by Andrea Parise
If a [wo]man empties his purse into his head, no man can take it away from him. An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest. - Benjamin Franklin
Ahh, what an astute assessment Franklin made about education! Knowledge is wonderful- it pushes us forward in life with new ideas. But how does your education make you happy? How can you apply your education to happiness and fulfillment in your life and social work career?
There are numerous books on the market that attempt to address striving toward overall happiness. Gretchen Rubin’s massively popular The Happiness Project shows us by following a year-long calendar, it is possible to increase your happiness. On the opposite spectrum, there are many books that express the idea that we are all too focused on positivity and pursuing happiness. Barbara Ehrenreich discusses this more cynical viewpoint in Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking Has Undermined America.
So, as a student or someone newly in the social work field, what are you to believe? What is the real path to balancing your life and reaching your own happiness?
Christine Carter provides us with her own provocative, easy-to-follow book to help us understand how important it is to find our way toward our own happiness. Carter herself knows how simple is it to be caught up in the day-in-day-out constant business we find ourselves in. As a sociologist, Carter studied ways to perform at one’s best but was not able to follow it herself. Finding herself at the point of exhaustion, Carter decided to focus her attention on finding her ideal situation - what she refers to as a “sweet spot.”
Carter formats her research around a goal, which takes the form of an equation:
Take Recess + Switch Autopilot On + Unshackle Yourself + Cultivate Relationships + Tolerate Some Discomfort = The Sweet Spot
In looking at this goal, it is easy to see that to achieve one’s “sweet spot,” one must exert some dedication to change. Carter stresses that it is good to create positive energy while acknowledging that things can be difficult. It is important to focus on changing the little things first.
Carter outlines her book with each of the parts of the goal equation. Each part is explained, and easy application tips are listed at the end. The first part, Take Recess, highlights the important need for us all to take time for ourselves during the day. As students or professionals, breaks allow us to have balance. Who can work all the time? Who can live with such stress? Carter cites various statistics of deaths from work stress and emphasizes a need to reflect on what will be said during one’s eulogy. Will you be remembered by your extreme work ethic or by how your life touched others?
Next, Carter focuses on learning from and creating new habits. She has an informational website that gives some advice in this area. Making schedules, including potential obstacles, is a great way to forge ahead with generating new habits. It is vital that we acknowledge our triggers and rewards to stay goal focused. These are wonderful tips for those of us who are now in professional roles, outside of college schedules.
In the third part, Carter talks about easing your burdens. The main way to do this is through prioritizing. Carter recommends focusing on five priorities and learning to say "no" to those that do not fit. This section truly helps you concentrate your attention to what really matters to you.
Engaging with real-life social contacts is the subject of the next part. It may sound like common sense to us - social workers have the word social in their title - but we are all living in the 21st Century’s age of technology. It is so easy to be tied in to some form of electronic media during our days. Does that make us truly present? Resisting the urge to use electronic devices is extremely important. Such devices are not beneficial to real relationships; they are distractions that only give us a short-term dopamine “high.” As busy students and professionals, it is hard for us to make time for real-life interactions. Actually scheduling time for such interactions helps us to be thankful for those relationships.
The final step concludes with something we have all learned in our social work studies - learning to be comfortable with being uncomfortable. To achieve this, one must pair devotion along with true focus. Often, there is something or someone around us who nurtures our development. Generally, it is a person who becomes our mentor, someone who lets us know it is all right to make mistakes. We then learn that failure happens to allow us to master greater achievements. For many of us, such a mentor comes in the role of professors or colleagues who teach us that we must remember to rest, steadily work toward our goals, and recognize some goals are not worth all of our efforts.
Carter concludes her goal tutorial by addressing fears and then citing ways to turn them into bravery. It is always easy to self-criticize, but we need to focus on giving ourselves positive feedback to allow for constant growth. As final words of wisdom, Carter states that “In the end, finding our groove is about finding meaning - our purpose, value, and impact - in what we do.” So, as Franklin said, we have gained wisdom that is ours. Now we can bring that wisdom together with our life’s meaning to find our ideal sense of happiness.
As students and professionals, it is far too easy for us to get wrapped up in the daily grind, not realizing how it all is affecting us and those around us. Even if you cannot make time to read this book, Carter’s website offers daily comments on how to help focus your goal toward finding a rewarding existence. With its poignant insight and immediate application, The Sweet Spot is sure to find a welcome audience.
Reviewed by Andrea Parise, LSW. Andrea completed her BS in sociology and BSW at Carlow University. She received her MSW in Community Organizing/Social Administration from the University of Pittsburgh.