Wednesday, December 09, 2009

The Benefits of Unhappiness

Last week I hosted an important customer visit for the entire week. This extended visit allowed me to get to know my customers well and to also chat with them about non-business issues. One day, one of my visitors told me how a few years ago he had to do a biopsy to rule-out the possibility of lymphoma. Happily, the biopsy came back negative, but for the few days he was waiting for the results, my customer was understandably freaking out. This experience changed his world view, at least for a little while. He realized that every day he was able to get out of bed was a gift to be cherished. However, after a while this new found perspective wore-off and he reverted his old, stressed and busy self.

So what?

Humans can't go-around being thankful and happy all the time. That's contrary to our basic nature. It's not a bad thing. In fact, I would argue that it's a pretty good thing. You can't go about your daily business, constantly being aware of your mortality and of your fragility. That way lies madness and depression. What makes us function as humans is our ability to ignore the inevitable. What makes us better as a society (and as a species) is the fact that we refuse to be happy with what we have. We must have more. It is in our nature to strive.

If we were all happy with what we have, we would all still be living in caves, subsisting off of random berries and spearing antelopes for dinner. Hey, I like living in a house. In fact, I like my own house, but that doesn't mean that I don't want a bigger and better one. I enjoy my work, but that doesn't mean that I will be satisfied with it forever. I am happy with who I am and what I have learned over the years, but that doesn't stop me from wishing for more knowledge and more learning. What's wrong with that?

Of course, as in everything else, moderation is needed. Being constantly thankful that you are not dying of cancer will make you a very strange person. Constantly obsessing that you don't make enough money will make you a very unhappy (and probably unpleasant) person. A moderate level of dissatisfaction is a good thing. It has many names, two of which are ambition and aspiration.

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Rob Bennett said...

A moderate level of dissatisfaction is a good thing.

Yes. What we need is a desire to accomplish as much as possible with our time on this planet combined with an appreciation that it all doesn't really add up to much in any event.

A belief in God comes in handy in this regard. If you believe in a next life that last into eternity, then whether you achieve financial success in this one or not is a pretty darn trivial matter. On the other hand, that frees you up to take chances to achieve great things. When failure doesn't matter, you can do what it often takes to achieve success.

Dylan said: "There's no success like failure and failure is no success at all."


Shadox said...

What about the rest of us who prefer to think that this life counts for something?

I am an atheist and proud of it.

If this life means something, you have to make it count... :-)

Edwin said...

Stress is just like being able to feel pain. It's a healthy thing being able to feel stressed when something isn't going your way but a, just like its a good thing when you feel a severe pain in your leg (how else would you know that it's broken?).

A belief in a god is surely a way to counteract this nature of ours. After all, how many imprisoned criminals tend to get religious when they have nothing more to live for? But I prefer my lack of belief and the desire to not only achieve but also sometimes to feel stress from situations.

rob Bennett said...

I am an atheist and proud of it.

Now a lot of the puzzle pieces are beginning to fall into place....

I'm joking around, Shadox. I understand what you are saying.


Shadox said...


Too many of us hide their lack-of-belief for fear of persecution...

I say, to each his own. If you want to believe in god (or gods) it's your business. I am a happy non-believer.