On Happiness and Productivity

(NOTE: Based on time elapsed since the posting of this entry, the BS-o-meter calculates this is 13.266% likely to be something that Ferrett now regrets.)

“If I could just manage to feel happy again, I’d be productive.  I just know it.”
That’s what my friend said to me, and he was entirely serious about this.  He’d been experiencing depressive fits for months, his life decaying at an increasing rate, and he blamed all of his flagging grades and lost friendships and money troubles on a lack of happiness.
See, when he was happy, he could do anything.  He would wake up empowered and DO ALL THE THINGS.  And he’d be productive for a day, maybe a week, before something bummed him out again and he just couldn’t rouse himself to do all these depressing things.
The trick, my friend thought, was to somehow arrange his life for MAXIMUM HAPPINESS, so eventually he’d just be happy all the time and thus productive.
Whereas I told him the trick was to learn to keep working when you were miserable.
“Look,” said I. “Right now, you have a beautiful sailboat.  And it is a glorious thing, with full sails powered by your happiness, and when the winds are blowing strong you can go anywhere.
“Unfortunately, happiness is like the wind in that it comes and goes.  It’s good enough to get you around, but some days dreams will die and plans will die and people will die… and then your sails go slack.  And the happiness will probably come back – it usually does – but by the time it returns, you may have starved to death on a becalmed sea, hoping like hell for the wind to come back when what you really needed was an oar.”
It’s a misnomer to say that anyone can work when they’re happy.  A lot of people don’t want to do the unfun work when they’re depressed because they’re too despairing to go look for work, and when they’re happy they don’t want to bum themselves out by going back out and seeing how terrible the job market.  So as it turns out, they’re actually unproductive no matter what their mood; they just have an excuse that works under any circumstances.
But even if you get ALL THE THINGS done when you’re happy, you gotta learn to work when your lover dumped you, when your dog just died, when that rejection you were dreading just came in over the transom.  Because life has a nasty habit of not giving a shit about how good you feel.  Life usually asks, “Well, did you pay the bills?  Get a job?  Go to work?”  And if the answer is “No,” then life tends to say, “Well, okay, I’m just gonna make your life harder for you then.”
You can wait for happiness to fill your sails, man.  But you might be waiting for a long time.
Get the oar.


  1. Lee Cockrum
    Oct 27, 2014

    So very true! I need to work on getting my oars for sure!!!

  2. Kim
    Oct 27, 2014

    That said, no reason why you can’t point your oars in the right direction of the wind, and keep cutting that way til you get yourself a little breeze that *helps*

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