Monday, 2 April 2012

March's Happiness

I've been re-reading Gretchen Rubin's book, The Happiness Project each month.  Her focus for March was aiming higher in her work.  Her weekly goals included

- Launch a blog
- Enjoy the fun of failure
- Ask for help
- Work smart
- Enjoy now

I might have been tempted to skip over this chapter; after all, I'm retired!  But I never saw myself doing nothing after I left work, I always intended to pursue all those varied interests for which working didn't leave me sufficient time or energy.    As it happens there is much wisdom to mine from this chapter.

She talks about how happy people perform better than unhappy ones.  It seems pretty obvious to me.   She points out that people who enjoy their work don't need to rely on the success/rewards that may or may not come at the end; they've enjoyed the journey.  However, she also talks about having changed her career from law to writing on the basis that she didn't read about lawyerly things for fun like her colleagues did; she wrote books for fun.  She says:
I love writing, reading, research, note taking, analysis, and critcism...I've always spent most of my free time reading.  I take voluminous notes for not apparently reason.  I majored in English...

In these statements she could be my twin; well, I almost majored in English.  I just couldn't see what I would do for a living other than teach.  Perhaps I should have pursued a writing career, but as it happened I found a job that I loved.  It involved giving advice to people on the phone, collection and analysis of data to solve problems, writing reports and public speaking.  I even liked meetings because I learned loads at them.  In fact, the best thing was that my work involved continuous learning and then sharing of knowledge.  So, I think I found the work that I was meant to find.  Sadly, it just wasn't quite as much fun to do here in Britain, but never mind.  I get to do many of these things in writing my blog, just about a whole bunch of different topics.  So, obviously, I'd already taken Gretchen's first step.

She talks about the seeming conflict between being one's self  and 'Fake it till you feel it', another piece of accepted wisdom.  One of her commandments is 'Be Gretchen', but another is to 'Act the way I want to feel'.  She decided that the 'Fake it till you feel it' approach is fine for changing the mood of the moment, but not for making longer term life decisions.  Gretchen quotes W.H. Auden,

"Between the ages of twenty and forty we are engaged in the process of discovering who we are, which involves learning the difference between accidental limitations which it is our duty to outgrow and the necessary limitations of our nature beyond which we cannot trespass without impunity." 

I don't want to think how many of my 56 years I spent going against my grain trying to make myself fit into a mold of a different shape.  I wish I'd read Auden long ago.  

"Enjoy the fun of failure" and "Anything worth doing is worth doing badly" are two ideas I constantly have to apply to my running and my sewing, not to mention trying other new things:  home decorating ideas, recipes, exercise classes. 

I was with a friend the other day whose first language is not English and though he speaks it exceptionally well, writing is more difficult.  I told him I had some spare time and he could ask for many more favours than he realised.  He said he wasn't used to asking for help.  I had to admit I'm not either.  That said, most of my ambitions are around developing skills for which I'm thinking classes are the way forward, so that is my plan for getting help.

When she talks about 'enjoy now' she mentions the 'arrival fallacy'.  I lived under this delusion for ages - many of us do.  We know that things will be better when we turn 16, 18 or 21; we have our own house, have a better job, the kids start school, summer comes, I get this project at work finished...  I did finally work out that whatever 'whens' arrive, the wait for 'when' is real life, how it actually is, and likely how it always will be.  If I want a different life, I have to change it or me; not wait for something outside there to happen.

Gretchen applies this to work, that people need to enjoy what they are doing while they are waiting for that promotion, that book deal, whatever.  In this respect, this is one way in which work and retirement are very different for me:  I'm not waiting for anything else to happen so I can be happier.  I'm thinking this is pretty much as good as it gets!

Do you feel that you could 'Aim Higher' in some aspect of your life?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

You know, I find that after 21 years, I'm thinking very seriously about retirement. Partly, I think I need to retire at the top of my game...but part of it is out of a recognition that I've ceased to grow very much as a teacher. As I've mentioned to you before, retirement feels like a big abyss--but I may have to take a leap to discover anything different.