What is Happiness?

By John Agno         

 "I'll be happy when...." is the way many people think they are living their lives. Yet, happiness is not something that happens to you. Happiness is inside you now. You are motivated from within. You only have to allow happiness to surface.

Happiness = K (knowing who you are) X D (discovering your life's work) X L (learning not to tolerate what's not important).

That's the formula for happiness--know yourself, your true calling and that you get what you tolerate.

Happiness is being aware, not only of the positive events that occur in your life but, that you yourself are the cause of these events--that you can create them, that you control their occurrence, and that you play a major role in the good things that happen to you. Happiness, said Benjamin Franklin, "is produced not so much by great pieces of good fortune that seldom happen as by the little advantages that occur every day."

Happiness isn't off in the future, but in living in the "now" and loving the moment of our daily experiences. We form an impression in every business or personal interaction. In the business world, we don't speak much about the heart. Yet, the purpose of doing our life's work should come from the heart---since all businesses are ultimately people serving people. We all need connection, belonging and meaningful contribution.

The paradox of happiness, as stated by Viktor E. Frankl in The Will of Meaning, "To the extent to which one makes happiness the objective of his motivation, he necessarily makes it the object of his attention. But precisely by so doing he loses sight of the reason for happiness, and happiness itself must fade away. Success and happiness must happen, the less one cares for them, the more they can."

The circumstances in life have little to do with the satisfaction we experience. Health, wealth, good looks and status have astonishingly little effect on what the researchers call "subjective well-being" according to The "Science of Happiness" by Geoffrey Cowley (with Anne Underwood) in Newsweek, September 16, 2002

Psychologists have amassed a heap of data on what people who deem themselves happy have in common. Mood and temperament have a large genetic component. In a now famous 1996 study, University of Minnesota psychologists David Lykken and Auke Tellegen surveyed 732 pairs of identical twins and found them closely matched for adult happiness, regardless of whether they'd grown up together or apart. Such findings suggest that while we all experience ups and downs, our moods revolve around the emotional baselines or "set points" we're born with.

In his book, "Authentic Happiness" (Free Press), University of Pennsylvania psychologist Martin E.P. Seligman tells us that happiness is not about maximizing utility or managing our moods. It's about outgrowing our obsessive concern with how we feel. He says, "The time has arrived for a science that seeks to understand positive emotion, build strength and virtue, and provide guideposts for finding what Aristotle called the 'good life'."

Beyond pleasure lies what he terms "gratification," the enduring fulfillment that comes from developing one's strengths and putting them to positive use. Half of us may lack the genes for bubbly good cheer, Seligman reasons, but no one lacks nascent strengths or the capacity to nurture them.

"No man is born into the world whose work is not born with him." James Russell Lowell

At certain times in life, people take stock of where they are and where they want to go. Deciding what is important to us in our life's journey, including where we may be stuck, is the way to begin this life planning. The gift of knowing who you are and what you are meant to do gives you the energy to transform your life.

Getting to Know You

To begin the journey of knowing who you are, take some self-assessments to understand your personality, preferences, learning style and emotional intelligence. Read "Now, Discover Your Strengths" (Free Press, 2001) and take the StrengthsFinder assessment to discover and strengthen your signature talents.

The use of self-assessments is based on the reasonable assumptions that:

1. Different people have different ways of seeing and acting in the world.

2. These different ways of seeing and acting have consequences on our effectiveness and well-being.

3. These differences can be identified through self-assessment instruments, and

4. Personal change is possible and desirable.

As individuals, we each have a personal perspective on the differences between right and wrong----between good and bad. Our sense of ethics comes from our assumptions/beliefs, values, vision and guiding principles that make up our unique identity. These are the primary factors that affect and control our actions.

Writing down your unique identity elements will help you better understand why you do the things you do. Here are the definitions of the 'intangible identity elements' that form the foundation of your identity-driven behavior. Being aware of your unique identity gives you the ability to choose how you wish to act in your personal and professional lives:

Assumptions/beliefs: An operating mental model or reality map formed through reinforced experience. This would be a manifesto of the mental models you use and believe in to create the future of your work and personal lives.

