Many of my clients are financially successful yet still unhappy. I’ve offered tips on this previously, for example, Wealthy but Sad Syndrome. But some people learn more when the tips are embedded in context, hence this composite story:
It’s 8 PM and Adam has already gone through more than a half-bottle of expensive wine. Not that he can tell the difference between it and the cheap stuff, but such purchases made him feel he was getting some compensation for his lifetime of hard, successful work.
Adam started his life with no spoon in his mouth—His father was a cutter in a raincoat factory; his mother was a part-time bookkeeper. But he worked hard, kept displaying a pleasant demeanor, and at 45, he’s at his career peak: senior vice-president at a mid-tier company, making, with bonus, $275,000. But as he sits with his wine, he wonders why he feels sad.
Like his dad, Adam suffers from lifelong predisposition to mild sadness but that has been exacerbated by his feeling that his work was of only modest importance, that his relationship with his wife and kids, while not bad, is far from what gets sold in sappy movies and novels. His hobbies of softball and group motorcycle rides are fine but they barely move the needle on his overall happiness meter.
Adam wrote and wrote in his journal, and for months, his entries included no proposed solutions. Then one day, he wrote:
I’ve heard it so often but, instead of endless focusing on what you don’t have or wish you were, the answer is in gratitude for what you do have, modest steps to do better, and to be a kinder person.
And from that day on, Adam made a point of feeling grateful that he lived in a reasonably nice home with a reasonably nice wife and reasonably nice kids, that he could get into his reasonably nice car every day to get to his quite nice job. In turn, that made it easier for Adam to take a more moderate approach to his self-improvement: He accepted his basic self as-is, for example, that he’s more operational than strategic, and did just little things to keep growing: ask a colleague a question, read an article, learn from his mistakes—sometimes. His gratitude for his life also made him kinder to everyone, including coworkers—Nothing fancy, just for example, listening more diligently. And his newly gained cosmic perspective moved him to replace his hard-driving, “Make your number!” mentality with a balance of profits and people.
Many people, successful and not, search for a shiny new fix for their malaise. But at least from where I sit, the best fix for most sub-clinical unhappiness is gratitude, incremental self-improvement, and kindness.
I read this aloud on YouTube.