Episode 15: Does Happiness Require Struggle? I'm Not 100% Convinced...


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Hi, I'm Victoria Hefty and welcome Activate Purpose where I talk about finding purpose through action while balancing motherhood and career. In today's episode, I'm going to talk to you about this new book that I'm reading, I'm almost finished with it, that argues that happiness requires struggle. I'll share how this concept is shaping the way I approach my work even though I'm not yet 100% convinced it's true.

I recently joined a book club with a bunch of other fantastic women, but it's a little bit overwhelming because at the moment I'm balancing two part-time consulting projects that I really love. Part-time, not as in like 30 hours, more like 15 hours a week but still that adds up pretty quickly. I'm doing two of those. I'm taking care of my daughter still. She's going to morning school or activities but that's only a couple of hours, and so I'm still her primary caretaker. I'm actually working on a new website which I've talked about I feel like every week, but a new website, Maternity Leave, which I will discuss more in not next episode, but the episode after that.

Given that, I was like, "I am busy, but I do love reading and I just wanted to give it a try. If it was too overwhelming, then you know what? So be it. I tried." As luck would have it, I've read the book and then I've realized, or as I was reading the book, I realized I had to be in Chicago for a conference on the date that the book club was actually meeting. I was disappointed that I couldn't attend the discussion but the book did have some interesting points that I'm actually still having an internal debate about.

First, let's just get the specifics out of the way and a big disclaimer. The book is called The Subtle Art of Not Giving an F by Mark Manson. I'll let you guess what that expletive is. It's super popular right now even though it was released a couple of years ago. But I feel like even before I knew it was going to be the book club book, it feels like I can't really walk past a bookstore without seeing it out front and center. It's got like a big, jarring, orange cover, so you can't really miss it and I just feel like everyone has been talking about it lately or maybe I've been out of the loop and I'm biased but there you have it.

I knew from the title, obviously, that the book may be a little crass, but honestly it was at times a bit too much for me. I'm the person that I can't really concentrate when it feels like every other word is a curse word and the language is over the top crass. It actually became really annoying pretty quickly and I stopped reading. Then I was like, "Okay." I decided to keep on going out of curiosity. I was hoping, one, that there has to be a reason why this is so popular, at least I'm hoping there is other than the language because, at this point, that's doing nothing for me. I was really hoping that there were some gems in there despite the language and some of the crass things that he says. Fortunately, right at the point that I almost gave in again, I hit on something that made me pause and actually think.

In the book, the author again, that's Mark Manson, argues that happiness requires struggle. I'm actually going to read an excerpt of the book. I'm reading it because he did share it online, and I'll provide a link to the online article or the online excerpt in the show notes. I quote, the author states, "If I ask you, 'What do you want out of life?' and you say something like, 'I want to be happy and have a great family and a job I like,' it's so ubiquitous and that it doesn't even mean anything. A more interesting question, a question that perhaps you've never considered before, is what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Because that seems to be a greater determinant of how our lives turn out."

Then the author goes on and he list a couple of examples which I'll include. One example that he uses and I quote, "Everyone wants to have an amazing job and financial independence, but not everyone wants to suffer through 60-hour work weeks, long commutes, obnoxious paperwork, to navigate arbitrary corporate hierarchies and the blasé confines of an infinite cubicle hell. People want to be rich without the risk, without the sacrifice, without the delayed gratification necessary to accumulate wealth."

This was another example that he used that I thought was interesting. He says, "People want to start their own businesses. But you don't end up a successful entrepreneur unless you find a way to appreciate the risk, the uncertainty, the repeated failures, and working insane hours on something you have no idea whether will be successful or not."

Again, this is just an excerpt but he goes on into more detail and he actually, which I like, he pauses on the F bombs and just speaks which I think you should do more of. But when I finished that portion of the book, I really had to take a step back and think it over. On one hand, I don't think happiness always has to require struggle. There are plenty of days that I'm just happy for no reason at all. In fact, I would actually say most of my days are filled with some level of happiness. Even with my busy work schedule and almost three year old now who is testing her will and our limits every single day and slow progress in all of my different creative outlets, I'm still actually a very happy person.

