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Newsletter: It’s Harder to be Unhappy

Apr 1, 2010 6:48:00 AM / by Tim McCarthy

Once we see the truth as it is, we can still view things optimistically and our plans gain more traction by doing so. [more]

How do I know?

I’ve worked very hard to be unhappy.

I seem to always be in search of what I don’t have but feel I need. And then, once I get what I need, I concentrate on the next thing I don’t have.

It’s been a vicious cycle in my life.

That thought occurred to me recently in the strangest place – Las Vegas.

For background, Las Vegas is one of my least favorite places in the world. I joke that a video of Las Vegas is all Osama Bin Laden would produce as his defense. He’d show the tape and say, “Does anyone wonder why I hate them?”

I’m hardly a prude. I just feel that Las Vegas brings out the worst in us.

And so, attending a conference there and having just witnesses a transaction between a bunch of drunks and a prostitute, I was grumbling my way to a café when I was struck by the strong aroma of flowers. I looked around and realized I was in a garden of fresh flowers – thousands of them in an atrium in the Bellagio Hotel.

I set aside my grumbling and spent 30 minutes taking in the lovely sights and smells of these flowers and thinking, “It’s funny. I’ve walked to this café for three mornings now and this is the first time I’ve noticed this garden.”

In those 30 minutes I realized how much harder it was for me to grumble, as I had been, than to simply take a timeout to enjoy what was there for me all along.

A friend likes to say that there are two kinds of people: those who can only see what they don’t have and those who instead can see what they do have. And she suggests that it is not only less satisfying to chase what you don’t have, it is also more difficult.

Rather than wax philosophical, here’s a specific demonstration of what I mean – first in living and second in business. I live in a small town named Ashtabula. It’s in Ohio, tucked into the northeast corner on Lake Erie near Pennsylvania. I live here because I spent a happy childhood here and wanted to live in a peaceful small town in my life’s last chapter.

There are two equally honest ways to view Ashtabula.

What is considered the realistic and therefore more intelligent view is:

  • Our population and tax base are dwindling
  • As a result, the brain drain here is real – we’re losing many good people who leave in search of better opportunities
  • As with so many struggling areas, our government and politics are at best uneven and at worst psychoticAll these things are true, but if I focus on them, it is harder to be happy.

So, I work to take another view, also real but with an emphasis on what we have:

  • Our physical gifts include Lake Erie for beaches and water sports, historic covered bridges and a budding wine industry for entertainment
  • Our human gifts remain the solid Midwestern stock that was here when I grew up and will be here long after I’m gone

Which point of view is truer?

Which is easier?

In business, I recall the day many years ago that our CEO Pat White came into my office to tell me that Goodyear, who’d taken their multi-million account from us only months before, had called to offer us a small project.

I said, “Are you kidding me? Tell them where they can put their small project!”

Pat responded by saying, “Tim, don’t you think we ought to just take the work so that we can keep our nose under the teepee?”

My way was harder now that I look back on it. I was cutting off my nose to spite my face, as the old saying goes.

And Pat’s view was not only the right answer; it was also the easier one.

We did their small project easily and happily and less than a year later, Goodyear returned with even more business that we originally did with them.

Of course, I was still off in the corner grumbling, denying Goodyear my presence, when the news came in.

So what is our choice – in business and in life?

One of President Lincoln’s most famous quotes is: “In the end, I believe people are just about as happy as they decide to be.”

I’m learning to decide to be happy because it’s not only more fun… it’s easier.

Tags: Newsletter, Gratitude, Happiness, Life

Tim McCarthy

Written by Tim McCarthy

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