Leo Tolstoy, in Anna Karenina, said, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
Tolstoy implied that human happiness required the same criteria to be fulfilled. But even if one of them were not, they could end up unhappy. Therefore, there were several more ways for families to be unhappy than to be happy.
Every human being seeks the same things – a sense of belonging, to be appreciated and listened to, to be treated with dignity and respect, to earn status and to realize their true potential. With social roles – those played by each one of us as teachers, managers, marketers, parents, spouses and care givers, we ought to realize that the people we serve pursue the same set of criteria in the pursuit of happiness. When our efforts keep their focus on fulfilling these criteria, we are likely to succeed. Losing this focus leads to failure, waste and unhappiness.
When we sell somebody detergent and starch, we sell them the feeling of wearing clean and crisp clothes. When we post a job, we offer somebody a means to fulfill their dreams and desires. When we teach a child, we spark her wonder for the world by developing and exercising her intelligence. When we nurse an elderly man, we acknowledge that he is worthy of dignity and respect.
We all can learn from the Anna Karenina principle to focus our efforts on what is most important to us as human beings.