Who Are The Trail Guides On The Road To Happiness?

Perhaps just as important as mile-markers on the journey to happiness is a guide. As it turns out, we have a lot more guides available to us than we think….the elderly.  It’s interesting to me that as much as our culture seems to worship youth and stereotypes the elderly as lonely and less happy, the body of evidence says otherwise:  Older people tend to be happier as a group.  Why?

It appears these folks have some important things to tell us about how to be happy.  Listed below are 5 things a larger group (~1,500) of older people (aged 70 – 100+) had to share about life lessons that they would like to pass on to those coming behind them. These are from Eric Barker’s post with some additional tweaks and commentary:

  1. Don’t stay in a job you don’t like.
  2. Choose a career for the intrinsic rewards, not the financial ones. Selecting a profession based only on the potential for financial gain is perhaps the biggest career mistake you’ll ever make, while a sense of purpose and passion for one’s work almost assures satisfaction.
  3. Don’t give up on looking for a job that makes you happy, stick with it. Those who know the most say persistence is the key to finding a job you love.
  4. Make the most of a bad job. If your job situation is starting to hint at or actually makes a giant sucking sound, why waste the experience?  Many at the top of their field now wouldn’t have gotten there without the growth gained while in the fertile soil of a a bad job…..some time really fertile soil.
  5. Emotional intelligence trumps all others. A high level of interpersonal skills is the real currency of success, especially in today’s knowledge economy; technical competence is simply the ante to get in the game.  Even those with the highest technical skills are likely to fail if they lack emotional intelligence.

Everyone needs autonomy. Career satisfaction is often dependent on how much autonomy you have on the job, especially in creative, heuristic type work.  Look for opportunities that give you the freedom to make decisions and move in directions that interest you, without too much control from the top.

In addition, what these elders didn’t say was deafening: If you encounter any of the four mile-markers below, you likely heading in the opposite direction from your happiness destination. When you begin to experience these, find an exit or make a U-turn, FAST:

  • Trying to work as hard as you can to make money to buy the things you want.
  • Thinking it’s important to be as or more wealthy than the people around you.
  • Striving to have more than others.
  • Choosing work based on your desired future earning power.

Interesting…all the factors above relate in some way to Autonomy, Mastery and Purpose, which are key elements that give us our Drive or internal motivation.  The other thing to take note of is that unlike mile-markers related to time, these all deal with things that are within our control.

If you’re interested, you can find a lot more sage advice from the same group of elders I mentioned above in Karl Pillemer’s  book “30 Lessons for Living: Tried and True Advice from the Wisest Americans.” If you don’t have time for the book, Eric Barker’s excellent post  not only condenses that main point of the book (ie. those listed above), but gives some additional direct commentary.

Finally, if you not only want to know more but really experience the most from the happiest among us, simply go ask an older person you know and respect. The beauty that is not only what it will do for you, but the gift your interest will give them as well.

Who are some of the notable happiness trail-guides you’ve had in the past? Just as importantly, who is one you need to engage with now?