Monday, September 05, 2005

Positive Hazards

I consider myself a positive person. I tend not to let unpleasant things get to me, and even when in a less than ideal situation I try to stay focused on any positive aspects that may be present. It's not that I'll be ignorant of the whole picture. Even while remaining optimistic I'll usually be well aware of the negative issues involved, but I'll refrain from letting them bring me down. I think I picked up this quality from my yeshiva days where the concept of "Aizeh hu ashir? Hasameach b'chelko" was emphasized (Pirkei Avot 4:1). (Who is the happy man? He who is satisfied with his lot.) I've always been glad to have such a personality, and have considered it a great asset to have through life. But recently I realized that being a positive person can have it's down-sides too. Staying focused on the positive can actually have detrimental effects on a person too.

I came to this realization when I recently examined my life and saw that I wasn't doing anything significant to achieve what I really wanted in life. There is so much that I want to accomplish and to be, and I've had specific and concrete ideas of some of those things for some time now. Yet, I haven't been doing much to reach those goals. Why is this? Is it due to laziness? Possibly. But I think a better explanation is that I'm quite happy with my life as it is now. Even though I'm not achieving my goals, I usually feel good enough about my life that it kind of takes away the drive to work towards other things. After all, if you're happy with what you have, why pursue other things? It sounds like a pathetic excuse, but I think it explains well why I haven't been trying as hard as I should be to achieve certain things. Despite my aspiration to be more than I am now, I haven't been bothered enough by my situation to want to work towards achieving those goals. And why haven't I been bothered by it? Because I don't ever let myself take a good look at the negative aspects of my situation and how it's preventing me from growing the way I want to.

Lesson #1: There's a fine line between being happy with one's life and settling for mediocrity.

Another issue which raised this awareness in my life was in regard to relationships. Relationships are never easy to succeed at, and there are innumerable pitfalls that can ruin a potentially meaningful one. Any mature person understands that it's inevitable that even someone who is liked a lot will still have certain qualities that may be less than endearing. The trick is not to let those bothersome aspects get in the way of all the good that the relationship has to offer. You need to focus on the positive. I suppose I'm pretty good at doing that. In fact, I know I'm way too good at it. I can't think of a single time that I ended a relationship because of any specific disturbing or annoying characteristic of the other person. I'm very forgiving of most things and can put up with a lot if I feel the payoff is worth the price. And this also I've always considered an asset that I can be proud of. But it too has a serious downside that shouldn't be ignored.

If you don't admit to yourself that there are troubling aspects to a person - or even if you admit there are, but not acknowledge just how troubling these aspects are to you - it will come back to bite you in the ass later on in the relationship. Issues that really bother you shouldn't be ignored, even if they do seem to be outweighed by many more positive characteristics of the person. If you only focus on the positive and not let yourself feel just how much those issues affect you, you aren't doing anyone any favors.

Of course, this does have to be balanced with the other factor that obviously not everyone is perfect and one must be prepared to accept certain flaws in the other person. But those "flaws" need to be carefully examined and determined how much they truly bother you.

Lesson #2: There's a fine line between being forgiving and giving up on something that you really shouldn't.

Having a positive outlook is a wonderful quality that I wish we all had. But as with all things, one needs to understand that this wonderful quality should be used with discretion and that there are situations where a more critical and unforgiving attitude would definitely serve one better than being sameach with one's chelek.


Pragmatician said...

It seems to me you imply one has only accomplished something if he has ”accomplished” something.
I personally think that if someone does not strive for more and does not hurt anyone, then in fact he would be the person who had accomplished the most in life!
People who have built entire cities wouldn’t be able to say and I quote “I'm quite happy with my life as it is now”!

!!איזה הוא עשיר--השמח בחלקו

The Hedyot said...

I think you're equating "accomplishing" and "being happy". While those two concepts can at times be intertwined, they aren't always.

I do admit that a lot of these terms and feelings are very subjective, so if you don't agree with my perspective, I'm not going to argue about it too much.

farbisener said...

when i first saw this post, i had all kinds of insightful, negative, biting remarks to make about your thoughts. but as i read on, I was once again floored by your brilliance. Solid and rational thinking. well articulated. no sensationalism, cliche's, or jargon. i love your stuff, hedyot. hell, im beginning to think, maybe I love you.

The Hedyot said...

I love you too Farbisener.

Thanks :)

daat y said...

now is that accomplishing something/love/

The Hedyot said...


RuchniGashmi said...

I have always been a big believer that to every situation in life there are many different ways to perceiev things. There are very few absolute truths in life. I like reading your posts, you are eloquent smart and you present your ideas in a very coherent manner. Hapiness and contenment are two very different things. Someone who is truly happy is constantly seeking to grow. Not because they feel themselves inadequate but because they want more happiness. Life is about growth. Someone who is not growing and comes to a standstill in their spiritual, financial, personal etc.. life they are dead. But again, ever situation and person is different and this concept applies on many different levels. My opnion is that if someone is not growing in at least one area of their life, they are stuck, not happy and not living life.

mnuez said...

Reminds me of the question I once posed my Rosh Yeshiva (at the time) after a long shmuez he gave on the beauty of "Aizehu Ashir HaSameach B'chelko". I asked him (and pissed him off in doing so):

How many Sameach B'chelkos does it take to change a lightbulb? :-)

In truth though, the question of happiness vs. "constructiveness" is an excellent one and one that - if pursued honestly and ad sof davar leads to exceedingly unsatisfactory and depressing conclusions.

In truth the matrix might be best - also called Buddhism and the talmudic dictum that tis better never to have been born...

Then again, maybe not. :-)

yeshivaguy said...

Guess what? Eizehu ashir does not mean "who is a happy man."