The Joy of Having Problems

Jan 15, 2019

I was really frustrated yesterday morning. It felt like a series of problems, one after the other. I went to pick up the dogs from boarding and I had the time wrong and we were half an hour early. After we got home my daughter realized she had forgotten her coat and hat and gloves back at the vet’s office. And finally it had snowed over the weekend and my husband didn’t shovel the end of the driveway, which was now a mountain of ice that my car was slipping and sliding around on every time I had to drive over it.

I did what I always do, I set about to solving these problems, but I didn’t enjoy any of it. We waited at the vet’s office for half an hour until they were able to bring out our dogs. We dropped off the dogs and went back to the vet’s office to retrieve my daughters things. And I got out and shoveled the end of the driveway. And everything was fine, everyone made it to school on time, I was able to get to work, the dogs were happy to be home. But that frustration I felt over having to deal with one problem after another stayed with me all day and that lingering sense of frustration is really exhausting. It tainted my whole day.

Somewhat serendipitously, this morning the lesson I listened to from Sam Harris’s Waking Up course was about solving problems. He was talking about becoming frustrated that a problem had arisen. This was sounding familiar. But then he talked about the realization that the thing that was causing him suffering wasn’t the problem itself, but rather his perspective that problems were anomalies, interruptions to an otherwise problem-free existence. In reality, life is really just a series of problems we have to solve. All the time, one problem after another. And if we approach them from the perspective that problems are an expected, normal part of life, then we can enjoy the process of solving them. They are challenges, they make life interesting.

I can easily think about this in terms of coding. Would I enjoy writing code as much if everything was easy? No! Solving problems is one of the things I enjoy most about coding. I would get bored in about two seconds. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in my previous career as a regional planner. It got to a point where I didn’t have new, interesting problems to solve and I was bored.

So, instead of getting frustrated when problems arise in my daily life, I could instead be grateful for the challenges and take some joy in solving them. Yesterday while waiting at the vet’s office, I could have taken some joy in watching my daughter play and have fun. I could have focused on the joy of laughing with the couple that sat down near us with a cat that meowed loudly the entire time they were sitting there, instead of being frustrated at having to wait. I could have focused on being grateful that we had the time to go retrieve my daughters coat and still get her to school on time, grateful for the fact that the vet is only five minutes away from our house. Grateful for a little extra time to spend with my daughter that morning. I could have enjoyed the excuse to spend some time outside in the snow, in the clear, cool air and bright sunny morning. I could have enjoyed getting some exercise that had a purpose, rather than just being on the exercise bike upstairs in my bedroom.

It really is all about perspective. I can expect that there will be problems, there always are. But that’s what makes life interesting. And recognizing that allows me to take some joy in solving them.