The Happiness Conundrum

INTRO:

“Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” ~ Jesus [Matthew 7:3-5  NASB]

I’ve been trying to get the logs out of my own eyes for years – and will probably keep working on it for the rest of my life. It’s funny how easily our perceptions are blocked [log-jammed] and muddied by emotions. Emotions are a fact of being human – and self-control of those emotions is key. I find it interesting that one of the characteristics of “love” in the Bible is “self-control” but that characteristic is seldom preached – maybe because it’s difficult to look at oneself with the critical eye of awareness. Many people seek to control others and define their happiness in that context.

I’ve read a lot of wisdom literature over the years and have found (even in my own experience) that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is fickle. Happiness is something people constantly strive for only to see it slip through their fingers like sand. So what do we do when we aren’t happy? If we are seldom happy is that a bad thing? How do we cope, or what emotion is happiness replaced with when it skips merrily on its way?

I have found that happiness is the wrong thing to focus on (contrary to what all those self-help gurus say) When we are happy we naturally relax and enjoy the moment. But once it’s gone we immediately try to re-capture, control, and try to manipulate external circumstances to get back to that happiness state. Many people, unfortunately, despair and long for past happiness (“I remember when….”). But this is the mistake.

THE DREAM:
On September 29, 2014 I woke up early from a dream I had. I wrote the dream in my journal. I thought I knew what it meant – turns out it has multiple applications (for me). Now for the dream:

In my dream I was fighting a fierce dragon. It was boastful, conniving, cruel and threatening. I only had a sword. The dragon didn’t have to move around a lot. It was so much bigger than me it just seemed to mock me as I searched for its weak point. The dragon started to yawn and I seized the moment to go for the mouth. With one eye open the beast snapped its jaws down on my sword and with iron like strength just held on. I couldn’t move that sword no matter how hard I tried. I wasn’t going to let go either because the sword was my only weapon. We were at stalemate. Neither one willing to budge. I decided that instead of pulling the sword out – an impossible task – I would try the opposite and push it further in. I pushed with all my might and with a snicker the dragon opened it’s jaws wide and I went tumbling into its mouth. With one self-satisfied gulp the beast swallowed me. Inside I could hear echoes of its satisfied, mocking laughter. It all happened so fast, and caught me by surprise. I was tumbling down its steamy, moist throat just trying to get my bearings on the long journey despairing of my loss and my situation. I came to an opening which I presumed to be the dragons stomach and expected to be digested and totally consumed. Instead I noticed in this opening, fresh air, a breeze, sunshine the sound of birds and children laughing. It was a whole other universe. Familiar yet different. I saw clear skies and saw people enjoying themselves just like the world I had come from. It was magical and different – somehow better. I just stood in wonder and amazement asking myself who had really won – the dragon or myself and its other victims?

LOST HAPPINESS:
So what do you do when happiness is gone? What is the cause of your unhappiness? What emotions replace happiness? Anger, envy, jealousy, bitterness, fear, hatred or despair? Maybe it’s a combination of these emotions. How do you deal with these darker emotions? I recently (again) have lost my happiness at work. In fact I would say I hate my job. It is not the job I was hired to do. And after some corporate restructuring things seem to have gone “haywire” and all akimbo.  I’ve dreaded going to work and have been stressed, frustrated and angry.  So I have some decisions to make. Do I look at the situation and blame management, the union, or other people for the loss of my happiness? Or, do I look at myself? Do I look at my blocked perception and try to “fix” myself instead of something I can’t possibly win against?

On November 14, 2014 I wrote in my journal:

All things come to an end. But when one thing ends another begins. Happiness never lasts forever. When happiness is gone, what replaces it? Is the thing that replaces happiness worse than the thing that displaced happiness in the first place? I’ve been fortunate to know happiness in the past. Now that happiness is gone – do I get to choose what replaces it?

Initially I interpreted the dream as: whether I am facing an enemy or adversity I will remember the dragon. Because whether I fight or surrender the outcome is the same. One life is merely changed for another. I live on either way.
And I keep a small note on my computer monitor at work now with the words “remember the dragon.” This has helped in my work situation. I can see that the dragon is my work environment. And since I’m in the belly of the beast It may not be as bad as I thought. This interpretations definitely works on one level but I came to realize some other things.

With my understanding of the dream and recent questions of happiness I started asking questions about the perceived source of my unhappiness. The questions themselves began to evolve.

Do I need to look for another job? Yes.
What will I do? At 54 I don’t even know anymore. There’s nothing I “want” to do. Nothing I need to prove anymore.
What kind of work can I do? Same as above
Can I do the job I have now? Absolutely!
Is there benefit to the job I have now? Yes, I can eat and pay bills.
What would the consequences be for taking another job with another company? Answer: most likely, based on past experience, starting at lower pay than I’m making now and eventual dis-satisfaction.
Do I need to look for another job? No

When I was in my teens, 20’s and even my 30’s I thought I could, would and wanted to change the world. Now that I’m in my mid 50’s I realize I can only change myself. Change my perceptions. It’s been a long difficult road and I’m sorry for any harm I’ve done along the way.

So, back to work. When I realized I didn’t need to look for another job the next task became – how to survive my current work situation. I remembered that happiness is fleeting. Happiness is not a requirement and need not be a benefit of doing a good job. There will always be times I hate my job. And having “processed” all this before I went to work yesterday – it changed my whole day. Work was the same, all haywire and akimbo but I had changed. I was less stressed and when things were “thrown at me” (figurative) I may have been frustrated or even angry but I quickly got over it and moved on. I stopped seeing the company, management, union, co-workers as those who were making my life miserable.  And realized they were just doing their job with their own frustrations, stress etc.   It was all ‘n all a good day which is about all I can hope for until happiness returns. Just being less stressed made such a HUGE difference. I’m not perfect so I suspect on Monday I’ll have to remind myself again about this lesson.

CONCLUSION:
While happiness seems to have escaped me and things may not be pleasant right now – the good news is, I believe that happiness, being fickle, will return. And I will enjoy it when it does. In the meantime I know that I can be less stressed, less angry, less frustrated, less fearful, less hateful and more tolerant at work. While I may have removed only a “splinter” from my own perceptions – there are plenty of logs (wrong perceptions) left for me to work on.   All by the grace of God.

Thanks for reading.  I hope it may benefit someone.


2 thoughts on “The Happiness Conundrum

  1. Avidyā… we have such a long road to travel, don’t we?!
    Sounds like you are on the right track, my friend and since you shared this beautiful video of Thich Nhat Hanh, let us keep him in out thoughts as he is in hospital, in the process of recovery.

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