The Pursuit of Happiness

Throughout this past week and a couple before that, I have been randomly running into the concept of “happiness” everywhere I looked. My guess is, because it’s the end of the year and also the end of what TIME Magazine called The Decade from Hell (geez, sensational much?), a whole lot of us are reflecting more than usual, and movies like Up in the Air have got us asking, “What am I doing with my life?”, and “What is it all for?”

On Friday, I read the article This is the Greatest Good by Richard Layard, author of Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, who suggests:

So it is time to reassert the noble philosophy of the Enlightenment. In this view, every human being wants to be happy, and everybody counts equally. It follows that progress is measured by the overall scale of human happiness and misery. And the right action is the one that produces the greatest happiness in the world and (especially) the least misery. I can think of no nobler ideal.

Now, I won’t go into what exactly constitute happiness, because that in itself is a giant black hole, and it’s the crux of the argument that what Richard Layard proposes is not practical, nor desired, as this dude said in the counter-essay: The pursuit of happiness is a fool’s errand.

For one thing, pain too will be part of any rich human life as, say, when people fall in love. For another, pleasure comes in all sorts of different guises that can no more be compared than can the joy of reading a book with the buzz of dancing until dawn. Today’s utilitarians believe they have overcome this difficulty, since we can now observe people in scanners: pleasure centres light up in the brain, producing an apparently objective measure.

Only it isn’t. The problem is that there is no way to read a brain directly: no grey fold or ganglion is pre-labelled “happiness”. – Mark Vernon

I very much see where these two guys are coming from. Today my friend Andy briefly talked about why we haven’t been out and about partying as much like we used to, and I mentioned what my senior yoga teacher Judith Lasater said in an interview:

There’s a difference between fun and enjoyment. Fun is something I might want to do to get away from my life and enjoyment is something I can bring into my life. With fun, I’m thinking of trying to escape for the moment. Enjoyment is something that brings me into my life. It is the attitude I have within my life.

It’s not a stretch to say that we are all pursuing something called happiness. We all want to have fun, to enjoy life, to be happy. Why then, does happiness seem so elusive? I have a couple theories, but I want to hear from you. What do you think? What’s your definition of happiness? And according to that, are you happy?

You don't want to see my unhappy face, trust me.

You don't want to see my unhappy face, trust me.

I’m (Not) Here to Be Your Friend

Last week I read a short blog post by David Spinks (hi David!) about his participation as a Community Manager titled I’m Not Here to Be Your Friend, and I’ve been thinking about it quite a bit. Actually, I’ve been wanting to ignore it, let it go, mind my own business, you know, keep calm and carry on.

Well, my feeble attempt hasn’t been successful. Somehow, one way or another, I find my mind circling back to it. So here I am, writing this down, and hoping that this will help lay it to rest.

To be honest, I can’t really quite pinpoint what it is exactly that keeps nagging me about this notion. It’s a perfectly valid concept, and David makes a solid point that most professional business people would nod their head and raise their glass to:

My activities and interactions in this “social media community” have the primary goal to succeed as a professional. If my time spent here doesn’t help me to perform my job better, and to benefit my career, then I am wasting my time.

Does that mean I can’t make friends during the process? Of course not.  I have made amazing friendships along the way… I didn’t engage with them to become friends though. I engaged with them to benefit my career, and the friendship resulted from the process.

Hmm…

From the northeast corner, I have nothing to say to that. Another businessman saying that he’s here for business. It’s another day, another pay. Nothing new, nothing earth shattering here. But yet, from the southwest corner, I want to say, “Waaaait a minute. Really? Can I offer another perspective?”

What It Means To Work

Perhaps the crux of this issue is David and I probably have different ideas of what it means to work. For David, it might be a career. It might be for “building relationships for business purposes”. For me, work is, or should be, something that lets you express your life force, or prana in yoga. If that’s a little too mystical schmystical, perhaps what Dr. Evil said will make more sense: it’s the “Mojo: The libido. The life force. The essence. The right stuff. What the French call a certain… I don’t know what.”

I think we all long for meaningful work that we’re connected to, something we care about, something that brings us joy and satisfaction. I’m going to bet that we long for freedom, not freedom *from* work, but freedom *to* work; the ability to choose work not merely as a mean for survival, but as a way to express our authentic selves. Further, I also believe that there is something innate within all of us to want to help others, to want to contribute to our community, if not the world.

(Notice that I didn’t say job, I said work. You may be working, or you may be having a job, or both.)

And so, if we stay with the definition that work is an extension of ourselves and our creative process, would it follow that we would want to share it? Give it away for others to enjoy it? Musicians do this. Dancers do this. Programmers do this. And if so, the work that we’re doing benefits not only ourselves, but others as well, does it not? And if we can bring success to others, then is it not inevitable that we bring success to ourselves?

