Happiness is not the absence of problems, but the ability to deal with them – Anon.

In school I used to particularly love mathematics, chemistry and physics; as I look back on it, I can see that this is almost certainly because there was often a significant element of problem solving, be it solving equations or working out why certain things happened or figuring out how to make something happen (or not happen, depending upon what that something was!).

This changed when I went on to university – I dropped chemistry but still took maths and physics, at least to start with; I hated them both! So much so that within 2 weeks I applied to change the course I was doing so as to drop physics completely.

Why did I suddenly go from enjoying and loving these subjects to hating them?

The problems they posed at university level physics were substantially different, particularly in physics, which meant there was a significant portion of understanding which I did not have and thus I didn’t know how to solve those problems – the problems became too hard and I stopped enjoying them.

For maths, the problems themselves were not substantially harder (yes they got harder, but there was not a huge leap, rather a reasonable slope), but the focus changed from using the maths as a means to solve problems, into focusing upon the pure mathematics itself; we learned all about Taylor series etc but rater than going on to fuse them to solve problems, the focus was on understanding the Taylor series and proving it and learning how to derive it from first principles. All pure maths issues rather than applying them. No problem solving involved as such. I recall, during one particularly boring lecture of proving some theorem, thinking “Look, you are a Professor of maths, you know what you are talking about; if you say this is true, then I believe you, I accept your word, let’s just go on to using them!”.

As I look back upon that all now and compare the two completely different factions I had to what were, after all, the same subjects, two things become very clear to me.

      I absolutely love solving problems, I am very happy when I am doing that;
      The problems have to be solvable within either my knowledge or my ability to understand how to research and find the way to solve them

My happiness arose not from having no problems (quite the reverse – in university maths we were not solving problems at all, which is why I lost interest); my happiness came from having those problems and solving them! And when the problems because far too difficult for me to be able to even start to solve, again I lost interest.

Many of us will, from time to time, wish that we could have a life free from problems.

But is that really what we want?

Almost certainly not!

Sure, math and physics and chemistry are not to everybody’s taste, and there are a great many who would undoubtedly be happy if they never encountered those subjects (or even mention of them) ever again!
However, even those people have other interests and hobbies which they enjoy. And you can bet that those involve a degree of problem solving, and that it is solving those problems which brings the enjoyment.

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A friend of mine who hated those subjects at school loved tinkering with cars, fixing them and getting them working again. He used to really love getting a car which was just not working, and fixing it up and getting it working nicely again. In other words, he drew happiness from solving problems, in this case the problem of what was preventing the car from working. His ability to deal with that problem was directly responsible for his happiness.

Think of your favourite hobbies. It doesn’t matter what they are, but think carefully about them. What is it about your hobby which makes you feel happy? Which aspects bring you enjoyment?
It’s when you are solving some sort of problem, isn’t it. Be it a sport (how to beat the other team? How to get the ball past their defence? How to snooker the other player? How to get your car across the finishing line first?) or any other hobby in which you actively take part, there is a significant element of problem solving, and your ability to solve that problem (or at least have a very good attempt at solving it) is what creates your happiness.

Even reading a Whodunnit (where you try to work out the guilty party before they are revealed) or watching a quiz show (who can honestly say, when watching a quiz show they enjoy, that they do not love it when they get a question right?), our ability to solve the problem leads directly to our happiness!

Of course, if the problem is so out-with our ability to deal with it, then that can severely dent our enjoyment; taking an amateur Sunday football team and pitching them against the Premiere league teams might be fun for the first match or two, but quickly the players would lose interest as they got comprehensively beaten week after week, month after month.

The key is to find problems which interest you and which are within your ability either to solve in areas which appeal to you. Focussing on those sorts of problems leads us to happiness as we solve them.

This is equally true whether it is in hobby or in business.

Which area of your life are you finding less enjoyment than you might wish?
What are the sorts of problems you are facing there, which you find you are not really able to solve?
What changes do you need to make, be it to your hobby or your job or whatever aspect, in order to find yourself a better class of problems, problems which you can solve and thus increase your enjoyment?
And the big question, when are you going to have made that change?