The First Step to Happiness: Don’t be a Basil Fawlty!

This is the first of a series of articles I am writing about happiness.  If some of my content seems obvious, it is because many people are obviously overlooking it.

John Cleese once said that he based the character, Basil Fawlty, on a real hotelier he encountered who was totally unsuited to his occupation.  He had a dislike of guests.  He seemed oblivious to the fact that his business existed in order to provide services to guests.  Likewise, he failed to grasp that managing employees is an integral part of managing a business.  He was the last person who should be in the hotel business.  He never seemed happy.

Many people are unhappy because they are in occupations for which they too are unsuited for one reason or another.  The term ‘a square peg in a round hole’.

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How does it happen that so many people are unhappy in their work?  Surely you would apply for a job only if you wanted it?

  • Often you do not fully appreciate what a job entails until you are in it.
  • Recruiters have to work on limited information and anyway they make mistakes like everyone.
  • Jobs evolve with time, restructuring and technology.

On top of these factors, there is the Peter Principle.  This states that people are promoted until they reach their level of incompetence.  You were an ideal assistant widget-maker but a hopeless chief widget-maker.   I will resist the temptation to illustrate this with examples from the World of politics.

What can you do about it, if you are not experiencing happiness in your situation?

  1. Change your job.
  2. Learn new skills.
  3. Analyse the content of the job and see if some parts suit you and others do not. When I worked in accountancy, I used to enjoy dealing with the big picture issues of financial management.  I also enjoyed auditing, which involved investigating and problem-solving.  What I did not enjoy was the minutiae of book-keeping.
  4. Try to arrange your work to minimise the time spent on the less enjoyable parts. Perhaps you should have a chat with your boss.  If you are self-employed, outsourcing certain elements might be the answer.

Life is not all about work.  Not for all of us.  You may be surprised to find that the same issues apply to your family or social life.  I have never been any good at ball games.  I can neither throw nor catch, kick nor bat, with any accuracy.  My father wasted a lot of time and effort trying to help me to overcome these ‘deficiencies’.  Fortunately, for both of us, he was not as obsessive as some parents and wanted me to be myself rather than a junior version of himself.  Not all children are so lucky.  Some continue into adulthood trying to be someone else to please parents, teachers, peers or whoever.

I love horses.  Riding has given me a huge amount of happiness.  Nobody ever tried to force me to ride.  It was just in my nature.  What is in yours?

This applies not only to work and sport.  Some people try hard to socialise, when they much prefer a quiet night reading or watching TV.  Others, particularly women, try very hard to deny that they are not family-people.  They do not like children.  They do not want to spend a lot of time playing with them.   They feel guilty every time they opt out by leaving the kids with someone else.

What about Church?  Here is a special application of all this for Christians.  Read what St Paul says about spiritual gifts in Romans 12, I Corinthians 14 and Ephesians 4.  Get it?  Do not beat yourself up if you do not have all the gifts or any particular one.  It does not say the lists are exhaustive.  Use what you have.  Be the person God made you to be.  If your church does not accept or value you or your gift, find one that does.

In summary, if there is a lack of happiness in your life:

  • The first thing to do is to change the situation.
  • That may be easier said than done. So accept it.  Admit to being who you are.
  • Enjoy being yourself.

In case you were wondering, I enjoy writing.

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