Bengali poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore made a profound statement regarding finding one’s purpose in life: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
This seems contradictory to much of what we hear about finding happiness. The consumption-driven media continually tells us that we need more things: nicer cars, bigger homes, newer clothes and better phones. The truth is that has very little to do with being happy.
We are happy when we are doing something that gives our life purpose, when we are providing some type of service to others that is meaningful to us.
What is meaningful, or course, is different for every individual. For some it might be to create art, for others it will be to develop a business. For still others it is to attain a level that has never before been achieved, to get one’s name in the record books. Very often having a positive impact on children will give us a tremendous sense of meaning, whether one is a parent, teacher, coach or mentor.
In truth, most Canadians like their jobs, and job satisfaction rates are higher for those who earn more money. This doesn’t mean that it is earning money that makes people happy. We earn more money if we like what we are doing. A person who is happy in their work will not mind putting forth an extra effort to improve their performance, and thus is more likely to receive pay raises and promotions.
When I am talking to young people about possible careers, they often look at the earning potential of different jobs. I caution them in doing so. If it is something that really interests them that is fine, but if they don’t like the job, they are unlikely to reach the top echelons. It is far better to start out making less and doing what you enjoy. People who work hard and get along well with others are always in high demand. And it is much easier to be dedicated to a cause that one finds meaningful.
In essence, by working hard and doing meaningful work, we are leaving a legacy. There is little more satisfying in life than knowing we have inspired others to achieve their own greatness.
It is also wonderful to be able to look back on our lives and realize that we were on the right side of history, that our work really made the world better. It is interesting to note that ideas which promote social justice generally start out unpopular, but over time they become the norm. It really is quite an extraordinary phenomenon. The abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade once seemed like a radical idea. Treating other human beings as equal was once illegal. There are also many human rights violations being questioned by a small minority today which will be human rights victories of tomorrow. In fact, all of them will eventually be successful. It is the people living in the world who determine how quickly these changes will take place.
The great basketball coach John Wooden said, “Success is the self-satisfaction in knowing that you’ve made and effort to do the best of which you are capable.”
We are all capable of building a better, kinder, more compassionate world that allows everyone to thrive, no matter where they live or what they look like. Every one of us has an important role to play in bringing this about, regardless of our chosen career. This isn’t a pipe dream. It is key to leaving a legacy that we can be proud of, the key to success and the key to happiness.