An article in The Age yesterday talked about research findings that suggest people can choose to be happy. Among other things, those that prioritised family over career, and those who chose to involve themselves in altruistic activities were, on average, happier than those who focused on career or material gain. The article argued that this overturns the popular belief that personality is the main thing that determines happiness, although I suspect that personality probably determines your life goals to some extent, so that conclusion may not hold.
Another article in one of the weekend magazines talked about Elizabeth Gilbert’s book, “Eat, Pray, Love”. Gilbert broke out of her life and spent a year travelling, exploring her spirituality in Indian Ashrams, among other places. Apparently there is now an epidemic of women wanting to follow her example and cut themselves free from their commitments, travelling the world in order to find themselves.
Talking about wanting to find yourself always makes me think of Terry Pratchett’s character Granny Weatherwax, whose dismissive response is generally along the lines of “I don’t need to find myself. I know where I am. I’m right here.”
When I was a lecturer dispensing course advice, I dealt with many parents (not usually the students themselves) who were anxious to know what degree their children should choose. Which one would give them the best/most prestigious/highest paying job? I always argued vigorously that they should do what interested them most. You can’t excel at something you don’t enjoy, and even if you do well enough to secure a job, it will hardly be the job of your dreams.
Perhaps I have been ludicrously lucky, but I have more or less tripped and fallen into my dream job, simply by taking every attractive opportunity that came my way, and always doing things I was interested in and passionate about. This time I had a goal, and a plan, and every intention of working hard at it until I achieved it, but in the meantime something else entirely fell into my lap, and I couldn’t be happier about it.
I find that doing what I love leads to more opportunities to do what I love – it’s a blissful form of circular logic. Doing something you are not really interested in leads to opportunities to stagnate and become ever more depressed. I don’t know if I convinced any parents of that – although many of the students seemed to like the idea – but I’m pretty sure it’s true.
I don’t think it’s necessary to go away in order to find yourself – although a little space for thinking can be a good thing. But it’s all too rare that we sit down and think about what’s really important to us. The hectic pace of life can mean that we lurch from day to day and crisis to crisis without ever stopping and saying “is this what I want?”
I was lucky, some years ago, when my workplace offered redundancy packages just at a time when it was natural for me to reflect on my priorities (my second child was only 2 months away). Since then I have been incredibly fortunate to be able to pick and choose, and earn some money doing things that I have found both satisfying and thrilling. I never expected that to lead me to an entirely different career, but it seems that, again, doing the things I enjoy has worked out.
A little time spent reflecting on what I am good at, what I enjoy, and what is important to me, has led to a slew of fantastic opportunities for me. I will write more about them when they are signed and sealed, but for now it strongly confirms for me that following your bliss should be a part of your every day life, not a brief interlude in an Ashram.
Think about it. What makes you happy?