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Three steps for a happy and fulfilling life

February 17, 2016

Career Tips from Conrad Pramböck, Pedersen & Partners

Many people spend their lives pursuing money, power and fame. However, the overwhelming majority of the rich, the powerful and the famous in the Western world do not seem to experience fulfillment but rather emptiness and burnout. Many of them state in interviews that for all their money they are not happy. While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being rich, powerful and respected, it is wrong to think that those who are invariably have fulfilling lives.

On the other hand, I have time and again come across people who lead happy and fulfilling lives as a result of following three simple steps. Each of them must go hand in hand with a particular feeling, because it is not only important WHAT you do but also HOW you do it.

Step one: Give

Even millions of money and the most prestigious decorations will not give you a feeling of success if you did nothing for them. Unexpected profits and honors are nice, but you will not perceive them as something you truly and rightly deserve unless they are the fruits of your labors. So the first step towards a fulfilling life is to do meaningful work.

Meaningful work is work that contributes to curing problems or satisfying needs and desires. Firefighters, for instance, fight fires, preventing them from destroying things. Physicians help the sick get healthy again. Concert pianists satisfy their audiences' desire for musical beauty and inspiration. The police address the public's need for security.

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The first step towards a fulfilling life is to do meaningful work.

In order for the world to become a better place, the value of your work must be greater than the compensation you receive for it. Let me illustrate my point: Not having to go hungry in the morning is worth far more than the cost of your breakfast cereals. In many other cases, e.g. when it comes to genetically modified corn, most sweets, TV programs or financial products, the situation is much less clear.

You cannot experience the fulfilling nature of giving unless you realize that you do something meaningful and are more than passionate about your work. Not money but enthusiasm for what you do must be your motivation. Even the simplest and lowliest of jobs, such as cleaning toilets, can be carried out with utmost passion.

If money, not genuine passion, is your motivation for doing things, you will never be able to lead a happy and fulfilling life. So the first step is to give with passion.

Step two: Take

If you always give but never get something in return, you will sooner or later be left with a feeling of emptiness and burnout. So the second step for a happy and fulfilling life is to take.

The rule of thumb is this: Take whatever you can get, as long as doing so is in the best interest of everybody involved. If people want to give you 1,000 euro in return for five minutes of your time because you have helped them so much, accept the money, provided you do not put them into a situation of distress as a result.

There are problems where money does not matter. As far as fundamental issues pertaining to life, health and happiness are concerned, for instance, many people are prepared to forgo material possessions almost entirely for their own good and that of their loved ones. A managing director of a pharmaceutical company once said: "You would be surprised how much patients are willing to pay for our drugs. We give those suffering from severe, incurable diseases an extra month of pain-free living. We do not promise to cure them; we just take their pain away. What we have seen time and again is that money is no object when it comes to improving your quality of life."

However, it is vain to take unless doing so goes hand in hand with a particular feeling: gratitude. Be grateful for everything you get, however little it is.

Always keep in mind that those who fail to appreciate the little do not deserve the big. In other words: If you fail to appreciate a cent, you do not deserve a million. If you fail to appreciate a grain of sand, you do not deserve a beach. If you fail to appreciate a grain of rice, you do not deserve a meal. If you fail to appreciate a ray of sunlight, you do not deserve a summer holiday.

Hence, the second step for a happy and fulfilling life is to take with gratitude.

Step three: Give

Because you are always more than passionate about what you do and because your work contributes to curing problems or satisfying people's needs and desires, thereby adding tremendous value to their lives, you will be given much more than you need for yourself. None of us can wear more than one pair of trousers or sleep in more than one bed at a time.

The Western world is rich and abounds in resources. There is enough to eat for everyone, and nobody would have to freeze or sleep rough. In this part of the world, satisfying the existential needs of all people is, at least on paper, only a matter of distributing resources equitably. If you are in employment and enjoy a certain level of social security, you will have far more than you need. So the question is: What should you do with all the things that are surplus to your requirements?

This is where the third step for a happy and fulfilling life comes in: You pass them on to those who need them more urgently than you do. You choose to support causes that are close to your heart: children, the elderly, the sick, the homeless, refugees, the handicapped, animal welfare, environmental protection, education initiatives or something completely different.

While during step one you give so that during step two you can take, step three is about giving not because you expect recognition, praise, money, thanks, or glory in return, but because you want to do good; you give because you are a good person.

A happy and fulfilling life

The three steps for a happy and fulfilling life are to give, to take and to give.

Through your work, which you are more than passionate about, you give something to the world. You are eternally grateful for all the wonderful things the world has to offer. You pass on everything that you do not need for yourself with a view to supporting causes that are close to your heart. And as a result of following these three steps, you not only lead a happy and fulfilling life, but you also change the world for the better.

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