Happy Talk: Should Your Happiness Drive Your Career Choices or Be A Result?

Research points to different conclusions on expectations of happiness with your career choices. “I realized I was not living my life, my life was living me.”A colleague in her own mid-career path told me that recently when explaining why she decided to switch jobs and embark on a new career that would allow more flexibility, working from her home office. She was taking a risk, leaving behind a position she had mastered, but kept her so busy, she had time for nothing but work.She was hoping for more happiness.From the time we are in high school, we are urged to “find our passion” in work that will make us happy. At every college orientation and graduation speech, the speaker makes a case for happiness as the driver in our career choices and our lives.There’s a reason the music video from Pharell Williams’ “Happy” has 32 million views. The original emojis were all versions of the iconic smiley face, and have been co-opted by corporations for their own branding.The World Happiness Report was recently released, and offers a deluge of information, including a ranking by countries of self-reported life satisfaction based on a number of factors, from income to social support, life expectancy and generosity. Denmark is the happiest, with the United States ranking 13. Zambia is last, at 106th.Why do we spend so much energy thinking about what makes us happy? As women launching our careers, shifting direction mid-stream, or finally making it to the C-suites as leaders following a number of career choices, it is advisable to check in on the happiness quotient. That includes our own expectations of happiness, as well as the assessment of what makes us happy professionally, once we have reached our goals.Is happiness a goal or a byproduct of our career choices?Will you be happier if you work in an organization or create a company that offers social connections? Will you be happy if you make a career move? Will the next position in your ladder of career choices promise happiness? How can you make those informed decisions?Gloria Feldt, Take The Lead co-founder and president, recently told the Washington Post: “Like with anything else, the better informed you are, the better choices you can ostensibly make…You have to take things with a grain of salt. You have to do a little research on your own and if possible speak with real human beings who have worked at those places.”And the better informed you are, perhaps the happier you will be.[bctt tweet=“The better informed you are, perhaps the happier you will be.” username=“takeleadwomen”]But pushing yourself to be happy, and feeling bad if you are not ecstatic in every decision can also be less than optimal. That’s why Shana Lebowitz in Business Insider writes that we may have this happy business all wrong.“Psychologists are increasingly discovering that when it comes to happiness, trying can backfire. Instead, the paradoxical key to true happiness seems to be accepting unhappiness — not forcing yourself to feel how you don’t,” Lebowitz writes.Susan David, a psychologist at Harvard Medical School and the author of the new book “Emotional Agility,” suggests “showing up.” That means instead of forcing ourselves to always be happy or have a goal of happiness, we “deal with emotions in a healthy way, so that we’re neither hiding them nor letting their feelings control their behavior.”Lebowitz quotes David: “So what happens when we focus too much on being happy is we actually push aside critical information that helps us to learn and adapt in our lives. And that helps us to forge a life that is connected with our own heartbeat.”What effect does the pursuit of happiness have on your work life?In the workplace, pushing too hard to be happy instead of accepting what is real in the moment, could cause frustration, a feeling of stasis or even anger. As a manager, this could translate to the workplace culture or can be demeaning to the team. As someone who is mapping her career choices, this can seem confusing.In her new book, The Happiness Myth, author, historian and philosopher Jennifer Hecht, who teaches at The New School in New York, “proposes that we all experience different types of happiness, but that these aren’t necessarily complementary,” writes Frank T. McAndrew in Psychology Today.“Some types of happiness may even conflict with one another,” McAndrew writes. “For example, a satisfying life built on a successful career and a good marriage is something that unfolds over a long period of time. It takes a lot of work, and it often requires avoiding hedonistic pleasures like partying or going on spur-of-the-moment trips. It also means you can’t while away too much of your time spending one pleasant lazy day after another in the company of good friends.”He adds, “On the other hand, keeping your nose to the grindstone demands that you cut back on many of life’s pleasures. Relaxing days and friendships may fall by the wayside. As happiness in one area of life increases, it often declines in another.”In a recent Hidden Brain Podcast on NPR, host Shankar Vedantam explored our predictions of personal happiness with Harvard University psychologist Daniel Gilbert, whose new book, Stumbling On Happiness dives into years of research on happiness.“Almost any decision you’re debating, large or small, many people have already made it, and they’ve made it in both directions. There are people who are doing the things you’re only imagining,” Gilbert says. “And it turns out that if you can simply measure their happiness, you can get a pretty good guide about how happy you will be in the future.”But it seems even with these cues, we are not good at predicating our own happiness, Gilbert says. “Almost every event you experience feels different once you’ve experienced it then you imagined it would have beforehand. That’s the part of our psychology we don’t seem very good at anticipating.”That is why a career shift or change could either reinforce your expectation, or surprise you with its difference. But staying put and avoiding career choices will also not lead you to being happy with yourself.So what’s stopping women from finding this happiness? Fear is the No. 1 reason why many women stay trapped in a job where they are not happy and why they don’t launch their own businesses, according to Beverly Walthour, a business strategist and success coach, writing in Addicted2Success.“Your thoughts determine your level of success, and therefore they must be positive and encouraging,” Walthour writes. “One strategy you can use to create a success mindset is visualization.”In Entrepreneur, Jeff Boss writes about Dennis Miller, the author of Moppin’ Floors to CEO: From Hopelessness and Failure to Happiness and Success. Miller writes that, “Personal success is the gateway to business success. You can’t lead others effectively until you know how to lead yourself just as you’ll never show up happy to work if you’re not happy with yourself, and your business will never be fit if you struggle with stress, overwhelm, and a lack of focus. Startup success stems from personal success — not the other way around.”“Dissatisfaction with the present and dreams of the future are what keep us motivated, while warm fuzzy memories of the past reassure us that the feelings we seek can be had,” McAndrew writes. “This shouldn’t be depressing — quite the contrary. Recognizing that happiness exists, and that it’s a delightful visitor that never overstays its welcome, may help us appreciate it more when it arrives. Recognizing that no one has it all can cut down on the one thing psychologists know impedes happiness: Envy.”In the latest Harvard Happiness Study recently released, “psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and Zen priest Robert Waldinger, the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, says: ‘The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period,’” according to Dr.Axe.“Researchers have found that people who have more social connections to family, friends and community are happier, physically healthier and live longer than people with fewer social connections,” Axe reports.[bctt tweet=“Social connections at work can also enhance your level of happiness” username=“takeleadwomen”]Social connections at work can also enhance your level of happiness. Deciding whether your happiness is a goal or merely a pleasant byproduct of your career choices, can also contribute to your state of mind, and sense of well-being.