About two years ago, I wrote a rather philosophical post pontificating about What Do We Need to Make us Happy?. As I generally do, I placed this article on various websites for people to read and comment. On one particular site, the article generated a fair amount of interest and discussion from many people who all offered their ideas about happiness and how to achieve it, recognise it and maintain it. Much of the content lacked specifics as you might expect but generally most people thought along the same lines. Loving yourself, having the right partner, having sufficient funds to live, the right job, having kids, etc, etc. This proves exactly what I was trying to say in the article. That while there are some elements that determine happiness, it is as individual as we are.
It set me thinking. While all or a combination of the above can be seen as a recipe for happiness (which ones depend on the individual’s situation), there is an added element that is often overlooked (actually more than one) that in my opinion goes a long way to providing a basis for personal happiness, irrespective of whether you are in a relationship or not, good or bad job or to a certain extent, rich or poor. That is to see that life is truly a series of problems that need to be solved. Our issues (and ultimate unhappiness) come from either not facing them or not having the ability to recognise or face them. These problems then stack up and affect every aspect of our lives. As one of my favourite authors famously wrote :
Life is difficult..one of the greatest truths. …Most do not see this and spend most of their life moaning more or less incessantly that life should be easy. Life is a series of problems..do we want to moan about them or solve them? Discipline is the basic set of tools that we need to solve life’s problems. Without discipline, we can only solve some of life’s problems. With it, we can solve all problems.
Scott Peck was certainly onto something in his best selling book “The Road Less Traveled”. In my opinion, he truly gave us a blueprint for happiness. His basic tack is that we do not see challenges and problems as true opportunities for growth and we spend much of our time avoiding the pain that goes with such growth by employing various methods to “make ourselves happy”. Of course, some challenges are bigger than others but there are people who cannot realistically face even the smallest issue. I firmly believe that basic self-esteem can be improved by facing these challenges and proving that we can do what we tell ourselves we can’t (or won’t) or facing the consequences if those challenges can’t be met.
The first tactic we employ in the face of challenge is instant gratification. This explains everything you need to know about comfort eating, shopping, overspending, relationship-hopping, many addictions and more. The need to feel “good” in the face of challenge will drive a lot of people in this direction while they procrastinate about what to do…or in effect what not to do. Delaying gratification (facing problems and then treating ourselves) takes discipline and a strong will and very few have it. However, there needs to be a balance. Delay gratification for too long and life will be a misery!
Where this comes from is not always clear. Too loose or too tight boundaries experienced as children could be one element. However, ineffective parenting is often seen as a root cause. We often lose the ability to delay gratification after a certain age and even though some children can retrieve this ability, some never will. They never learnt (or better, were never taught) to delay gratification as children. Many over-stressed parents do not have the determination to teach problem solving or to say no to children. How many parents do you see giving in to sweets or television for an easy life?
While we are enjoying ourselves in the face of challenge, what we are truly doing is hoping that if we avoid the issue for long enough, it will either go away or someone else will take care of it. We are just shirking responsibility. However, when children grow up in a household where they are told one thing and they see their parents doing another, it is no wonder that discipline and responsibility is lacking. I remember from my own experience being told about the dangers or risks of this or that and seeing the very people warning me doing exactly that!! What a message for a child!! It teaches that you do not really need to do what you say. Many parents do not confront children for their lack of responsibility and it becomes a default method of problem solving. Why face that issue when I can do something more pleasurable for me and no-one will bring me to task about it!!??
Even if sometimes we are forced to face something, how many of us give up easily before really trying? How many of us say “it’s too hard,too painful, I can’t” ? How many of us take the time to really solve the problem before giving up and moaning and proclaiming to the heavens that “my life should be easier than this”?
Yes, Scott Peck hit the nail firmly on the head. Solve the problems that come your way, large and small, face the pain that is associated with it and we can transcend that view of “life is difficult”.