Burning the midnight oil & money does not buy happiness

The head of a major car company was in the news recently. He sent an email to his staff at 1:20 in the morning urging them to work harder in pursuit of the company’s goals. This message was wrapped in platitudes which no-one could argue with. Ideas like, ‘the importance of saving the planet’, were promoted in such a way that it would be career limiting for anyone to disagree. 

For those of us who have worked in the corporate world, there is nothing new at the core of this communication. It is a major priority for senior leaders to promote their vision and goals across the organization. Employees are encouraged to align with ideas being presented and build their own strategies to support the business. 

In contrast, the car guy seems to have taken it to another level. By highlighting the urgency of fighting climate change and describing highly competitive market conditions, he declares that the only logical response is they all need to work harder. He stops short of explaining exactly what that means, the reader is left to fill in the blanks. Presumably those employees know full well what is being implied from a leader who sends emails in the middle of the night.

When the best leader’s work is done the people say, ‘We did it ourselves.’   -Lao Tzu

While most people do not work for the offending car guy, the state of affairs for many employees in North America is not that much better. Work weeks have not shortened and technology allows the office to travel everywhere, resulting in a workforce which feels compelled to always be ‘on’. What most people fail to comprehend is the increased level of stress this kind of lifestyle creates. There has not been enough research to find out how unhealthy these habits are. Suffice to say, long hours of being connected to work without a decent balance of leisure time is likely one of the driving factors of unhappiness in North America.

One of the ways to fix the imbalance for employees might be the wellness industry which continues to grow at an impressive pace. However, when it comes to practical solutions which can benefit the masses, there is no quick fix. Coupled with corporate leadership which tends to be lagging well behind the pace of technological innovation. The result is a huge disconnect between what most people desire, (workers), and what a few people require, (leaders). After many years of knowing there is a problem, the majority of corporate employees still struggle to find a reasonable work-life balance. 

Putting even more pressure on the situation is the increasingly global nature of the playing field. Competition is coming from all sides as businesses expand beyond their home markets. As technology makes it easier to communicate, opportunities to make a buck in a new area are ever easier to spot and then dive into. However, only the most innovative and specialized business ideas are still playing in a blue ocean, where there is no one else going for a piece of the pie. In most cases the markets are ever more competitive. As this pressure mounts, some companies transfer that outward pressure inwards, effectively recreating the adversarial industry environment inside their business. The result is competition amongst colleagues where there should be healthy collaboration.

This kind of pressure cooker creates a situation where emails are being sent at all hours of the day and night, (amongst many other strange behaviours). The offending communication which was sent to all staff by the car guy is a dead canary in the coal mine. Nobody makes good decisions whilst sleep deprived. But, the delusion which allows a leader to think that they are super human and can handle the cognitive effects of getting very little sleep, is foolish. The kicker is the workforce gets to pay the price for such bad behaviour.

Tired minds don’t plan well. Sleep first, plan later.   -Walter Reisch

Yet, people seem to feel compelled to keep pushing for extra growth in their jobs and companies. It is curious to see that while the economy does quite well and personal incomes are at an all-time high, self-reported rates of happiness are falling. Somehow, we are still missing the memo that money does not make a person happy. We may think that platitude applies to other people, instead believing we are immune to that kind of trap. Maybe it is time for a different kind of self-evaluation.

The research is clear. There is an amount of personal income where happiness levels peak. The number varies slightly depending on the exact study or maybe even converting to local currency. But around $75K, incremental increases do not correlate to greater happiness at the same rate. The cynical person reading this and I include myself in that category, will think this fact does not apply to them.

It is good to have money and the things that money can buy, but it’s good too, to check up once in a while and make sure you haven’t lost the things money can’t buy.   -George Horace Lorimer

Even if we suspend judgement and blindly believe that having more money is not the key to greater happiness, what is left? People have built their entire lives around the pursuit of a dream which has money at the foundation. Get good grades in school, which will lead to a great job. Buy a house, have a family and work hard to pay that all off by the time you are ready to retire. Hopefully, all has gone well and life gets good when you can golf every day or whatever the post working years look like.

Most people can admit there were mistakes made in building that model of success. Just like the pursuit of perfection, that one size fits all dream of how life is supposed to play out, if you work hard enough, is not attainable for most. Even for those folks who could have it, they are increasingly turning away, sometimes long before retirement age. 

What are people doing instead? Lots of different things. Exciting stuff. Everything you can think of, someone is on the path. The stories are all the same. When people take a hard look at their situations they often find they adopted someone else’s dream. They took the email at 1:20am and doubled down their efforts, as they answered the bell. At some point a major realization occurs and people wake up to the idea that they are capable of creating their own dream life. This pattern is not limited to certain people from similar walks of life. All sorts of different folks are joining in.

What drives some people to make a major life change is fascinating to me. I think it speaks to the creative nature we all possess. Some people get exposed to their dream life circumstances early on and then don’t feel compelled to embark on something new. I also think we evolve as we age and mature. What seemed like a good idea in our twenties, doesn’t hold water in our forties. Even if people realize they would like to go in a new direction, society is not set-up to support that. Only the bravest and determined are able to successfully forge ahead.

I find myself in two worlds. One which is very familiar and the other very novel. I am standing on a bridge and depending on the day, I’m far on one side or the other of new and old. What I know for sure is I love learning, particularly when I am allowed to follow my curiosity. Sometimes I can be my own worst enemy. To diminish that tendency, I need to keep asking questions and understanding what is possible within all the circumstances I find myself in. Life can be as good as you make it.

If you are curious to see how this journey unfolds in more detail, stay tuned to dailycreatives. Don’t forget to take this opportunity to share with like-minded friends and family. I believe that practicing creativity, in all its forms, is the foundational habit for happiness and success in life. Join us to create a life you don’t need a vacation from.

Next week check out – The Happiness Budget. Until then, let the creativity flow!

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