Vision: An emotional word picture of a future reality leading from now through near to far reality. Energizing people to support your purpose with an overarching description of what the leadership sees the organization becoming in the future is not an easy task.

Values: An attitude or world-view depicted by one word or one single concept observed through one's behavior. Values often influence people's choices about where to invest their energies. Leaders must establish a hierarchy of values and beliefs and articulate what matters---or employees drift away from the organization's core competencies, which reduces the company's competitive advantage.

Guiding Principles: A universal operating standard that guides decision making both personal and organizational. Leaders use guiding principles to align, create trust and walk the talk by putting everybody on the same playing field. Energy is not sapped up in the politics of the organization because there aren't different rules for everybody at each given moment. Principles are guiding beacons that create consistency and trust.

Working on the intangible "inward" elements (your personality, preferences, leadership style, signature talents, assumptions/beliefs, values, vision and guiding principles) is what it takes to become more aware of one's identity. Once you know who you really are, and can articulate your "purpose," you are ready to cross the bridge to a tangible action plan that gets you where you want to be.

Many people make the mistake of developing tangible action plans without first discovering their unique identity, signature talents and life purpose--- and then wonder why it is so difficult to move forward.

Because going "inward" is difficult, it is recommended that you travel this unexplored territory with a personal coach. As humans, we are complex and may need a guide to help us in our life discovery and change. Developing a life signature, the tracing of the talents we are given and how we express them in our lives, can provide a mental model or compass toward discovering and living our purpose.

Should you decide to discover your life purpose alone, here's a tip: Many of us believe we know how the world works rather than just perceiving how the world works. Our individual perception forms our reality. When beginning on this journey of discovery, be aware of your "inherited or conditioned purpose" before attempting to come up with your true life purpose. Your inherited purpose (which flows from your unconscious beliefs) tends to have these characteristics: is based in fear (your need to survive in the world), is your default mechanism, operates in the background (where you are not aware it is there) and is lacking in satisfaction/fulfillment.

"Nothing happens unless first a dream." Carl Sandburg

Remember when you believed that you could change the world? Where are those dreams and aspirations of youth? You may feel you are now ready for a life makeover but are not sure what the changes should be. But you know you want more than what is.

Po Bronson, author of "What Should I Do with MY Life" (Random House), tells us that some people keep from finding themselves because they feel guilty for simply taking this question seriously. Many people feel guilty for obsessing about what kind of work they should do. It feels self-indulgent. Yet, people succeed by unleashing a productive, creative and focused energy that flows from the inside-out to work at things they love doing.

We live in an economy where we don't have to tolerate jobs we hate. For the most part, we get to choose. But that choice isn't about a job search so much as an identity quest. So, don't be cursed because of your tremendous ability and infinite choice of jobs. Decide what you can devote your life to and then live your dream.

There are too many smart, educated, talented people operating at a slow speed in jobs they are just tolerating. They have put their dream in a lock box so they could go out an make a ton of money to support the big house, the fancy car, the summer/winter place, the private schools, etc. The unfortunate outcome of following this path is that they become emotionally invested in that world--and don't really want to ditch it by opening up the lock box and letting their dream surface.

Sooner or later, we all yearn to break out of our secure harbors. The heart moves beyond the familiar and convenient into more adventurous realms of possibility. If we don't break out, our future will always remain in the hands of someone else...not as something we claim fully as our own. Living our life with a deeper understanding draws us to realize our ideals, walk our talk, and act in accord with what we know to be true is to live our dream.

"Dreams are the touchstones of our characters." Thoreau

Leaders move people by articulating a dream they hold that elicits optimism, compassion or a sense of connection---aspirations that point toward a hopeful future. Resonance flows from a leader who expresses feelings with conviction because those emotions are clearly authentic, rooted in deeply held values.

You Get What You Tolerate

In medicine you look at how "well tolerated" a drug will be related to its side effects. At work and at home, many people evaluate new opportunities related to what can be well tolerated. Yet after life, most people don't want their tombstone to read, "He tolerated stuff for other people because they paid him." Especially, when we realize that we can make more money and have more fun doing work that engages our passions. Life is too short for doing work you don't enjoy for people you don't respect.