A Friend, A Community, A Market – What Relationships Mean

I think I know what David means. He’s here to work, not to mess around, not to hang out, not to shoot the breeze and waste time. Fair enough. This is completely reasonable for a professional, just like it is reasonable for any professional to not to roll out of bed and stroll into the office in their pajamas.

Well, sorta.

Relationships are not made through status reports and Powerpoint presentations. Relationships are made through, well, honestly? A little bit of hanging out. And if we’re talking about the role of a Community Manager, we’re talking about someone who deals with the social. (Microsoft lawyers, please don’t knock on my door.) In this role, if you are not here to engage with people on some personal level, well, what are you doing here?

Actually, let’s forget about what the job is for a moment, let’s just talk about any interaction in our work, personal and professional. No matter how loosely you define the word “friend”, whether it be someone you could call at 2 a.m. in the morning if you’re too drunk to drive or if your car broke down in the middle of nowhere, or it’s a Facebook “friend” that you really could care less what they had for breakfast (but they are soo excited to share it anyway), anytime you’re in contact with another human being, you are engaging with a whole person.

Sure, we all have our titles and roles we play on some stage we’ve been put on or chosen to be. We are this Mr. Senior Manager and that Mrs. VP of Marketing. But we are much more than that, I hope. And if we don’t ‘fess up to that, we continue to trap ourselves in a system that views us solely as business suits and cubicle addresses.

In her famous blog post, “Open letter to CEOs, COOs, CIOs and CFOs across the corporate world“, Pam Slim advised:

3. Spend a moment walking around the halls of your company and look at your employees.  I mean really look at them.  Don’t just pat them on the back and pump their hand while looking over their head at the exit door. Look directly in their eyes.  Imagine what their life is like.  Who is waiting at home for them?  What are the real consequences to their health, marriages and children when they have to work yet another 13 hour day?  What kind of dreams do they have?  What makes them really happy?

So, if we can identify with someone, if we can see there’s some “me” in “them”, and some “them” in “me”, it’s possible that we begin to form some sense of “us”, some sense of a community. And then, we might ask, “What can I do for my community?”. If you are getting itchy and punchy at the word “community”, think of it this way: another name for a “community” is a “market”, as Dr. Rick Jarrow said in his book: The Ultimate Anti-Career Guide: The Inner Path to Finding Your Work in the World.

Do You Come Here Often?

I don’t think I disagree with David entirely, and though I don’t know him any more than through his online persona, I don’t think he’s all about cold, calculated business moves (I mean, look at his Jake Gyllenhaal smile). I want to write this post, first of all, as I said, to get it out of my head, and secondly, to propagate a point bear repeating from author and senior yoga teacher Judith Lasater: if we are connected, to ourselves and to each other, we can solve anything. If we are not, if we think we must step on each other to reach the top, well, it’s gonna be a long night.

In the specific role of a Community Manager (yes, it’s really a job), sure, I don’t expect that you should be best friends with everybody, you couldn’t. True friendship requires certain amounts of tender loving care that necessitates time, a limited resource to all of us. However, for companies to succeed, and for careers to soar, there ought to be some friendliness towards the people, the community, the marketplace. How many of us have at some point felt awkward and slightly slimy at those business networking events? For an authentic community to form, you can’t just collect business cards, you need to connect on a personal level. (And I don’t mean “connect” in the corporate lingo sense here.)

I personally think this is an exciting time, frightening perhaps, for some, but very exciting for all of us, in all walks of life, in Fortune 500 companies or corner mom and pop shops, in corner offices or cubicle-land. It’s a time where we are experimenting with so many things so fast, trends are coming and going as fast as the morning stars. We’re colliding and mashing everything together to see what turns up, like Ashton Kutcher’s latest project of “influencer marketing,” which, according to Fast Company, is “a squishy hybrid of entertainment content, advertising, and online conversation that finds its audience via video, animation, Twitter, blogs, texts, and mobile.”

In this feeding frenzy, snafus, oopsies, epic fails are all but inevitable. But inevitable also, are “epic wins”. We didn’t just all of the sudden “get social”. We have *always* been social. The challenge now is to use the tools that we have at our fingertips to put our sociality to some good use, to improve our lives, ourselves, our world, our job titles, etc. May the mojo be with us. Or if you prefer, may that sense of je ne sais quoi guide us. (Just had to let the Frenchie in me out for a moment :))

Some mooar links:

Oh hai kitteh! We can has frendz?

Oh hai kitteh! We can has frendz?