Bengali poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore made a profound statement about finding your purpose in life: “I slept and dreamt that life was joy. I awoke and saw that life was service. I acted and behold, service was joy.”
This seems contradictory to much of what we hear about finding happiness. The consumption-driven media continually tells us we need more: nicer cars, bigger homes, newer clothes and better phones. But these things have very little to do with being happy.
We’re happy when we’re doing something that gives our life purpose, when we’re providing some type of service to others that’s meaningful to us.
What’s meaningful, of course, is different for every individual. For some, it might be to create art; for others, it will be to develop a business. For still others, it’s to attain a level of excellence that has never been achieved, to get one’s name in the record books. Very often, having a positive impact on children will provide a tremendous sense of meaning, whether as a parent, teacher, coach or mentor.
Most Canadians like their jobs and job satisfaction rates are higher for those who earn more money. This doesn’t mean that it’s earning money that makes people happy. We earn more money if we like what we’re doing. A person who’s happy in their work won’t mind putting forth an extra effort to improve their performance, and thus is more likely to receive pay raises and promotions.
When I’m talking to young people about possible careers, they often look at the earning potential of different jobs. I caution them in doing so. If it’s something that really interests them, that’s fine, but if they don’t like the job, they’re unlikely to reach the top echelons. It’s far better to start out making less and doing what we enjoy.
People who work hard and get along well with others are always in high demand. And it’s much easier to be dedicated to a cause that one finds meaningful.
By working hard and doing meaningful work, we’re leaving a legacy. There’s little more satisfying in life than knowing we’ve inspired others to achieve their greatness.
It’s also wonderful to be able to look back on our lives and realize we were on the right side of history, that our work made the world better.
Ideas that promote social justice generally start out unpopular, but over time they become the norm. It’s quite extraordinary. The abolition of the trans-Atlantic slave trade once seemed like a radical idea. Treating other humans as equal was once illegal.
Many human rights violations are being questioned by a small minority today, and they will be human rights victories of tomorrow. All of these efforts will eventually be successful. The people of the world determine how quickly these changes take place.
The great basketball coach John Wooden said, “Success is the self-satisfaction in knowing that you’ve made an effort to do the best of which you are capable.”
We’re all capable of building a better, kinder, more compassionate world that allows everyone to thrive, no matter where they live or what they look like.
Every one of us has an important role to play in bringing this about, regardless of our chosen career. This isn’t a pipe dream. It’s key to leaving a legacy that we can be proud of, which is the key to success and happiness.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. For interview requests, click here.
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