[Sabbath is Career Calling’s Sunday feature that looks at work and life beyond the job.]
Happiness at Work
In 2003, his Holiness the Dali Lama teamed with Psychiatrist Howard Cutler to write The Art of Happiness at Work. The book is a series of dialogues between the two men. They explore how our life centers on work in both personal and professional settings.
The Dali Lama defines good work through the Buddhist concept of “right livelihood.” In this philosophy, a beggar can be as satisfied with her work as a CEO so long as she is “free of clinging.” Satisfaction is not measured in salary or a title, but in a sense of pride in work done well or an accomplishment shared with people we like and respect.
What should be avoided if we want to be happy at our work? The Dali Lama identifies two major problems: stubbornness and an agitated mind. When we are stubborn, it is impossible to understand ourselves or others. We are not open to new possibilities or points of view. Similarly, when our mind is agitated, we cannot focus on our work or the needs of others. We are scattered.
One topic in this book that is especially relevant today is the Dali Lama’s views on unemployment. He understands that people will be angry and hurt when they lose a job. However, he says that our challenge is to control our emotions in how we respond to this situation. We should never confuse what we do with who we are. Our lives offer us more than that. He urges us to find work that lets us be fully human: “If your life becomes only a medium of production, then many of the good human values and characteristics will be lost – then you will not, you cannot, become a complete person” (146).
Real work, productive work – at home or an office or a factory – involves a sense of serving others. We take pride in such work and know it has meaning. The Dali Lama points out to Cutler at several times in the book that there is no formula for happiness in life or at work. What satisfies a man might make his twin brother miserable. A type of work that we find satisfying for ten or twenty years may becoming boring. We need to stay focused on our individual thoughts and feelings without becoming trapped by them.
Throughout the book, Cutler wrestles with a riddle. At one point, he asks the Dali Lama to describe what he does, and the holy man replies: “I do nothing.” This answer makes no sense to Culter. Finally, he puts the answer together. The Dali Lama does not recognize work as a separate part of life. “He had no pretense of acting a certain way in public. . . and another way in private, and could just be himself wherever he went. This made his work seem effortless” (204). That’s the magic when work and life are integrated – we can take joy in all of it.