Monday, October 13, 2008

What Will Make You Happy?

In response to aguales , who, in addition to some kind comments about my post The Risk of Transparancy, also said...

...When I get in "perfectionist mode", risk becomes all about what I can lose. It's hard to break the perfectionism habit and learn that allowing imperfection actually allows room for growth (which is the gain). Do you ever get in "perfectionist modes"? And if so, how do you deal with that? ...

The answer? I do stuff to force limitations on myself. Like now. I'm about to blog about something I was thinking about this morning, and I need to get it done in... Um... Let's give it fifteen minutes.

Ok, so I've got 15 minutes to blog about... About... What was it again? Oh yeah!...

It's about getting the most of what you want in life.

(Ok, ok, it sounds corny, but bear with me for a minute...)

What do we do in our daily existence? Really think about it. What do we feel like we have to do? We have responsibilities, leisure, family, spirituality, community/giving back, friendship, fun, work... All of these things and more. How many things do we do in out life that we really don't want to do?

For most people, a lot, probably.

Let's take work as an example. Personally, I believe that the way we earn a living should be based on something we enjoy, but that's not always reality, as some people "fall into" their jobs. Although they may not hate their work, it's not really a part of who they are or what they enjoy.

"Falling into"... That is a topic for another blog. For sure. I don't like that "falling into" unless it's talking about love. (Yet another topic.)

Ok, Lorin... back on track. Tick-tock-tiock-tock, remember??

So, if we are to get the most of what we want out of our life, we must first consider why we do the things we do. In truth, NO ONE does something that they do not get one benefit or another from. The benefit might be that you succumbing to someone's unreasonable demands, that contradicts what you want, may leave you with the feeling that the alternative (what is threatened) is worse. (If this sounds like you, please go read
The Risk of Transparancy, specifically the parts about the way risks statistically result... You might like that.)

If I have a financial responsibility... Say I own a home, I need to keep my home by paying for it. To pay for it I must have income. So if I have a job I hate (theoretically, because I would not work in a job I hate) I am working in that job by choice because I need the money. Why? Because I need the house. Why? Because living in a home is a lot better than living in a shelter.

My home makes me happy.

If I have a child who needs financial help, and I have to struggle to support that child, I may feel stress from having to work two jobs. But if the "warm and fuzzies" I get from the smile on my kiddo's face is worth it when I can gift the gift of a teddy bear, then the second job is getting me more of what I need.


Yep, that's right. Whether we are volunteering or working or helping family or scraping up dog poo...

Oh crap. Time's up.

Well, I had some freeze-ups. I'll just set it for another 15 minutes and add in whatever editing time. That's about right, right?

(Besides, 15 minutes was unrealistic to start with, right? This stuff is important!)

No matter what we are doing, (even blogging) we are getting something out of it. But here is the enlightening thing. (Well, I think it is…!)

Sometimes we do things thinking it will bring us what we want or need, when there is an easier way. Or a better way.

Remember that Teddy Bear? Say it gives me warm and fuzzies to see the smile. I could say that giving him toys makes me happy. Why? It makes him happy. But what if I found out that he was smiling to make ME happy?

What if I said first, “Son, I was going to get you a Teddy Bear, what do you think of that? If I work on Saturday I will get a check, and with it I can give you that Teddy Bear.” What if the response would be “Um, mom…? I like the Teddy Bear, but I would like it better if on Saturday we went to the public skate park instead.”

Dumb me.

Here I am thinking I’m working to make my kid happy, I’m working at this job, slaving away, and that the result will be my happiness because of his happiness, and his happiness comes in the form of something I want to buy that I think he’ll like. But that’s not reality…

What I want most is happiness. What brings me happiness? His happiness. What would make him happy? If I spend time with him at the park on Saturday instead of working.

Oh, but what if it were my older son?

“Son, I love you so much, and making you happy makes me happy. What would make you happy my love?”

“Well, mom, I love candy. Lots of it. I want candy for every meal. And although I’m not 16 yet, I really want a car to drive. I’m almost 14, so I think I’m ready. As for bedtimes, it would make me happy to stay up as late as I want, every night. And it would make me happy if you let me drop out of school to run away with the circus. I love you so much, mom, you are the best.”

Uh… Well, yeah, I want him to be happy… So am I about to thwart my own happiness by giving him some bad news?

“Wow, son… Those are some things, now! I love you very much and I AM going to make you very happy. Here’s how…

I’m not going to let you eat that candy because you will be happy when you are an adult and still have your teeth at age 40. If I let you have all the candy you want starting now, you will likely lose all your teeth at a younger age than you would otherwise.

