Your Happiness is Voluntary

In the spirit of July 4th, the American media compared the positions of our presidential candidates on “service” last week. John McCain talks about inspiring Americans to serve “a cause greater than their self-interest,” while Barack Obama has mentioned finding “citizenship that was meaningful” by serving as a community organizer.

The business world is talking about its own citizenship these days, for example in Klaus Schwab’s article in February’s Foreign Affairs, and former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich’s book Supercapitalism. Klaus defends corporate citizenship, while Reich denies its existence with the following Aristotelian syllogism: Citizenship is for individuals. Corporations are not individuals. Therefore, corporations cannot exercise citizenship.

Such semantics feel out of place inside Intel. Like our presidential hopefuls, Intel employees are evidently interested in contributing to larger causes. According to Intel’s latest CSR report, 38% of employees volunteered in 2007 (12% above the national average), and the company set a goal of one million volunteer hours for this year’s 40th anniversary.

Does Intel encourage volunteerism to create positive press around its commitment to corporate citizenship? Perhaps, but a more likely explanation is that Intel wants its employees to be happy.

Stanford GSB professor Jennifer Aaker, who taught “Creativity & Innovation in Marketing” at Berkeley’s Haas School of Business last semester, presented research on happiness to our class, suggesting that volunteering increases (and sustains) your level of happiness more than a high salary, level of education, intelligence, or even – if you can believe it – youth and beauty.

Other happiness creators include free time, humor, and dancing. My advice is to plan some dance lessons and a visit to The Improv for your next vacation, with a volunteer project to start on your return.

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