by Marshall Goldsmith
With these choices, I’ve found that most of us want to be Happy. In fact, I don’t know anyone who doesn’t.
But how does an adult achieve a high level of contentment while living a frenetic and distraction-packed life? How do we not be Grumpy?
It’s not easy.
You first have to figure out how you’re spending your time personally and professionally.
I measure this in two dimensions: short-term satisfaction and long-term benefit. Both have value. It can be just as disappointing to live our lives with no meaning or pleasure in the here and now as it can be unfulfilling to live without thought for tomorrow’s plans and goals.
Questions like, “Does this activity make me happy?” or “Do I find meaning in the activity itself?” can help gauge the degree of short-term satisfaction that we get from any activity. Questions like, “Are the results achieved from this activity worth my effort?” or “Is the successful completion of this activity going to have a long-term positive impact on my life?” can help gauge our expectations for potential long-term benefit from any activity.
The accompanying graph shows five different modes of behavior and how they can characterize our relationship to any activity—either at work or at home.
1. Stimulating activities score high in short-term satisfaction but low in long-term benefit. The use of drugs or alcohol, for instance, can provide short-term satisfaction yet be dysfunctional for long-term benefit. At work, gossiping with co-workers may be fun for a while, but it is probably not career- or business-enhancing. A life spent solely on stimulating activities could provide a lot of short-term pleasure but go nowhere.
2. Sacrificing activities score low in short-term satisfaction but high in long-term benefit. For instance, dedicating your life to work that you hate because you “have to” to achieve a larger goal. Or working out (when you don’t feel like it) to improve your long-term health. A life spent solely on sacrificing activities would be the life of a martyr—lots of achievement, but not much joy.
3. Surviving activities score low on short-term satisfaction and low on long-term benefit. These activities don’t cause much joy or satisfaction in the short-term, nor do they contribute to the future. We do these activities because we feel we have to and we do not have much to show for our efforts. A life spent solely on surviving activities is a hard one indeed.
4. Sustaining activities produce moderate amounts of short-term satisfaction and lead to moderate long-term benefits. For many professionals, the daily answering of e-mails is a sustaining activity. It is moderately interesting (not thrilling) and usually produces moderate long-term but hardly life-changing benefit. At home, the day-to-day routine of shopping, cooking, and cleaning may be viewed as sustaining. A life spent solely on sustaining activities would be “okay”.
5. Succeeding activities score high on short-term satisfaction and high on long-term benefit. These activities are the ones that we love to do and get great benefit from doing. At work, people who spend a lot of time in the succeeding box love what they are doing and believe that it is producing long-term benefit at the same time. At home, a parent may be spending hours with a child time that the parent greatly enjoys while valuing the long-term benefit that will come to the child. A life spent in succeeding is a life that is filled with both joy and accomplishment.
No one can define what short-term satisfaction or long-term benefit means for you but you.
Consider an immigrant who leaves a poor country and come to the U.S. She works 18 hours a day at two minimum-wage jobs, yet has a great attitude toward her work and saves every cent for her children’s education. She defines her life as mostly succeeding. It is filled with short-term happiness and long-term benefit.
At the other end of the professional scale, a CEO is resentful about her work because a drop in stock value means that she will have to work another couple of years to have the savings she thinks she needs in order to retire. She sees herself in the surviving category.
These two people have completely different perceptions of what an activity means to them.
My suggestion for you is simple. Spend a week tracking how you spend your time. At the end of the week calculate how many hours you spent on stimulating, sacrificing, surviving, sustaining, or succeeding. Then ask yourself what changes you can make to help you create a life that is both more satisfying in the short-term and more rewarding in the long-term.
While the activities that take up our time can be one factor in determining our happiness and achievement, our attitude toward these activities can be an equally important factor in determining the ultimate quality of our lives. If we cannot change our activities, we can at least try to change our attitude toward them and thus become who we’ve always wanted to be, Happy!