You are almost 14 and so brave, but one day you will want to get married and have kids, and you can’t do that if you are dead. It will make me so happy to see you happily married and grow to do all the things you want to do, so I will not let you have that car just yet.

Bedtime… Hmmm… I know how you feel at school when you have to struggle to work and keep your eyes open. And if you don’t stay awake in class you will get poor grades. That will make it difficult to get into the college you decide to go to and have the career you choose. Although we don’t know what those things are just yet, letting you stay up as late as you want will certainly limit your options. I love you and seeing you have the whole world to conquer when you graduate from school will make us both happy!

Drop out of school? Well being with the circus sounds like fun, although leaving school limits your options. Instead, I will be happy to sign you up for a clown class, but I think one day you will be happy to have the option of being a professional in the circus field, instead of a pooper picker upper.

You can thank me when the time comes, son. You have made me so very happy by giving me this opportunity to bring you future joy! " :)

I can’t remember what book it was (yes I do, but it’s irrelevant) when I read “sometimes the easy way out is the right way in”. The point was that so many…

Oops… Forgot to set the timer. Hang on…

Ok. So many people work and work on something and over do it, because they believe that is the way to get what they want. You know the type. You normal people call them perfectionists, right? Yes,
Aguales, my new blogging buddy, I fall victim to the very problem you do

But when we get going on a task (you know… like the task of LIFE for instance…), we forget about what we are working toward!

Let’s go back to the example about me working in a job I hate to keep my house. (Again, I don’t , and wouldn’t, have a job I don’t like, but I am willing to consider a job I would enjoy, if anyone reading is hiring!)

If I believe that working in a job I dislike brings me happiness (ultimately, by retaining my home) then why not seek happiness straight out?

That sounded confusing, didn’t it?

What I mean is that if you are at the store and you know that you don’t enjoy cooking, what’s the point of buying every ingredient to make a home made pineapple upside down cake, if you can get it from the bakery? If it’s the cake that brings you joy, get the cake, by gosh!

Sometimes you can’t go straight to happiness. For instance, I hear jokes about “squatters’ rights” in reference to homes, but I imagine that I can’t keep it if I don’t pay for it, right?

So instead of picking up the cake pre-made, I can get a box-mix, canned pineapples and go from there.

But what does this have to do with getting the most of what we want?

The bottom line is that what we want is happiness. If making our kids happy makes us happy, it means keeping our kids happy. If we think the answer to keeping them happy is working two jobs because we think what makes them happy is lots of “stuff”, then we will do what we don’t want to do to get something we want more. We will struggle doing work we don’t enjoy (for instance) because we think giving our kiddo a teddy bear is what will put a smile on their little faces.

But do we know that??

I’ll tell you something… I have a son who turned 13 last year. He loves magic. I wanted to make him happy, so I paid out the nose to take him and his brother to Magic Island. Not a hit with the kid. He liked it enough, but what would have made him happy was if I had called up some of his buddies and said “hey, meet us at Double Dave’s pizza, but don’t tell Addison!” I could have paid half as much, and he would have been twice as happy.

But I thought the way in had to be expensive.

My mom used to buy me lots of clothes. All the time. I wanted nurturing affection. That’s what would have made me happy. I wonder if she ever thought boy, keeping Lorin happy sure is expensive! Seems like no matter how much I give her, she isn’t happy!

My ex-husband was really good about taking care of me. (Notice the “ex”?) What would have made me happy was to have an emotional bond with the person who was my husband. When we began the separation process, he was confused as to why I wasn’t happy. He had done so much for me.

When it comes to getting what we want, we have to ask ourselves, what do we want in the first place?

(Yeah, I know… Time is up again. I’m not trying to be perfect here, but I am trying to wrap it up.)

I was in a relationship some time ago, and I thought what I wanted was to be married. One day I thought, If we are to marry, that might not make me happy if he is not happy being married to me! What I wanted was a happy, long term relationship.

Same with time. If I have a person in my life that I feel close to, do I want to spend every breathing minute with him, or do I want to enjoy the time I do spend?

I have a friend who is staying married for her children. She wants her children to be happy, so she remains with a man who she is constantly fighting with, or are otherwise ignoring each other. But does she know what her child really wants? Maybe her children really want to see their parents not fighting, not “stay together”. Maybe the only way to not fight is to be apart. Maybe my friend is sacrificing her happiness for no reason. How will the mom feel if she finds out that the time she spent married so that her child could be happy, in fact caused more distress? That doing what she wants, ending the marriage, would in fact make the child have a happier existence?

