Disclaimer: No one has cornered the market on happiness, and the approaches I discuss are simply one man’s humble opinions. Happiness is a journey. You don’t have to be there, but instead, make it destination, and a goal within your journey…
It makes sense that being involved in “meaningful activities” will contribute to happiness. Being engaged in meaningful activities is on everyone’s radar. It’s not a secret, and it’s not very hard to achieve… when you are young. When you are in college, you are placed in an environment that preaches the joys of meaningful activities. Your professor teaches it, your books support it, and your advisor helps you plan for it. Yes, life is one big bowl of meaningful activities – until you graduate. Suddenly, you find yourself in a long line with other recent college graduates, and all of you have been promised bright futures. Although you were prepared to find your meaningful activities, it doesn’t quite happen that easily. Things can seem very gloomy under these circumstances.
All of my over-thirty friends know exactly what I’m talking about. I wanted to be a professional speaker. My first position in this field was a job as a trainer, and I taught the wonders of flood insurance to claims adjusters, actuaries, and underwriters. These were sixteen-hour programs that stretched over two days. Sounds like fun, right? It was meaningful to me because it put me on a path I wanted to be on. Some people spend their entire lives on a twisting, winding path, but they are happy because it’s a path they find meaning in.
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, our career path never really takes us to where we want to go. Even if that is the case, we can still find happiness in meaningful activities. This is where outside activities come into play. How many times have you heard someone accept an award for a volunteer activity, and say, “It is I who should be thanking you.” That’s because, through this outside endeavor, they found the joy of being a part of a meaningful activity.
Meaningful activities don’t have to be work related. As a matter of fact, sometimes it’s difficult to gain control on the job, but it’s not hard to gain control of meaningful activities when you are away from work. Remember, control is principle #2 of how to find happiness.
This brings up another issue that comes up later in life: Retirement. Isn’t it a strange that we work very hard during most of our adult lives so we can someday afford to retire? We think we would be happy if we had more leisure time. After all, that leisure time will allow us more time to relax, to watch TV, or to play golf. The experts say that this lack of meaningful activities does not make us happier. In fact, it has been shown that retirement can make us unhappy! I’ll take it a step further: I believe inactivity is a curse.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying we should all shun our retirement plans. What I am saying is there is a direct link to meaningful activities and happiness, and that means we might want to redefine our definition of retirement. Meaningful activities don’t have to be professional activities. Meaningful activities have to be rewarding activities. In other words, happiness comes when we test our skills through some meaningful activities.
I don’t like to get political in my writings, and I won’t debate whether Jimmy Carter was a good President or not. What I will say is he is a role model when it comes to retirement and meaningful activities. Who could imagine that a former President would retire and begin to build houses for the needy? I’m not talking about being a figurehead or spokesperson for a cause or a few good photo opportunities with a hammer in hand; I’m talking about someone who is picking up a hammer and building a house! Jimmy Carter joined an organization that not only gave him purpose and a rewarding experience, but it also helped, and continues to help thousands of people!
Meaningful activities contribute to happiness, and it is something that you can, in fact, control. You can create a path at work, no matter what your age may be. You can create a path outside of work by learning a new skill, or by volunteering for an organization that has meaning to you, or even by writing a book. You can create a path through retirement. Those golden years can include golf and travel, and they can also include meaningful activities that will push you to accomplish new things. There’s just so much that can be done. What exactly is stopping you?