“We have met the enemy, and he is us” is Pogo creator Walt Kelly’s apt 20th century parody of Perry’s famous quotation. It captures the essence of a profound and oft unrecognized truth, that we are often our own worst enemies. This applies in many areas of life, including in our search for happiness.
Dennis Prager in 1998 wrote a book titled “Happiness Is A Serious Problem” subtitled “A Human Nature Repair Manual.” I liked his title so much that I have plagiarized it as my title for talks I have given to various organizations over time on the subject of happiness. For those of you interested in this topic, I recommend the book to you as being both informative and thought-provoking.
If you wish to effortlessly destroy your own happiness, consider someone or something that brings you joy, satisfaction and happiness, and fixate on whatever is flawed or missing. Prager uses the analogy of a beautiful ceiling in which there is one tile missing. Looking at this ceiling, you will find your eyes fixated on that one missing tile, unable to appreciate the beauty of the rest of the structure. He refers to this as the “Missing Tile Syndrome.”
We behave in a similar manner when it comes to our personal relationships. Whether it’s our spouse, a friend, a child or someone we area dating, we often notice the quality we deem to be missing, that keeps that relationship from being ideal, rather than showing gratitude and appreciation for all that is present. And ironically, just as we focus on that one missing quality in our relationship, we note that same quality being present in others around us. While objects can achieve, or come close to achieving, some degree of perfection, humans are all flawed. The idea that this person, or this relationship would be perfect for us, were it not for this missing x-factor, is an exercise in futility, and a prescription for perpetual dissatisfaction. Just as comparing ourselves to others is a great way to creative unhappiness, the same goes true in our personal relationships, say by measuring our marriage as opposed to someone else’s. (Besides, no one outside ever knows what truly goes on in a marriage.)
So what do you do if you find yourself with a missing tile in your life? You can admit how powerful this perception of something missing may be in your life. You can attempt to identify as precisely as possible what you feel is missing. Finally, you need to determine if what is missing is something that is vital to you happiness, or just one of your insatiable longings.
Once you have identified the exact nature of that which you feel is missing, you are left with only three options. You can get it, forget it, or replace it. If you don’t choose one of these three options, you are guaranteed to remain unhappy. Rather than offering you examples of each of these three choices. I challenge you to think of your own lives, and consider your own “missing tile” and how you have chosen to deal with its absence. I hope at least some of you will share your own insights regarding this common obstacle to happiness.