For those cases that I mentioned, the happiness isn't linked to the struggle of the day. In that sense, I don't agree with the author. I think sometimes we try way too hard to make happiness be something, like something of meaning rather than just being happy organically. Again, this may be just my personality. But I don't believe happiness is always something that you have to work for. That being said, his question, "What pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for?" is a fair one. If anything, it's made me feel better about some of my choices lately.   

I'll use an example that's super recent. I've taken on a new consulting project, so that's one of the projects I'm talking about, and this one is part-time and remote. I took it on not because I needed to but because I actually really like the client and the work. It was something that I felt would benefit me, challenge me a little bit where I wasn't going to be stressed and that's important for me. It didn't require a lot of hours but it does require some evening work or when my daughter is at her morning activities, I have less free time for me or for my creative stuff and more time to dedicate to this client. Again, I'm only taking up a short amount of time, but that is time that I could be using something else, so it is a little bit painful.

After I've read this book, I was working on this market research project late at night and I was thinking about this question and specifically was this project and pain of working late at night when I would rather sometimes be in bed something I was willing to struggle for? The answer was yes for two reasons. One, relative to work, the type of work I was doing I should say, the project paid really well, and more importantly, I enjoyed it. This made the work feel a lot less tedious.      Then, two, this type of work allowed me to pursue other creative interests and not have to stress about finances. When I thought about the benefit, it's easy to say that, yes, this was something I was definitely willing to struggle for. It meant obviously I had to wake up the next morning a little tired but that was okay. I'd set the expectation that I was okay with this decision.

Another example or a good example of how this question made me say no to something was I also ... Maybe it was like a week ago. I had someone reach out to me for an even bigger market research project. As you can tell, I'm a market research consultant. The project was going to last eight weeks and involve a lot of research. But it also involve several rounds of financial analysis which if anyone is in the finance world, you know is not just a one time thing. There are so many iterations, so many ways that it could be wrong and it's really stressful. Then also there are a bunch of interviews that I would have had to conduct which I normally like. But by the time you add on the research and the finance and the analysis, it was just a lot.

On the good side, they were going to pay me for eight weeks worth of work $40,000 for the project which is obviously fantastic. But they were very clear that it involve probably 60 to 70 hours a week of work over the eight weeks. In theory, I could have hired a babysitter or short-term nanny to take care of my daughter for those weeks. I would have to stop all other interests, not really speak to or really connect with my husband because any free time would be dedicated to this project. I would literally just probably have to will my way through this thing if I took it.

I realized that for this project I was actually not willing to make that struggle. It would mean doing something solely for the money which is something I agree to not do once I left my full-time job because realistically if a high income was all that I cared about, I would still be in my comfortable well paying job. But, first of all, this isn't to say that there's anything wrong with that because, trust me, there are days when I miss that security, days when I miss that paycheck. But what it does mean is that after two years of living post full-time work, I'm really comfortable with the uncertainty that is in front of me, this day-to-day not knowing what's going to happen and I'm more likely to do the little projects that I mentioned like the part-time gig that I enjoy and that provide me with some level of income, but also really do not hinder me from being creative. I'm just not willing to make that trade off anymore.

The question from this book made me realize that you know what? At this time, this is not the right project for me. I'm pretty confident I would have made the same decision without reading the book, but I don't think I would have answered myself or really phrased or used the consulting language framework of that question to help guide my decision. I am really thankful for that. Again, I could certainly use the money. Don't get me wrong. I'm not an idiot but I do believe that learning to trust your choices are important and going through the exercise of asking that question is really important. At least on my end, my happiness continues with or without the struggle.

My challenge for you is to really think about what the author is saying and to ask yourself: what pain do you want in your life? What are you willing to struggle for? Think about what that means for, perhaps, either certain decisions that you're debating or maybe certain activities that seem to be all struggle and no happy at all. But I also challenge you to recognize and enjoy those moments when you feel happy for no reason at all, happy about the good, simple things in life like a beautiful day or your baby's smile or a really good meal that you made. I think those are just as worthy to comment on as the struggle.

If you have any questions or have read the book and want to share what you learned from it or maybe have a different perspective, I would love it if you emailed me at victoria@activatepurpose.com.

Make sure to read the show notes at activatepurpose.com/episode15 for links to the article that I just mentioned and the book itself.

Lastly, if you enjoyed today's episode, make sure to leave a review and subscribe to next week's episode.

Until next time.

I'm Victoria, your host.jpg
Activate Purpose