Once a month we publish a personal or motivational story. Today I will talk about my personal experience in a highly subjective way. It is only partially scientifically backed and not a role model – just an honest story I want to share.
All of us want to be happy. Yet not all of us are equally skilled in being happy. The skills of being happy and feeling pain are formed during the first year of our life, maybe before. If our first year is painful, we will be more open to pain. If it is happy, we will be more open to happiness. Most of the people suffering from chronic pain had very painful first year of their life. Most people return to the same state of happiness (homeostasis) shortly after good or bad events in their life.
My first year of life was not a happy one. I used to be sick a lot. I was underweight when born, overweight and on a diet when 9 months long, suffering from colic and crying in-between. I remember myself as an unhappy child, and it took me a lot of effort to gain some happiness, even though Anna thinks I could and should improve in this area. To deal with the constant lack of happiness, I recruited my curiosity and imagination. I learnt anything I could put my hands on and that worked for a while until I encountered concepts of focus, prioritization and productivity.
While the concepts of productivity are very reasonable, the common advice is to focus on very few tasks that provide the best return on investment. To my amazement, when I optimized my life for the best productivity as an executive I got tired, depressed and genuinely hated my life. Eventually, all my functions started to suffer until I started to feel a total failure. In this state of total burnout I collapsed into the realization that I was striving for the wrong things: prestige, money and focus make me miserable.
Now, this realization did not surprise me. I used to practice meditation as a young men and I remembered the concepts of mindfulness. So instead of optimizing for the best return on investment I asked myself what sort of life will make me feel better? Do I prefer to be an entrepreneur and executive, or a simple engineer working on a cool project? Do I get rested from 5 stars restaurants and expensive travels, or from staying at home and cooking my dinner? So I decided to go against everything productivity has to offer and optimize my life for mindful happiness.
First of all, I threw away the idea of focus. Having one main project to work on bores me to misery. Instead, I decided to work on 3 big projects all the time. Then I gave up the idea of “sharpening the saw”: my strength gets back simply by switching from one job to another. My jobs are pretty simple and not very demanding (for me), yet they all are in the business of changing the world into a better place. This way I do not need to think about charity. And I work with great people – this way I do not get social anxiety. Granted, there are some things I did not yet include into the bigger scheme, like physical exercise which I am doing only occasionally.
How do I know that this optimization is working for me?
- First of all, I smile, joke and have fun A LOT. This is already a great indicator.
- When I go to work I WANT to start working, and when I go home I WANT to take care of the family (Anna is very busy, so garbage, laundry, dirty dishes and many other duties are not on me).
- My work AND my family are munctioning much better than they used to. Still a lot of work to be done, but the progress is visible and measurable.
- I do get tired. I am tired a lot. But I do not get burned out. I do not dream of a pension or vacation or a different life. In fact I love my life and do not envy other people [they also do not envy me, people are different].
- I follow my “guts” and not some theory written for general public. This means that my experience is personally adapted to what makes me different.
- I look at myself in the mirror with emphathy and I like the person I see. This is not a trivial task for me.
Now I am talking a lot about personalization and finding your own way, yet people always are asking me for generic recipes. What I am trying to say: people are different, and something that works for me will not neccessarily work for you. If you see that common wisdom is not working – try to be different and creative. Maybe this will work for you one way or another. Having cool toys to play with is fun, but the best things in life are cheap or free.