Did you know? The average lifetime is made up of around 4,000 weeks…
I’ll just give you a moment or two to process that, or indeed to reach for your calculator to work out how many of them you’ve used up so far. I don’t know about you but the weeks seem to go by faster and faster each year… and that’s the scary bit.
It’s a powerful way to frame what we’re doing with our lives, isn't it? Particularly at this time of year, when we tend to become just that little bit more reflective.
I thought you might find it helpful (and mildly shocking)... and it sets up my Christmas musings rather well. Hold on to the thought as well, because I’m going off-piste for a bit, but I’ll return to this later.
My wife and I watched A Christmas Carol last night, the Disney version from a couple of years ago (not terribly important but just for the curious out there), and something struck me that I hadn’t really noticed before. Dickens had written a story about our choice to be happy or not - regardless of our circumstances.
Scrooge, the greedy businessman who in many respects seems to have so much - more money than he could want, a huge house, his own business… seems unable to find happiness (nor does he seek it as he doesn’t seem to recognise its importance), and he goes on a journey of discovery that helps him make some different choices about the path he would like to take as opposed to the one he's on.
The Ghost of Christmas Past reveals that life has dealt Scrooge a tough hand and it’s hardened him - his desire to never be poor sees him turn away from his valued relationships and positive role models and pursue only material wealth.
The remaining ghosts offer Scrooge the opportunity for a different perspective, a view of the impact he has on others lives and indeed to see where his current path will lead him if left unaltered - perhaps if he had greater empathy or awareness he might’ve got there himself... this is almost certainly what the rest of us will need to rely on!
We might be forgiven for believing that it was those early years left alone at school by his mean father that cause him to be unhappy, and maybe that’s right to an extent but we know that our life circumstances make up only around 10% of our happiness (- of course I’m referring to the whole of our lives to this point here, not just that I’ve missed out on promotion and I’m pretty flat about it). We know that 50% of what makes us happy or not is genetic… is my glass-half-full or half-empty - but the mathematicians amongst you (or those with your calculator app still open from working out how many weeks you’ve used up / got left) will have worked out that that leaves us with a whopping 40% of our happiness that is influenced by our choices and that’s where this story gets really interesting.
Then consider Bob Cratchit, a man with so little, a tough job, a tougher life and yet he seems to maintain a positive attitude and places greater value on the things that really matter - family, relationships, health and being grateful for all those things.
The impact of this wonderful gift of perspective sees Scrooge a changed man - what can possibly explain this dramatic shift in behaviour? There was no training course, there was no-one holding him to account, there was no monetary incentive to encourage this change… he simply chose to live a better life, a happier life.
The point here is that we know what makes us happier - being grateful for what we’ve got, doing things for other people, being kind and receiving kindness in return. We know how important relationships are, and to sustain relationships we need to invest in them, we need to be able to give and receive empathy. Taking time to do things that we really enjoy, that we can get lost in. And sometimes just doing stuff that represents a change, either for fun or indeed because it’ll stretch you.
“There is nothing in the world so irresistibly contagious as laughter and good humour.”
-Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
Now, this is all seeming a little like I’m becoming a life coach, and don’t worry I’m not (well not intentionally anyway), but the fact remains that none of us lives in Victorian London or faces the hardships that people like Bob Cratchit will have done. We’re a lucky lot that can actually focus on happiness (rather than surviving) and we have choices.
As an employee, I can choose my attitude, I can choose to be a better colleague, to be diligent and hard-working, to be positive about what I’m there to do, how I can help my colleagues, delight your customers (both internal and external) and fulfil the companies goals even if they aren’t entirely noble. Or I can choose to let those weeks drift by, doing something half-hearted, not stretching myself, not giving my all and for what?
As employer, we have the same choices but a few more on top - I can choose for my company to exist for more than just making money, and for us to do something more - whether that’s offering more work to people who need it (and accepting a lower dividend or shareholder return) or reinvesting in my community in other ways. I can choose to give the people that work for me what they really need to lead fulfilling lives - purpose and meaning to their work, autonomy to determine when and where they work, development paths that help them become better versions of themselves, support to do great work and a safe, friendly and trusting environment.
“Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, benevolence, were all my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!”
― Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
I think the thing that really struck me about Scrooge’s journey was that he was certainly through the vast majority of his 4,000 weeks (and I suspect that life was a lot shorter than 4,000 weeks in the mid-19th Century as well), and yet he woke up on Christmas morning and chose to lead a different kind of life… probably giving weight to the argument that it’s never too late
So, when you sit down this Christmas and reflect on this year (or your life in general) take a Scrooge moment and think about the path you’re on, how you got on it and what you’d really like the trajectory to be… Your life is likely to be about 4,000 weeks long - you control 40% of your happiness through your choices, thoughts and actions.
Whether you are currently more Scrooge than Cratchit… it’s entirely up to you how you go forward from here - make 2017 about happiness!