Can You be Happy and a Grants Professional?

From the ancient Greeks to the present, we have debated the meaning of happiness.  Today, there is a renewed interest in this subject from economists, political scientists, and psychologists.  What makes people happy, and how might grants professionals achieve a feeling of well-being inside and outside the workplace?

In answer to this question, I have three basic pieces of advice.

First, join proposal-related professional organizations.  Joining and being active professionally will expand your professional horizons and give you a greater sense of purpose.  Consider joining one or more of the following organizations:

  • Association of Fundraising Professionals (
  • Grant Professionals Association (
  • Association of Proposal Management Professionals (

Second, do not call yourself a grant writer!  Avoid this occupational description for good financial and professional reasons.  You are in fundraising or development.  Grant writing is a means to a financial or programmatic end, not an end in itself.  Calling yourself a grant writer seriously undervalues your real your skills and job responsibilities.  It only ensures that you will work in a basement at a low salary and with a low status.

And third, broaden and deepen your understanding of what it means to be happy.  Richard Laylard’s Happiness:  Lessons from a New Science (2005) is a great place to begin.  According to Laylard, we have sophisticated studies and the World Values Survey, which has measured trends in happiness levels in 24 countries since 1946.  According to the evidence, family relationships and the quality of our lives are the key factors that affect our levels of happiness and sense of well-being.

Money seems to be less important beyond the ability to provide food, shelter, and other necessities.  As Daniel Gilbert, a Harvard University psychologist and the author of the best-selling Stumbling on Happiness (2005), has pointed out, “Wealth may be measured by count­ing dollars, but utility must be measured by counting how much goodness those dollars buy. Wealth doesn’t matter; utility does.”

As income rises, dollars usually do not purchase increased pleasure. Extra income provides extra happiness for the poorest part of the population.  Extra income provides diminish­ing happiness as you get wealthier because you already are living comfortably.  People often over-estimate the utility that they will receive for their dollars and tend to be overly optimistic about its impact on their lives.

Our happi­ness is directly related to the social connec­tions we create around us.  Happiness comes from two places – from within and from our families, friends, neigh­bors, co-workers, and from engagement in our communities.  If we build social capital where we live and work, then we are likely to be happier.

Leave a Reply