Can Happiness and Continuous Improvement Coexist?

Winter Tree 004

During one of my zillion jobs (I am prone to exaggeration), I was responsible for typing a PhD thesis on Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI).  CQI processes originally arose out of Japanese industry that discovered a key to increasing efficiency, cost effectiveness and productivity.  One look at Japan’s technological revolution since the 1950s, and you have an impressive outcome.  You also have the only country I know of that has created a word to mean “death by overwork” (Karoshi).

Paradoxically the takeaway I appreciate most from a few months I spent in Japan 25 years ago was the culture’s daily connection to spirits of Earth (Shinto-ism) and humility.

I also worked for institutions implementing CQI plans, so I got a good inside and outside overview of the purpose of a plan to continually improve processes.  The management trick is to encourage employees not to take any problems personally because the theory states all problems are simply the result of a process that needs to be improved.

It dawned on me that life can be analogous to a CQI process.  That is, if you want it to be, and nearly everyone and their grandmother seems to want it to be lately.  We are encouraged to “be your best self,” “keep growing,” “never stop dreaming,” “pursue your goals,” “find a better job/relationship,” “love yourself more,” and my least favorite, “fake it until you make it.”

My question is, can happiness coexist alongside continual improvement?

Can mindfulness coexist with achieving goals?

Can now coincide with future?

What I discovered after attending about 6 workshops aimed at visioning a new better life over the past two years is for me personally the answer is no.

Or know.

Know that I am where I need to be in this moment.

Know I have everything I need in this moment.

Know there are many worse alternatives to my now and it is okay to inhabit my now for now.

Happiness has become defined in much of our culture as synonymous with physical pleasure and entertainment.  But I lean toward Happiness that is a daily practice of heart softening and vein humming contentment.  An inner peace.  That feels available to me only if I loosen my grip on a future dream that may or may not arise.

What happens when I attain my next dream, attain my next goal when I am trained to equate their pursuit with happiness?  I will immediately need to set a new goal, new dream in order to be happy.

I can go on hundreds of dates but I cannot force someone to love me.  The kind of love that authentically responds usually arrives quietly and with serendipity.  I can fake it until I make it with loads of confidence in a higher paying job with more responsibility, but what if I want to be authentically me when I arrive at my destination?

Possibly a mindset reframe is in order for us as a species.  Maybe we need to let go and trust in our evolution.  Nature improves upon itself all the time without waste, war or greed.  Nature also sings along with the orchestra of a few elements that make up all of life as we know it.

About Erin W

A sensitive plant, bamboo strong.
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2 Responses to Can Happiness and Continuous Improvement Coexist?

  1. jenniverek says:

    No, indeed. There is a natural flux between stasis and change, and the social expectation that people always be in a state of change or improvement leaves little time or space for peace of mind or heart or body. Thank you for your reminder that in order to have balance, we must celebrate and cultivate the flux, taking care to experience peace and contentment in spite of pressures for constant change. 🙂

  2. David Livingston says:

    I think for me happiness and improvement can coexist. Attachment to improvement, attachment to its being continuous, or attachment to my improving to what I think is someone else’s level, is what makes mischief with my happiness.

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