There is a software engineer at work who is the happiest person I know. He walks the hallways humming or singing, almost always offers a smile and a funny remark, and embraces problems with joy – nothing less than joy.
I have upon occasion asked him why he is such a happy person when the rest of us are much moodier creatures. He explained in the types of terms one would expect: there is no problem which cannot be solved, at the end of the day there is family and love, life is too short to be grumpy all the time, etc. These are the types of useless platitudes that lead to nothing more than the perception that the individual uttering them requires a mental health professional.
Today, however, I discovered the real secret to happiness.
This morning, Brit and I listened to a one-hour webinar on database tuning. I had met the instructor at a conference last year, at which I participated in some workshops and seminars he led. He and I bonded quickly, and have maintained a sporadic but friendly professional correspondence ever since.
As we listened, and as Brit and I exchanged questions during the lecture portion of the presentation (frequently, handily answered when he made use of his iPhone to Google-search for relevant materials), I suddenly realized that despite a severe lack of sleep due to work-related problems, and despite a lingering headache, and despite a nearly impossible timetable to complete a rather huge project, I felt rather happy.
As analysis is my vice and virtue, I pondered this during my drive home this evening. And then I understood that the secret to happiness is to be in a constant learning mode.
Back to our happy software engineer: One evening he and I were working on a project together late into the evening. We were enjoying a company-provided dinner and taking a mental break from the large set of tasks still awaiting completion. During our conversation, he mentioned that the reason he is one of the late arrivals to work each morning is that he frequently spends his evenings reading about new technology, or learning a new programming language, or learning how to resolve a particularly troublesome and persistent problem. He is constantly learning something new, never falling stale and avoiding the type of boredom which leads to the blues.