Wednesday 22 April 2009

Small problems cause unhappiness

When I lived in London, many moons ago, I was at a pub with my (then) girlfriend and having a chat with one of her friends about life, when he handed over to me a small, framed, ink blot painting and told me it was a gift for me.

On the back of the frame were two potential titles; the first "can I set fire to your poodle missus?" and the second "A voyage into the multidimensional integrity of nonduality (man)". He signed off in what I think is an Indian script, but I can't help thinking that it looks quite a lot like a boy's graffiti of breasts.

I have to confess I was just a little bit confused, and wondered how many of these things he carried around for just such an occasion. I was all for writing this guy off as a fruit loop or an artist (it's sometimes a fine line), when he said "the small problems eat away at you every day. You have to fix them quickly". He could see my slightly blank look and explained how he had a squeaky floorboard, and every day he could hear this little squeak when he walked through the corridor. Each time that squeak happened there was just enough to be heard, to cut through into his consciousness and, for a brief flash of a moment, remind him that there was something that needed to be fixed and he was too lazy to fix it, and then it was gone. Never enough of an impact to actually fix the squeak, but just enough to make sure he knew there was something he hadn't done. He told me that I we needed to recognise how these little things can have big effects on how we feel, but that the effect is slow to build up and hard to spot. That we need to see these little problems for what they are; big problems waiting to grow, and we should fix them as soon as we see them.

I've never forgotten this advice because it seems to ring true so often. I think that this advice is important for us individuals living our own lives at home, but imagine scaling this up to your company. Imagine these little problems that exist, impacting 10, 50, or 100 people every day. Think of all the hard won happiness that is being erroded by these drip feeds of unhappiness. The little problems can be any number of things; the hot water tap not working, cleaners not cleaning desks properly, or even an individual trying just a little less hard than those around them. None of these things may appear major to you, and none or them may appear serious enough to need fixing. However, try to imagine them multiplied by the number of people affected and the number of times they are affected and imagine it all happened at the same time on the same day to the same person. That should give you an idea of how much happiness you're losing. When you think about how hard you worked to get that happiness in the first place, maybe you'll think harder about fixing the problem.


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