Is Happiness Sustainable?

 

Image by: Bruce Tuten

Is Happiness Sustainable?

By

Cusper Lynn

For years I have been asked by people, “What do you ‘really do’ for a living?”

It is one of those questions that aggravates me, because people always ask it right after I explain that I am an author and a consultant.  The thing is, no one believes that being a consultant actually pays anything or even understands what one does, and if they haven’t read your book, subscribed to your newsletter or heard about you in the New York Times, they can’t believe anyone makes any money as an author.

You might think I have a witty retort for that question, but I don’t.  It would be wasted on that audience and instead I use the “Hey, what is that bright shinny thing bouncing over in that far corner?” ruse to draw them off.   It always works.

Being a consultant is, I admit, difficult to explain to people since there are two things a good consultant generally has to be, over educated and underpaid.  At some point, when enough alphabetti spaghetti accumulates after your name in terms of degrees and certifications, you just are no longer employable.   So now you are faced with the challenge of getting people to pay you big fees to solve large problems.    To do this successfully you have to understand some fundamental things about human nature, in particular you have to understand “Expectation” and “Happiness.”
If you have a client whose company is going broke and you help them get a million dollar contract that saves their company, they are “Happy”.  When the following year rolls round and you help them get four million dollars in contracts they are “disappointed.”   Why?  Because, there has been a change in their expectations.

Some might call this ingratitude, but in my experience it is simply human nature.   Happiness is conditional.   Everyone sets limits on their happiness.  I will be happy when I lose thirty pounds.  I will be happy when I meet and marry my soul mate.  I will be happy when I have a million dollars.  I will be happy when I travel the world.  The list goes on and on.   The thing is every time we get one of our “Happiness” moments we are happy for a while and that item drops off the list to be replaced with a new rule or condition.  With that comes dissatisfaction because we have changed our expectations.

As a consultant, I deal with this issue every day.   So I have developed a visualization exercise that helps my clients deal with these issues.

VISUALIZATION EXERCISE

During the last week my phone has been exploding because one of my services to my consulting clients is “legislative analysis.”  This means I read and follow the activity of the government to advise my clients about pending laws and rules that could impact their business.  This year the legislature has been very active and my services are in demand.

For most of my clients they call for basic information and my best predictions of the next twelve months.    For a few, the profitable clients, they require extended hand holding and a lot of explanations; I of course charge for all of this.   “Charlie” is one of my more profitable clients.   He calls me two to three times a day; he is a doctor whom I have known since back when I was in private practice.

“Cusper, are they really going to do this?” Charlie asks me before I even manage to say “hello”

“Charlie, there are still a number of things that have to occur before they pass the law,” I reassure him as I clip a Flor de Gonzalez, 90 Mile Churchill Cigar; this is going to be a long call.

“Like what?” Charlie quails; he really is a very good doctor.

“Well, the bill has just been passed in the house.   The senate has to take it up….” I begin only to be cut off.

“But the Senate has their own bill! Why would they take it up?” Charlie protests, sounding a good deal younger and less mature than his fifty-seven years.

“Well now Charlie, like I told you earlier, the Senate can move forward on their bill, take up the House bill, or have a meeting with leaders of the House to try and reconcile the two bills.  Things can go a lot of ways here,” I drawl, letting the smoke drift with my commentary.

“Why would they do this? It is a terrible bill! They have to know that people are going to hate it!” He whines.

I draw on my 90 Mile and look out across the yard.  It really is a very nice day. I let a silence pass and let out a puff of smoke.

“Charlie, we talked about this.  How did I explain it?” I ask, not interested in having to repeat a call from two days earlier.

“You said ‘Mr. Big Insurance Company’ came to town with a lot of money and bought a Governor, the House of Representatives and a lot of Senators,” He repeats verbatim my explanation of lobbyists.

“That’s right Charlie, that is exactly what I said.  And I said something else.  What was the conclusion of that story?” I ask.

