My Eighth Personal Commandment is to Identify the problem. That is, when you’re annoyed, angered, or frustrated, ask yourself, “What exactly is the problem here?”
This rule seems so obvious that it’s hard to explain why it’s so tremendously helpful, but it has been the one of my most major happiness-project breakthroughs.
You might think, “This doesn’t make any sense. If I have a problem, how it is possible that I haven’t identified it?”
But I’ve realized that I’ve put up with a problem or an irritation for years, because I haven’t actually examined the actual nature of the problem, and therefore, hadn’t seen how it might be solved. Mindfulness! So much of happiness, in the end, boils down to mindfulness (unfortunate for me, because I find mindfulness very challenging).
Now I’m disciplining myself to ask, “What’s bugging me? Why is something not working? What’s the problem here?”
One problem I identified: I was snappish and frustrated in the mornings, because I felt so rushed. Solution? I started getting up earlier so I have time to get myself organized before my family awakes, and although that’s tough, it has transformed our mornings. Along the same lines, I’ve stopped checking my email before bed. I used to check it as the last step in my evening, to have as little as possible to deal with in the morning, but I realized that often, answering emails would wake me up, so I’d go to sleep later. Which I didn’t want to do, given that I’ve started getting up earlier! So now I try to resist email after 9:00 pm or so.
Maybe you hate your job. Why? What exactly is the problem? Do you dislike your boss or colleagues? Are you bored? Do you feel that your job lacks social value? Is it too stressful? Do you feel that you don’t have time for other priorities? Do you lack the tools, equipment, or training that you need? Are you anxious about getting fired? Are you doing this job instead of pursuing a dream? Once you identify the problem, possible steps to a solution may be clearer.
A lawyer friend of mine thought she hated her job, but when she identified the exact problem, she realized she really hated her commute. She started listening to books on tape, which she loved, and as trivial as that change was, just that one tiny step had a huge influence on her daily happiness with her work life.
Look for an area of your life that’s not working. Are you having trouble paying bills on time? Do you never manage to get to the gym? Are you chronically late? Do you dislike certain rooms in your house? Are you having conflicts with your colleagues? Take the time to pinpoint the actual source of the problem, and you may be astonished at how simple a solution might be.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.