“I don’t have time to read about philosophy. Unlike you, I don’t have the luxury of pondering the pursuit of happiness.” I remember the first time I heard those words. Struck me as very odd. I mean, the Dalai Lama may be a peculiar old man, perpetually sporting a Hare Krishna fashion statement – before AND after Labor Day. But my American friend was ignoring a simple fact: the pursuit of happiness just happens to be center stage within the constitution of the United States – a country many Americans profess to love. Unless... they have bought into an unquestioned code: that the word "happiness" in the preamble to the constitution of the United States is a prime directive code for economic wealth.
In my travels around the world, I have observed two approaches to the pursuit of happiness: one is a conviction that it can only be achieved through relentless hard work; and the other, that working too hard yields precisely the opposite of happiness.
So let’s take a scale from one to ten, for simplification: one being minimal or practically no work, and ten being work almost all the time. You would think that striving for a 5 would be a healthy balance. Perhaps, but there’s that pesky conventional wisdom that has tainted that middle score as the pursuit of mediocrity.
The thing about work is that it has two separate realities: one is the work itself, and the other one is its compensation – primarily the economic kind. In theory, it’s entirely possible for someone to be the happiest worker on earth, with very little compensation – and vice-versa (the most miserable worker, with the highest compensation). And so, just to play it safe, many people find themselves wondering every now and then if we're stuck in the pursuit of mediocrity.
Here’s the catch: we only have one shot at this life. There comes a time when we need to be as clear with ourselves as we demand the world be with us. If you are in the pursuit of compensation, then just say so and move on - don't hide behind the words "hard work". However, if and when your thirst for increasingly higher compensation comes at the expense of happiness, yours or others, then you need to be as accountable towards your poor choices as you preach to those who are not in pursuit of compensation.
As for the ones at the other end of the spectrum, those that find themselves pursuing work because they love what they do, regardless of the compensation, I only have one thing to say: well done you. To paraphrase the peculiar man with the contagious smile, happiness is the highest form of success.