“You said that ‘Mr. Big Insurance Company’ got value for his money because he spent a few million to earn several billion,” Charlie completes the recitation, sounding almost like a contrite school boy.

“That’s right, that is absolutely right,” I congratulate him; I swear someday I may have to use sock puppets to explain this stuff to clients.

“Do you think it will pass?” he resumes his wheedling tone.

“Charlie, it’s about sixty percent done at this point.  A lot can happen between now and the end of the session.  But they made a lot of progress with the bill this time,” I say, hedging painful truth with nearly impossible hope.

“But Cusper I’ve got tuition coming up for Henry and Davey starts University next year!  I am going to have two kids in college and no income!  What am I going to do?!?” Charlie snaps.

“We have talked about this Charlie, it is time to re-invent yourself.  Time to start over,” I answer the fifty-seven year old medical director of a mid-sized medical clinic chain.

“Do you know what that means?  Seriously, Cusper do you have any idea how bad this is?!?” He yelps.

“Bad is relative,” I answer, tapping off some ash.

“Relative?!?” he protests.

“Charlie, where are you at, right his moment?” I cut across his rising indignation.

“In my office.  Why?” He asks.

“You by yourself?”

“Yes, but….”

“Take off your shoes,” I say.

“What?”

“You heard me, take off your shoes,” I say slowly sounding out each word.

“Why?” he asks, fumbling with the phone.

“You are taking your shoes off?” I repeat.

“Yes, but I don’t see…”

“Got socks on?”

“What?”

“Do you have socks on?” I ask in aggravation, drawing on my cigar.

“Yes…”

“Take ‘em off!” I order.

“But…” I can hear the phone being jostled from side to side.

“Alright, now, you have no sock and no shoes on…..right?” I say.

“Yes.” He pauses, “you aren’t going to tell me to take off my pants are you, Cusper?”

I smile to myself, “No Charlie, I am not going to ask you to take off your pants.”

But I know if I told him to he would.

“Now Charlie we are going to do a little exercise.  It is a visualization to help you get control of the situation,” I inform him.  “You are listening, right?”

“Yes,” he murmurs.

“Okay, you are not going to see anyone or talk to anyone or look at your damn computer for the next few minutes.  You are going to close your eyes and take a deep breath,” I say, drawing on my cigar.

“Fine,” I can hear some protest in his voice but I know his eyes are drifting shut.

“Now wiggle your toes Charlie.   What do you feel?”

“I feel the carpet,” he says.

“No Charlie, you don’t.   We don’t feel carpet, we don’t feel walls.  Those are abstract.  What do you feel?” I ask.

“It’s cool..,” he hesitates, “and soft.”

“That’s better Charlie, cool and soft.  Good, now you’re feeling,” I agree.

“Okay,” he agrees.

“Now Charlie, I want you to keep breathing,” I say, hearing his breath slowing “nice and easy.  Deep and slow.   Now I want you to picture a farm.   Keep your eyes closed and picture the farm.  Can you see it?”

“Yes, yes I can see it,” he says peacefully.

“Now Charlie, what type of farm do you see?”

“It’s beautiful.  There is a white picket fence, a duck pond, a red barn…” he enthuses.

“That’s nice Charlie, but that is not the farm we need to see.  That is the retirement farm.  That is the place for the grandkid to visit.  I want you to picture a different farm,” I guide him.

“Okay,” he says nervously.

“Your feet are going to be really cold there Charlie. Can you feel ‘em getting cold?” I ask, sending wafts of smoke skyward.

“Um…yes….actually I can,” he involuntarily grunts from the cold.

“Now Charlie, this farm isn’t green.  It is white and gray. Because it is winter,” I say smoothly.

“Reeeallly?”  He shudders.

“Oh yes Charlie, as cold as can be and your wife Helen is there with you and so are the boys,” I add.

