Saturday, March 12, 2011

Spring Fever: happy-work

Pawlonia first bloom, 3/10/11
As self-proclaimed High Priestess of Happy, I take Happy super-seriously. It is my life's entire aim, a subject I love to read about, think about, write about. It is my Rule #1, the barometer of everything. I love it when we chant Lokah Samasta Sukhino Bhavantu in class -- May all beings be happy, may all beings be free. Maha Amen to that.

I've been a veritable frenzy of work recently, busy, busy, busy, both at my paying job and in my various projects on the side, whether school or blogging or writing. I was just out in the garden planting peas and listening to the busy bees in the borage, and got to thinking about how much I love work, how much I love having some bustle, creative things to do, challenge, goals. I can feel the Spring inside me in this exhilaration of work.  Like a bee, I need and thrive on the purposefulness.

I was reminded of a passage in Happier by Tal Ben-Shahar, Ph.D., in which he writes about our ingrained prejudice against work and how actually work makes us happier:
In their article, "Optimal Experience in Work and Learning," Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and Judith LeFevre show that people prefer leisure to work, a conclusion that no one would find startling.  However, they also discovered something else: that people actually have more flow experiences at work than at home.
     This paradox -- that we say we prefer leisure at the same time that we are having our peak experiences at work -- is strange and revealing.  It suggests that our prejudice against work, our association of effort with pain and leisure with pleasure, is so deep-rooted that it distorts our perception of the actual experience.  When we automatically and regularly evaluate positive experiences at work negatively, simply as a learned response, we are severely limiting our potential for happiness -- because in order to be happy we must not only experience positive emotions but also evaluate them as such.  (p. 92)
Obviously, the nature of the work matters enormously, but the point is that it isn't work itself that's the problem.  The challenge, or rather the opportunity, is to find the right work, happy-work.

At this time of year when I'm outside in the garden or even inside at the laptop, I am reminded that happy-work is the only kind worth doing.  Sure, there are reasons to put up with the opposite -- I know I did it for ages in the interest of college tuition, and I know plenty of others who "keep head down, collect paycheck" -- but it can only be temporary.

Ultimately the real joy in life is to find this happy-work and get lost in it, whether it's spreadsheets (yes, me) or compost (also me).  

Every spring offers another opportunity to get out there and plant seeds of future deliciousness.  Ours is the sowing, and also the harvest.


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