Being Constantly “Unhappy”

When I run, I listen to podcasts. The latest one was a Tim Ferris discussion with Sir James Dyson. Yes, that Dyson that you probably use in your house (and I mean the vacuum cleaner) and the one that you probably used at least once in a public restroom (the airblades hand drier). It was an absolutely fascinating discussion, and I encourage you to go listening yourself, it’s a one and a half hour well spent.

One of the things that Sir James Dyson said at the end of the podcast really stayed with me. Partially because I didn’t quite understand what he meant, and partially because I’ve been in that space myself. I will quote approximately: “As an inventor, it’s fundamental to stay unhappy, to never be satisfied with your current design, to always look for new ways of doing things”.

After a few hours I realized that this quote resonated with me because I didn’t agree with the “unhappiness” part. I do think we need some balance. We need to experience both satisfaction and dissatisfaction. A life lived solely in chosen unhappiness is a waste. I know, because I’ve been in that space, trying to constantly, relentlessly improve myself. This blog is witness to that. I’ve been personally developing for more than a decade.

And yet, there is some room for debate here.

I think I can align with what Sir James Dyson said, but with a few caveats.

First of all, I would separate the unhappiness reasons. I guess we can have a certain state of happiness about something we did, something we built, we created. But that’s different from how we approach life in general. It may seem a conflicting belief, and yet I do think it’s possible to approach life from a place of trust and happiness, overall, and still maintain a certain level of dissatisfaction with some things we do.

Please note the wording here: “some” things we do. Not all of them.

Second, even when I am in that continuous state of dissatisfaction about the things I try to improve, I would align it to the current context. Some things simply cannot be improved beyond a certain point. Or it’s unfeasible, from many points of view. It may be that those who are supposed to use that thing aren’t yet prepared for such a degree of flexibility and improvement. History is full of examples of products “ahead of their time”. Or it may be that the cost of improvement is bigger than the benefits.

The amount of improvement we apply – this time both to things we do, and to ourselves – should always match the current context, the environment in which we live.

Imagine what it would mean if we would try to improve our metabolism at both very high and very low temperatures. It’s unlikely that we will ever live in such an environment in which we will need both improvements at the same time. We generally need to function well between certain parameters, not for all parameters.

Functioning well in the current context is what we should achieve. Should the context change, we should change too. But until then, prepping and fretting about something that it’s not even happening, is a waste of time, energy and focus.

So, being constantly “unhappy” might work, for a while, but only for a few things. For the rest, being constantly happy (note the absence of the quotes) is our best bet.

Photo by Tales Ferretti on Unsplash

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