define a large part of who we are. Why is it, then, that so many people make vocational decisions that lead them to jobs that only make them unhappy? While I fully understand the need to fulfill basic requirements, like food and shelter, I am also an adamant supporter of doing what fulfills you and what makes you happy.

Nearly Half of Your Waking Hours

Consider a conventional 40-hour work week. Let’s assume that you have standard eight-hour shifts and you get the recommended eight hours of sleep each night. What this means is, not even including the commute time or the “mind share” time spent when you’re not at the office, you are at work for half of your waking hours. You may have the weekend, but for most intents and purposes, your job occupies a huge part of your life.

“Nothing is really work unless you would rather be doing something else.” ~ James Matthew Barrie

When you are spending this much time at something, it only makes sense to do what you love. Why would you torture yourself by going to a job that you hate? Yes, as I said above, circumstances may dictate that you take on less desirable jobs to make ends meet, but the end goal should be to do what makes you happy.

The old adage that the money will follow if you do what you love is not at all true. You still have to put in the work. Doing what makes you happy does not mean that you’ll love every moment; it means that the treasured, valued moments make up for the ones that aren’t so nice.

The Risk of Over-Ambition

But here is another pitfall.

In chatting with someone the other day, he told me about a man who may have over-extended himself. He rushed through university by taking on extra courses, plus he had part-time jobs and other responsibilities. He slept barely four hours each night. The hard work “paid off” when he graduated with his law degree and he was hired at a firm where he worked long hours for good pay.

He got married, took on a mortgage and bought a rental property, really stretching his growing income as far as it could go. The long hours over all those years took their toll and he looked far older than he really was. The law firm fell on hard times, his pay was severely cut, and now he panicking to keep up with his mortgage payments and other expenses.

“Often people attempt to live their lives backwards; they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want, so they will be happier. The way it actually works is the reverse. You must first be who you really are, then do what you need to do, in order to have what you want.” ~ Margaret Young

Yes, he may have been what we’d call successful. Yes, he may have been doing what he thought he loved, but he may have taken it too far. There is a risk for over-ambition and over-work. His perseverance and work ethic are to be commended, but you have to wonder if he should have made the difficult decision of sacrificing income in order to lead a richer, more fulfilling life. He has a wife, a home, and (I believe) kids that he rarely ever sees.

What Is Most Important to You?

Life is undeniably hard, but it is also tragically short. It’s not worth wasting your time on things that don’t matter, on things that don’t provide you with something of value. Take care of your basic needs and the needs of your family, to be sure, but don’t forget that your happiness beckons for your attention too.

“Do what makes you happy. Be with who makes you smile. Laugh as much as you breathe and love as long as you live.” ~ Unknown