What can I do today to make my world a better place?

by Catherine Fenwick ã 2000

Our work and relationships with each other significantly affect our level of joy. It is difficult to find happiness if we neglect either of these. In surveys which ask people about why they work, most often found at the top of the list of responses are these, personal fulfillment, recognition, affiliation, enjoyment, learning, responsibility, independence and challenge. In eleventh or twelfth place is money. Reflected in these responses is the need we all have for meaningful work, caring relationships and happiness. Most of us want our work to provide more than the money we need to pay our bills. We want to know that what we do matters. Positive feedback and the occasional pat on the back would be nice. This is not to say that money doesn't matter, efficiency of a certain type can be motivated with money, but it isn't one of the top ten motivators for most of us. Happy healthy people continue to look for meaningful activity even when they have plenty of money. Those who happily retire from paid employment get involved in volunteer work or pursue a long dreamed about creative endeavor.

A recent publication from the Canada Employment Centre stated that 80% of jobs available today are mind type jobs, 20% are jobs for people who are good with their hands. Even "hands on" jobs like food production and preparation, construction and other physical labour jobs require sophisticated technical skills. Employers in today's economy are looking for people who are creative problem solvers, who can work independently, and can get along well with other people.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist at the University of Chicago and author of Finding Flow: The Psychology of Engagement With Everyday Life, has found in his research on creativity, job satisfaction and productivity that you can't pay to get more creativity, because it's not just about money. It's about doing something that is meaningful and challenging. He writes about young creative workers, "They all love what they do. It is not the hope of achieving fame or making money that drives them; rather, it is the opportunity to do the work that they enjoy doing." He has found through his research that for some people, paying them to do things they enjoy actually reduces their interest in doing those things.

The old rules don't apply anymore. My son in law, a creative person with great people skills, works for an Internet web design company. When he started three years ago there were seven workers, today there are 75 and they are still hiring. He is now head of the creative design department. This company is humming with 75 bright young people who are creative and innovative. This is one of many examples of work in the new economy. It demonstrates the needs of workers and employers today. I can't imagine the leaders in this company standing over workers with time clocks, shouting orders, or treating the workers with disdain. These young leaders don't work with a hierarchical, authoritarian model, they do not "crack the whip" at an assembly line. The old way stifles creativity and innovation. These young enthusiasts have to be sent home at the end of the day; they are having so much fun. Even fun is defined differently in such a creative environment. This kind of fun is the thrill of "yes, we did it." This is the sheer joy of creativity. Artists, writers, musicians and creative people of all kinds know this experience. It is compelling and demanding, yet very enjoyable.

When my daughter and grandsons visit me in the summer for a few weeks, my son in law sees this as an opportunity to spend 90 hours a week immersed in his work. He is in heaven! He also understands the other side of the formula for happiness, healthy personal relationships. When his family returns, he can't wait to get home to spend precious time with the most important people in his life. He has a healthy understanding that good work and good family life, don't just happen. Work and family ife thrive on attention and joy.

What do these young people know that many of us older people didn't understand? Their perception of the world is different. They know that a good life doesn't just happen, it has to be created. They have studied enough history to know that we must make sense of our past and have dreams and visions for the future so we can create our present.

My grandparents grew up in the shadow of the great depression. They learned to distrust nature and began to believe that science and capitalism could solve most of our problems. My parents grew up with images of Hitler and Stalin, learning that they must protect themselves from such profound evil. The great Winston Churchill said, " This is our finest hour …," he was talking about war! My generation grew up with images of Martin Luther King, " I have a dream that some day…," and John F. Kennedy, "Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do…" My children grew up in the midst of a technological revolution, Internet, globalization, workplace restructuring, and loss of trust in science and capitalism. Each generation has been deeply affected by the world view in which they grew up.

What kind of a world are today's children growing up in? Will we focus on Mother Theresa, "Do only small things with great love and you will accomplish much," Nelson Mandela, "We must work together or perish," and the Dalai Lama, " Compassion and forgiveness will heal the world," or will they hear more about bombs and ethnic cleansing? We create our world. We create our future. What things do we hear? What things do we speak? We need more creative thinkers to create a better workplace and a better world. Creative thinking is non-linear, it is not limited by rigid structures and beliefs. Creativity is circular and all encompassing. Creative thinkers are driven by the opportunity to do work they love and enjoy. The motto in my son in law's office is, "pay well, pay fair, create a healthy, secure work environment in which people feel valued and let them do their best work." When our work is meaningful we don't get bored or easily distracted, we can get so involved we almost forget to eat.

The world needs more creativity and innovation. The best place to start is in our own homes, workplaces and communities. If we do not find peace and appreciation here, we cannot expect to have peace and understanding in the world. We begin by not neglecting the things that really matter, such as meaningful work and caring relationships. We can ask ourselves, "What can I do today to make my world a better place?"



Cathy Fenwick is an author, educator and workplace consultant. She develops and delivers workshops and keynotes on how to get more healthy humour into your life and your work. Her books and manuals include Healing With Humour, Telling My Sister's Story, Workscapes: Keeping spirit alive at work , Building Bridges: The heart of effective communication and Hope for people facing cancer.

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