Sunday, March 30, 2008

Operating on happiness

This time of year, I think of my dad. He would have been 77 this past week. Occasionally, someone will ask me what my father passed away from and I end up pausing a bit, trying to think of how to summarize all of his ailments in one short sentence. Truly, I think he died from unhappiness. And that started me down the road toward my intense interest in studying happiness. 

Recently there have been a number of academic studies and pop culture books on the subject. I'm currently reading Geography of Bliss, the story Eric Weiner's year-long trip to learn what makes people happy in different parts of the world. And the results are surprising because everything that we strive for in the US apparently makes no difference. Money, stability, success in careers. Even love and long-term relationships. It seems that what matters most are dreams, and their pursuit. 

Now over 15 years since my dad passed away, I know what he didn't understand is exactly what Weiner didn't understand either before he set out on his trip. Happiness is not something to be had. You can't grab onto it so it's no wonder that it's such a slippery creature. Happiness isn't even a journey. Happiness, simply is an operating principle. Some companies choose lean manufacturing. There are a lot of people trying to clean up their lives and live in a more eco-friendly way. These are operating principles, too: At every moment, the participant considers how to make choices, every choice, within a framework, with an operating principle as a guideline for separating good options from less-than-good options.  

So if I think of happiness the same way I think of Green and lean manufacturing, and I believe truly that it is the best way to run my life, I would look at options and make the choice that does the most to increase happiness. Even if in the short-term the choice is more difficult or forces a new way of conceptualizing my life, the long-term result will be worth it. And I hope now, wherever my dad is, he knows that, too. 

The above photo can be found at

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