Will “Getting Ahead” Bring You Happiness?
TODAY’S business and social world is very competitive. As some say, ‘It’s a rat race.’ Generally there is a struggle for promotion, either for more money or for more power. Status is eagerly sought. Does it bring happiness?
Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull, in their book The Peter Principle, make the observation that, in every organization having a pyramidal structure (with the top job or jobs at the apex), there is generally a desire on the part of everyone to get a higher position. The more important the title the higher the status. But, the book’s authors say, the result is that everyone tends eventually to reach his level of incompetence. A person may be very competent in a lesser job, but the organization tends to promote such persons until they reach a job they cannot handle.
The book gives several half-humorous but realistic illustrations, one of which is:
“E. Tinker was exceptionally zealous and intelligent as an apprentice at G. Reece Auto Repair, Inc., and soon rose to journeyman mechanic. In this job he showed outstanding ability in diagnosing obscure faults, and endless patience in correcting them. He was promoted to foreman of the repair shop.
“But here his love of things mechanical and his perfectionism become liabilities. He will undertake any job that he thinks looks interesting, no matter how busy the shop may be. ‘We’ll work it in somehow,’ he says. . . .
“He meddles constantly. He is seldom to be found at his desk. He is usually up to his elbows in a dismantled motor and while the man who should be doing the work stands watching, other workmen sit around waiting to be assigned new tasks. As a result the shop is always overcrowded with work, always in a muddle, and delivery times are often missed. Tinker . . . was a competent mechanic, but is now an incompetent foreman.”
The condition of executives or employees who have reached their level of incompetence is classified by Mr. Peter as “the Final Placement Syndrome.” Frustrated by their incompetence, whether they realize the cause or not, they often develop ulcers, high blood pressure and numerous other physical problems, and even strange mental aberrations. Their superiors are often unwilling to “lose face” by demoting them, so they remain in their uncomfortable position for an indefinite time. Such persons have status among those who are not aware of their incompetence, but are they happy?
This situation is not new. King Solomon, the wisest king of ancient times, observed the occupations and aspirations of mankind. He concluded: “I myself have seen all the hard work and all the proficiency in work, that it means the rivalry [or, envy] of one toward another; this also is vanity and a striving after the wind.”—Eccl. 4:4.
About rivalry, Solomon had more to say in the book of Proverbs. He said: “A calm heart is the life of the fleshly organism, but jealousy [or, rivalry] is rottenness to the bones.” (Prov. 14:30) This explains the ulcers and other forms of actual physical sickness that come to those who join in the envious, rival spirit of constantly seeking higher status.
Of course, it is not wrong to seek to do one’s best, and to do everything in a wholehearted way—to “reach out,” as it were, to do better work and achieve greater accomplishment, within one’s ability. But the Bible gives us the goal to aim at, rather than riches or status. It counsels: “Whatever you are doing, work at it whole-souled as to Jehovah [God], and not to men, for you know that it is from Jehovah you will receive the due reward.” (Col. 3:23, 24) The true reward, which includes peace of mind and contentment, is better than status with worry.
Jesus Christ warned against status seeking when he said:
“When you are invited by someone to a marriage feast, do not lie down [recline at the meal table] in the most prominent place. Perhaps someone more distinguished than you may at the time have been invited by him, and he that invited you and him will come and say to you, ‘Let this man have the place.’ And then you will start off with shame to occupy the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and recline in the lowest place, that when the man that has invited you comes he will say to you, ‘Friend, go on up higher.’ Then you will have honor in front of all your fellow guests.”—Luke 14:8-10.
Just as it is with status, so also with riches. The outcome to the one who makes riches his goal is described by the apostle Paul. He wrote to his co-worker Timothy: “Those who are determined to be rich fall into temptation and a snare and many senseless and hurtful desires, which plunge men into destruction and ruin. For the love of money is a root of all sorts of injurious things, and by reaching out for this love some have been led astray from the faith and have stabbed themselves all over with many pains.” (1 Tim. 6:9, 10) These pains may be physical, mental or spiritual, and can cause great unhappiness and loss of the really important things in living.
On the other hand, Jesus did not say that people should not have money or enjoy some of the fine material things of life. He was no ascetic or recluse. He ate at the homes of people, some of them rich people, who invited him to meals and to marriage feasts. He had a mantle that the soldiers who nailed him to the stake thought valuable enough to divide among four of them, and a one-piece garment that they did not want to ruin by dividing, but for which they cast lots. (Luke 5:27-29; 19:1-6; John 2:1-10; 19:23, 24) Of course, Jesus found critics because he enjoyed these good things. He answered them:
“John [the Baptizer] came neither eating nor drinking, yet people say, ‘He has a demon’; the Son of man did come eating and drinking, still people say, ‘Look! A man gluttonous and given to drinking wine, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ All the same, wisdom is proved righteous by its works.” (Matt. 11:18, 19) Jesus’ balance in the matter and his works demonstrated that he was not seeking riches or status. The fact was that his opponents were seekers of these things and judged him according to their corrupt viewpoint.
So no one should find fault with another who has or makes money. It is his own affair. Neither should his position or wealth be envied by others. And if the person is not dishonest and if he controls his wealth instead of letting his wealth control him, he can be content. Such a person will help others with what he has. In fact, the apostle Paul recommends for people that they should not be unconcerned or aimless, but should have self-respect and a purpose in life. He said that Christians ‘by working with quietness should eat food that they themselves earn,’ and that a person should “do hard work, doing with his hands what is good work, that he may have something to distribute to someone in need.”—2 Thess. 3:12; Eph. 4:28.
By learning and applying the wise principles of the Bible, which are the words of the Creator, who knows human nature thoroughly, one can find great gain in the form of contentment and can avoid the many ‘stab wounds’ received by the seeker of riches and status.—1 Tim. 6:6, 10.