Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Quest for Happiness: Values, Vocational Choice, and Meaning in Life and Work

Throughout history, the concept of “happiness” has been a topic of debate among philosophers, theologians, academics, and laypeople alike. Discussion has centered on what constitutes happiness, how it can be achieved and sustained, and how it sources and results from individual and social well-being. In current times, psychologists have entered the fray, inquiring and researching the very same points in a scientifically rigorous manner. The popularity of this quest for happiness has birthed racks of self-help literature, life coaches, and gurus such as Oprah Winfrey and Anthony Robbins – all hoping to supplement, enhance, and even cash-in on this very fundamental human pursuit. The quest is both ancient and modern, and is echoed in the words of Aristotle: “Happiness is so important, it transcends all other worldly considerations.”

At some point, and often at many points in our lives, we ask the questions: Who am I and what do I want to be (do) when I grow up? Work and career are an important means by which people manifest themselves in the world. For most of us, a large proportion of our waking hours is spent working. Because of this, it is important to an overall sense of happiness that each of us is content in what we are doing on a day-to-day basis. While some labor as a means to an end (and may or may not be happy), there are many who derive a great amount of personal fulfillment and satisfaction from their professions.

These fundamental topics of happiness, purpose, meaning, and choice are a large part of what I focus on with my clients, and were the crux of my Master's thesis at Northwestern University. The study is titled: The Quest for Happiness: An Exploration of Values, Vocational Choice, and Meaning in Life and Work. Using quantitative and qualitative survey data, I examined how those who report high and low levels of overall happiness tend to rate and rank their values, make choices with respect to work and life roles, and how they derive or assign meaning to those choices. Based on a robust sample (thanks to many of my readers for completing the survey!), the results demonstrated that there is a strong linkage between each of these factors, and that happiness and work satisfaction are directly impacted by the vocational and life choices people make.

I recently completed my Master's of Science in learning and organizational change at Northwestern, and am working on a white paper version of my findings. However, I have available three different versions of my thesis for readers:
  1. Full thesis
  2. Thesis without appendices
  3. Condensed version of thesis (omits some findings)
If you are interested in reading this immensely interesting study, please send me an email at, along with your name, email address, and which version you're interested in me sending. You may also let me know if you are interested in the white paper.

UPDATE: Thank you to all who have requested copies of this work over the years.  I am no longer sharing this, however, I am working on leveraging this and many other topics in additional writings.  If you are interested in being notified when these become available, let me know and I'll add you to my confidential list.  Thanks!

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Distinguishing Between Spirit and Soul

I just started reading a collection of passages from literature, compiled by Thomas Moore in The Education of the Heart. His intention in bringing together this information was for the purpose of showing us "how to cultivate our humanity." Within the section "The Rediscovery of the Soul," Moore introduced the discussion with his own thoughts on spirit versus soul.

I share this with you now because it sparked a paradigm shift. I have spent much of my life focused on my own spiritual evolution but am now realizing I have been neglecting aspects of my soul. I had collapsed the two concepts into one, believing the nurturing of my spirit was the same as nurturing my soul. I look forward to exploring this distinction further, and to the insights and expansion I experience as I dig deeper into my own humanity... focusing not just on the transcending of it.
"Ancient literature makes a distinction between the soul and the spirit, and this important consideration, foreign in many ways to common thinking, has been developed in creative ways by C.G. Jung and especially James Hillman. Although the issue is subtle and complicated, in general terms we can see the spirit as focused on transcending the limits of our personal, time-bound, concrete life. The spirit is fascinated by the future, wants to know the meaning of everything, and would like to stretch, if not break altogether, the laws of nature through technology or prayer. It is full of ideals and ambition, and is a necessary, rewarding, and inspiring aspect of human life.

The soul is, as Jung says, the 'archetype of life,' embedded in the details of ordinary, everyday experience. In the spirit, we try to transcend our humanity; in the soul, we try to enter our humanity fully and realize it completely. Egged on by spiritual ambition, a person might imitate the old saints and go into the desert or the forest to be cleansed and discover a high level of consciousness. Full of soul, a person might endure the highs and lows of family life, marriage, and work, motivated by a compassionate and hungry heart." (p. 12)

"...people are often confused when faced with the traditional distinction between the soul and the spirit, but distinguishing these two dimensions of experience can be helpful. We might notice, for instance, how much we are motivated by the spirit in our concentration on the future, on understanding, and on achievement. We might then see how we neglect the soul, which has complementary but very different values, such as slowness, the past, inaction, feeling, mystery, and imagination....To suggest a distinction between soul and spirit is not to advocate a separation of the two. On the contrary, it seems best to arrive at a place where in effect the two work together, as in a marriage or partnership." (p. 32)
I close with a passage on soul by Marsilio Ficino (Book of Life), excerpted from Moore's book:
"If there were only two things in the world, mind and body, but no soul, then the mind would not be involved with the body, because it is fixed and emotionless and very distant from physical life. Nor would the body have anything to do with the mind, because by itself it is inept and powerless. It is also far removed from the mind. But if soul is placed between these two, adjusted to the nature of each, then one would easily become involved with the other." (p. 15)