Make Yourself More Useful

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The United States Declaration of Independence talks about the self-evident truth of “unalienable rights,” including “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

It’s no wonder, therefore, that so many people – myself included – have tried hard to gather a large amount of happiness over the years. But studies of happiness show that collecting good times is not the best way to live a happy life. Rather, the surest route to happiness involves something deeper, something you might call purpose or usefulness.

Here are some suggestions, therefore, on how to pursue happiness in your work and life in ways that are most likely to add to your level of satisfactory results:

Strengthen Your Relationships

Although many factors contribute to a person’s overall happiness, research shows that “Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives….”

Accordingly, it’s never too soon or too late to work on developing better relationships with family, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and even acquaintances. You can do this by:

  • Communicating more regularly with the people you care about.
  • Sharing what you’re truly thinking and feeling with at least some of these people.
  • Listening attentively whenever anyone chooses to open themselves to you.
  • When you may benefit from it, allowing others to offer you help, guidance, companionship, and support.

Make the World Better

Few of us will ever have an impact on the world like Martin Luther King, Jr., Irène Joliot-Curie,  Amelia Earhart, Mahatma Ghandi, and others. But each of us can try to contribute something of value to the lives of the people around us.

You can make such an effort by offering:

  • Support and empathy when others are troubled,
  • Joy and fellowship when others are celebrating,
  • Respect and honesty to all,
  • Admiration and trust when someone earns it,
  • Attempts at in-depth communication when appropriate or requested.

Share What You Know

The daily process of working and living tends to produce a vast accumulation of useful information. For most of us, becoming older helps to make us smarter and wiser than when we were young. This information is helpful to us, of course, but it can sometimes prove even more helpful to others.

Of course, wanting to “share” what you have learned is far different from attempting to “preach” or “instruct.” Hardly anyone wants advice pushed down their throats, no matter how useful and relevant it may turn out to be. That’s why you should be as circumspect and judicious as you can in sharing your wisdom with others.

For example:

  • Ask if people want your opinions before offering them.
  • Couch your gems of wisdom in interesting stories that subtly illustrate or include them.
  • Talk about your own past experiences rather than suggesting what others should do.

And don’t do any of this too often. As you share, continually “read the room” and try to evaluate how well people are responding to your remarks. If others don’t seem receptive, back off for a while and let others engage in the conversation.

Volunteer for A Worthwhile Cause

There are a million problems in the world, and pretty much every one of them has at least one organization working to solve it. This creates plenty of opportunities for you to zero in on a problem that really bothers you and volunteer some of your time toward a satisfying response to it.

Some of the benefits of volunteering include:

  • As I suggested above, it’ll help make the world a better place and/or improve the lives of others.
  • It’ll introduce you to new people who may become friends
  • It’ll expose you to new and interesting experiences, communities, and activities.
  • It’ll improve your confidence, self-esteem, and self-awareness.
  • It’s likely to help you live a longer, healthier life.

Over the years, these and other efforts will pay immense dividends in terms of personal happiness.

As a sidelight, it’s interesting to me that a direct pursuit of happiness – for example, collecting enjoyable experiences – is less likely to yield the results you want than a less direct approach – for example, trying to become more useful. One could even argue this is an important lesson that applies much more widely.

In future columns, I’ll explore some of the other areas in which this same idea carries a bigger than expected payoff.

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