This is a personal account: of a situation I face presently.
I found work during the 2008-2009 economic recession and things were bad then. Staffing was not always optimal and there was the unspoken expectation in most of business to get more done with less. This should have been the worst part of my life, right?
Instead, I have some of the best memories from this part of my life. It was hard but it was hard for all of us. We worked together, accommodating, understanding each other, knowing that our personal differences should not lead us to failure during such an important time. We did not party, hangout with each other or complain about our bosses over coffee. We just clicked!
Almost a decade hence, we now face a phenomenon: the culture of aggressively promoting happiness at work. The motivation for this happens to be making the workplace more fun and to promote team-bonding.
For people like me, who are happy by default, this is slowly becoming a challenge to deal with. From bearing labels like joy-killers to fielding questions like what is wrong with you?, it appears that you cannot just stay away from participating in these fun activities.
Answers like, ‘I find work fun as it is and derive satisfaction from my career’ are met with unbelieving eyes. Most team-bonding exercises involve pointless competition. Most fun-outings are conducted in meticulously managed spaces like theme-parks or artificial resorts. If I wanted to be happy outside, I would walk to a forest or go up a hill or sit by a lake quietly – alone or with similar-minded people. Somehow, theme-parks, circuses and resorts fail to make me happy. In fact, I end up feeling a little sad that humanity has to seek after such artificial avenues, that work has to be stressful from which one has to get away once a while to feel normal. However, it is not easy (nor is it right) to state this view bluntly and openly.
Introspective questions like ‘What is stopping this present moment at work – with yourself and these people around you – from being a source of contentment and happiness?’ are extremely powerful but cannot be easily asked. It can be construed very rude and as spiritual people, we must understand that situation also.
There are instances of people doing such fun things not because they enjoy it but because they do not want to be seen as abnormal or only because their boss is also doing it and they don’t to rub their boss the wrong way by staying away.
Some people confide about how they feel uncomfortable about such events or even guilty. If they are having a fun moment, they might as well share that moment with close friends or family, not with office colleagues. It complicates their life that they do not share such moments with near and dear ones.
From my personal experience, I have not noticed that fun events promote better understanding between members of the team. What is understood about each other is usually not relevant to the function of the team. One is more likely to understand the other by working with the other person in an aware manner, understanding strengths and weaknesses and learning how to click as a team. Just like how honeymoons and vacations cannot save marriages, like how pampering kids with attention and cash does them no good, doing such fun events without being aware and attentive while working cannot yield intended results.
As much as it would be wrong to generalize that such managed fun events would promote happiness of all employees, it would be wrong to generalize that such events are utterly useless. It is quite possible that there are those among us who need such events and derive comfort from these events.
This means having to acknowledge that there is more than one way to be happy and that no particular way is best suited for all.
Which takes us to the truth that we can put off happiness waiting for some event to happen, but we can never enjoy happiness fully until we realize it as part of our natural state of being. It can be liberating to be happy without having to grasp at or long for a single new thing, by accepting fully our current state of life.
For those of us who like to find happiness in the quiet or are generally happy, for those of us who think along spiritual lines, this challenge is also an opportunity for learning and understanding. It is a time for creative communication. The worst thing we can do here is to think of others as being crass or spiritually inferior. We must be alive to the need for happiness that lies in every human being and treat the condition with respect. Actions speak louder than words; the way we go about our work and live our lives, the kind of people we turn out to be speak louder than explanations, reasoning and arguments. The fulfillment of a spiritual life lies in its ability to spread happiness to others, just as a flower that enlivens its surrounding with its fragrance.
With the spotlight on us, we have not just the opportunity, but the necessity to live authentically and in that way, we must be grateful for this challenge.