Friday, May 30, 2008
What shall we choose to do in the pursuit of happiness?
How shall we define happiness?
We must understand what we are looking for before we can start pursuing, otherwise we are wasting our resources. Personally, our time in life is the most scarce and non-renewable limited resource, so use it effectively and efficiently.Happiness is a state of emotional satisfaction or delight. The emphasis is on "emotional" because a satisfaction of functional needs like physiology and security does not elicit the kind of emotional impact we can describe as happiness. The question about money is particularly intriguing. Human resources experts have long known that once an employee receives compensation that meets his/her expectation or needs, more money will fail to motivate. Once the "hygiene" factors are satisfied, you need job-satisfying "motivators" over and above what money can buy to keep employees happy. Moreover, money is only a transaction medium to get to products and services. On the surface, money seems able to solve a lot of problems for a lot of people, but money alone will not solve all problems for all people. And you can witness that not all wealthy people are happy people either. As the popular saying goes, "Money can buy you a house, but it can't buy you a home."What are the things or experiences that can make us happy? Some may say chocolate and ice cream, the latest electronic gadgets, travel and shopping, sports, music, movies, jokes, comedies, stories, reading, painting, a family staying together in harmony and prosperity, be a Fortune-500 CEO, becoming president or prime minister, and a long list depending on individual preferences and dreams. The commonality is that they all have something to do with people, whether at the individual level or beyond, because we are talking about people's emotion of happiness, whether for the short-term or the long-term. But we can classify them into three categories, depending on the involvement of inputs and impacts. First, let us consider things and experience that involve only the individual and his or her material world or spiritual pursuit. Experiencing some beautiful scenery or palatable food can bring you happiness at the first level. Listening to enjoyable music or visiting an art museum may likewise be emotionally rewarding. Sometimes just a moment of solitude, away from the buzzing world, spells relief and brings a moment of happiness. Scoring an A for a paper well done may bring momentary happiness to a student, and successful graduation may bring another moment of joy. Landing your first job or winning a promotion all deserve well-earned celebration. Happiness felt at the individual level is level-one happiness. The operative word is enjoying: enjoying your moment of cherished experience or individual success.Now imagine you are sharing your level-one happiness with the people you cherish and love. Traveling with your family for some exotic experience brings a level of satisfaction or delight beyond that when you are traveling alone. Celebrating birthday or graduation and sharing a Soy-n-Joy "ice cream" cake with your loved ones, friends, and family warms up the occasion and spreads happiness around. And enjoying a concert, an opera or a museum visit with good or no companionship makes a lot of difference to the level of enjoyment. A home without its endeared people or memories of them is but an empty house. The operative word for level-two happiness is therefore sharing: sharing with your immediate circle of people you care about a lot. They enhance your feeling of happiness both in quality and quantity. Just like what the Volvo advertising says, "Life is better lived together."Then there are opportunities to leverage your talents, influence, and resources beyond your immediate self and circle of endearment. Depending on the quality and quantity of your inputs, you may generate quality and quantity impacts that can bring about immense happiness or misery, both to yourself and to the people affected by your decision. The more important and powerful your position, the broader and deeper the impact of your decision. This brings level-three happiness, if the impact is positive. The operative word here is leveraging: leveraging to maximize positive impact. By positive impact we mean it must be win-win and ethical. Otherwise we may be spreading nightmares around instead of happiness.Win-win means that we shall try to make everybody win in our undertakings. The other alternatives are lose-win, win-lose, and lose-lose. True lose-win is more of an exception than the norm. People willing to sacrifice as martyrs or stay as happy servants, without personal benefits, are rare. You will find people happily embracing sacrifice mostly in the religious context, in patriotic wars, or in selfless mothers caring for their families. Often the "loser" is the party without money or power, but is willing to make personal sacrifices in the hope of eventually turning things around. A servant leader like Mother Teresa touched the world; Saint Joan of Arc sacrificed herself in defense of her country; and caring mothers the world over are making sacrifices everyday for a better future of their families and children. Hence we can argue that there is winning in the sacrifice, though not always realized; and in fortunate cases, lose-win becomes win-win in the long-term. Win-lose, on the other hand, ultimately leads to lose-lose because people who have lost temporarily want to get even with you. The win-lose people who leave the world a worse place while enriching themselves are not happy souls. Drug dealers do not sleep well at night, fearful that their fellow gangsters may betray them, their rivals may get even with them, or the law will be bringing them to justice. Likewise, the mean-spirited, abusive