I happen to be one of those kids who was the victim of an in-tact, unhappy marriage, so I have some very strong feelings about “staying for the kids”. There are several interesting studies on that
, like this one which states that when parents are unhappy, their kids become distressed and grow up to be generally unhappy people. Although, when unhappy parents become happy people through separation / divorce, unhappy kids become happier when their parents do, even if not together. The marriage of parents who are not in a loving relationship is actually proven to be detrimental to a child. Parents “staying together” is not nearly as important to a child’s happiness, as the happiness of each parent as individuals. The study goes on to say that kids who grow to be happy people are more compassionate towards others, more successful, have better relationships, have better self-esteem, and have the ability to elevate their moods more quickly. (Among a lot of other things.) Essentially, if you apply the information in the study to the “should I stay for the kids?” dilemma, staying together for the kids creates an unhappy person, but giving a child the gift of a happy parent sets them up for a successful life. For more information on the study of the clinical and all other affects of happiness on a person’s life and those around them, read THE UTILITY OF HAPPINESS by Ruut Veenhoven Published in: Social Indicators Research, 1988. (Since I was a kid with unhappy parents, like my girlfriend’s daughter above, I have some pretty strong feelings about the decision to use kids as marital glue... But I’ll leave that blog for another day. : )

So getting back to the issue of getting more of what you want out of life (yep, that’s happiness), maybe the key is to think NOT about how to get what you think will make you happy and go forward, but think about what will make you happy and go backward.

One way goes like this…“If I get a degree from a good school, I’ll get a good job that pays a lot. Having lots of money will make me happy so I’ll get a degree from a good school.” (Not the best way to approach it…)

Another way goes like this. “I want to have a career doing something creative. There’s a great trade school offering degrees in design and graphic illustration, so I will go that. In order to pay for that, I need a job. I would like a job doing something I enjoy, like writing, so I’ll look for that kind of job. When I have that kind of job, I’ll enroll and get going on my career path.”

So when we think about why we are doing things, doesn’t it make sense to stop and say “what do I hope to accomplish?”

What do I hope to accomplish?

Actually it should be the first question. (Maybe that’s how I can stay on track a little better!)

If we ask what do I hope to accomplish? We can re-evaluate our process. If I hope to accomplish making a clean area in my bathroom, it doesn’t make sense to paint the bathroom first.

If I hope to accomplish getting a job I enjoy, I need to be looking for jobs in the right fields, not at jobs which I “think I can get quickly”.

If I want to have steady income, I need to be considering employment, not scrounging for cash.

If I want my child to respect me as a parent, I need to be the authority, even if he doesn’t understand, instead of giving in to his pleading.

If I want to leave my job, I need to stop putting 150% of my effort into a job I don’t plan to keep. Instead, contribute what is necessary for the job, spending extra effort on fostering a new job.

If we want to spend more time with people who make us feel good, we need to distance ourselves from cynics and those who make use feel uptight, and move toward those we enjoy.

If we want a new relationship, we need to end the one we don’t want in order to begin one that we do.

If we want our child to trust our actions, instead of giving up on our dreams, or what we know is a good idea, we need to stand firm in the decisions we make for ourselves and them, so they will realize the positive result of our decisions.

If I want to… Want to… If I want to... Uh oh.

If I want to learn how to keep my blogging time down, I need to set a reasonable time on the timer and stick to it, instead of saying “what the heck…” when the timer flashes “Time’s up! It’s good enough!!”

(At least blogging makes me happy…! :)


  1. Hi again Lorin,

    Great post! Thought-provoking and entertaining as well! I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoy your writing and have tagged you with a blog award over at my site.

    Best wishes,
    Tanya Savko

  2. "In truth, NO ONE does something that they do not get one benefit or another from." True. Seemingly every choice we make is either to increase a perceived pleasure or to reduce a perceived pain.

    "So when we think about why we are doing things, doesn't it make sense to stop and say, 'What do I hope to accomplish?'" I do tend to forget to deeply think about this. I often get so caught up in the process of processing sensory stimuli or the abstractness of what's around me that I allow myself to run on automatic towards an undetermined goal. There's a part of me that loves to improvise at life but I agree that asking, "What do I hope to accomplish?", is critical in finding a path in life.

  3. Hello Lorin,

    Speaking of making us happy, The Envelope Please....

    Congratulations Lorin. It's an honor to get this award...and a greater honor to share it with you.

    Have a good night!

    Jeff Deutsch

  4. Also wanted to share this link in case it might interest you:


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