The Palmer Press

Why Aren't You Happy Yet?

Last Updated March 2020

Walking through the Upper East Side this week, I happened to look up at some scaffolding over the sidewalk and catch written across the beams the phrase "Why Aren't You Happy Yet?" It was written one word at a time, so that it would only make sense for a five- or ten-foot stretch of sidewalk. It is not often that I take photos, but it caught so me off guard that I had to take a picture of it so that I could think about it more later.

Part of the reason that it hit me so hard was because I have not been in high spirits the last few weeks. I had to stay the previous weekend in Chicago to work, on top of otherwise demanding work weeks. I had been hoping that the work week would be productive but contained between the hours of 8:00 and 6:30. This did not happen.

I was frustrated because the things I wanted to do never made it into my calendar. I wanted to make it to the gym regularly and study for the GMAT. (1) Instead, I spent my evenings during the week in my usual hand-off calls with my India team and the evenings after the weekend work at social events with coworkers. I could have made the choice to not go to dinner and happy hours with my teammates, but I enjoy talking shop over a few beers to unwind. I do not know if saying "yes" to social outings is a lack of will or a sign of healthy work relationships. I do not want to be the guy idolizing the romantically dramatized sociopaths a lá American Psycho for their ability to keep routines.

So, after the "twelve-day work week," I did spend some quality time with friends on Friday and Saturday evening before trying to study on Sunday. Before starting a practice exam, I listened to a meditation lesson on the Waking Up app that mentioned a poster created by the blog Wait But Why that is a "calendar" of 52 empty boxes in a line, repeated 90 times. It is a visualization of how many weeks are in a lifetime of 90 years and is meant to show how much of a human life one week really is. I am considering buying the poster as my only piece of artwork in my new NYC apartment, because thinking about the way a life breaks down that way is somewhere between macabre and enlightening.

I think this visual exercise is valuable because I have a bad habit of breaking a week into two sections, the part where I have travelled and the part where I am home. This makes the visualization of a week that much more impactful. I only have 52 weekends a year to live my life. I recognize that this is unhealthy, and I am trying to stop thinking about my life in this compartmentalized way. (2)

There are some otherwise innocuous quotes that will forever stick with me, (3) and many of them have to do with recognizing how short life is. One favorite is from a partner at the consulting firm where I interned, saying "This is your life." The delivery in a thick Australian accent is part of why it has been impactful. And another is "Life is what happens to you while you're busy making other plans," from a late John Lennon song. To me, they are reminders to be present. If you are not paying attention to the important things in life, they will slip by without you noticing. This is even worse if you are focusing on the negative things in life.

So, what is the “So What” of everything that I have rambled on about for the last few hundred words? I think it’s just a reminder to take a step back and add up the things that are important so that you can give them the time they deserve, as well as examine the things frustrating you, so that you can try to give them less radio time in your own head. Take a breath and try to take account of the things in life that really do matter (which I think should be spending time with the people you love and challenging oneself to learn, create and share, but to each their own). It can sound like impractical advice to try to just spend less time with your negative emotions, but I think that taking the time to understand why they are there can help to move on to the positive thoughts that we want to spend more time with.

Lastly, I want to share that the words “Why Aren’t You Happy Yet?” from the NYC graffiti will enter my list of platitudes that keep me centered. When I saw them this week, I thought about the root cause of my frustration being a self-centeredness that I have let occupy too much space. I immediately remembered that “This Is Water” I was so busy being frustrated about minor disturbances that I could not remember to be thankful for the good things I have. It takes constant readjustment to be present in life for the positive things. I am hoping that this email is a reminder to do that in your own lives.

End Notes