The joy of…living (another musing)

What is life all about? One of the eternal questions…

As I drove to a meeting last week, one of the news stories was about some research which has blown away the myth of executive stress. Basically, someone extremely clever has done a lot of work to confirm what we all expected but couldn’t prove: the most stressful thing in work and life is having responsibility without control. Even a small amount of responsibility is extremely stressful if we are not in control of how we meet our obligations.

For some inexplicable (to me at least) reason this is totally contrary to the received wisdom that the higher one goes up an organisation, and therefore the more “important” the decisions are that one has to make, the more stressful it is. And this of course is one of the given reasons why executives get paid more.  One assumes (and hopes) it’s not the only reason.

What I heard of this chap’s research (forgive me, I was driving and so didn’t have a chance to take note of the relevant names, titles etc) got even more interesting as he also showed a direct correlation between level of qualifications and life expectancy (NB: as an avid, nay loyal, listener of More or Less, I am most definitely not suggesting any causality). And he showed that lack of control over seemingly unimportant things increases stress far more than anyone (i.e. he) had previously imagined.

Oh dear, this is turning into a bit of a rant. Leaving the rantiness aside, it did make me feel a bit better after a couple of stressful (for me) days at work – which were stressful in the “OMG the buck stops with me and I haven’t delivered” kind of way, as I realised how lucky I am to be in a position to decide what to do about it.  And how much control I have over most of my working life compared to a lot of other people.

That also makes me feel a bit better about all the hours I have spent at work over the last 20 years when I could have been doing something a lot more meaningful, pleasurable or interesting – or possibly all 3.  After all, it is a rare person who wishes they could have spent more time at the office. But at least some of those hours have presumably contributed to me having the job I have now.

And in any case, whenever the temptation creeps in to give it all up and find something a lot easier & less stressful to do, I will remember this research, and pause to think about whether it really will be.

In the meantime I’ll use the autonomy I have to book a few meetings with interesting people to pass the time…and instead of getting stressed about the things I can’t control, take the time to find the joy in each moment. Surely that’s one of the things life is all about.


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