Architects and the Art of Being Happy
Table of Contents
Take a look around and you are likely to see what I see. Read the emails I receive and you’re likely to start believing it as well. People, which includes Architects, seem to be fairly unhappy at the moment and we are going to see what we can do about it. Are we going to get a little philosophical on you? Probably. Welcome to Episode 103: Architects and The Art of Being Happy
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Today Andrew and I are going to talk about happiness within the state of architectural practice … even though this isn’t really specific to architects, it just happens to be the lens through which I see things. I have been thinking on the subject of “being happy” off and on for about the last 25 years but only recently have I decided that I needed to get serious about it. In my early 30’s, I thought it was prudent to see a therapist because I felt like I was never happy. I had started setting goals for myself once I got out of school and 6+ years down the road things were actually going pretty well – no apparent reason to not feel good about achieving the goals I had set out for myself … but no matter what I achieved, I could never appreciate the moment and relish in my accomplishment. As soon as I achieved the goal I had tasked myself, at that moment (the moment when I should have been the happiest), I typically started wondering why it had taken me this long to get it done in the first place. In addition, I instantly moved on to the next task without even pausing for a bit to appreciate achieving whatever accomplishment I had set out for myself.
To help deal with this, I started reading a lot of books to help understand why I might be feeling the way I did and ultimately I set my way of thinking to be in a place to try and understand why I thought the way I did because it hasn’t really changed for me. I understand it better so I think about it differently, but my behavior is largely the same.
I wrote a post in March 2015 titled Happiness and Being an Architect that Andrew and I discussed at the 5:28 mark, which speaks to the idea that if you have a dream, and accomplishing that dream is making you miserable, that maybe it is in your long-term interests to abandoned that dream. For anyone who has had a dream, particularly one that you’ve had for a long time, and especially if achieving that dream is somehow tied up in how you see yourself, you know just how difficult giving up on it can be.
This is really a reflection of a series of essays I had been reading by 17th-century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer, who was widely recognized as being a genius but also had the nickname “The Prince of Pessimism” which is ironic since he wrote s manual for his personal use titled “Doctrine of Happiness” in which he compiled 50 rules to achieve a happy life (or existence). Through Project Gutenberg, you can read these “rules” as a series of short essays (here) but I have pulled out some of the topics we discussed in today’s episode.
- The search for happiness is actually the cause of pain and suffering.
- Enjoying the present moment without searching for any kind of joyful state of being is what the wise do
- Jealousy leads to self-misunderstanding – takes away the path of self-understanding is wanting what others have. We want everything and to be able to do everything and forget that life is about letting go so we can enjoy other things.
- The goal is to stay faithful to oneself and to follow your own path which is different from others. Jealousy is to be avoided because it leads to hesitation to follow your own path.
- Instead of saying “what if this belonged to me?” it is better to say “what if I lose what I already have?”
I think that despite the frequently grim and pleasure-free existence Schopenhauer, advocates, there are a great many concepts here that reflect our more modern existence. I’ll leave you with this:
Don’t be so hard on yourself. We have all made mistakes in the past. And not everything depends on you; fate and destiny affect your actions as well.
Why are People Unhappy? jump to 16:07
The question at this point is whether or not people are unhappy – which I believe that most architects I know are not living their best life at the moment. I should point out that my perception is 100% shaded by the people I engage with through email, social media, committees, etc. and as a result, these are people across the globe (and not necessarily the people I sit next to in my office).
On one hand, things are good for the architectural profession at the moment as work is readily available. In fact, it might be too available. But as the saying goes, “Make hay while the sun shines” so having work is not the problem. It comes from having a lot of work and not having the people to do it, which ultimately puts a burden on the existing people to work longer and longer hours. While the architectural profession is no stranger to long hours, this issue seems to have been in place for a tenuously long time and we are starting to see burnout.
This is something that always gets brought up and is probably the one that moves the needle the absolute least for me. Everybody wants more money regardless of the job they do and if you think more money is a long-term solution, I would suggest that you are going to be disappointed. Most of the architects I know make enough money to pay their bills and the source of their unhappiness with their compensation is a result of a disconnect between the perception of how hard the thing that they do is compared to what they get paid to do it. I am completely sympathetic to this but I can promise you it will not ultimately bring you the happiness you are currently missing out on achieving.
Isolation (disconnected) and the Post-Covid hangover?
