I’ve been thinking about job satisfaction and general happiness. It’s like the chicken and the egg. Which comes first? Seems logical that a satisfying career would be a major factor in one’s overall contentment. But some experts say it’s the other way around – that the key to job happiness is being happy in general, and that you don’t have to find fulfillment at work in order to be content in life.
It’s a moot point for me, because I’ve always had jobs I enjoy. And I’ve always enjoyed life in general. I’m one of those rose-colored-glasses-wearing, sunny-side-of-the-street kind of folks who annoy the heck out of other folks like my late husband, Barry. He used to joke that my eternal optimism was a mental illness, that normal people just aren’t that happy all the time, especially while on the job.
But then, as I used to tell Barry, my work life is far from normal. I’m fortunate to be able to do what I love and love what I do. Besides radio broadcasting, storytelling, acting and writing, I have a wonderful day job. For 15 years, I’ve worked for Kaunoa Senior Services, a division of the County of Maui’s Department of Housing and Human Concerns. Far from being a stereotypical cog in the grinding wheels of bureaucracy, Kaunoa is an efficient, enlightened agency with an admirable mission: to continuously create special and exceptional experiences and opportunities to make the retirement years of Maui’s seniors feel like the best years of their lives.
Last week, my diverse career tracks converged at the Kihei Community Center, where I emceed a Health and Safety Fair hosted by Kaunoa’s Congregate Nutrition Program. More than 150 seniors, from as far away as Hana, enjoyed activities and displays provided by Kaunoa and partner agencies, including the Maui Fire Department, Civil Defense, Maui Electric, Hui No Ke Ola Pono, Maui County Office on Aging, and many more.
A highlight of the day was the awarding of a $20,000 check from the A&B Foundation to Kaunoa’s Nutrition Program. In presenting the check to Mayor Alan Arakawa, A&B Properties Vice President Grant Chun noted that his company is an enthusiastic supporter of the program, partly because so many A&B retirees are served by Kaunoa. In fact, A&B has contributed a total of $750,000 over the past 35 years. That’s a lot of lunches.
A few of those retirees were at the Health Fair. Talking with them reminded me of another recurring argument – I mean, discussion – that Barry and I used to have. Come to think of it, I had this . . . discussion with my first husband too. And the second. Yes, I’ve had three husbands and they all had the same opinion on this subject. I call it the plantation mentality duality.
My husbands came from the Midwest, the West Coast and the deep South to adopt Maui as their home. While each felt blessed to have found his way here, they also found a good deal of frustration and bewilderment over our way of life. To them, our acceptance of cane burning was an example of misplaced loyalty. “Plantation mentality.” They would spit out the words with contempt.
My reply was always the same. “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” And then we’d have the same old discussion which never ended well. And the cane burning continued anyway, regardless of their concerns and convictions.
One husband maintained that cane fires were hazardous to his respiratory health. One believed that the fires were part of an elaborate conspiracy to keep an unbalanced class structure in place. One just enjoyed disagreeing with me. None of them could understand my complacency. Barry, especially, would get frustrated over what he perceived as acceptance of an unacceptable situation. Plantation mentality.
Plantation mentality, to me, means camaraderie and community above all else. I grew up in a Maui Pine family, with strong ties to Haliimaile. Sugar or pineapple, the plantation camps and villages housed folks with old-fashioned values like hard, honest work and cooperation for the greater good.
Talking with the retirees last week, I found that very few had had a “dream career” or even a job they actually enjoyed. Yet every one of them spoke fondly of their work years, grateful for whatever opportunities were afforded them. They shared their cultures with each other and created a rich community in which to raise their families. They found reasons and ways to enjoy life, even in the toughest of times. Granted, it was a simpler era, before we had experts in the science of happiness to tell us whether we really are happy, job-wise or otherwise. But having worked with seniors for as long as I have, I’ll take experience over academic analysis any day.
Does that make me a chicken or an egg?