Office jobs equal unhappiness is a paradox in China
Iwas at an event the other night with 100 well-dressed, good looking, Englishspeaking Tokyoites, listening to this guy in his 40s with his hair tied into a tiny bun talk about how to be happy.
He started with his personal story, and it was a familiar one. Growing up he followed the path society expected of him and became very successful. But he was not happy. So he quit his job and traveled around the world for six years with a neuroscientist and a psychologist. He then made this journey in search for happiness into a documentary called HAPPY. He now wears Uniqlo instead of Armani suits and is, of course, much happier.
The crowd was applauding and cheering fanatically. I admit he seems like a brilliant guy and does interesting things, but I was not converted. Nothing I haven’t heard before. At the center of the narratives of “finding happiness” is someone who used to be very successful but realized one day that money doesn’t make them happy or that a nineto-five office job is simply unfulfilling. So, he quits his job and travels around the world in search for the secret to happiness. He finds it and comes back to spread the message, be it mindfulness, yoga, living in the present, minimalism or “follow your heart.” And now he lives happily and spends his days helping more people find happiness and meaning in life.
And their message boils down to this: Whatever you do, do not get a regular job. Be a writer, a musician, a filmmaker or a surfer. Open a small flower shop or a café, anything but an office job.
Sure, there might be some truth in the saying that money doesn’t buy you happiness, but take a moment and ask yourself why we listen to these “gurus?”
We give them our attention, buy their books and go to their talks. Why? We do it because they’ve “made it,” they were successful and most likely still are. When is the last time you have seen a starving person preaching happiness – however successful they used to be? And it’s not likely that anyone in the audience that night was starving either. Just like the “religion of success” tells people that if you don’t get a good job, earn this much and own a house you are a failure, the “religion of success” tells people if you work in a cubicle, you are a loser. Ultimately the two discourses aren’t that different. Put aside the point that happiness and success means different things to different people, such discourses make us feel something is wrong with us if we aren’t a certain way. I get it. It’s the first time for all of us in this life, and we could all use some guidance. But where is the guidebook to being ordinary? Most of us are going to live an “ordinary” life, boring even. That doesn’t mean it can’t be a good life. But you probably won’t ever see a book about it because it’s not sexy and won’t sell. At the end of the day, the farm boy from The Princess Bride (1987) was right: “Life is pain, highness. Anyone who says differently is selling something.” The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Global Times.