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Sunday, December 9, 2018

The Pursuit of Happiness?

While the bulk of my work is focused on leadership development, I want to start with saying that you cannot lead anyone until you lead yourself. And that requires ongoing, transformative work in self-awareness.
one of the major premises of leadership development for me is that

So today’s post is in that spirit. I was recently struck by this article from Fast Company, This is what you’re getting wrong about your pursuit of happiness, though I want to say at the outset that a topic as huge and life-encompassing as the meaning of the pursuit of happiness cannot be solved in one little article from Fast Company! But I was especially intrigued by the “Ten Worlds” described in this article. They proved to be thought-provoking for me personally.

For example, I was especially drawn to the worlds of Realization and Learning. Regarding Realization it says,
The world of self-improvement. Here, you’re obsessed with self-examination and personal growth, but it can lead to self-absorption. The delusion is that you think you need to grow to be happy.
Indeed, I am constantly looking for new ways to be productive, or measure my exercise, or read a new book, or learn how to eat better, or… You get the picture. To lean into Strengths Finder language, I think this sort of drive is a product of my Activator, Maximizer, and Achiever, all of which are in my Top 10. And yes, I agree, at times I can fall down the rabbit hole of self-absorption, wanting to make myself my #1 project and lose sight of the bigger, more important things around me.

Regarding Learning, it says,
The world of mastery. In this world, you feel a relentless drive to learn and accomplish something that creates value and meaning. The delusion comes when you think happiness comes only through accomplishment.
Again, circling back to Strengths Finder, I see #5 Input, #6 Arranger, #7 Learner in flying colors here. I LOVE learning new things related to whatever project I am working on, and no amount of information is uninteresting to me as I dive in. But yet again, I can get lost in the swirl of discovery and think I am actually something special as I tune in to the topic.

Where the article gets tricky for me is how the Ten Worlds authors assert that nine of the ways we pursue happiness are delusions and only one world, that of "enlightenment," can provide true happiness. Admittedly, I haven't read the book, and am taking the word of the author of this article, where he says,
While Lickerman and ElDifrawi call the worlds “delusions,” they can make you happy. “For example, freeing yourself from pain will make you happy,” says Lickerman. “The delusions come when you expect the happiness they make to be permanent. Having perspective is helpful. In the 10th world, happiness is permanent.
I could not agree more -- nothing I pursue will give me permanent happiness. To believe otherwise is certainly a delusion. I am not the master of my domain, and so many circumstances outside of my control greatly impact my sense of happiness. That encapsulates the hard-knock lessons of my life, thank you very much.

Yet the Ten Worlds authors' claim that their view of enlightenment provides permanent happiness. REALLY? Furthermore, they assert that this enlightenment is not mystical or religious. Hmm. That's where I diverge from them. I too agree that we need to lift our heads and be in awe of the beauty of creation and, as they describe it, "the sublime order of things."

But for me, the awe immediately takes me in a mystical and religious direction. Beauty and creation cause me to wonder about their design and purpose, and quickly plunge me into an existential exploration into the meaning of my life and that of those around me.

What about you? What makes you happy? I deeply appreciate this statement by the authors on their Ten Worlds website:
The world in which we spend most of our time will determine how happy we're able to be. What determines which world we inhabit at any given time? Our beliefs. But not just any beliefs—specifically, our beliefs about what we need to be happy.
If you can, I encourage you to take some time to reflect on the Ten Worlds described in the Fast Company article. Perhaps these questions can stir the pot for you:

  • What are your beliefs about what you need to be happy?
  • How did you develop these beliefs?
  • Are they working for you? In other words, do you find yourself fulfilled and satisfied on a relatively regular basis? Why or why not?
I sense that the Ten Worlds authors and I are both headed in the same direction. I value the hard work of self-awareness, and they encourage a pursuit of the enlightened self. However, I would say that the work of self-awareness is not only internal and self-driven; it also needs a community around you. As Tasha Eurich, organizational psychologist, says in Harvard Business Review,
When it comes to internal and external self-awareness, it’s tempting to value one over the other. But leaders must actively work on both seeing themselves clearly and getting feedback to understand how others see them. The highly self-aware people we interviewed were actively focused on balancing the scale.
As I say to my clients, the pursuit of self-awareness is life-long. I believe the same about the pursuit of happiness... though I have discovered as I've gotten older that my sense of happiness is far more subtle and deeply rooted in knowing my purpose and identity, regardless of my circumstances.

Feel free to send me your own thoughts at Thanks for reading!

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