I know we've all heard many times about how "happiness" to many Americans -- and many others -- means keeping up with the proverbial Joneses -- the neighbors with the nicer lawn, the bigger garage, the finer-resolution television, etc.
This has actually been borne out in study after study. What makes people happy, materially at least, is not what they have in some absolute sense but what they have relative to those around them. So to quickly and glibly summarize a lot of that research, you'd be happier if I gave you $10,000 and nothing to your neighbors than you would if I gave you $20,000 but also gave that same sum to everyone on your block [As crazy as that sounds, poke around a bit and see how many times that type of thing has been replicated].
It makes no sense, I know, but as author Dan Ariely has pointed out time and again in a book (and blog) by this name, we're all Predictably Irrational.
It shouldn't be that strange, then, that I sometimes catch myself being, well, quite irrational about how I correlate my happiness and the length of my workday. To wit: What bothers me about spending 12-16 hour-days stacked end-on-end is not necessarily the fact in and of itself, but the fact that it happens while I'm surrounded by so many people with so very little on their plate.
See my point? If I were working on group projects that really meant weeks full of 16-hour days, it might not be so bad. In fact, given the right creative environment, it might even be a lot of fun -- just ask anyone who has put in the long pay (often for low wages) at a start-up, a publication, or any other creative enterprise. There's a sense of purpose and camaraderie you get when you're bouncing ideas off of other creative minds and *suffering* through something together.
But when you get the sense that you're constantly busting your tail amidst a sea (or a shore!) of people whose biggest daily conundrum is whether to get Chinese food or Subway at lunchtime, it can start to grate. Now, don't get me wrong -- I realize this is totally irrational, because my happiness shouldn't really be affected by what anyone else does (assuming it bears no direct impact on me). Whether everyone else in the building jumped into their cars at 3 p.m., 4 p.m. or 7 p.m. shouldn't *really* affect me one way or the other.
But, I must confess, sometimes it does. There are many aspects of my job that I like, and even some that I would say I love, but working on a somewhat disjointed staff that's partly manned by others' "extras" has its drawbacks -- much like anything else.
So what's the lesson to learn here? Whining about it on my blog might be somewhat therapeutic, but it doesn't really fix the problem.
I think the answer is that when you recognize things about yourself -- what makes you happy, what gets you down, etc. -- you need to find ways to control your environment in your favor when possible rather than trying to *fix* the way you feel. For me, that just means making sure I find the right job where I can work in a small team, fill some sort of niche, add value, and be recognized for it.
In other words, not too large, not too bureacratic, and not an easy spot for the lazy to "hide."
That sounds about right.