How Would You Rate Your Life?

happiness prosperity healthWe hope you had a wonderful holiday weekend. Perhaps some time with the family, a barbeque, some physical activity and maybe a great beverage or two. Labor Day is one of my favorite holidays. It marks the end of summer and start of fall, including kids returning to school and another season of college and NFL football games. It’s also a reflective time, when many people take a look at their life and review where they are and where they want to be.

A couple of weeks ago, the WSJ ran an article entitled, “On Gauging the Pursuit of Happiness.” It included the most recent edition of the World Happiness Report. The six most important metrics Gallup used to gauge happiness are GDP, life expectancy, generosity, social support, freedom and corruption. In addition, the researchers posed two questions. First, they asked people about their emotional experience the previous day- were they happy, angry, or stressed? Second, they asked respondents to rate their life as a whole on a scale of 0 to 10. How would you have responded?

The U.S., while #1 in overall GDP, is eighth in GDP per capita. Norway, Switzerland, Australia, Sweden, Denmark all are wealthier than us on a per person level. In terms of happiness, however, America ranked 15th, behind Switzerland, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Canada, Finland, New Zealand and even Mexico. We performed well in GDP but weaker in the other variables.

Countries, including the U.S., are now starting to measure well-being. In 2011, the United Nations adopted a resolution encouraging member states to measure happiness and economic well-being. The U.K. systemically collects data on well-being. Our Labor Department Bureau of Labor Statistics has included well-being questions in its American Time Use Survey. And, lots more is happening at the local level.

Santa Monica, CA, won a $1 million award to develop a well-being project aimed at increasing trust and connectedness among residents. Apparently it is working- Santa Monica residents are even filling potholes these days.

Businesses are joining in as well. Certainly companies have for decades cited lofty mission statements as proof they are interested in more than just net income. And now, workers of all types are demanding more meaning from their careers as work simply takes too much of their time; with longer hours, more competitive pressures and IT “advancements” keeping them tethered to work 24/7. In many cases, employees are not looking for a job but, rather a higher calling. For them, it’s about the purpose, not the task.

For example, KPMG is trying to inspire its accountants with world-changing focus. “We see ourselves as cathedral builders, not bricklayers,” said Global Chairman John Veihmeyer. The company held a contest for its U.S. employees to share stories illustrating the higher impact of their jobs and it received 42,000 submissions. CEO Chris Loughlin of Travelzoo encourages his 400 employees, who help customers book low-cost travel worldwide, to look at their job this way: “if everyone traveled, there would be significantly more peace on earth.” Of course, not every worker believes that their company or their job is changing the world. According to Amy Wrzesniewski from the Yale School of Management, about 1/3 of individuals feel their job is a calling, while 2/3 are happy being a “cog rather than a cathedral builder.”

And, finally, we take a look at the great number of older Americans that are continuing to work. Average retirement ages are climbing and nearly 50% of baby boomers expect to work until 66 or beyond. Certainly, for many, it’s an economic necessity. However, driving the trend of not retiring are highly educated workers in professional-services jobs who are staying there by choice, rather than economic reasons. In some cases, they may continue working (either for pay or as a volunteer) because they believe they are changing the world. However, for most, it is their passion and commitment to stay involved, stay current and make a difference that brings them happiness.

For example, Jan Abushakrah, 69, typically works a 60-hour week as the chairwoman of the gerontology department at Portland Community College with no plans to retire. “I have pretty much purged the word from my vocabulary,” she says. “As long as I am happy and healthy every morning when I wake up and something exciting on my plate to look forward to, it is easy to say I could keep doing this forever.”

As we all start the fall, we hope that you, if asked, would rate your life and well-being (including happiness, health and prosperity) as a 10, or very near a 10. At DWM, our passion isn’t about changing the entire world, but rather helping each of our clients achieve their highest possible state of well-being. It’s our higher calling and passion 365 days a year. Here’s to you and your life and making it a 10.