Monday, October 19, 2009

We Can Worry About That Later

As I've been in the middle of purchasing a house, my life has been extremely hectic. The past several weeks have been filled with housing inspections, mortgage application, reviewing and signing legal documents. And naturally every detail has someone who wants to renegotiate it. After closing, we'll still have painting, moving, decoration, and furniture purchases to handle. My life is really stressful.

A few days ago my wife and I were reviewing the upcoming task list and for one item I mentioned, "we can worry about that later". I then realized I use that phrase an awful lot, and to me it means "we can handle that later". In other words, to me worrying is synonymous with work. Put negatively, I don't stop worrying until the work has been completed.

It was an excellent moment of self reflection. I simultaneously realized why I'm so driven, intense, productive, and stressed. This life attitude has its benefits, but it's certainly not healthy in the long term. A few weeks ago I wrote about how the secret of a successful marriage is reducing stress. Perhaps it's better to say:

The secret of happiness is reducing stress.

After all, what else is stress but discontent about the possible future? It's a tricky balance though. If you live life in the future, you'll solve all these potential problems but always be tense as a result, never enjoying the present. If you live in the present you'll enjoy it only until something happens that you should have dealt with. How do you focus on the present while building your future? Personally, I feel like I don't balance these constraints very well.

So I've been thinking about different ways to manage stress. Some common things people try include:
  • Eat and/or drink
  • Have Sex
  • Exercise or spend time outside
  • Sleep or practice deep breathing
  • Read a book, watch a movie, or play a game
  • Daydream or imagine good things
  • Procrastinate by doing less important work
  • Remove the source of stress
Personally I spend a bit too much time on the last two items. Classifying these options, they seem to fall into one of three categories:
  • Solve the issue
  • Ignore the issue
  • Accept the issue
Unfortunately if the only mechanism for relieving stress is to solve the problem, you're in for a rough life-- there's always something else you can worry about, and many things you can't fix Ignoring issues seems fine for small problems. And acceptance is the only option available for problems too large to be solved or ignored.

I believe the real secret to happiness is properly identifying which problems should be accepted and which should be solved. And then realizing that most problems are of the former type. It's easy to get caught up in trying to fix everything, especially as a perfectionist. But the more you genuinely accept misfortunes as Not A Big Deal, the more you can enjoy the truly good things in your life.

If that's true, then the real secret to happiness is forgiveness.

No comments: