Written by Russell Johnson
Almost every day, I speak with people whose careers don’t support what they want in their lives.
These people are usually highly motivated and hard-working. However, they’re not experiencing the career satisfaction that their commitment merits.
They often have two other things in common. Firstly, they haven’t aligned their goals with their deeper desires. And secondly, they are managing their careers tactically rather than strategically.
Like the tightening coils of a python, this approach is gradually but inexorably narrowing their options and reducing their potential to experience what they want in life.
Data shows that this misalignment is the experience of the majority today. This doesn’t mean it needs to be accepted.
More fundamentally, there’s also ever-increasing data confirming that it’s dangerous to accept it.
The Connection Between Full Alignment and Health
Those who achieve alignment between awareness, desires, goals, strategy, planning, tactics and the skills to implement them are living according to principles of success. The daily lives of the most successful people exhibit the benefits of doing so.
And science also validates those benefits.
Studies of the effects of different forms of human happiness are demonstrating the benefits of what the ancient Greek philosophers called eudaimonia. This state is translated as being about human flourishing, encompassing enduring happiness and optimal wellbeing.
In The Nichomachean Ethics, Aristotle stated that “The life of active virtue is essentially pleasant” and that “Good character is the indispensable condition and chief determinant of happiness, itself the goal of all human doing”.
I recall a study led by Barbara Fredrickson, a professor at the University of North Carolina and published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences several years ago. It noted that “Philosophers have long distinguished two basic forms of well-being: a ‘hedonic’ form representing an individual’s pleasurable experiences, and a deeper ‘eudaimonic’ form that results from striving toward meaning and a noble purpose beyond simple self-gratification”.
The authors explained it as the difference between enjoying a good meal and feeling connected to a larger community through a service project. While both offer a sense of satisfaction, each is experienced differently in the body’s cells.
Benefits for Health
In essence, what Dr Frederickson and subsequent researchers have found is this:
Eudaimonic well-being is associated with a significant decrease in inflammation associated with ills ranging from arthritis to heart disease, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases, and an increase in antiviral activity.
In contrast, hedonic well-being is associated with a significant increase in such inflammation and a decrease in antiviral activity.
How Significant are These Benefits?
One researcher in this field, Dr Steve Cole, a professor of medicine at UCLA, has stated:
“The effect sizes that are being found indicate that lacking eudaimonic happiness can be as harmful to health as smoking or obesity”.
It seems that what matters most to overall health and wellbeing is deriving happiness from doing something you believe is important or extraordinary.
The ‘Warren Buffett Paradox’
How else could a paradox like Warren Buffett be explained? Over more than half a century, he has built Berkshire Hathaway to its current ranking of 3rd on the Forbes 2000 list of the world’s largest public companies. He is deservedly famed for his business success and for being one of the world’s most generous philanthropists.
Yet there’s something else about Warren that’s perhaps equally remarkable: at the age of 89, he still lives on a diet based largely on hamburgers, ice cream, Oreos, candy and Coca-Cola. He drinks at least five cans of Coke every day and has stated “I’m one-quarter Coca-Cola”. And he uses so much salt that John Stumpf, the former CEO of Wells Fargo, has described it as being like a snowstorm.
His mother lived to 93, but his father died at 60, so it seems there may be more to his robust good health than just good genes.
Further Perspective on the Subject of Health
Barbara Fredrickson, the professor quoted above, has postulated that people who experience more hedonic than eudaimonic happiness may be consuming the emotional equivalent of empty calories.
“We can make ourselves happy through simple pleasures, but those ’empty calories’ don’t help us broaden our awareness or build our capacity in ways that benefit us physically,” she said. “At the cellular level, our bodies appear to respond better to a different kind of well-being, one based on a sense of connectedness and purpose.”
Where to From Here?
We can reasonably conclude that real career success lies in choosing the kind of life we want to live, and the kind of person we want to be, then implementing that vision. The motivation that flows from taking full responsibility for your future will support you in gaining the outcomes you choose.
How can we go about implementing such a vision? That will be the subject of my next article.