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A few weeks ago, I was listening to KCRW (89.9 FM) during their excellent 10-12 Sunday morning programming and an expert on happiness was talking about the secret to being happy.  In a nutshell, to be happy, he said, it is essential to have modest and realistic expectations. Almost all experts on this topic agree with this philosophy.  He also felt having too many choices may lead to confusion, anxiety and unhappiness.  The experts are divided on this issue.

He then described (this is radio of course) a cartoon caption which had caught his attention. In the cartoon a mother gold fish was telling her son (both are in a small fish bowl with one castle) “My son, you can achieve anything in life you set your eyes on…there are no limits.”  What a myopic fish!!!!  Let’s assume, however, the expert continued, that the gold fish can shatter the fish bowl so there are no limits.  The result will be paralysis and a painful death for the gold fish.  Therefore, he argued, we all need to have a metaphorical fish bowl as part of happiness “strategy”.

What an interesting concept, I thought!  But then I realized this is not as simple as it seems. How does one know how big his/her fish bowl should be?  As a new parent, I also have some control over my daughters’ fish bowl size until they are 18.  Choosing the wrong size fish bowl can potentially cause stress and unhappiness for both me and them.  So where do we begin?

Having looked at my own experience, it is vital to have goals.  Having goals and aspirations will provide some direction in life.  Some of these goals may be unachievable, and only by trial and error will we find this out.  Some will be ridiculously unachievable and should be crossed out before even trying.  For example, I can never break the world record in the 100 meter sprint even if I worked out 10 hours a day.  At an early age, it became clear to me I did not have the speed nor the physic to do so.

To achieve our goals successfully, it has to be achieved slowly and the goals may have to be tweaked along the way.  In other words, start with a very small fish bowl and increase the size slowly as each goal is reached.  Not many of you know this, but in my senior year of high school, I was thinking of becoming a drummer!  The Police was my favorite band and I was obsessed with Stewart Copeland.  Fortunately my parents did not force me into going to College.  They suggested I try biology and see if I liked it.  As I became involved in school, my fish bowl shape changed!  By my junior year in college, I knew I wanted to be a plastic surgeon.  Along the way, as I completed college, then medical school, etc. the size of my fish bowl increased proportionally to allow room for the next step.  However, looking back, it took four years of college, four years of medical school, eight years of residency, and six years of experience in private practice for me to get to a point where I can say I am happy with my work.  May be I am too critical, but being critical is essential in my field of work.  It would have been crazy, however, to start with a giant fish bowl and try to swim in it right from the beginning.

I plan to use the same strategy for my daughters.  First it is vital to find out their strengths and weaknesses and their “style”.  We each have our own style!  Based on that, the size of the fish bowl will change and increase or decrease as I find out more about them.  Hopefully they will learn to adjust their own fish bowl size as they grow older.

Gold fish come in different sizes and physical ability and so do we.  So choose the size of your fish bowl wisely and don’t be afraid to make it smaller or larger if need be!

Michael A. Jazayeri, M.D. is a board certified plastic surgeon in Santa Ana with over 12 years of experience.  His office is located in Orange County, California.  To schedule a complimentary consultation, please call (714) 834-0101.

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