Sunday 12 November 2017

The Pursuit of Happiness

At Cardiff Futures this week, we had a session with the inspirational Aileen Richards. She had a long corporate career with Mars, and is the first woman on the Board of the Welsh Rugby Union.

She raised many interesting aspects of leadership, illustrated by anecdotes from her 30 years of corporate experience, and led a highly-engaged discussion with participants. 

One point she made that has been causing me to reflect was based on an article about parenting that she had read many years ago. It started by reflecting that most parents say; 'I just want my children to be happy.' That sounds a bit motherhood-and-apple-pie. But, the article continued, what they should say is; 'I just want my children to be kind.' 

The point was that is people are kind, happiness will follow, as will other good things. And I think that there is much truth in that.  But I have also been reflecting on the other part of the proposition: the pursuit of happiness (which is famously written into the US Declaration of Independence. 

For I think implicit in the idea Aileen was proposing, and made more explicit in other contexts, is the notion that happiness is actually a by-product of other things. The direct pursuit of happiness is likely to be counter-productive - for it provokes a focus on the self, and on one's own state of mind and emotion that is likely to lead to a selfish outlook: and it is a matter of common observation that selfish people don't tend to be happy.  Conversely, if one considers the truly happy people one knows, it is pretty clear that they don't focus on pursuing happiness: they have more meaningful things to do with their lives. 

Of course, Aristotle was on the case, back in the day: he maintained that true happiness is to be found by pursuing the virtues.  And I think he may have been onto something.

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