Thought Leadership

Are you happy?

By Colin Walls

I recently wrote about the concept of having fun. At the time, I commented that happiness is easier to identify, but elusive nevertheless. The pursuit of happiness is a major driver to all of mankind’s activities. Indeed I can quote from the United States Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I would describe myself as basically happy, but I have “down days”. That is when I try to find things to make me happy …

Over the years, many people have told me to “count my blessings” – i.e. think about all the good things in my life. There is much to be said for this. However, the advice often extends to the consideration of those less fortunate than myself. This should make me feel lucky [and, hence, happy], but it generally has the reverse effect, as I feel sad for less fortunate souls and angry about the inequalities in our society.

Another ploy is to buy something – a bit of “retail therapy”. This is simultaneously the most attractive and, IMHO, the least effective way to find happiness. So many times I have seen a product and thought about how happy I might be if my life were to be improved by owning it. The pleasure that such purchases bring and, hence, the happiness that they stimulate is, at best, short lived. I try to ignore my inner gadget freak, but I often fail and buy some device that I am convinced will make my life better [or easier or more efficient]. The success rate is pitifully low. So often, I struggle to get something to work as advertised and, when it does, realize that I did not need it at all. This is not a path to happiness.

Doing a pleasurable activity is better. Perhaps it might be a visit to the theater, seeing a movie, a day at the beach or just a walk in the sunshine. Spending time doing something that you enjoy can contribute to happiness, but there is a trap: that activity will inevitably come to an end, leaving you with the “now what?” feeling. This gives a clue as to how you can stimulate some happiness more effectively …

I was recently advised that the way to true happiness is to do something you do not like. Tackle a job you have been dreading. Preferably something where there are clear, tangible benefits from it being completed. This may sound like banging your head against a wall – it is nice when it stops – but it can be much, much more positive. The trick is to choose a job, the completion of which will give lasting pleasure [=happiness]. An example:

My office is a mess. The floor, desk and shelves are cluttered. The cupboards need organizing. There is a ton of filing to get sorted. I dread starting this job as I am daunted by the magnitude of the task, but I have scheduled a specific time to do it. Notwithstanding that dread, I look forward to the feeling of satisfaction that I will feel [let alone the anticipated reaction from my wife] once it has been done. It is knowing that this will be a lasting benefit that will motivate me to do it. I look forward to feeling happy.


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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at