bully is always fearful of people retaliating and giving them a dose of their own medicine. Meanwhile, the lose-lose avengers blame their misfortune on history or on the world, without trying positive things to better themselves today and their offspring tomorrow. Their mentality is: "If I can't win, then you can't either!" Lose-lose is the worst possible outcome of any interactive relationship: strikes that lead to bankrupt companies; rigged elections that destroy the credibility of elections; military dictatorship that fails to resolve social unrest at the roots and leads to turmoil; and potentially productive, synergistic relationship that breaks up rather than making amends. Ultimately, win-win is the only sustainable outcome (for the sustainable happiness of people involved), because all parties walk away happy, or continue to collaborate happily, when everyone benefits.Doing things consistently in an ethical way is what helps you sleep well at night. The Golden Rule says, "Don't do unto others that you don't want done unto you." This is the most basic rule of behavior expected in a civilized society. If we always reciprocate kindness with kindness, courtesy with courtesy, and caring with caring, we shall have a compassionate society in which people treat each other with respect, tolerance, and helpfulness. The ideal of utilitarianism says that whatever we do, we should strive for maximizing benefits to the most number of people. The concept of universalism suggests that we should treat people similarly irrespective of superficial differences. And the idea of distributive justice says we should treat people fairly: if you assign me the job of sharing an ice cream cake, I shall do the cutting and you the first picking. Good ethics will keep your impact positive and not negative.Level-one brings momentary happiness to the individual but is usually not very lasting. Chasing the next gadget, in particular, is happiness short-lived. It is like an addiction; you feel empty after the fix and wants to chase the next high. And then you feel like being led by the nose rather than being your own boss. Level-two is warmer, but the warmth is not felt beyond your immediate circle of people. Level-three is the most enduring, impactful, and rewarding. By taking care of the quality and quantity of inputs and impacts, you can maximize the benefit to the most number of people, making it win-win for the long-term. This entails leveraging your talents (knowledge, expertise), influence (power, reputation, relationship) and resources (time, money) to make a difference that is meaningful both to yourself and to the world at large. The world will become a better place because you have committed to a worthy cause, and may become a poorer place by your choosing not to. People who are sitting on huge talents, influence, and/or resources and who choose not to benefit the world outside of themselves or their immediate circle are doing themselves a big disfavor by denying themselves of this higher level of happiness, and doing the world a big disfavor by denying it the potential benefits of their commission. In addition, their decision to commit at level-3 will promote the stability of society, whereas their decision not to will undermine it. In other words, their lack of action amounts to a sin of omission that contributes to a lose-lose outcome.Bill Gates is adored not only because he has been successful in founding Microsoft that revolutionizes the world, but also because he and his wife give talents, influence, and resources toward supporting projects that benefit the developing world. You can rest assured that Bill and Melinda are very happy people. Bill Cosby has been an extremely successful entertainer, but his positive influence goes way beyond being a successful role model alone, when he leverages his talents (motivational speaker and writer), influence (his connection in the media circle), and resources (personal money and time) in helping to transform the black community in America, like his latest book's title: "From Victims to Victors." Al Gore wakes the world up to the reality of climate change, and has become a happy and respected Nobel laureate because of the impacts of his "Inconvenient Truth." (Alfred Nobel redeemed himself from the potential misuse of his explosive invention by instituting the positive and influential Nobel Prize). Oprah Winfrey was doing the right thing by leveraging her influence and resources in founding the "Leadership Academy for Girls" in South Africa, and you could not blame her, when the scandal hit, for being so obviously upset (the opposite of being happy). But you can count on her to turn things around and become happy again, knowing how resourceful and influential she is. And you can bet that "Doctors Without Borders" are a group of very happy people because of what they do. No wonder the organizations that are most motivating to people working in it are those committed to a cause that people can identify with. Religious organizations, for example, are noted for their dedicated groups of motivated, unpaid volunteers. Even Ben & Jerry's impresses people with their percentage profit set aside for social causes. Now just imagine if Soy-n-Joy can have the influence and resources of McDonald's or The Coca-Cola Company. That is why Soy-n-Joy is looking for partners worldwide. It will be an ethical win-win, not only to the people directly involved, but to the world at large. It will make the world happier, at all 3 levels of happiness, and a healthier one too!Finally, a word for parents: If you want your children to be happy in life by making good choices, decisions that reflect good values, beliefs, assumptions, and habits, you have got to prepare them well, early, before they make those decisions by themselves.