Wednesday, 25 May 2011

How hard should we work?

Those of us who want to make a career usually put a lot of effort into it. They set themselves ambitious goals, and they work very hard to achieve them. As a consequence, they neglect other domains of their lives, like, for example, social relationships. But does this make them happier? And what happens if they fail, if they are not able to reach their ambitious goals?

Success is definitely something that makes us happy. However, we usually return to our normal level of happiness quickly, a fact that is known as “hedonic treadmill”. The same is true for failure: It makes us unhappy for a moment, but usually we return to our previous level of happiness after a while. This even applies to major negative life events like an accident after which people are confined to a wheelchair.

In an article in the New York Times, Robert H. Frank, professor at Cornell University, describes pleasure that comes from success as “the carrot that provokes us to extricate ourselves” from emotionally aversive states, but as something that fades quickly. His conclusion is that working hard can make us more successful, at least to some extent, but that we should be aware of the fact that this won’t make us a happier person on the long term.

Therefore, it is recommended to think carefully of the goal you set for your career. Is the extremely ambitious one really what you want? How much effort are you willing to put into attaining it? What sacrifices are you ready to make in order to get there? Be aware that even after achieving it, you will eventually return to your previous level of happiness. On the other hand, the good news is that even after failing to achieve a goal, you can be as happy as before.

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