“Joy is a byproduct of a life well lived. It’s much bigger than happiness.”
-The Book of Joy
Supposedly, Millennials “over-index” on career as a determinant of their happiness (The Happify Study). That’s why the topic for this blog is happiness.
Does my career affect my happiness? Absolutely.
We grew up in a culture that’s often characterized as a rat-race. As humans, we’ve been socialized to enjoy doing well, whether it’s good grades or praise from your managers.
And to be honest, being productive and creating results contributes to my happiness, and failures make me upset. It’s only natural, but I don’t necessarily view either of these drawbacks. After all, if failure didn’t bother me, how would I be incentivized to get better?
Not doing well can serve as an extremely effective wake-up call. When I wasn’t doing as well as I would have liked in a linear algebra class, and I only had one more exam to turn things around, I spent an inordinate amount of time preparing for it, and ended up getting the highest score in the class. I’m confident I wouldn’t have been able to do so had I been more complacent.
Similarly, as a teacher, I constantly saw students I could be serving better. And while the endless number of things you can do as a teacher is sometimes disheartening, it also pushed me to towards the vision we had for our class: to become Seekers. We kept working towards our goals, using our mistakes as learning experiences and undeniably improving week by week. Even though we failed and even though my happiness in the classroom was contrasted deeply with more negative emotions, I think I was still largely full of joy in those two years.
I thought about this a lot as I finished reading The Book of Joy. The Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu tried to distill joy into eight pillars: perspective, humility, humor & laughter, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion, and generosity.
Largely, they’re great categories and I found them incredibly applicable to my own life. On different days, you might need a certain pillar more than another. Yet, what I found to be the missing link in these pillars was that none of them would bring you joy without meaningful relationships.
While I was never introverted, this was one of the most fundamental realizations I had as a teacher. Even on days that found me crying on the bus to school, as soon as the first student saw me, everything changed.
It wasn’t as if I had to pretend to be okay. I was okay. Seeing them reminded me that I was somebody’s role model. That there were a hundred children who looked up to me, who expected me to help them learn. The purpose gave me strength. The relationships gave me joy.
One of my students, Shivam, inadvertently showed me how powerful this can be. I had scolded him that day because of his rudeness to the two girls sitting next to him. He had become glum and sulked for the entire class period, choosing to ignore most of my lesson. But he saw me at a nearby vendor as he was walking home from school and immediately smiled, waved, and said “Bye, Didi! (older sister)” That simple gesture became ingrained in my memory and taught me a crucial lesson. What he had done was forgive, but the reason this made us both happy was that we had a meaningful relationship we invested in and cultivated.
So maybe I do over-index my happiness on career. But I’m not chronically unhappy because that’s different; my joy lies elsewhere. Applying and practicing the eight pillars will help increase the joy in my life, but what makes my life joyful are the relationships I treasure and hold close.