Successful does not equal happy

I was raised to believe in accomplishment.  Success was supposed to be tantamount to life itself.  I sincerely believed that if I was successful, I would be happy, but I have recently started realizing that I’ve actually been missing out on “happy” because I was so focused on “successful.”  After watching the movie”Happy” (or maybe a little before that) I started questioning the purpose of what I do in my professional life and whether it will actually ever lead to happiness.

After relocating with my job back in March, the joy I used to think the job brought me had been replaced with constant doubt, despair and general unhappiness.  When I talked about this feeling of hopelessness in group, one of the other girls asked what it was that I had loved about my job before moving and as I tried to verbalize those feelings I realized that the things I had enjoyed didn’t have that much to do with the job itself.  In my previous position, there were more opportunities for human connection.  Talking to people, putting a smile on a strangers face with a giveaway and relationships I had developed with coworkers, partners and clients.  I also felt like I was more in control of my work, which made me feel like I was successful.  In retrospect, this wasn’t actually making me happy, but it filled the success requirement that was needed to get to happy… someday.  It sounds a little convoluted in writing, but I felt content, because I thought I was headed in the right direction.  I was doing what I was supposed to be doing.

It started bothering me, in the grand scheme of things, that I am not leaving the world in a better place than I found it.  I don’t have a legacy.  A handful of people will make more money, the more successful I am at what I do, but anybody can do that for them, so I am completely replaceable.  The entire purpose of the service industry I support, is to make it easier for misguided people like myself to spend more time climbing this imaginary ladder towards some promise of happiness, rather than wasting precious time on mundane daily tasks like preparing a meal.  It’s the American Dream, really, but as I start peeling back the layers, I’m wondering why.  Have we just not realized that this promise of future happiness is a lie?

It seems, recently the internet (and the universe in general) has had a way of delivering the message I need until I’m actually ready to hear it.  A few days ago, one of my most favorite websites/Facebook pages, Humans of New York (which is the epitome of human connection), posted this picture, which describes my situation to a T:

When I was 20, I made a plan to get a good job and be secure. Now I’m 35 and I need a plan to be happy.

The second story the internet delivered on the subject really hits the nail on the head about that promise.  It’s a story about enough.  Realizing what you are working towards might be the same as what you already have.  I am going to paraphrase, but here is a link to a more literal translation and some commentary of the original story by Heinrich Böll.

Anecdote about the lowering of productivity (roughly translated, original title: Anekdote zur Senkung der Arbeitsmoral)

In a small fishing village on the western coast of Europe a smartly-dressed, enterprising tourist has stopped to take pictures of an idyllic scene involving the beautiful sea and sky, a black fishing boat and a sleeping fisherman in a red cap.  Woken by the sound of the camera clicks, the fisherman and tourist engage in conversation.

The tourist, who had heard that the weather is favorable for fishing, cannot understand why the shabbily dressed fisherman refuses to take advantage of the opportunity.  The fisherman explains that he has already been out to sea and has caught enough for the next several days.

The concerned tourist explains that if the fisherman stays out longer, to catch more fish, he would be able to buy a motor for his boat and with the increase in productivity would be able to buy a second and third boat over the next year or two.  The tourist continues that, one day, the fisherman could build a cold storage plant, a pickling factory, restaurants, and eventually export directly without a middleman and so on.

“What then?” asks the fisherman.

The tourist, who is so excited about his marvelous plan and saddened to the depth of his heart that the fisherman is not understanding this amazing opportunity, says “Then, you may relax here in the harbor with your mind at ease, doze in the sunshine and look out on the magnificent sea.”

“But that’s what I’m doing now,” says the fisherman.

The tourist walked away lost in thought.  He used to think he worked, so that, one day, he would not need to work anymore and could enjoy the results of his working years.  Suddenly the pity he had felt for the fisherman in shabby clothes was replaced with a little envy.

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