Happiness Related to Meaning and the Avoidance of Afidelity in Work Life

My good society will have strong individualism amidst community.
The Servant as Leader by Robert K. Greenleaf

An interesting model of happiness (yes, there are models of what generates happiness) comes out of Martin Seligman’s work and the Positive Psychology domain. That model is known as PERMA:

  • Positive emotion
  • Engagement
  • positive Relationships
  • Meaning
  • Accomplishment

Of these five components of enduring happiness or wellbeing, positive emotion is the least durable. Positive relationships can be transitory due to death and other vagaries of the human experience. However, engagement and meaning as well as, depending on your view of it, accomplishment, are well within the grasp of the individual.

Viktor Frankl wrote Man’s Search for Meaning reflecting on wisdom he gained from his experience of Nazi concentration camps and his practice as a psychologist. A lesson learned in this little book is that survival of the camps had much to do with the stories the survivors told themselves about their experiences. The more likely they were to find meaning in their experience, the more likely they were to survive. Those who saw themselves as victims of their experience rather than actors, even heroes, in their own stories were less likely to survive or, arguably, to survive well. This is the difference between being engaged in the life experience we are having and finding meaning in it and experiencing it as being done to us and in every way beyond our control.

To achieve and retain a sense of meaning in life and in work, and thereby prevent ourselves from becoming the corpse across the door (that person who has lapsed into afidelity with herself) requires that:

  • we know our purposes and principles,
  • they be durable beyond transient contexts (such as our current employment), and
  • they be sufficiently flexible to be enhanced by the outcome of any test against them.

Yes, they will always be, to some extent, the stories we tell ourselves about the big questions such as:

  • why am I here,
  • what am I meant to do, and
  • how do I know whether I am appropriately expending my life energy given my principles and the evidence before me.

To be in afidelity is to be in a dark hole. We have to find our own way out. We may have companions. It can be very helpful if we do. The kind of partnership inherent in teams is what we’re looking for here, partners covering the same territory. These are individuals who have some experience of our predicament but who relay to us the lay of the land as they see it, rather than a five step process for surefire success.

Once out of that hole, we are unlikely to go back into it again for very long. We are more likely to be aware when someone is asking us to be loyal to them rather than faithful to ourselves, and we are more likely to know where our precious energy is going.

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