“Why?” Charlie asks tentatively.

“Well Charlie, this is where you live.   You are standing in Siberia, the cold you are feeling is the permafrost and snow under your feet.  You see Charlie, it is the dead of winter,” I explain.

“Why?” He shudders.

“Well Charlie this is your farm and I have to tell you, you are doing pretty good.  Your wife Helen is coughing up blood each night, the boys are both thin because they haven’t eaten,” I explain.

“Why haven’t they eaten?” He asks in alarm, “Why is Helen coughing blood?!?”

“Now Charlie, you’re a doctor, think about it.  You are in that one bedroom shack, every night she is up coughing.  You are thinking what?” I ask.

“Tuberculosis?” he whispers.

“That’s right Charlie, she has got the TB.  But you are hopeful…”

“Why are the boys hungry?” he interrupts me.

“Now Charlie,” I chide as he is getting ahead of the visualization exercise, “You had a poor harvest…”

“And why am I standing barefoot in the snow?” he interrupts again.

“Now Charlie that is a good question and the other question is why are you holding a rifle?” I reply.

“I am holding a rifle?” he says in surprise.

“Yes Charlie, you are holding a rifle, standing barefoot in the snow, with blood seeping from your cracked and calloused feet and you are defending your wife and your boys because starving peasants from the nearby village have been raiding farms.   All you have in your house if forty pounds of rotting, shriveled potatoes and some putrid bacon and you’re are going to shoot these peasants who are wearing even less then you are,” I explain.

“But….I don’t want to shoot anyone,” he stammers.

“No Charlie, you don’t.  But you see they are going to tear you and your family apart for those rotting potatoes and that putrid bacon if you don’t.”

“But…”

“No Charlie, this is it, you and your family, barely clothed, freezing to death outside your Siberian shack on a bit of frozen ground that you can barely scratch a living out of and you are going to have to shoot these half-dead peasant or die,” I conclude.

“That is terrible!” Charlie wails.

“Yes Charlie, yes it is.  Now take a deep breath,” I instruct him.

Charlie sighs.

“And another.  Now I want you to open your eyes….slowly,” I say softly.

“Okay…”

“Tell me what do you see?”

“My desk…..my office…..my shoes and socks on the floor,” he says in a hushed voice.

“Good Charlie, now is there a picture on your desk?”

“Yes, my wife and the boys.”

“How are they looking?”

“Healthy….happy.”

“Good Charlie, that’s right.  Your wife and kids are healthy and happy,” I say softly.  “So Charlie, if the law passes what is the worst that will happen?”

“I will lose my job, have to start over.  I might lose my home,” he says picking up speed.

“Charlie, are you going to end up barefoot and holding a rifle in Siberia, defending your family and a sack of rotting potatoes?” I ask.

“And the putrid bacon,” he adds.

“Yes, and the putrid bacon,” I agree.  “Is that where you are going to end up if the worst case scenario happens?”

“No.”

“So Charlie, do you see that bad is relative?  Between where you are now and Siberia with a rifle starving to death there is a lot of room for things to be unpleasant, but not really bad.”

“Yes, not really bad,” he agrees.  “Thanks Cusper.”

“All part of the service.  I will update you as soon as I hear anything,” I say happily.

“I think I am going to go for a walk in the park.  I am feeling pretty good.  Maybe I will take Helen out for dinner,” he says, his mood improving by the second.

“There you go. That is what I like to hear!”

“Bye, Cusper.  Talk to you tomorrow,” Charlie says and rings off.

So yes, happiness is conditional and relative.   I do love being a consultant.

[A brief disclaimer on this visualization exercise, if you are driving a vehicle, on psychiatric medication or under the care of a physician for mental health issues, please do not do this exercise as you will drive off the road, become a threat to your community, lower pharmaceutical company’s profits and deny a good physician a well-earned fee.]

 

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Text Copyright 2012 Cusper Lynn

 

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