Happiness = Reality/Expectations

For some reason – maybe pre-holiday anxiousness? – there’s a lot being written about the nature and attainment of happiness this week. Not just the below-referenced article on happiness from the WSJ, but another article from the WSJ on cognitive dissonance as a coping strategy (subscription – hence, no link), and now a long article from New York Magazine on burnout. Some interesting quotes:

“Farber had burned out once before. Back in the late sixties and early seventies, he taught public school in East Harlem….for four years he’d struggled to stop his students from fighting with one another, and in spite of his best efforts he couldn’t even teach all of them to read….Eventually, he began to pull away from his students—depersonalization, as the literature now calls it…It was only when Farber went to graduate school at Yale that he learned that this syndrome had a name: Burnout. “The concept offered a perfect understanding of what teachers were feeling,” he recalls. “It wasn’t in fact that they were racist and mercenary and noncaring but that their level of caring couldn’t be sustained in the absence of results.””

“The term [burnout] was first coined by a psychotherapist named Herbert Freudenberger, who himself probably took it from Graham Greene’s novel A Burnt-Out Case. (“I haven’t enough feeling left for human beings,” the book’s numb protagonist, Querry, wrote in his journal, “to do anything for them out of pity.”) While working at a free clinic for drug addicts in Haight-Ashbury, Freudenberger noticed that the volunteers, when discouraged, would often push harder and harder at their jobs, only to feel as if they were achieving less and less. The result, in 1974, was the book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement.”

“Ask Cass why his clients are burning out, and his answer isn’t any different for a banker than it would be for a public-school teacher; there’s a gulf between what they expected from their jobs and what they got..So what does he tell them? “That happiness equals reality divided by expectations.”

“Maslach found that younger people burn out more often than older people, a finding that turns up again and again both here and abroad….Older workers, as it turns out, have more perspective and more experience; it’s the young idealists who go flying into a profession, plumped full of high hopes, and run full-speed into a wall. Maslach also found that married people burn out less often than single people, as long as their marriages are good, because they don’t depend as much on their jobs for fulfillment. And childless people, though unburdened by the daily strains of parenting, tend to burn out far more than people with kids….It’s much easier to disproportionately invest emotional and physical capital in the office if you have nowhere else to put it. And the office seldom loves you back.

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