Al G. and Jeff P.–Finding Happiness in the Process

I’m not sure how or why this came to me the other day. But I recall a discussion that one of my college friends had with a classmate [this is more than 35 years ago].  Jeff P. was a typical chubby, mid-size but intelligent sloppily dressed college student of the late 60s, more into smoking pot and listening to records than any physical exercise.  He and I were members of the more ‘intellectual’ fraternity on campus.

Al G., on the other hand was a member of the football team and constantly working out.  He was huge and in retrospect I suspect he might have been using steroids.  Although, this may be an unfair recollection, especially considering that our college played other small liberal arts schools, there were no ‘athletic’ scholarships, and no one who played sports had any hope of a professional career.

I recall Al G. ‘working’ a hand grip in one of our political science classes. He just couldn’t stop from ‘doing something’ to build up his physical strength and form. In fact it seemed, in retrospect, that he had just about reached his peak in both, and was in a maintenance mode of working out.

Jeff P. sat next to him and one day reported the essence of a conversation between the two of them.– Al G. looked over at Jeff P, looked him up and down and wistfully noted, ‘Hey man, I wished I looked like you’  Jeff P. was shocked and asked back whether he was just ‘busting his balls’ over his sloppy physique.  ‘No man, I ain’t shitting you.  I wish I looked like you so I start this whole thing over again.  I just loved getting this big!

I know that many might find this comment odd, but psychologists who study ‘happiness’ note the significance of process in our lives, how overcoming adversity, rising to a challenge, following a difficult but ultimately rewarding path is what brings us satisfaction in life.

Al G. was experiencing that let-down of ‘success’.  He had reached his limit, his potential and was now disappointed because he just was happy.
It is a curious aspect of human nature. We may dream dreams of achievement and success-but when and if they arrive, we are disappointed.

Having watched the Oscars the other night I couldn’t help but notice the difference in reaction between first-time winners and repeat winners.  The repeaters seemed happy, but less enthusiastic.  Perhaps it was just their personalities, but it seemed to me that the Coen brothers seemed a bit nostalgic for when they were kids, just starting to make movies.

How many family businesses, built upon the sweat and tears of parents or grandparents, fail when handed over to a generation who did ‘t have to participate in all the pain and suffering involved.

Now most of us would rather skip the ‘pain’ of working hard, struggling, building careers–yet we need to understand how powerfully important is the process of transformation in our overall sense of contentment and happiness.

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