Globalist Perspective

Make a Life, Not Just a Living!

Passionate, self-forgetting work is the secret of happiness as well as of making a life.

Credit: Mostafa Shorrab www.flickr.com

Takeaways


  • I have long been sceptical if governments could make one happy. Happiness seems to be an “inside job.”
  • Bhutan has become world famous for pioneering Gross National Happiness to replace Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
  • Not surprisingly, Scandinavian countries rank at the top of the World Happiness Report 2017.
  • Very few are lucky to be Mozart who found a passion for music at the age of three.
  • When one is absorbed in passionate work, our ego tends to disappear.

I have long been sceptical if governments could make one happy. Happiness seems to be an “inside job,” a matter of personal attitude. Most of us feel unhappy because of unhappy partnerships or marriages, problematic children, not getting a promotion or more income.

But why should a state not commit itself to ensuring freedom, good governance, jobs, quality schools, health care and absence of corruption? That can vastly improve the wellbeing of its people.

If tiny Bhutan can become world famous for pioneering Gross National Happiness to replace Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measure of national success, the rest of the world has no excuse for not aiming to do the same.

Not surprisingly, Scandinavian countries rank at the top of the World Happiness Report 2017. America is in 14th place and China ranks 71st.

Surprisingly, Happiness hasn’t grown in China although income per capita has multiplied five times since 1990. The reason could be a decline in the social safety net and recent rise in unemployment.

India, alas, finds itself only in 122nd place, behind Pakistan and Nepal.

The happiness industry

Rankings on many criteria in the World Happiness Report depend on well-being. Since happiness is such an individual choice, it would be better to call it a National Wellbeing Report.

Happiness itself is a vast industry occupying plenty of shelf space in the “Mind, Body, Spirit” section of our bookstores. Personally, nothing makes me feel less cheerful than reading a book on happiness.

Most of this stuff just seems to reflect yet another fad or pie-in-the-sky thinking. Work, almost by definition, is cast as the antithesis of happiness.

Unlike the French aristocracy, which believed the natural state of man is idleness, I think work is essential to happiness. One is lucky if one has the chance to work passionately and enjoy doing what one is good at. I agree with George Bernard Shaw: “Life isn’t about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself.”

How then does one give purpose to one’s work and to life? To answer this question, I sometimes play this thought game with my friends: You’ve just been informed that you have three months to live.

After the initial shock, you quickly ask yourself: How should I spend my remaining days? Should I finally take a few risks? Should I confess my love to someone I have loved secretly since childhood? Should I turn to religion? Or learn to listen to the sounds of silence?

How you plan to live in these presumed last months is how you should live your life.

What is life all about?

Ever since childhood we are told to work hard, get good grades in school so that we can get into a good college, where we are pushed to study “useful subjects.” We land a reasonable job, marry a suitable partner, aim to live in a nice house or apartment and have a nice car; and we repeat the same process with our young.

Until one day in our forties, we wake up one morning and ask ourselves: “Is this what life was all about?” We have stumbled through life, kept planning for the future while life has essentially passed us by.

An unfulfilled life is a tragic loss. No one bothered to teach us the difference between “making a living” and “making a life.” No one encouraged us to find a passion. Very few are lucky to be Mozart who found a passion for music at the age of three.

You know that you found it when your work doesn’t feel like “work,” when time gets distorted and you suddenly find it’s evening and you forgot to eat lunch. You were in the “zone,” as athletes call it.

When one is absorbed in passionate work, our ego tends to disappear. When we act desirelessly, which means not to seek credit or personal reward from one’s work, then we are passionate about work. Passionate, self-forgetting work is the secret of happiness as well as of making a life.

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About Gurcharan Das

Gurcharan Das is an author and management consultant. He is the author of Kama: The Riddle of Desire (Penguin) available on Amazon.

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