Community Add OnsFourteen Fundamentals

Fundamental Six: Lower Your Expectations & Aspirations


Over the years, I’ve often consulted with corporations and business organizations regarding personal happiness. Most of this work calls upon me to deliver lectures, in-service training, or “motivational” seminars. I’m always glad to present the findings of happiness research, but when it comes to my discussion of Fundamental Six, most business people are rather shocked.

Fundamental Six, of course, is “the controversial Fundamental,” but nowhere is it as controversial as it is in Big Business. The senior people who contract with me, are quite attracted to the “happiness idea,” initially. They’re hoping my happiness training will motivate their employees to greater productivity. With them they’ve bought the cultural myth that success is the “royal road” to happiness, thus they assume my talks will be another one of the many success- oriented “pep talks” they’re used to. So as my presentation of this Fundamental unfolds, an uncomfortable hush falls over the audience, as I explain to them what I’ve already explained to you in the discussions above.

It’s no fun for an organization whose sole function is to be successful, to hear that success may not contribute that much to happiness. Nor is it any fun to hear that success is just one of a dozen important contributors to happiness — and a minor one at that. But mainly, it’s no fun for the organization to hear that their whole strategy of making employees more productive, in order to achieve corporate happiness, is in error.

Yet, in essence, that’s the problem with American business. It’s founded on several misunderstandings regarding the relationship between happiness and success.

The first misunderstanding involves the primacy of happiness. These Volumes are dedicated to the proposition that happiness is the overriding human goal in life. Riches, love, social acceptance, and fame are just means to get to it — and so is success. Success is just one of many avenues to reach happiness — it should not be an end in itself. After all, why do we really want to be successful in the first place? Why do we really want to achieve our goals? Why do we want to be rich? If we ever stop long enough to really analyze it, the answer is obvious: we believe that these things will make us happy.

Success is not the point to life. The point is the happiness such success might bring. Thus both business, as well as the average individual, tends to miss the point. As we have seen here, when this point is missed (in other words, when success becomes an “end” in itself), happiness is often lost. In such a case, success is just a hollow triumph.

The second misunderstanding is a confusion of cause and effect. As we’ve seen, most people (and therefore most businesses) assume that success causes happiness. And though the research substantiates this assumption somewhat, there is no guarantee that being successful will make a person happier. On the other hand, as we’ve also seen, there is better evidence that happiness leads to greater productivity and success.

Apparently we’ve put the cart before the horse. Business, especially, has unquestioning faith that productivity leads to success, and that success will lead to happiness. Thus it focuses all its attention on strategies to boost productivity, assuming every participant will be happier in the end. But if the research is accurate, it might be far better to work on the happiness end of the equation first. With this strategy we find that happiness leads to productivity, and productivity leads to success. We simply put the horse before the cart, where the research shows (and most farmers know) it naturally belongs. It’s an application of what we might eventually label “happiness-side economics.”

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