When we’re unhappy, it’s because we’ve asked the wrong question.
Or, as the Lazy Man’s Guide To Enlightenment says it,”What am I doing on a level of consciousness where this is real?” I really love that book and reread it regularly, though it has been quite some time since the last reading.
This is a funny time of year for a lot of people. As we get closer to the end of the year, we often find ourselves reevaluating our lives. At least, I do. I see all the ways in which I believe I am lacking. I start to think I need a better job and more money. I let myself get worked up about not being in a committed relationship and not having even any realistic prospects on the horizon. I start to wonder what’s wrong with me that I don’t have these things and how will I ever be good enough to get all the things I need to be finally happy.
But, the thing is, those are all the wrong questions.
Instead of asking myself, “Why don’t I have a better job?” The question should be “How can I make my job better?” Because, really, this year, everyone who has a job pretty much ought to be thankful for just having it. And, even under the best of circumstances, somewhere, there’s someone who thinks I have a dream job and would trade their eye teeth to do my job instead of theirs.
A couple of months ago, I was standing around listening to a group of six or eight graphic designers complain about the problems that go along with their work. They whinged about clients who insisted on “ugly” design, who had no concept of how long it took to come up with something creative that did what the designers were asked to do. They moaned about the “kids today” coming out of school who thought they could do things their way and not have to listen to what the client wanted. And, as I stood there, quietly, listening to their complaints, it occurred to me that I would love to have a job where I essentially created art, even art to someone else’s specifications, for a living. I saw their challenges and complaints as insignificant to the pleasure I thought I’d have being creative, even within strict boundaries, all day and getting paid to do it.
I thought about that incident for a bit and something remarkable occurred to me; somewhere, someone felt the same way about my job. There are days when my job is very difficult. I’m often pulled in many contradictory directions at once and I cannot possibly meet everyone’s demands on me on their time schedule. I have to prioritize and sometimes make hard, unpopular decisions about what comes first. I work hard. Sometimes, my job includes lugging PCs from one end of the building to another or working on my hands and knees under someone’s cubicle to get cables run or a PC set up. My office doubles as a server room and a storage room for equipment.
In short, it’s easy for me to get lost in the mire of the things I don’t like about the job and lose sight of all the really great things about the job. For instance, although I work hard, physically, I don’t work anywhere near as hard as the guys on our shop floor work. My life is rarely in danger, like the servicemen who hang from deep sea platforms installing our products. And, really, everyone does understand that I’m just one guy and doing the best that I can to get everything they need done and done in a timely fashion.
So, it’s not a question of what’s wrong wtih my job, but what’s right and what I can change.
So, too, it is with happiness in the rest of my life. When I find myself getting or being unhappy, it’s because I’m thinking of all the things I think I need or should have. When I get into a real funk, it’s because all I can see is what I think I lack. The worst way I do this is to compare my life to someone else. I never see the hard decisions that they made or the sacrifices they made to have the things I think I should have. I never really see the price they paid to have the things I feel I lack.
But, then again, someone, somewhere, is jealous of something I have, material or spiritual, that I take for granted, and they don’t know the price I paid to have that, either.
So, during this crazy, difficult holiday season, I need to remember to reframe the question. Instead of asking “Why don’t I have those things?”, I need to ask “Why do I have the things I do?”
Advice from your Uncle Jim:
"In God we trust. All others we polygraph."