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Monday, September 8, 2014

Because I’m Happy

I had lunch with a friend last week with whom I used to work. It’s been over a decade since we connected. He’s been in his latest work assignment for three years, long enough to know an answer to this question: Are you content? I received an unequivocal, “Yes.” But we both agreed that for many the answer would be “no.”

A recent blog posting that I liked was written by someone who only identified himself as Edward E. He is in transition, retiring from active duty in the U.S. Army. His blog theme was titled, “Finding Happiness at Work, All by Yourself.”

Edward begins with a story of a bike race gone bad for him. He started well, but could not finish. Even though he trained for this, he fell short. His attitude turned bitter. He summarizes, “My happiness and eagerness from early in the day began to turn to anger and frustration.” In the end, he finished dead last.

The lesson from this is about comparisons. Obviously, in a race or any competitive effort, we are forced to deal with competitive strengths and weaknesses. But another kind of comparison is dangerous to the soul. It involves making inner judgments about ourselves in comparison to how others are doing.

As Edward suggests, this becomes unhealthy when we look at peers and coworkers' successes or accomplishments. We compare where we are in the mix. If others have received what we perceive as undue promotions or recognition, it gets worse. I like the way Edward draws this conclusion: “Whenever I have staked my happiness to the successes or failures of other people, I have found that I am always disappointed. What’s worse is that I gave away freely my own determination to control my mood and happiness.”

I think God fearing people should have a totally different approach to their work. We should appreciate our giftedness first. Gaining an honest assessment of what you do best enables us to pursue endeavors that do not feel like work.

Once engaged, we ought to consistently pursue excellence. Taking pride in a job well done adds another level of pleasure in our work. It does not require comparison or even approval if we know what excellence requires.

An added blessing comes when we are recognized for our work. While I agree this is often fuel for more inspired production, I don’t believe we should rely on awards or outside praise for inner joy in our work. Contentment comes from knowing my giftedness is being used, excellence is being pursued, and outcomes are of value in our society.

The Bible offers a good view of this in Psalm 16, verse 11: “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.”

You are a blessed person if you can find contentment in your work. You are more blessed if you avoid useless comparisons that rob you of joy. But it is a discipline of the soul to be cultivated.

Aristotle once said, “Pleasure in the job puts perfection in the work.” I believe he was on a coffee break when he said that.

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