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Nissan 5781

Productivity vs. Happiness

As I read the Peter Principle article, I was reminded of a different but related tension. How do I balance working hard and achieving the most I can with being satisfied with my achievements and enjoying my work?

In Jewish language this is called hishtadlut (השתדלות) and sameach bechelko (שמח בחלקו). Hishtadlut means doing everything in one’s power to achieve a goal.

Sameach bechelko means being happy with one’s lot. For some, this is seen as part of a Divine plan. I prefer to connect this to another Jewish concept, hakarat hatov, the quality of appreciating and being grateful for what one has.

It seems like a contradiction. How can constantly working to achieve more sit together with staying still and appreciating what one has? Yet hidden in hishtadlut is another assumption, that doing a job well is its own reward. Even if we do not achieve what we set out to do, there is value in the effort.

Hishtadlut literally means trying and the message conveyed is about the importance of effort. Trying, as opposed to achieving, also implies that one does whatever one can and then stops. This insight can encourage us to be Smechim Bechelkenu. Once we feel we have done the best we can, we can focus on what we did and not only what we achieved. This can engender a spirit of gratitude as we accept that we are not in control of results and best to appreciate what we have done and have achieved.

Ultimately, having both in our lives will make us more effective. We can burn out when we are too focused on achievement. But working hard that is spiced with appreciating what one has done leads to activities that are successful and fulfilling.