“It all comes to this: the simplest way to be happy is to do good.” – Helen Keller
I was listening to a 10 Percent Happier podcast that featured Arthur Brooks. A professor and social scientist, Arthur Brooks has recently published a book called From Strength to Strength: Finding Success Happiness and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life. He named a list from research of the 4 most important habits of happiest people:
- Work that serves others
But it made me wonder if everyone can fulfill that formula? First of all, faith means so many different things to different people. But perhaps it’s the trust in one of my favorite Steve Jobs quotes (which as Dr. Stein pointed out seems to build off Kierkegaard’s famous quote about living life forwards):
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something – your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.“Steve Jobs
But going down Brooks’ list, what about people who don’t have a lot of agency in their work? I recently heard an example of a hospital janitor. Instead of feeling like he didn’t have purpose in his work as he cleaned up vomit in the oncology ward, he’d framed it as an opportunity to make people feel a little bit better on what might be a low point in their lives.
And this made me think of my life. One of my least favorite activities about parenting is cleaning up spills. On a weekday when we are at work/school/daycare, it’s not so bad, but on any given weekend day, I clean up (or help my kids cleanup up) 6-10 spills a day. It feels like a waste of time to me, like I could be spending more time laughing and playing with my kids if we didn’t have spills.
But of course, despite my best precautions – kids, especially at age 3-years-old and age 7-years-old have accidents. They splash water out of the sink, they tip over the reservoir of paper they were using for a project, paint brushes fly out of little hands, and so on.
Reframing it, I see that I am not cleaning up spills. I’m teaching my kids how to react when things don’t go right. I’m helping them learn to pick up the pieces and continue when we have lost our mojo. And most importantly, I’m building up their belief that they can do it, even when it isn’t fun.
This big picture sentiment when it comes to caretaking is echoed by research professor Dr. Alison Gopnik “Taking care of children, like taking care of elders is frustrating, is tedious, and it’s difficult in all sorts of ways but it is also deep and profound and an important part of what makes us human.”
In this way, maybe it is not only work that serves others but also quite possibly a habit of happiness.
What do you think about the four habits of happiness? Is there anything you do regularly that you’ve reframed as work to serve others?
(featured photo from Pexels)