Opportunities for happiness can be found in the short or long stretches of time that make up the waking hours of our days. A day contains 1440 minutes. In my book, The Pursuit of the Personal Renaissance Experience, I describe how I was compelled to examine what was going on in two, 2-minute segments of my daily life that had suddenly transitioned from boring and painful to engaging and joyful. Before this change, I had tolerated these relatively brief periods of suffering to go on for several years.
But why would I or anyone else allow that to happen?
It is easy to understand to if you look back at the evolution of our culture. Over thousands of years we, the members of the genus Homo sapiens, have created many tools in order to increase the efficiency with which we extract from our surroundings the critical elements that support our basic mission as living entities: the preservation of our DNA through time which is the closest we can get to achieving physical immortality. These tools include the systems we operate in the course of our work activities. So, at some point before we start any kind of job or profession, we are essentially handed a “manual” which tells us how to perform that particular job. The manual, which could be written or virtual, will vary in length according to the complexity of the work we perform.
The implication for us is that, if we follow the instructions in our manual, we will deliver good results and always be rewarded with the money that is required to support our pursuits of physical immortality. Of course, this involves using the money to feed and protect ourselves and those close to us, and increase the chances that our progeny will be able to do the same thing for their progeny, and so on. It just so happens that, in most cases, our jobs can usually generate enough extra money to allow us the indulgences (hobbies, entertainment, fancier and more expensive homes, clothes, cars, etc.) that all we all seek as well.
The security afforded by the “manual” creates an issue. We can take the time we spend in our jobs for granted.I know I have done so in the past and even now will occasionally slip back into that mind set. A nurse anesthetist I work with told me recently that she often feels that the best time of the day is when the work day is over because her job is so “cookie cutter”, that is it gets boring for her. Mind you she is one of the best anesthetists that I have ever worked with. I would trust her to put any of my loved ones to sleep for a medical procedure. For her, the best moment of the day is its end because she can take the reward for the time she spends working and support her domestic life and pursue a hobby for which she has a great deal of passion. I do not think this kind of thinking is unusual. If the work becomes only meaningful to us because of the reward at the end of the pay period, the process of the performing it begins to lose meaning. And that can lead to boredom or actual suffering at work. The suffering itself becomes bearable in situations where others close to us are dependent on the money earned. But in each case the time at work becomes more painful. It becomes a the “existential void” described by Viktor Frankel and discussed in my book.
The way to reverse this begins with an examination of what processes we are in control of at work and then bring in new ideas with the goal making us better operators of those processes. The reason for this will be discussed in the next blog. The end result is the restoration of intrinsic meaning to the execution of those work roles and once that happens the existential voids disappear.