Wednesday, April 14, 2010
Analogy of the Month
America is founded upon the entitlement of its citizens to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But what is this happiness that we're supposed to be pursuing, and what measures do we take in this illustrious pursuit? And who are we ultimately trying to make happy - ourselves, or those whose opinions we value and whose approval we seek? The concept of happiness itself is both abstract, in that it means something different to everybody, and paradoxical, in that the more we strive to attain happiness, the less happy we often are.
Take a look at the everyday behavior of people and you'll notice that we bust our asses at a lot of things just so we can reach a level of acceptability - not greatness, not some kind of legendary status, but just plain acceptability. You see us get up every morning and sit in traffic like sperm cells on our way to work, only to repeat the action that night on the way home. You see people working out 5 times a week just so they can be attractive enough to avoid immediate rejection from the opposite sex. You see us throw a Prince Fielder-sized percentage of our earnings to the wind so we can have a decent place to live and a decent car to drive. Why all of this? Because we want. to. fit. in. The human race, especially in America, is constantly running on a hamster wheel, thus giving us the Analogy of the Month, the "Hamster Wheel of Happiness." You break your balls day in and day out, week in and week out, month in and month out, just for the expectations to periodically reset themselves and force us to start over.
The general concept of happiness is that it's some sort of nirvana or utopia we're supposed to ultimately reach. So we work harder, put in more hours, put in more sweat, make an extra sacrifice or two, all in hopes that one day life will become like the bonus round at the end of the route in the old Nintendo game Paperboy. On this, look no further than Al Czervik for the appropriate wisdom - "if you keep busting your hump 16, 20 hours a day, you'll end up with a 60 million dollar funeral!"
The Hamster Wheel of Happiness is a damning course. People get on it with the best of intentions, and more often than not the chase for happiness itself becomes the very thing that beats them into a downtrodden state of self-defeat. To quote Denis Leary, happiness comes in small doses (go to the 2:20 mark of the video to be enlightened). There is no utopia. The Wizard at the end of the yellow brick road doesn't know shit. It's not about finding the dream job, it's just about finding a job you kind of like. Even the so-called "perfect job" will have its bad days and the even supposedly perfect couples will fight from time to time. Take enjoyment in the small things or else be eaten alive by the quest for the big things.
The fine line is this: assign some intrinsic value to your undertakings, or eventually you'll burn out or lose your mind. If you constantly work out in order to be in shape and be attractive by modern Western standards, then you'd better get some actual enjoyment and satisfaction out of it or you're ultimately wasting your time. That's why all the "I want a good beach body" people disappear from the gym after a month. At some point, it's got to be about the feeling you get from benching twice your weight or finishing that marathon that keeps you coming back. The same principle applies to your occupation - if there's a sense that you're making the most of your skills and providing more value than the Average Joe, then you can avoid entering Office Space mode.
Of course, this whole "Hamster Wheel" stuff isn't all bad. We all have our own hamster wheels that we run on, and when approached in the right manner, our neverending plights can be the formula for success. I've been doing an inordinate amount of quoting in this post already, but this one is too good to pass up. From Andrew Grove, former CEO of Intel, via our pal Ryan's Facebook profile: “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.” What I like about that quote so much is that Grove says it's OK to run on a hamster wheel. Those who never lull themselves into a sense of security will always be on their toes. Attack life as as series of small challenges and small rewards, and you'll gain the perspective to see the big picture.