The world is full of momentous events. Like the Discovery Voyager landing on Mars, to help determine if life ever existed on the Red Planet. Like Katie Taylor winning the Gold at London 2012, forever changing the face of women’s boxing in Ireland. Like my son Cillian climbing out of bed before noon and cutting the grass, without any money actually changing hands. But most of our life is not made up of big events; it’s more a succession of little events. And it’s those smaller events that define how happy you are. Provided, and this is the kicker, each of those steps is a micro movement towards your goal.
Lotto Winners: Have you ever played the game ‘what would I do if I won the Lotto?’ I suspect that most people have fantasized about coming into a huge chunk of change and what they would do with it. Several studies have been conducted with people who have won large amounts of money, to determine the impact it had on their lives. And the sad answer is that a huge percentage of people report that their life, pre-win, was happier than after they’d won. Why? Post-win they faced a variety of pressures – divisions within families, losing old friendships, jacking up the job and becoming bored, moving into a new area and not being accepted – and so forth. I’ve mentioned these findings a couple of times in pub conversations. The usual reaction is ‘yeah right’ (complete disbelief). Sometimes, the pushback is along class lines: “But they were probably people who were not used to handling money and just went nuts. Now, if I won a lot of money it would be a different story because…” But would it really be different?
Life’s Goals: Let’s assume that you have arrived. You have been really successful in business or your Lotto numbers eventually came up. Either way, you’ve paid the mortgage. You have a holiday villa in the South of France and a couple of investment houses in D4. Your automatic, metallic, aquamarine Jeep is parked outside your house, alongside a soft-top Cabriolet, kept polished for sunnier days. You have the newest set of golf clubs/ski’s and have just returned from a 4-day trek to Machu Picchu. Would you be happy? The short answer is probably yes. Like retail therapy, we get a momentary high from acquiring ‘things’. But when the donkey devours the carrot, the hunger is only satisfied momentarily. The medium-term answer to that ‘happiness’ question is much less certain. Turns out that we all need an amount of stress to get us out of the bunk each morning; it kick starts the engine and gets us moving. If you completely remove stress, for example, by taking away the fact that you have to ‘make a living’, you risk undermining a central purpose in your life. And a life without purpose is just that. Purposeless.
Imposed Goals: So, if you’ve already won the lotto or have made it up the mountain by stealth, you may need to impose another goal. Find a stick and reinstate that carrot 12 inches in front of your nose. Give yourself something new to chase. Does it seem nuts? Just when you should be enjoying the fruits of your labour and kicking back, why would you set new targets for yourself? Because that’s the way human psychology works. We are goal striving beings. Perhaps not everyone. Some people are happy to drift along, to coast, to live in the moment. But most of us need a defining goal, a clear purpose to aim towards and this makes a huge contribution to our sense of wellbeing and happiness. A subtlety is that it’s not just about goal attainment; we have to enjoy the journey, rather than simply focus on the destination. I have a good friend, Larry McGivern who sails out of Howth. Most Sunday’s he sails out and around Ireland’s Eye. It’s not the destination, per se, but the sailing itself which is enjoyable. In the words of the Buddha: ‘There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way’.
Stop Moaning: So, it turns out that the very things we constantly moan about (e.g. getting up every day, battling the traffic, overcoming organization politics) are the exact same things that keep us alive, positive and mentally strong. For sure we can all work on lessening the strain and changing aspects of our life which drive us bananas. But in seeking to make life easier, be careful that you don’t unplug yourself from the energy source.
Now, where did I leave that Quick Pick ticket?
PS: Marital Bliss: According to John McGlynn, the answer to marital happiness is to ‘set your expectations low’! Perhaps those expectations change over time. Here’s one for the women…
What I Want In a Man, Original List
3. Financially successful
4. A caring listener
6. In good shape
7. Dresses with style
8. Appreciates finer things
9. Full of thoughtful surprises
What I Want in a Man, Revised List (age 32)
1. Nice looking
2. Opens car doors, holds chairs
3. Has enough money
4. Listens more than talks
5. Laughs at my jokes
6. Carries bags of groceries with ease
7. Owns at least one tie
8. Appreciates a good home-cooked meal
9. Remembers birthdays and anniversaries
What I Want in a Man, Revised List (age 42)
1. Not too ugly
2. Doesn’t drive off until I’m in the car
3. Works steady – splurges on dinner out occasionally
4. Nods head when I’m talking
5. Usually remembers punch lines of jokes
6. Is in good enough shape to rearrange the furniture
7. Wears a shirt that covers his stomach
8. Knows not to buy champagne with screw-top lids
9. Shaves most weekends
What I Want in a Man, Revised List (age 52)
1. Keeps hair in nose and ears trimmed
2. Doesn’t belch or scratch in public
3. Doesn’t borrow money (too often)
4. Doesn’t nod off when I’m venting
5. Doesn’t re-tell the same joke too many times
6. Is in good enough shape to get off the couch on weekends
7. Wears matching socks and fresh underwear
8. Appreciates a good TV dinner
9. Shaves some weekends
What I Want in a Man, Revised List (age 62)
1. Doesn’t scare small children
2. Doesn’t require much money for upkeep
3. Snores lightly
4. Remembers why he’s laughing
5. Is in good enough shape to stand up by himself
6. Usually wears some clothes
7. Likes soft foods
8. Remembers where he left his teeth
9. Knows that it’s the weekend
What I Want in a Man, Revised List (age 72)
2. Doesn’t miss the toilet
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