This is a big one and I think probably contributes most to the general malaise that our profession seems to be experiencing. I just returned from the AIA Conference on Architecture and I heard story after story from people who are at varying degrees of working from home. My office has been back in the office since March 2021 and we do not have the most robust work-from-home policies, but I miss all those people when they are not in the office. While I can easily recognize the benefits of working from home, I think that people being out of the office is drastically impacting the culture of offices all over the planet. The act of coming into the office to work is almost perceived as punishment and as a result, it seems to have eliminated the “fun” of being together.
What Makes You Happy? jump to 25:18
I don’t mean kittens – even though kittens are delightful. I am asking for the everyday things that can bring a moment of respite and joy to your everyday existence … maybe I am talking about kittens after all.
Schopenhauer talks about being in the moment and finding small moments in real-time that make you happy. Put some energy and effort into the act to recognize these moments and actively take time to enjoy them, as simple and minuscule they might be. I have actively tried to do this for myself and most of the time, those moments occur when I am listening to music and I have actively been looking for new music and I’ve been putting together playlists. I’ll confess that I really like the Korean super-group BTS, barbequing, and a really nicely sharpened pencil. Seeking these moments of happiness and recognizing these moments can fundamentally impact your day in a positive way and this takes the edge off the maybe not-so-positive things that might take place.
Whatever it might be, and it will most likely be different for everyone listening to this episode, take a moment and enjoy as many incremental moments of happiness as you possibly can.
(I am going to start publishing all these playlists I am making so if you’re interested and on Spotify, you can follow me as bobborson)
Happiness Outside of the Office jump to 38:03
While this is seemingly obvious I think it requires some acknowledgment. It isn’t reasonable to think that a single issue has a single solution so whatever you are missing in one part of your life can be supplemented by another. This is, of course, an easy thing to say assuming that you actually have meaningful time outside of the office. Everyone is busy and how people decide to curate their off-work hours is (and should be) specific to personal goals and professional goals. That might manifest as a walk around the block at 6:00 am so you can still get to the office at your favored time, blocking out time to study for the architectural registration exam, or leaving enough time to make dinner rather than picking up food from the drive-thru.
You don’t have to draw 100% of your happiness from work – you should draw some considering that this is your career and if you aren’t this brings us back to the beginning when we mentioned that if being a whatever you are is making you miserable, maybe this shouldn’t be what you do. The things that are important to you will fall along different points of your priority scale based on your current needs, but as Schopenhauer would have you understand, it’s only when you want what you want without recognizing the impact one priority will have on the other items on your list. In short, you can’t have it all and the sooner you recognize that the more content you should become.
What’s the Rank jump to 44:14
I am going to admit to two things right off the bat … I am incredibly flexible in my definition of what constitutes “deli meat” and maybe I choose something just to get a reaction. Maybe. I don’t go out for sandwiches very often because I think most sandwiches are not so incredible that I couldn’t make them better (or at least more specific to my palette) at home. As a result, I tend to only eat sandwiches that I can’t make. So what sort of deli meats makes their way into my house?
What are the Top 3 Deli Meats?
Just as you are thinking through your own list, keep in mind that we aren’t asking which deli meats you eat the most frequently, but maybe just the ones that make you the happiest (if that’s even possible …).
|Andrew’s Top 3 Deli Meats||Pepperoni||Roast Beef||Turkey|
|Bob’s Top 3 Deli Meats||Liverwurst||Ham||Pastrami|
Are these really the best deli meats? … No chance, but apparently they make us happy.
Ep 103: Architects and the Art of Being Happy
Despite today’s topic focusing on the art of being happy, it wasn’t a particularly easy path that we discussed. There is one giant takeaway from this episode that I would like people to focus on – happiness in real-time of singular unmiraculous events. Being able to capture a handful of moments throughout your day that can bring you some joy – however fleeting – will go a long way to improving your mental state. Attempting to solve the other items that people are struggling with are too specific for the generic sort of advice we can provide here, but we all seem to be going through the same thing at the moment. Having been in the workforce professionally for 30 years and having lived through periods of time where the good and bad vacillated wildly over short periods of time, the only thing that is different now is the post-covid hangover. I believe that we are still learning how to cope with the effects of the pandemic, the workplace policies that are being worked through at the moment, and I think we still have a ways to go before we establish the new normal. In the meantime, look for those daily shiny moments.
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