Future Mistakes #5: Pursuing Happiness


You've probably heard the old adage, "Choose a job you love, and you'll never have to work a day in your life." Sounds wise, right? But what if I told you that aiming straight for a career that promises you personal happiness might be a misstep? 

Let's dive into why chasing happiness, especially in your career, might not be the golden ticket we've all been told it is.

Key Point #1: Happiness is a Sneaky Beast

Research has this funny way of turning what we think we know on its head. A study by Titova and Sheldon (2021) throws a curveball at our happiness pursuit. They found that intentionally trying to make others happy actually leads to greater personal happiness than focusing on making ourselves happy. Weird, right? So, when you're eyeing that high-paying career path or a glamorous job title, thinking it'll fulfill you, you might be barking up the wrong tree. Here’s the greatest quote from their research, “We again found that trying to make others happy is a better way to one’s own happiness, even more than when others try to make us happy.

Key Point #2: It's Not About You

When we do things for others, our own sense of well-being gets a boost. Dunn and colleagues (2008) performed a study that showed that spending money on others made people feel happier than spending it on themselves. This isn't just a one-off thing; it's been observed across different cultures and generations (Aknin et al., 2013; Dunn et al., 2014). If your career is all about what you can get out of it, you might miss out on the happiness that comes from contributing to something bigger than yourself.

Key Point #3: The Connection Conundrum

Feeling connected to others is a big deal. It's like the secret sauce of happiness. Titova and Sheldon's research (2021) highlighted that the sense of relatedness, or connection with others, was a major player in the happiness game. If your career choice isolates you or doesn't allow for meaningful interactions, the 'happy' career you chose is actually pretty lonely.

Personal Example Time

For years, I pursued a career purely for the perks. I wanted my parents and family to be proud and impressed by me. I wanted to provide a lot of money and opportunities to my family, and I wanted to belong to a country club. But then I got a taste for service, leadership, and putting others before myself, and I was hooked. I did a quick 180 and decided from the get-go to make making others better my personal pursuit. I have yet to regret that decision. 

Two Recommendations for the Road

  1. Consider Impact: When you're considering career options, think about how each path allows you to impact others. It doesn't have to be saving the world, but look for roles that enable you to contribute, to be part of a team, and to make a difference, even in small ways.
  2. Prioritize Relationships: Prioritize careers that offer a sense of community or teamwork. Whether it's working with clients, collaborating with colleagues, or being part of a larger mission, these connections can be your happiness lifeline.

So, as you stand at the crossroads of your future, remember that a career is more than a paycheck or a status symbol. It's about finding meaning, making connections, and maybe, just maybe, putting others' happiness a little bit ahead of your own. Who knows? That might just be where your true happiness lies.

For the Researching Nerds Out There:

  • Titova, L., & Sheldon, K. M. (2021). Happiness comes from trying to make others feel good, rather than oneself. The Journal of Positive Psychology · March 2021.
  • Dunn, E. W., Aknin, L. B., & Norton, M. I. (2008). Spending money on others promotes happiness. Science, 319 (5870), 1687-1688.
  • Aknin, L. B., et al. (2013). Prosocial spending and well-being: Cross-cultural evidence for a psychological universal. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 104(4), 635.


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