Wednesday, 4 December 2013
WHAT'S YOUR HAPPINESS EQUATION?
I suck at math. I look at a simple math problem and the numbers squiggle around the page like Chinese characters on acid. I’ve been known to stare blankly at my 9 year old’s math homework when she asks for help. I learned the hard way to hire someone to do my taxes. I don’t enter grocery store contests for fear of the “skill-testing question.”
But recently I’ve been thinking about math in a new light. I’ll never care how fast the train was travelling in the opposite direction of pi, but maybe some equations actually are relevant beyond high school.
Not long ago, I went through a stressful career moment as I contemplated applying for a significant promotion. I was a long-shot candidate but decided that going through the application process would be good for me. I’ve read all the career-coaching books that tell you to “lean in” to your career, and to “put yourself out there”. I was encouraged by colleagues to apply, as I have been courting the professional advancement track over the last little while, and seemed to have enough qualifications to not make a complete fool of myself by throwing my hat into the ring. Over the weeks of the recruitment process, as I reworked my CV and perspired over my letter of intention. I spent many hours overanalyzing what this might all mean for me. I was interested in aspects of the job, and was flattered to even be considered, despite my awareness that I was not completely qualified. But I was surprised, when I ended up spending more than a few sleepless nights and nauseous days with a stress level to rival Jack Bauer. And then I remembered something I had heard, Stress is your body is saying “No! No! No!” while your mouth is saying, “yes”. So what was going on?
I wondered if I was just scared. Scared of feeling like a failure if I didn’t get the job; scared of actually failing if I did get the job; scared of embarrassing myself; scared of change. But as I pep-talked myself about having the courage to take a risk, to plunge into the unknown, it became clear to me that this was not the source of all my angst. So what? Hadn’t I worked so hard for so many years in the hope of coming to this exact moment? Wouldn’t the extra recognition, influence and money be worth the extra stress and hours? Shouldn’t a position like this be a dream come true for someone like me? Wouldn’t it make me “soooo” happy?
I wasn’t so sure. In fact, I wasn’t sure about that at all. I wasn’t convinced this was part of my happiness equation; the constants and elements that would add up to my being happy. So then I starting wondering, what are the factors that would equal a sum of true happiness for me? If I can just figure out this one equation, could I build my life around its variables?
What makes my heart sing and my spirit feel light? What would my “happiness equation” look like?
x+y +$$+ ++⌂ +℗ + ∞ = J
(Yes, that’s a lot of money plus a really nice house plus free parking for all eternity. I have no idea what x or y equal. I never did in high school and am ready to accept that I probably never will.)
Ok, not really.
Sure, I like my job. I enjoy the mental stimulation and the overall feeling that I am in some way helping others. But I am most happy when I feel like I have some balance in my life that allows me to have the time to enjoy the things that really bring me joy, where I can connect with others in a way that seems so much more meaningful than chairing meetings or balancing the annual budget.
I decided to try to solve this proof by being mindful of my truly joyful moments:
Sitting in the backyard, listening to the birds, my computer on my lap, a cold beer beside me
Busting a gut laughing by the kitchen window with my son, trying to videotape a squirrel repeatedly falling off our trashcan.
My granddaughter’s milky smile.
Spending a Saturday morning piled on the couch with all my kids in our pajamas, debating the feasibility of Hugh Jackman starring in a musical version of Wolverine.
Hugging total strangers at a laughter yoga session in the park
Walking home after a long, discouraging day of work and turning a corner and to see the first magnolia tree of the season in glorious full pink bloom.
Watching a hilarious Tig Notaro video on YouTube and snorting out loud unexpectedly.
Eating steaming noodles out of a box.
Watching my six year old spontaneously choreograph a dance routine at the bus stop, that makes commuters slow down traffic and applaud.
Hearing kind words between strangers in the checkout line
The soft cuddle of my bed and my husband’s strong sweaty arms at the end of the day.
I knew the day of the interview that I was not getting this job. I am not what they were looking for, and I was ok with that. When they called me a couple weeks later to give me feedback on how I had done, they kindly thanked me for having come to the interview and noted that it was a good thing for me to have gone through the process. They were sure it must have sparked some reflection for me. I smiled and nodded, confirming that it certainly had. As I shook their hands and said thank-you once again for all their time and consideration, I looked at them across the table and wondered,
“So what’s your happiness equation?”