Happiness as a By-Product

“Happiness is always a by-product. It is probably a matter of temperament, and for anything I know it may be glandular. But it is not something that can be demanded from life, and if you are not happy you had better stop worrying about it and see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness.”

~Robertson Davies

This quote is probably one of the best reasons I have read for not conducting a dogged pursuit of a career based on passion. I know, that sounds strange coming from me, someone who is largely guided by her passions and has been inspired by speeches such as those given by the late Randy Pausch.

But then I contrast the idea of “following your passions” with Robertson Davies’ quote, and it makes me pause. I can’t dispute what he said about no one being guaranteed a happy life; you certainly can’t insist that you be able to extract that from this life. That level of entitlement is ridiculous, and I’d have no sympathy for someone who would throw a fit because s/he didn’t get every ounce of happiness that was desired all the time. Sadly, that is what some people expect will happen when they “follow their passions.” In truth, even following one’s passions can have its pretty awful days.

The face of a bulldogAnd there’s definitely some truth to happiness being dictated by temperament. Some folks are, by nature, happier people. Even in terrible times, they’re the ones who see the silver lining, the ones who find something to laugh about, the ones who still have reasons to smile. Others, well, they just have less to complain about from time to time. Or, as my mom would say, “That person’s not happy unless she has something to complain about!”

Davies’ call for us to “see what treasures you can pluck from your own brand of unhappiness” isn’t easy, but it is necessary. To let ourselves be fully consumed by the unhappiness about a job is to give in to despair and hopelessness, which can potentially morph into depression. That doesn’t make the situation any better; it just magnifies the worst of it in your mind.

But you can still gain some perspective: give an honest analysis to everything to see what parts contain lessons that can help you improve your performance, and get to to work on applying those lessons. Perhaps that alone will change how you feel about your job; it certainly could impact how others see you and, in turn, lead to more job satisfaction.

If not, determine what comes next and what steps need to be taken to get there, using your newly developed skills to help get you to your new destination. Once you get there, keep your expectations realistic and don’t look to jump ship the moment you feel some unhappiness. You’re going to have some of that at some point no matter where you go and what you do; if you leave the moment something becomes a little uncomfortable, you’ll never discover those moments that foster growth.

Image courtesy of Andrew Roberts

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