Change one thing

Photo credit: Andy Mendelsohn

Change one thing

This isn’t about code. This is about change.

[This is an updated version of a post I wrote for the findmypast tech blog]

We are all affected by a multitude of things, in both our personal and professional lives, that lead us to stop and take stock. Over recent years I’ve had my fair share of these: the passing of friends - the ending of roles - the changing of life circumstances. The result was/is an existential pursuit for wise words on the eternal subject of “Life, the Universe, and everything”. During my search I came across a TED talk given by a Swiss monk called David Steindal-Rast entitled “Want to be happy? Be grateful.” I recommend spending some time watching the video. David Stendal-Rast talks about gratefulness, and specifically how gratefulness is the way to happiness.

So, this is not just about change, it’s also about being happy and being grateful: about giving gifts and receiving gifts; about opportunities ripe for the taking. It’s also about moments in time and moments as opportunities for change.

In his talk, David Steindal-Rast claims that happy people are invariably happy because they are grateful as opposed to being grateful because they are happy. I won’t repeat everything he says, but instead I will quote the following:

“Grateful living, that is the thing. And how can we live gratefully? By experiencing, by becoming aware that every moment is a given moment, as we say. It’s a gift. You haven’t earned it. You haven’t brought it about in any way. You have no way of assuring that there will be another moment given to you, and yet, that’s the most valuable thing that can ever be given to us, this moment, with all the opportunity that it contains. If we didn’t have this present moment, we wouldn’t have any opportunity to do anything or experience anything, and this moment is a gift. It’s a given moment, as we say.

Now, we say the gift within this gift is really the opportunity. What you are really grateful for is the opportunity, not the thing that is given to you, because if that thing were somewhere else and you didn’t have the opportunity to enjoy it, to do something with it, you wouldn’t be grateful for it. Opportunity is the gift within every gift, and we have this saying, opportunity knocks only once. Well, think again. Every moment is a new gift, over and over again, and if you miss the opportunity of this moment, another moment is given to us, and another moment. We can avail ourselves of this opportunity, or we can miss it, and if we avail ourselves of the opportunity, it is the key to happiness. Behold the master key to our happiness in our own hands. Moment by moment, we can be grateful for this gift.”

One of the things that resonated for me was the idea of “the moment”. It reminded me of the Buddhist concept of Mindfulness, which is very much about “being in the moment”. Let’s think about “this moment with all the opportunity that it contains.”

“Stop, look, and then go, and really do something. And what we can do is whatever life offers to you in that present moment. Mostly it’s the opportunity to enjoy, but sometimes it’s something more difficult.”

If every moment is an opportunity then it can also be an opportunity to change something (for the better.) It’s an opportunity to change something that affects you, and possibly others (for the better.) And, if you do that, not only will you be making the best of the opportunity, but you will also be giving others a gift. Giving others a gift makes others grateful, which, if you agree with David Steindal-Rast, will also make them happy.

Here’s an idea worth pondering: Let’s make ourselves and others happier. Let’s see if we can do that by just changing one thing, once a week. In a team of 40, if everybody changed one thing, once a week, we would have 40 changes that could make us happy. 40 more gifts, 40 opportunities taken. In a company of 150 people… you do the maths.

What can you change? What are you going to do with your opportunity? Anything. But keep it small and doable. Make it something that takes just an hour: a configuration file change that’s been annoying you; a code test that’s flakey; a coffee machine that needs cleaning; a chair that needs fixing; a blog that needs better CSS; a blogpost that could be shared etc…

Make one change. Make someone happy and make yourself happy.

So what will you change?

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