In doing research for my book Find the Fire, I conducted interviews with a thousand employees in companies of all sizes. And I discovered a hidden cache of self-investments that the happiest of those I interviewed consistently made. While these investments aren't ones you'd predict, they are ones you can make.
I also learned a lot about what drains inspiration and what fuels it. A pattern of five positive self-investments quickly emerged:
1. Commit time to create.
When you're caught in the hamster wheel of updates, meetings, and emails, you're short on time to produce meaningful output that uses your skills and passions. You stop nurturing original thoughts into written proposals. You stop drawing sketches for new product ideas you have. A design manager in a Fortune 50 company eloquently explained:
"When I'm creating I feel alive and free. My little creations are my unique contributions to the world that shout 'I'm here and I have an imprint!' The form of creativity doesn't matter--an idea of mine brought to market, a concept I thought of shared in a written recommendation, or a sketch that got incorporated into a design. Anything imaginative that wouldn't have happened were it not for me. I told a friend recently that I've sunk into constant transaction mode, with no room for transcendent mode. This place has stifled my creativity and clipped my wings."
I followed up with that same person six months after she committed time to create and she was the happiest she'd been in a long time. It's a pattern I've seen repeatedly.
2. Seek conscious growth versus growth for the sake of it.
We all enjoy personal development and growth. We love learning new things, experiencing new challenges, and building our skills.
But not all growth is created equal. You should view the process of pursuing personal development and growth as a critical step in the journey of becoming who you're meant to be--as opposed to pursuing growth for the sake of it.
Put everything you'd like to learn and experience in one column, and all the things you need to learn to become a better version of yourself in another. For example, you might want to learn skydiving for the fun of it. You might also want to learn French to better role-model your deeply held value of embracing diversity. If those are your competing priorities, I'd say the latter is probably more important.
3. Draft a personal board of directors.
Take the time to put together a group of mentors, a personal board of directors to keep you on track with what truly makes you happy. The majority of the happiest people I interviewed (at least in terms of happiness at work) all had mentors helping them to increase self-confidence and bolster the sense that they weren't going it alone.
Invest the time to properly choose and approach the right mentors. You won't regret it.
4. Invest daily in living your values.
Values are those little things we do every day that exemplifies who we are--the daily little impressions that leave a huge permanent impression.
My research found that about 75 percent of us can write down our most closely held, non-negotiable values within a minute-and-a-half. If you're among the other 25 percent, work on articulating them--it's powerful.
The bigger question is: Do you live those values, non-negotiably, every single day? Doing so adds tremendous significance and happiness to your daily routine. I experienced this when I started the intentional daily practice of living my value to be of service to others.
Making those little investments in your values each day is like the 401 (k) of a meaningful life.
5. Work on your life, not just in your life.
The happiest people don't miss chances to make important, structural changes in their life. Perhaps it's time for a new line of work, a new relationship, or a totally different approach to your current job.
You can distinguish healthy change worth making versus change for the sake of change by asking yourself one question: "Will changing this change my mindset or just my mood?" The former is more permanent, lasting, and worthy, the latter more temporary and subject to shifts.
Super-happy people believe that they have the competency for change. They know they'll get through it successfully because they recall having done it before. They think of change as a software upgrade and think "benefit" rather than "beware" in the face of change.
You can too.
So look beyond the obvious to go into another orbit of happiness.