Sabbaticals and the Pursuit of Happiness

[singlepic=1633,200,,,right]Career breaks and sabbaticals are a great opportunity to quiet your mind and help you connect with what it is that will make you truly happy. Clive Prout uses the insights he gained from his own sabbatical to help others find their path to happiness. He shares with us what led him on the path to becoming The Sabbatical Coach and how you could benefit from using one.

One of the things that drew me to immigrate to the USA is a phrase in the Declaration of Independence.

I grew up in England, which holds its citizens as “subjects” of the monarch, with no written constitution to guarantee their rights. The idea that the purpose of government was to secure for its citizens “certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” was revolutionary. It seemed a wonderful basis on which to create a country and a new life for myself.

I moved to Menlo Park in the heart of Silicon Valley in the mid 1990s. The computer industry was in full bloom and the Internet was starting to explode. Netscape’s offices opened a couple of blocks from where I worked in Mountain View. Central to my choice to be here was the unquestioned assumption that the pursuit of happiness lay through the pursuit of wealth. I would become rich and happy – or so I thought.

What I discovered over the next two years was that the personal price I was paying for continuing to climb the corporate ladder no longer seemed worth it. I had reached a point of diminishing returns. Although it was nice to see a growing bank balance (which I have always equated with more freedom), what I was doing to earn that money was not what I would do if I were truly free. So in 1997, I left my job on what I thought would be a six-month sabbatical, in search of a more direct route to happiness. I traveled to a meditation and yoga ashram where I lived for the next seven years.

[singlepic=1635,200,,,right]During my stay in the ashram, I was immersed in a culture, philosophy and practices very different from those of the high-tech business world I had left behind. Here I learned that joy is our natural state of being when we quiet our mind (both anxieties and fantasies) long enough to notice it. I learned to start by accessing the joy and peace within me, and create my life and work from there – rather than expecting a fast paced, stressful job to somehow “earn” me happiness. Now, eight years after leaving the cloistered ashram life, my work as “The Sabbatical Coach” is to help others make their own break with their past to create work lives grounded in joy and fulfillment. And to do so as directly as possible. After all, not everyone can afford the luxury of a seven-year retreat from the working world.

To help others in their personal pursuit of happiness, I turn, somewhat paradoxically, to science. One of the advantages of science as a methodology is that science is peer reviewed within global scientific community, so when I quote a scientific expert, you can place him in the spectrum of the scientific establishment (and hence quickly gauge his credibility as an expert). It is not that I expect science and logic to convince you of the need for a change, only your heart can do that. What I do know is that reason can help reassure your mind that you are doing the right thing and spare you a lot of inner conflict.

Dr. Martin Seligman is one of the leaders in scientific research on the subject of happiness. He is a past president of the American Psychological Association, and the founder of the Positive Psychology movement.

According to Martin Seligman, there are three distinct ways to generate happiness. In order of increasing effectiveness they are:

1. A Pleasant Life: This is a life filled with pleasures. These are often things which money can buy and are usually fleeting in their happiness impact.
2. An Engaged Life: This is a life where we are so focused on some activity that we loose track of time and become totally absorbed.
3. A Meaningful Life: This is a life filled with relationships and activities which hold intrinsic meaning – they are not a means to an end. It usually involves finding our place in the world through our contribution to something bigger than us which we love.

Here is a 25-minute video of Dr. Seligman presenting these ideas at a TED conference. Take the time to watch it; you’ll save yourself a lot of time down the road.

So what does this have to do with you, as you consider taking a break from your work?

My assumption is that you are contemplating a career break/sabbatical because your work life has not generated the levels of happiness that you seek there.

[singlepic=1632,150,,,right]If my assumption about you is correct, doesn’t it make sense to devote some part of your career break/sabbatical resources (time and money) to learning about what generates success in the pursuit of happiness? If so, Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment is a great place to start.

Which of the three paths to happiness (pleasure, engagement, or meaning) will drive your choices of how you spend your time and money on your career break/sabbatical? If you intend your career break/sabbatical to be a stepping-stone to a happier life, science suggests that you choose the path of meaning.

You can do this by:

1. Finding out what you care most about; what you would be willing to devote your life to.
2. Planning your career break/sabbatical so that it includes as much of that as you can. If you have a few alternatives, try them all out and notice how spending time on each of them makes you feel.
3. Designing a structure to keep yourself exploring what has meaning for you (your values) and incorporating more of it into your life.

A life/career coach can be a very useful resource in all three of these steps. If you are serious about returning from your career break/sabbatical to work which is more fulfilling than the job you have now, consider investing in all the help you can get to make your quest more likely to succeed.

Other comments

6 Comments on "Sabbaticals and the Pursuit of Happiness"

  1. Elizabeth Pagano on Mon, 4th Jan 2010 7:14 pm 

    Great post. Clive is a tremendous example of the power of time off, and I suspect his coaching truly helps individuals realize the power.

  2. uberVU - social comments on Mon, 4th Jan 2010 7:25 pm 

    Social comments and analytics for this post…

    This post was mentioned on Twitter by rtwdave: RT @CareerBreakHQs: Planning a #careerbreak or #sabbatical 2010? A #career coach could help get you on the right path.

  3. Katherine on Tue, 5th Jan 2010 2:39 pm 

    I’d love to hear from medium- to low-income folks who have embarked on successful sabbaticals. Do these people and their experiences exist, or is the sabbatical path to happiness only available to the rich?

  4. Sherry Ott on Wed, 6th Jan 2010 3:39 pm 

    There are people from all income levels taking career breaks and traveling. It is possible. It’s a matter of choosing your locations carefully and not being in a hurry. You can travel to some parts of the world where it is super cheap to travel there; lodging, food, and transportation costs are minimal – but these places are really high on the culture quotient – which I love! I lived in SE Asia for a year making under $15000 and lived like a queen. Traveling around SE Asia is also cheap. Plus, if you aren’t in a hurry, then you can take advantage of cheaper transportation such as trains and buses.
    Plus, if you want to go around the world, then look into Around the World tickets – these normally run you less than $1700, a bargain for many stops along the way!
    Taking a career break on a fixed budget isn’t impossible, in fact, it’s very do-able.
    Here are a few links to people who I personally know that have done similar trips on a shoestring and are helping others make their dream a reality:
    No Debt World Travel –
    Information on Around the World Tickets from Hole in the Donut –
    Travel the world for less than $14k from Professional Hobo –

    And as a side note – I find that rich people typically aren’t that happy!

  5. Nick1254367 on Fri, 15th Jan 2010 2:22 am 


    interesting thoughts. I completely agree. However, I think that “happiness” is a tricky word. I had a shot at trying to define it in a more “scientific” or “objective” way, despite it being a subjective feeling:
    What is happiness?

    I would love to hear your thoughts!

    Thank you,


  6. victorian inn bed and breakfast on Wed, 3rd Feb 2010 7:10 am 

    Career break or sabbaticals are the need of every person who is just fed up and tired of the same routine of life and want some peace and relaxation in life to regain the same freshness and joy of life. It is the best thing to make you feel calm and happy. It provides a better opportunity to spare some time from hectic life and travel to some exotic place which gives you some extra energy and motivation in life to do some meaningful activity in life. It is the better way to enhance your inner skills and capabilities.

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