Art of Accounting: Am I Happy?

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IMGCAP(1)]My father was dying—too young and too soon. He succumbed over a nine-month period to coronary heart disease. Today his life could have been extended, but not in 1976.

I would visit him and see his strength waning to the point that he could barely lift his head or talk and even then it was in a hoarse whisper. One of the last things he said to me was, "Are you happy?" I answered quickly, "Yes."

My second son was born just a week earlier; my wife was a great friend and partner whom I loved dearly (she still is and I still do) and my older son was a gem. Yet, I started to think about his question. Was I happy? And from that moment on I started to include being happy in my measure of success. I became a critic of what I did and thought of it in terms of happiness.

There are always some things that are not pleasant, but they are balanced against the pleasurable. My attitude had always been that the unpleasant was a price to be paid for the pleasant things, with me not paying too much attention to the unpleasant. This has gotten me through a lot of things in a manner that did not upset me or have me dwell on the unpleasant. Instead, I looked forward and appreciated the good things and people I encountered. It is impossible to avoid unpleasant relationships, and if they were not meaningful, I tended to ignore them, going about my business.

Discounting distasteful people and things is a good way to deal with things. When they are gone, so are my thoughts of them. For these, I don't care and they don't measure in my happiness scale.

However, there are some people and things that linger in my mind—I can't leave them behind and ignore them. Those are the things I put on my happiness scale. I started to distance myself from people who are so obnoxious, uncompromising or vile that I find they hang around in my mind after our interactions. I either dropped them as clients or acquaintances, extricated myself from working with them, or stopped seeing them. I am not talking about people who want illegal things done; in those cases, the decision is clear. I am talking about people that just rub me the wrong way.

There are also certain types of work or last-minute rushes that are forced upon me, usually by repeated inattention or untimely responsiveness by the client, causing undue stress for my firm and me, and possible harm to our reputation with third parties for whom the work product or reports are needed. There are also staff people who are continually late, always missing deadlines, and who require inordinate oversight. Why should I subject myself to them? There are many examples I could give, but, at the end of the day, life's too short and there is no reason to be unhappy in how you spend your time and with whom.

Many of us are not that independent that we can afford to drop clients or fire staff, but life is more than work. We need to maintain a balance and environment that keeps us stable, on track and healthy.

Don't deal with people and situations that do not make you happy. I don't, anymore. Not since my father asked me that question.

Edward Mendlowitz, CPA, is a partner in WithumSmith+Brown, PC, CPAs. He has authored 20 books and has written hundreds of articles for business and professional journals and newsletters plus a Tax Loophole article for every issue of TaxHotline for 27 years. Ed also writes a blog twice a week that addresses issues his clients have at He is the winner of the Lawler Award for the best article published during 2001 in the Journal of Accountancy. He has also taught in the MBA graduate program at Fairleigh Dickinson University, and is admitted to practice before the U.S. Tax Court. Ed welcomes practice management questions and he can be reached at WithumSmith+Brown, One Spring Street, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, (732) 964-9329,

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