Monday, 23 April 2012

The myth of happy passivity and why you should run away from it

Penguins don't care how long it takes them to catch their daily fish quota. Year after year, they go through the same routine, hardly improving anything. Their survival is entirely based on the expectation of zero change. From the 32 million estimated living penguins, none gives a damn about productivity. They don't save for the future and often remain unaware of the existence of predators until it is too late to do anything about it.

Contrary to what is portrayed in cartoons and children books, penguins are neither creative nor funny. This is proven by the fact that tourists going to the Stewart Islands in New Zealand rarely devote more than a couple of hours to watch penguins. "I had never realized that penguins were so passive," Japanese tourists frequently comment. "They just stand there for hours and do nothing."

Practically without exception, tourists return home with the conviction that being a penguin is not really that much fun. Luckily, most humans come to a similar conclusion by the time we grow up. Hanging around, squandering our life away, is not a viable option for those who aspire to happiness. Only purposeful action and continued achievement fulfil our psychological need to feel in control of our future.

Irrespective of the field involved, personal initiative is a major element of happiness. It matters little whether you choose to devote yourself to growing your company, writing music, searching for an effective treatment of cancer, or raising your kids to become great human beings. Our rational nature takes pleasure in every achievement. No matter how small our victories, we all love to tell our friends about them.

* AT WORK: when you figure out a way to complete a task quicker than anyone expected.

* AT HOME: when you manage to fix an old appliance that was considered beyond repair.

* IN SPORTS: when you succeed at running faster and score additional points.

* AT INVESTING: when you see the value of your assets go up and feel your strategy vindicated.

* IN YOUR LIFESTYLE: when you achieve simplicity and eliminate waste.

* IN YOUR RELATIONSHIPS: when you focus on honesty and creativity

* IN YOUR PHILOSOPHY: when you view life as a flow of actions that can be continuously improved.

Consider that there is a good reason behind the passivity of penguins: although they know how to catch fish, they don't realize that, one day, they are going to die. None of us, however, can hide behind that sort of ignorance. Understanding the link between personal initiative and happiness represents a major step towards a brighter life.


[Image by Eric Perrone under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]