Happiness is Hard Work

Happiness lies not in the mere possession of money; it lies in the joy of achievement, in the thrill of creative effort.

Franklin Delano Roosevelt

This quote by FDR appeared recently in a New York Times editorial “A Formula for Happiness“ by Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute. FDR’s words and Brooks’ comments about the pursuit of happiness through our work resonated with me.

For years, I have known that my “work” as the CEO of Barry-Wehmiller is a source of fulfillment. In fact, whenever my team members say I am working too hard, I tell them I don’t consider it work; I tell them I am having fun. To me, work is energizing, stimulating, and intrinsically rewarding. I feel lucky to have found joy and happiness through my leadership of the 7,600+ people within our organization. I wish the same for every single one of them. Doesn’t every person deserve a job that makes them fulfilled?

Brooks’ article talks about the research on happiness that social Doesn’t every person deserve a job that makes them fulfilled? Click To Tweetscientists have been conducting for decades. It seems about half of a person’s happiness is determined genetically. In other words, to some degree, we can thank our parents for how happy—or unhappy–we are. After that, random events from our recent past are the next biggest contributors to our level of happiness. This could be news of a big promotion, an acceptance letter from a prestigious university, or a celebration surrounding a special event in one’s life. Unfortunately, the happiness we feel as a result of these events lasts only a short while. So how can we go about finding long term happiness? According to Brooks, studies show that “the surest path to happiness is gained through the pursuit of four basic values—faith, family, community and work.”

As a business leader, I may not be able to control the first three for the people I lead but I can impact their sense of meaning and purpose at work. How does work make us happy? It’s not the financial reward, says the research. According to Brooks, “economists find that money makes truly poor people happier insofar as it relieves pressure from everyday life — getting enough to eat, having a place to live, taking your kid to the doctor. But scholars like the Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman have found that once people reach a little beyond the average middle-class income level, even big financial gains don’t yield much, if any, increases in happiness.”

In fact, one survey showed that nearly three-fourths of Americans wouldn’t quit their jobs even if a financial windfall enabled them to live in luxury for the rest of their lives.

What social scientists have found, Brooks goes on to say, is that the secret to happiness through work is earned success. Their research showed that people who feel they are successful at work are twice as likely to say they are very happy overall as compared to those who don’t feel that way. Work allows us to “marry our passions to our skills, empowering us to create value in our lives and in the lives of others.” Work that is meaningful and allows us to see the value we add makes us happy.

That is the essence of Truly Human Leadership. Through it, we strive daily to create meaningful work for our associates. We cultivate caring, empowering environments in which our team members can come together to share their individual gifts—marry their passions to their skills— in the creation of value for themselves, for others, for the organization.  We help them see the joy and happiness that is realized from achieving our shared vision together.

The advent of a new year offers an opportunity to take stock of the past and resolve to improve the future.  For me, that means a renewed commitment to making sure our 7,600+ team members all over the world experience Truly Human Leadership in their corners of the organization. We realize our journey is far from over but, like I said before, everybody deserves a job that makes them fulfilled.

What do you resolve to do to improve the lives of those you lead in 2014?

Truly Human Leadership is found throughout Barry-Wehmiller Companies, where Bob Chapman is Chairman and CEO. A $3+ billion global capital equipment and engineering consulting firm, Barry-Wehmiller’s 12,000 team members are united around a common belief: we can use the power of business to build a better world. Chapman explores that idea in his Wall Street Journal best-selling book, Everybody Matters: The Extraordinary Power of Caring For Your People Like Family, available from Penguin Random House.


  • Amita Patel says:

    Thanks for sharing! When our work comes from our authentic and aligned self we are able to carry out our life’s mission and purpose. I find that my coaching business is no longer work because I’m doing what I’m meant to do vs. a job solely to make money and pay bills. Thanks for this post, it’s very true!

    All the best,
    Amita Patel

  • John Lochner says:

    “faith, family, community and work.” As leaders all of us can and do influence these four items that effect our lives on a 24/7 basis. Often we underestimate how our actions and leading with our Hearts leads people to a more purposeful life. We are not what we are by our title, but rather who we are inside at work, with our family and community with the grace of a loving God.

  • Mohammad Babar says:


    Allow me to complete the rest of the quote from FDR’s speech at his first inauguration:

    “The joy, the moral stimulation of work no longer must be forgotten in the mad chase of evanescent profits. These dark days, my friends, will be worth all they cost us if they teach us that our true destiny is not to be ministered unto but to minister to ourselves, to our fellow men.”

    For any endeavor and especially “work” to be psychologically “rewarding”, it must have that intrinsically human characteristic we call “purpose”. “Purpose” is achieved, as FDR pointed out, when we feel that our “work” is not “in the mad chase of evanescent profits” but rather in the pursuit of human profits or as he terms it “ministering to ourselves, to our fellow men”. This is what then provides the springboard for stimulating human purposefulness at work and which then leads to happiness.

    But what is the purpose of the work that we are compelled to do, even if we are “successful” at it (whatever that means)? Can I be really be happy knowing that even if I am a success at work, my work is at an institution that is amoral or even immoral? That is the point made clear when you say that studies show that the “the surest path to happiness is gained through the pursuit of four basic values—faith, family, community and work”. Note the commonality between the first three – faith, family and community. All three provide a sense of moral purpose to peoples’ lives but which is then actively undermined by the very work that they perform. In this hyper-Capitalist world we’ve created, and which companies like yours actively work to sustain, your employees know that no matter how much we “marry our passions to our skills” the “value” we add are mere numbers on a profit & loss statement, numbers that will be reduced or eliminated if profits don’t meet expectations. Even worse is when the work we are compelled to perform is immoral. Does one really feel a sense of faith, family and community knowing that one’s work does nothing more than cater to crass consumerism that is wrecking the planet and societies or working at an enterprise that gleefully counts their profits at the expense of human misery or is working in support of horrific weapons of mass destruction that terrorizes hapless communities across the planet? It is this inherent dichotomy between the work we do and our inner moral compass that “leaders” like you don’t want to acknowledge.

    Thus, It is the very nature of work itself that must be changed for people to be happy. That Bob is why most of the “work” we do for the likes of “leaders” like you makes us so unhappy and which no amount of Orwellian “truly human leadership” blogging can sugarcoat. You ask what I will do to improve the lives of those I lead in 2014? I resolve first to not “lead” anybody. I am but one of them. Second, I resolve to improve my fellow humans’ lives by working with them to help change the “work” they do from one of inherent meaninglessness into something that can truly fulfill their true destiny as human beings.

    Your fellow human,


  • Shawn Fogle says:

    Wow, what a great article and insight. As with most things our evaluation of a situation is merely a matter of perspective on how one views it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *