Solving that annoying problem may just be key to enlightenment
Wednesday, February 08, 2017 8:38 AM
Through trial and error, I finally got a computer that had been acting up last week working again. At least for now it is fixed, although I’m not completely sure the problem is solved for good.
Owning a small business often means being the IT guy in addition to all the other responsibilities across areas that in larger companies would have an expert in charge. It adds to the stress, but also creates some satisfaction when I can handle the problems I encounter.
While working on the fix, I came across a blog by author Mark Manson who theorizes that the key to happiness is solving problems. He argues that happiness can’t be attained, even though we like the fantasy that we can reach a state where we can feel fulfilled and satisfied with our lives forever, alleviating all of our suffering permanently.
Instead, he writes, to be happy, we need something to solve. Happiness is “therefore a form of action; it’s an activity, not something that is passively bestowed upon you, not something you magically discover” in places such as a top-10 article, an idyllic location, a dream job or even a self-help book.
If he is right, small business people must be really happy because we have a lot of problems thrown at us that need solving.
However, the unsolved problem for us is that fewer of them can be solved by us alone anymore. With more regulations dictating what we can do, global competition reducing our margin for error and increasing technology taking over the workplace, we often have to go outside our own resources to solve problems.
For example, being a basic IT guy isn’t what it used to be. The Apple Macintosh computers that populate our newspaper offices are more stable than in the past, but when a problem arises, the key to unlocking that problem is often buried in complex layers that are difficult to unravel. Fixing Macs used to be intuitive. Now it takes a lot of research to figure out even where to begin — or, in some cases, outside help to figure them out.
All of life is becoming like that as technology infiltrates every corner of our existence, which, perhaps, is why we just aren’t as happy as we used to be.
In the most recent election, some theories chalked up the revolt of white, working class males partially due to losing satisfying work in which they could use their hands to make things as manufacturing jobs are replaced by technology or shipped to countries with cheaper labor.
This loss of hands-on problem-solving is also transferring over to the home. As our houses become full of technology, homeowners often become middle management between technology that is acting up and experts in other states, or even India, who try to guide us through the fix.
It’s not just the waiting on the phone for hours that feeds frustration and unhappiness, but also the feeling people get when they realize they never really played any part in solving the problem.
Even automobiles don’t provide an outlet for problem-solving like they used to. Parts are lasting much longer than before and engines are now often hooked up to computer systems to diagnose and fix problems.
It’s not that these improvements have eliminated problems. They’ve just changed the nature of the problems for many people, who, perhaps, want to escape the new problems that have surfaced rather than face new challenges.
If you avoid problems, feel like you don’t have any problems or blame all your problems on someone else, you are going to make yourself miserable, Manson writes.
On the other hand, if you feel like you only have problems you can’t solve, you will also make yourself miserable. That may be why some people invent problems with achievable solutions.
For example, perhaps that is why I, and so many other people today, enthusiastically sign up for grueling tests of endurance, such as marathons or gravel bicycle races, when there is no good, common sense reason to put our bodies through hours of torture to reach an invented goal.
I’m creating a problem — how to survive a 26.2-mile run in one morning all on my own. The solution is extensive preparation and will.
During the hours of the marathon I may be cursing myself for coming up with the stupid idea of entering another long distance race, but after I cross the finish line and recover a bit, there is a deep feeling of satisfaction. I solved this problem on my own, pushing my body without the aid of tech support, bureaucratic regulations or a nagging voice that tells me I have to do this.
Of course, running a marathon isn’t for everyone. People can create simple problems, such as finding good food, traveling to a new place or winning a new game in which the solutions are much less arduous and the achieved happiness just as satisfying.
Our problems are unavoidable because what creates positive experiences will also define our negative experiences. I enjoy the challenges of small business ownership, but often I am stressed out over all the problems that confront me each day.
“Everything comes with an inherent sacrifice — whatever makes us feel good will also inevitably make us feel bad,” wrote Manson.
I don’t know if problem-solving is really the key to happiness. However, I know I will never run out of problems and I believe happiness is a process, or constant work-in-progress as Manson calls it, rather than a state of being we may ultimately achieve.
On the other hand, I’m not particularly looking forward to the next computer breakdown at the office. I am human, after all.