In search of things new and useful.
Outcomes, Circumstances, and Happiness
I had a profound realization this year that I’m only now reflecting on. It’s been a work in progress, but really culminated this summer when I was on vacation with my family. Every august for the last 6 or 7 years, we’ve spent a week on Martha’s Vineyard and have rented the same house every year. It’s a beautiful place, and it’s usually the highlight of the summer for us.
During the last few years, there’s always been something happening at work that has made it difficult to completely relax. A few times, I’ve been pretty engrossed with work, or had to leave mid-week to go back to Boston or NY for a meeting or to attend to something urgent. This year, I was really excited because I felt like I was able to orchestrate things such that it was going to be a pretty uneventful week. I was going to be able to unplug for a while, relax, and be happy.
But like the boy in the giving tree, I wasn’t so happy. In fact, I was a massive grump. I was irritable and rude to my family and had a hard time sleeping. One small issue came up during the week and I was annoyed and angry about it to an irrational level.
Since that week, I’ve been thinking a lot about circumstances and happiness. As a bit of a control freak, I try really hard to maintain control over my life, outcomes, and circumstances. Often, I’m pretty successful with small things, but with big things, this is a hopeless endeavor. Behind all this is the belief that controlling outcomes and circumstances for the better will bring happiness, peace, and joy.
But strangely, during that week away, when my circumstances were wonderful, I was not happy. And that has been a big wake-up call. The most peaceful and joyful people, I realize, find their peace and joy independent of their circumstances. And ironically, this allows them to be more effective at improving their circumstances because their thinking and actions are not bogged down by the weight of their frustrations. How does one achieve this? I don’t really know. But I know a lot of people are seeking it, and find help through meditation, mindfulness, faith, prayer, and other things. It’s not easy, but it’s a good thing to seek.
This is not to say that circumstances don’t matter. There are certainly circumstances that choke out the hope for joy and peace. Most of the people reading this blog are shielded from these situations, but not all. My point though isn’t that circumstances don’t matter, but that happiness can be lost even in great circumstances, and that often you have no idea that this is going on.
This is something I’m meditating on a lot as we come towards the end of this year, start thinking about advent and Christmas, and preparing for the new year ahead. I’m not really sure what circumstances are in store for me next year, but I want to be prepared to approach them in a much better way.