Thoughts on ambition and complacency

I link to Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project all the time. It helps that she sends me emails each day with wonderful quotes from people I want to hear quoted (this week – Samuel Johnson, Eugene Delacroix, Leonardo da Vinci and my favourite, Virginia Woolf).

You may recall that Gretchen’s emails led to me writing the same email twice – 12 months apart.

Even though I enjoy Gretchen’s blog, I’ve not really been inclined to adopt her very structured approach to happiness. I tend to be more dramatic in my life changes – if things are getting a bit bland, I move countries.

However, I finally got around to buying a copy of Gretchen’s book and am reading it now. Despite knowing Gretchen’s model for her happiness project inside out, something about this book – pages and pages of this stuff all in between a front and a back cover – is really bringing home the structured model of incremental improvements to daily life.

Anyone who has been around me lately (say…the last six months) has known I have been in various states of contemplation, over-thinking and restlessness. Despite planning on talking about anything other than myself and my life trajectory today, I dealt MJ a massive serve of inner dialogue. One of these conversations centred on the contradiction of wanting to feel content in daily life but also wanting to strive for more.

MJ left and I picked up the book and this is the passage I read next – a nice addition to the dialogue:

Studies show that many creative, influential people in the arts and public life score above average in “neuroticism” (i.e., they have a greater propensity to experience negative emotions); this discontent arguably urges them to higher achievement. Other studies, however, show that people tend to think more flexibly and with more complexity when they’re feeling happy.

But whatever a wide-ranging study might show about the connection between ambition and happiness generally, I realized that for my own part, I was much more likely to take risks, reach out to others, and expose myself to rejection and failure when I felt happy. When I felt unhappy, I felt defensive, touchy, and self-conscious.

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