Your Reward: A Bigger Problem

Problem SolvingYou’ve seen the Dos Equis commercials portraying the idyllic life: leisurely lounging by the ocean, taking it easy with only a bathing suit and flip flops between you and the summer breeze. No work, no problems – the recipe for bliss.

Except in real life, it doesn’t work that way. Most people who have a chance to live out this fantasy are surprised that it turns out to be a nightmare. After the first few hours, or days, they find themselves bored out of their skulls.

That’s because human beings are problem-solving machines. We are meant to be continually creative, solving the problems of life. And when we find a solution to a problem, rather than graduating to some fantasy tropical problem-free zone, we graduate to having more interesting, complex problems to solve. As Buckminster Fuller said, “The reward of solving a problem is a bigger problem.”

For example, Rob worked hard and mastered his job, so after two years he was promoted to a management position with a whole new set of interesting challenges, global in scope. Kim finally figured out a day job that was minimally demanding and paid well enough, so now she can use her more of her time and energy to create her art.

Our reward for solving problems is not withdrawal into an aimless existence. People who do so often become depressed, energy-less, ill, or preoccupied with weird things. In my practice, I’ve noticed intelligent women with eating disorders who, as soon as they have a more interesting problem to solve, such as landing an absorbing job or deciding to mentor a child, forget all about their eating disorder. It has been replaced by a more interesting, higher-level problem.

Sometimes what appears to be depression is the existential boredom of a person who is not engaged with interesting problems. There is nothing creative going on. This is not to discount the multitude of other depressed people who have chemical imbalances in their brains, or are down due to life circumstances or childhood trauma, but this is one question to ask oneself.

Is your issue that you don’t have interesting enough problems to solve? Pick a “problem” that is big enough to not bore you – add your life to the efforts to stop world hunger, or finally get started on that massive Great American Novel. Get engaged in solving a problem so interesting that you can never solve it in this lifetime. You’ll find your passion for life kicks into gear.

© 2014 Catherine Auman This article is an excerpt from Catherine’s book Shortcuts to Mindfulness: 100 Ways to Personal and Spiritual Growth

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Catherine Auman is a Los Angeles psychotherapist specializing in transpersonal psychology, also known as spiritual psychology.

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