Happiness is over-rated

“Cut the happiness crap, Tyler!”

That’s what a coworker used to holler at me when I was cheerful at the water cooler at 7:00am each work day. He said it with a smile and proclaimed he was teasing, but it stuck with me. Twenty-five years later, I think that guy was on to something.

There is a lot written about happiness these days. Amazon has 22,329 books on the subject right now. A Google search found 46 million articles, with most promising to tell us how to be happier and why we should seek happiness. I have read a few articles about happiness, and I agree with much of what is researched and written about it. However, there is something missing.

There are three perspectives overlooked in the highly publicized search for happiness millions seem to be conducting, and they are worth pondering.

  1. The expectation to be happy. If we expect to be happy all the time, we will be thrown off when life takes an unavoidable turn. The fact is, life’s journey includes some detours once in a while. People get sick, companies close down, children become teenagers. Life happens, and it’s not always full of skipping through sunflowers whistling Zippity Doo Dah. When we expect to be happy every day, we either shove the sadness deep inside to hide it or we are overwhelmed by the bad stuff and get stuck in misery.
  2. The pressure to be happy. The peer pressure to be happy causes stress and can damage relationships. When you’re struggling with one of life’s obstacles, and you turn to a friend for support, do you love it when the friend says, “You shouldn’t be disappointed by your manager leaving the company. The new one will be even better.” We don’t really enjoy someone else pressuring us to “get over it.” We all have feelings we need to grapple with, and we will do so in good time. Pressure not to feel the sadness is not helpful.
  3. The lost opportunities caused by happiness. The expectation and pressure to be happy cause us to miss out on the benefits of adversity. In our effort to be happy every minute, we are likely to take fewer risks or deny a challenge facing us. Happiness can blind us of reality and prevent us from rising above obstacles, which is unfortunate because there are few feelings better than those experienced after surmounting an obstacle or staring down a challenge. We rob ourselves of those feelings by trying to stay happy all the time.

When we deny life’s detours or go out of our way to avoid them entirely, we are telling ourselves a few things. We’re saying, “You’re not capable of overcoming that obstacle.” Or, “You’re not good enough to figure out a new way.” Or, “No one cares if you reach the destination.”

Let’s not sabotage ourselves with such negativity. Instead, let’s face the reality of all situations and let’s face challenges head-on. Look forward to the sense of accomplishment, don’t avoid it. We don’t have to “cut the happiness crap” completely. Let’s just keep it in perspective.

The new car smell of a new year

Today is the first day back to work for many people who took off last week to celebrate the holidays. Regardless of when our fiscal year begins, January offers us another opportunity for a fresh start. I started a new tradition of washing my car the first week of the new year, and it sure looks good. It smells good too.

The car wash business included a new car scent with the wash, so it engulfed me on this morning’s drive to work. The clean car inspired me to drive a little differently this morning. I drove a little slower in order to see what was coming up in case my route needed to be adjusted. I drove around puddles, which took me only a few feet out of the way each time. And, I was more mindful of other drivers who might splash on my clean car.

I wonder if we could bring that new car-inspired behavior to our work.

This year, could we stop rushing in order to improve our ability to anticipate what’s coming? Could we recognize errors, mistakes, and miscues sooner and adjust quicker? Could we stay focused on our goals (e.g. a clean car) and not let others distract or deter us?

I am going to get my car washed more often, and each time that new car aroma will remind me to keep my car clean and keep my focus sharp. While a car wash might not be the most ambitious of resolutions, those three behaviors are essential for a successful year.

Happy New Year, Everyone! Let’s make this our favorite year yet!

Goldilocks and the new year

Happy New Year Everyone!

Welcome back from the break. Some folks have said the break was too short. Others said it was too long. A few have said it was just right. The comments so far this week brought Goldilocks to mind.

Remember, Goldilocks and the three bears? One cup of oatmeal was too hot, another too cold, and finally one was just right.

As we embark on a new calendar year, let's think more like Goldilocks.

1. Let's take risks like Goldilocks did. You have to admit, it was pretty risky roaming around unfamiliar territory. But, she didn't just roam, she even tasted the food. Let's put ourselves out there a little further than in the past and be less fearful of the outcome of taking chances.

2. Let's keep trying like Goldilocks did. When the first bowl of oatmeal (what is porridge anyway?) was too hot, she tried again. When the second try didn’t meet her expectations, she tried another time. Let’s be not hesitate to try more than once. Too often, we give up after just one try; however, if we try another time or two, maybe we’ll reap greater rewards.

One example of trying over and over would be with delegation. When you task a colleague with a project and it doesn’t come back perfectly, talk it over, and try again. The next time, it will be better, so try another time. By the time the colleague has done it three times, it will probably be just right.

3. Let’s respond quickly to mistakes like Goldilocks did. At the end of the story, Goldilocks was napping in the “just right” bed when the bears returned home. The baby bear found Goldilocks in his bed and cried out, “Someone has been sleeping in my bed—and here she is!” Goldilocks heard the bear cry out, and she quickly jumped out of the bed and ran away. When we have warnings that something is not going to work out, let’s learn quickly and get out. Oh sure, I just said, let’s try and try again. But, let’s be reasonable about it. There’s a difference between cold oatmeal and a bear in your face. When something major is wrong, it’s time to see the bear and get out.

An example of this one would be when a guest speaker presents and it doesn't go as well as planned. Let's not keep trying with that person, let's move forward quickly to someone else so as not to waste our colleagues' time. Another example would be a project plan. If the plan is not helping the team be efficient, it might be time for a new plan. Or, it might even be time to cancel the project.

As you get back in the swing of work this week, I hope you enjoy seeing friends, working on cool projects, and participating in new year activities.

With so much excitement a new year brings, you might find that the start to the new year is just how Goldilocks would want it: just right.