We so often focus on what can make us happy at work and in life, and for good reason. But there's something else to aim for that will yield happiness as a side effect and a deeper level of it at that.
It's something that has implications for how we work, lead, and live. It's one word that, when I no longer felt I was achieving it in the corporate world, was a major signal it was time for me to go. It's what I strive for in my life as an entrepreneur, what drives me now.
It's a powerful brand of happiness as it has longevity to it. It's a profound brand of happiness as it has an implied element of servitude to it.
Usefulness as a measuring stick at work.
Usefulness is a higher-standard then just doing your job. Of course, you're supposed to be of use at work. It's what you get a paycheck for and why you have a job in the first place.
The real power of usefulness is to view it as a mindset. When you adopt it, you won't coast, ever. You seek to add value in every meeting. You view relationships differently, especially with employees that report to you. Instead of questioning if your employees are being productive, smart, or visionary enough, for example, you ask yourself if you're being of use, of service, to them.
Being useful to your employees generates a different set of activities. To be useful to your employees you have to invest in them, coach them, give them feedback, give them learning opportunities, give them access to resources, bust barriers for them, and help them advance in their careers.
Try this out--go around for one week at work constantly asking yourself in a variety of situations the following: Am I being useful right now? It will jar you out of complacency and put a different lens on every meeting and interaction. Ask it even when sitting at your desk as it serves as a productivity hack. If your answer is "no," you must be doing something unproductive.
Leveraging a mindset of usefulness even serves as a career reality check. Towards the end of my career in the corporate world, I no longer felt challenged. I was stagnating and felt as if the company wasn't getting the most out of my talents. I was in a situation where my usefulness was far from optimal.
So I left.
Not only did a less than optimal level of usefulness encourage me to leave, it clarified what to leave for. I launched a business as a speaker, workshopper, writer and coach, and with the driving desire to be...of use.
And I'm beyond happy. My most deeply happy moments, in and out of corporate, can be attributed to usefulness. They come from the idea that I'm making significant contributions with my time on this planet and serving something greater than myself. Powerful, no?
Usefulness as a measuring stick in life.
The usefulness of usefulness doesn't end at work. It's a mindset for how to live your life in general, as well.
To be useful in life means to be there for your friends when they need you, to share equally in the unpaid labor around the house, to always make time for your kids, to find the time to regularly connect with your parents and siblings and offer to help when you can, to be involved in your community as a volunteer, to hold the door for a stranger.
Once again, ask yourself outside of work, Am I being useful right now? You'll find yourself less likely to mindlessly plop yourself in front of the TV. More likely to get to that project you've been putting off. Even choosing to relax and do nothing takes on a different lens--you're giving yourself a break to improve your energy and desire to be of service later on.
Usefulness. It's a magic word. And striving for it will bring a higher-order happiness, some magic, to your world.