Pursuit of Happiness

“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Team,

Nothing says 4th of July like fireworks, hamburgers, watermelon… and now, Hamilton!  Ok, to be fair, we didn’t set off or watch any fireworks, but we did manage to do the rest and our neighbors were happy to rattle our windows with illegal fireworks all night long.  And if you didn’t catch Hamilton on Disney+, you should. It is an amazing performance!  It is also a good and timely reminder that this liberty stuff is a difficult and messy business.  

The right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness requires work, struggle and constant vigil.  I was struck by those words this weekend, especially the well-chosen phrase, “pursuit of happiness.”  Happiness is fleeting but it is worth pursuing.  It is a constant race and requires work, energy and patience.  The reward set before us is joy, happiness, a smile and a feeling of satisfaction.  What does that pursuing happiness look like to you?  

Happiness can be found in work.  I have found that some of life’s greatest moments are at the other end of hard work and effort.  There is a great happiness that can be found in a job well done, the accomplishment and the fruit of hard labor.  It could be a project completed as a team at work, a repair job on the house, a problem solved, or a volunteer effort accomplished. In our knowledge worker world, that effort is more mental than muscular, but it is “work” none the less. The effort to solve complex problems and the mental energy to design, and create software, systems and processes is both taxing and rewarding.  The beautiful paradox is that something that can be difficult, painful and fraught with anguish, results in a moment of happiness, delight and satisfying accomplishment. 

Happiness can be found in learning.  COVID-19 has presented us with a lot of difficulty but has also graced us with new time to focus and learn.  In my spare time, I’m struggling to learn Japanese and my wife is polishing up on her Norwegian.  I also try to strategically pick projects that help me learn something new and interesting, at work and at home.  I know many of you do the same.  My recent diversion has me building IoT and other electronic devices.  This past weekend I decided I needed to finally learn JavaScript (and more than just copy paste coding) and built an interactive animation tool (don’t laugh) for my projects.  It took a lot of work, but when I had a working model (and software is never done so you just get to MVP), I was smiling.  I was happy.  I wonder if we give ourselves enough challenge to be happy?  Are we putting enough learning plans in our path to give us a chance to level up our knowledge and then enjoy the happiness of that moment?  I think I can do more.

Happiness can be found in giving.  Sure, personal rest and relaxation are good. We need to ensure we are not all work and no play.  Planned time off and vacation (remember when we used to be able to travel?) are great ways to celebrate and enjoy the fruits of our labors.  But I have found there is another key to unlocking happiness that isn’t about us.  It is about others. I have noticed that when I invest my own energy, time and resources in helping others there is an incredible joy dividend that I get back.  We are at our best when we are helping each other.  Programmed into the universe and our DNA is a virtuous reciprocity that happiness comes when we consider others, prioritize their needs above our own, champion for justice, and seek to do good.  I know I can do more of this.

Today, I challenge you all to think about how you are pursuing happiness.  What does it look like for you?  Find your path to happiness.  Look for it in your work, in your learning and in your giving, then run after it and enjoy it.  I wish you happiness this week and always!

Change your Focus

“I have this ability to find this hidden talent in people that sometimes even they didn’t know they had.” – Berry Gordy

Routines are important.  They create structure to manage stress, get stuff done and even unleash creative potential.  In our current pandemic remote working world, routines can be a big help in creating some stability out of chaos.  At the same time, they can also drive a level of monotony that can wear on your soul. 

Last week I was on a call with a group of people who mentioned that it feels like we are living the movie, Groundhog Day.  Each day, each meeting, each event starts to feel the same.  We talked about working from different rooms or even working from outside to help mix it up.  Sadly, this monotony can extend to our relationships.  Most of our interactions are now digital (video conferencing, Slack and email).  There is a danger that we start treating only the presentation layer.  We give shallow consideration of each other to get on to the next meeting.  We may do that just to survive our meeting loads.  But that definitely doesn’t build depth in our relationships or bring the level of significance to our work that we want to enjoy.  What can we do?

I have a radical idea. I suggest we focus some of our own energy in each meeting seeking to better understand each other.  Watch, observe and take note of the unique skills you see in others.  But don’t stop there, recognize them for it.  Send them a note, speak up or appreciate them for what you see.  Learn from them.  Acknowledge them.   Our hard-wired tendency is to focus on ourselves.  Survival naturally depends on that, but it is singularly minded and will limit our experience, growth and impact.  Instead of focusing on the video conferencing camera, turn your focus to the other people on the call.  What can you do to encourage them?  What do you see in others?  Do you see some unique talent or skill that they may not even know?  If so, tell them.  We can all use encouragement.  

It may be Groundhog Day again, but I suspect if we change a little of our focus, we will see the world in a whole new light.  See what you can do this week to discover something new about your team members and others.  For those of you with partners or kids, I suggest you try the same thing at home and see what happens.  You might even spot something brilliant that even they didn’t know they had.  Imagine if the whole world did that.  Wouldn’t that be wonderful?