Happiness_HeaderI had a wake up call the other morning. A colleague of mine – someone I consider an informal mentor and a major player in the profession – sent me an email a few minutes after I had posted an article on this site. She wrote, “Steven, what’s your Twitter handle? I think I’ve been tweeting these out using the wrong one!” I was caught. There was no elegant way out other than to dash to Twitter and create an account. Here someone had been paying me the supreme compliment by reposting my blog articles, and I was off napping in the weeds (metaphorically speaking, of course) with no Twitter presence. Say “Hello” to @TheBIMuse.

As I have mentioned before, my relationship with social media is uncomfortable on a good day, so adding yet another medium was intimidating. To be honest, it is going to take some time to find my level on Twitter. There is a very low signal to noise ratio, which I see as the main challenge for me to manage. Still, a gem will pass the window every now and again.

1-800 Got Aphorism?
Because of the 140-character limit on a post, #Twitter is a haven for the shallow #aphorism. My Twitter feed is littered with them like a field of #dandelions. And the older I get, the more #cynical I become about them. Do they really mean what they seem to mean? Because of the enforced brevity, have we turned an otherwise profound thought into #nonsense? Such was the case with one post. It read, “Success does not guarantee happiness.”

On the surface of it, the statement reads like a #truism. Of course success does not guarantee happiness. But if you let the #cynic demand that you define both “success” and “happiness,” the picture crumbles into confetti. Several of us picked up that definition ball and ran with it, and in the rapid little world of Twitter it ended with “Happiness is living your values” followed by “Success could be defined as living your values too.”

This brief exchange of ideas starting me thinking about what “happiness” really is and about its role in our lives and work. Why do we care so much about it? Why do we strive so hard to achieve it? In reality, I can only speculate about what happiness is for anyone else, so I will try to confine my metaphysical musing to my own experience. That said, I think the tweeter who posted “Happiness is living your values” came closest to nailing it for me. But even then, the phrase does not really capture the essence.

The Value of Values
What does it mean, “Living our Values?” I consulted my unabridged Random House dictionary for the meaning of “values” in order to establish a starting point. Get this: “…the ideals, customs, institutions, etc., of a society toward which the people of the group have an affective regard.” This is not very helpful and almost begs for a definition of the definition. I will cut to the chase. The reason that any society or group or individual holds anything in “affective regard” is because it delivers meaningful value to that group or individual. Values, therefore, are those behaviors we have identified that will achieve those conditions of meaningful value.

I used the word “behaviors” deliberately. A value cannot truly be a value if it is not actionable. If I value family, then my values are those actions I want to take in order to nurture my family and its members. If I value my integrity, then my values are those actions I want to take (or not take) in order to keep that value intact. Values cannot be passive; they must be active in order to be real. The more we are able to act on these values, the more fulfilled – the happier, perhaps – we are as human beings.

Because values guide how we might act, they are a key element in decision-making. In particular, values drive prioritization because they illuminate the expected return. If your values align more closely with profit than family, your prioritization of the family vacation on the calendar may be affected. We are confronted every day with choices requiring us to act based on our values.

Logical Values
Going back to the original question, though, let us test the syllogism with this new paradigm.

If success is living one’s values AND
If living one’s values delivers meaningful value AND
If happiness results from meaningful value THEN
Success delivers happiness

It is a well-formed syllogism, to be sure, but something is still wrong. It presumes that the person in question actually knows and understands his/her values. If a person believes that the accumulation of wealth will bring them happiness and it does not, then it is clear that there are one or more higher values toward which the person is not working, probably because they have not identified them. Let us adjust the syllogism.

If a person accurately understands his/her values AND
If all success is living one’s values AND
If living one’s values delivers meaningful value AND
If happiness results from meaningful value THEN
Success delivers happiness

I have gone to a great deal of trouble just to disprove the original aphorism. I have done this more out of puckish mischief than the need to elucidate any significant insight. Still, two truths emerge from the frippery. First is the importance of actively living one’s values in the pursuit of #happiness. The second is to beware the superficial #aphorism. You may find that you are not saying what you thought you were.

How do you keep your organization’s values at the front of mind? Do you find a correlation between values and fulfillment?

And by the way, how do you sort the value from the dross on #Twitter? Any #hints?

For those of you seeking happiness on the job, check out Tennis ball.