Bring Meaning to Work and Purpose to Spirituality
My dear friend, Gerry Bouey, is fond of saying that we humans make the world with our stones and sticks no matter how sophisticated we think of ourselves. In my own experience, this deep sense of humility is a necessary condition of genuine happiness. On the other hand, humility alone does not generate happiness. We must also apply ourselves whole heartedly and make tangible impacts under whatever life circumstances we find ourselves. Happiness is simply the feedback loop or indicator that we receive from Mother Nature if/when we have succeeded to some degree expressing the sacred spirit. Far from a blind sport, we have accumulated quite a bit of knowhow, primarily in arts and sciences, how to cultivate happiness in the rough and tumble of everyday life. I choose the word ‘geometry’ to describe the phenomena of happiness since, like Pythagorean Theorem, (1) happiness is a reproducible experience for anyone who is willing to pursue its principles or theorems as outlined below; (2) there is no logical proof but only empirical evidence of its truth.
Theorem #1: We Shall Grow Always
It simply means that our life experience must be constantly expanding, for example, learning a new skill, language or establishing a new friendship. If life is a geyser, happiness is the freshest coat of minerals on the ground. As soon as it has landed, the magic begins to dissipate and the process must start over again. If we want to be happy, we should never be satisfied with status quo, no matter how successful and satisfied we are at a given moment. The optimal time is now to initiate the next phase of growth, before the new colors or glows of happiness begin to fade. This applies especially to highly successful people. Great fortune and/or fame are no protectors of happiness at all. In fact, it merely raises the bar. The majority of lottery winners end up losing it all and then some; drug abuse and suicide rates are higher among the well educated than average.
Theorem #2: We Shall Perform Our Duty
If the cultural conservatives tend to struggle with Theorem #1, their liberal counterparts often flounder around Theorem #2. The biggest trap for dreamers is that their dreams remain just that, a dream. We are put on this planet for a purpose. It is natural to have debates and disagreements on what the purpose is. But our duty of discovering and serving a higher purpose beyond our immediate interests and self-preservation is non-negotiable. The geometry of happiness guarantees that our life is destined for certain misery unless we strive for it. Once we have discovered our purpose, perfecting and performing its achievement becomes a vital and essential source of happiness. The manifestation of this dimension of happiness is most pronounced among artists, innovators and entrepreneurs such as Henri Matisse, Albert Einstein or Steve Jobs who create new arts, sciences and businesses in order to fulfill their visions of what they are called to do. Money and fame are secondary if relevant at all. We must all discover and fulfill our purpose to feel happy in our lives.
Theorem #3: We Shall Integrate Growth and Performance
For most of us, this is where our childhood dream of happiness is dashed: it requires long and painful apprenticeship for any of us to develop the mindset and necessary skills in order to bring together or integrate growth and performance into a healthy life style. For example, we may love our family dearly and develop an intense interest in cooking or native culture. However, if we must earn a wage or salary to ‘fund’ such ‘growth’ as most of us do, then ‘performance’ at work often becomes a form of suffering and creates a great deal of disharmony in our lives. Our initial survival instinct is to run away from such tensions. However, that is only an old reflex developed in the distant past of our long evolutionary history. The tension and misery only intensify the harder we try to avoid them. Organisms must organize or we cease to evolve which is equivalent to signing our own death sentence. Therefore, the integration of growth (theorem #1) and performance (theorem #2) is not optional but fundamental to our survival, health and happiness. To illustrate how critical this theorem #3 is, human cultures the world over have all gone through an authoritarian stage in which growth and performance are integrated by force. Ancient Egyptians built the Pyramid, the Chinese built the Great Wall and the Greeks invented democracy, all on the backs of institutional slavery. While today we might look upon such unpleasant history of mankind as unfortunate or even regrettable, it was in fact a giant leap forward in the course of evolution.
Thus the geometry of happiness could only be glimpsed dynamically, in the context of the evolution of our cosmic origins. Depending on the specific life conditions, happiness could take on drastically different forms of manifestations. For example, the same piece of candy that brings thrills for a 2 year old loses much of its magic when he or she becomes teenagers and adults. To sustain happiness, we must continuously innovate and weave ever more complex life styles with ever more refined qualities in the three primary dimensions of happiness: growth, integration and performance. That is the pattern of cosmic reality unfolding in each of our lives and the subject of study by such works as Spiral Dynamics, Theory U and The Human Cosmos. They are tools invented to help us appreciate, explore and expand the geometry of happiness in the context of our everyday life and the encompassing evolutionary purpose. Make sense, make meaning and make love. We’ll explore the secret recipe of happiness next time