Doing What We Do Best

Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft Corporation and the world's richest man, says, "You know, the notion that a kid who thought software was cool can end up creating a company with all these smart people whose software gets out to hundreds of millions of people, well, that's an amazing thing. I've had one of the luckiest situations ever. But I've also learned that only through focus can you do world-class things, no matter how capable you are."

FORTUNE magazine, July 2002, tells us that Gates, then 46 years old, devotes most of his time to what he loves best: namely, communing with the geeks who actually build Microsoft's products. His new role plays to perhaps his greatest skill---that uncanny ability to foresee how emerging software technologies can be woven together and parlayed into must-have "industry standard" products, which, in turn, reinforce demand for other software from Microsoft and its allies.

Says bridge buddy and fellow billionaire Warren Buffett: "Bill has found a rhythm in the three areas of life that he really cares about, and that's terrific. In business, in philanthropy, and in his personal family life, he has what he wants, and it's all clicking."

Craig Mundie, Microsoft chief technical officer for advanced strategies and policy, explains, "Bill's unique gift was always the way he does this complete and continuous synthesis. It's like he's a pipe, and all kinds of stuff goes in at this end and a continuous output of optimized strategy comes out the other end. What we are designing is critical infrastructure for everything digital going forward--business and government systems, communications, entertainment, you name it. The complexity of the challenge is unprecedented, but that just gets Bill's competitive juices flowing. Bill has three modes in meetings, which you might describe as listening, challenging, and coaching. He's gotten better at coaching in the past couple of years."

Focus Here Now

After studying time for more than three decades, physicist Julian Barbour has come to a fascinating and counterintuitive conclusion: Time is an illusion.

All that's real are instants that Barbour calls "Nows." Our brains are hardwired to take the experience of these "Nows" and create the illusion of time. "If you try to get your hands on time, it's always slipping through your fingers," says Barbour in the Summer 2000 issue of Spirituality and Health magazine. "People are sure it's there but they can't get a hold of it. My feeling is that they can't get a hold of it because it isn't there."

Even if physicists eventually accept Barbour's theories, his ideas will, like quantum mechanics itself, be thoroughly understood by very few. Still, to the rest of us, they offer a powerful metaphor to reflect on the moments of our lives and how we might best live them. As Barbour says, "to see perfect stillness as the reality behind the turbulence we experience" is good for us all to learn.

Focusing on what matters, moment by moment (rather than thinking of reality as what happens when a series of still pictures runs through a projector), helps us reach clarity. B. Alan Wallace, Ph.D., tells us not to overlook the importance of attention. By refining our attention, we can focus and thereby rediscover the sense of well-being that emerges spontaneously from a balanced mind. Research tells us that geniuses of all kinds shared one mental trait, despite the wide range of their individual brilliance: They all possessed an exceptional capacity for sustained, voluntary attention.

Dr. Wallace's wife taught Tiger Woods at Stanford University before he emerged as a superstar of golf. What most impressed her was his powerful ability to focus---a skill that has evidently contributed to his golfing achievements. Woods uses his talent of sustained, voluntary attention to maximize his strengths (his extraordinary long-game and putting skills) and minimize his weaknesses, like that of chipping out of a bunker.

To a degree, we all have an innate talent for some activity. By focusing our attention on building the strength of our unique, individual and enduring talents, while applying damage control to our weaknesses, we can choose to move from satisfactory performance to excellence. When we know what our principle talents are and how we might apply them to our life purpose, the application of attention allows our focused energy to push us toward success.


"John G. Agno is a certified executive & business coach and president of Ann Arbor, MI based leadership development firm, Signature, Inc.  He can be reached at www.MentoringandCoaching.com




Love Offerings and Tithes Appreciated
Send to seharrill@gmail.com

View Alphabetical Article List from InnerWords Messenger


View Back Issues

Tell A Friend

Innerworks Publishing         Site Credits

E-mail your articles, questions or humor to:

Copyright 2003-2017 Innerworks Publishing -- All Rights Reserved