Sunday, April 20, 2008

Today I read Carolyn Hax's column of advice in the local newspaper:
In case you missed it, here it is:
Being ‘driven’ is simply overrated
By Carolyn Hax
Dear Carolyn: My wife and I have been married four years. We share a mortgage but don’t have kids or other significant debt. My wife works a lot harder than I do. Her company pays her $100,000 a year, but she is always exhausted. I have a publishing business that pays me $150,000 annually. I have been building my business since before we married and now enjoy the passive income it provides us.

My wife is resentful that she has to work so hard and she sees me kicking back. I would love to travel by myself once in a while or do a guys’ trip, but I get nothing except guilt from her, which in turn makes me angry and resentful. It feels like there is a constant cycle of resentment because of it.

She stays in her job because there may be potential to move up, and because she enjoys the challenge and responsibility. She is also making terrific contacts — she likes working hard. I’ve always told her that if she doesn’t like her job, I support anything she would choose to do, regardless of her income.

I feel that I carry my weight financially. Shouldn’t I enjoy the fruits of my labor without feeling guilty, and shouldn’t she give me the freedom to enjoy it once in a while? She has vacation days she can use if she wants. I would need to get a second job to make more money, which we don’t need right now. She implies that I am lazy and not driven. I disagree, I built my business with hard work and drive. Doesn’t my income count heavily toward that argument?

— J.L.

Dear J.L.: I suppose, but I would make a different argument entirely: that being “driven” is seriously overrated. Certainly I’m glad some people are. We all enjoy — in fact, take for granted — countless fruits of other people’s elective 80-hour work weeks.

I simply reject the implication that everyone has to be driven, or even ought to. People pulling elective 80-hour weeks certainly enjoy the fruits of other people’s rejection of that life. It’s not just poets, volunteers, and people who make sure they have nothing more pressing to do than walk at their toddler’s pace. It’s people who think 40 hours more than suffice.

You have a sweet life. Whether you earned it or picked it up off the sidewalk is, I think, immaterial. You are content with what you have. If your wife envies your contentment, then she needs to do something to find more — with your cooperation, of course. Her insistence that you lessen your contentment, by taking on equal stress, of all things, is appalling. A stunningly selfish solution.

You don’t mention any ways you apply your spare quality of life toward improving hers — chores, cooking, social planning, to cite a few examples. If you don’t do this, then do this. “I support anything she would choose to do” isn’t a promise kept only in few possible futures, it’s one to make good on daily.

If you already do pamper her, though, and a thoughtful, happy, well-paid spouse isn’t enough to make her happy, then it’s time for you both to start asking what is.
I used to have on my school desk two quotes:

There are two ways of being rich:
To have great wealth -- or --
To have few needs.

Happiness is not getting what you want, but
Wanting what you have.

In today's Western world -- contentment is a four letter word. Real men and real women are driven -- constantly, relentlessly driven. This is the true sign of "having the right stuff"--endless desires for more degrees, more money, more prestige, higher positions. And, what about at the end of all this, i.e. Death? Well, as the bumper sticker used to say:"The guy with the most toys at the "end" wins." Really??

Who says so? And who cares? This "drivenness" is a "dis-ease" which the Buddha diagnosed as the chief cause of human suffering. Contentment is good. Never being satisfied is crippling and absolutely destructive of peace + joy which are the chief ingredients of happiness.

As I see it, the husband is on the right path. He has a sane and healthy attitude toward life. His wife is upset because she cannot break her addiction of perpetually proving herself through rising another rung up the corporate ladder and grasping the next larger salary. For her --enough can never be enough. She is strapped to the treadmill the Buddhists call -- samsara.

Part of the problem that many modern people have is that they really believe that this life is the End --- that they must hurry to gain everything of material worth possible -- before the end.

However, some persons who don't belief in an afterlife --- do wisely take the perspective of seeing this life in terms of real values: relationships, inner peace, giving not always taking, enjoying each moment and appreciating each experience.

The wife's attitude and values are not just hers but those of the corporations, many politicians, "our leaders," and unfortunately that of millions of persons especially in the "First" World --- and are the cause of so much misery not just to people, but harm to our planet.

I was once told by a Buddhist monk that the way to achieve real happiness is >>> always maintain an attitude of non-grasping.