At a memorial service for a friend who committed suicide, his wife opened with a quote from Robert Frost: “Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.”
I told a friend of mine that I was getting interested in happiness and she burst out laughing. And I guess I deserved that. It’s not that I’m an unhappy guy, but you wouldn’t call me bubbly. Too-happy people make me nervous—my theory is that either they’re insane or overly medicated. But I got going on this topic because a friend suggested I interview Alex Kjerulf, a young Danish consultant who calls himself the Chief Happiness Officer. He blogs at a site called Positive Sharing. He’s written a book (available here as either a print to order or a pdf or free online) called Happy Hour is 9 to 5. I interviewed him for the Cool Friend area at tompeters.com. I’ll provide a link here when that interview gets posted.
Now it just so happened that around the time I interviewed Alex and was asking him ‘what is happiness,’ Tom Peters was pushing out a piece of writing called Wherefore The Impact of Superior Management Practice on Increased Human Welfare and the Pursuit of Happiness* and Excellence? What caught my eye especially here was the footnote associated with the word happiness in the title. That footnote reads: “To Aristotle eudaimonia was what the good life was all abut. The complex Greek word is usually translated as ‘happiness,’ but Aristotle means something else. Happiness to Aristotle is not a state but an activity. It is not lying on a beach with a glass of wine and a book, nor having wanton sex with the person of your dreams. Eudaimonia is better translated as ‘flourishing,’ or doing your best with what you are best at.”—Charles Handy, Myself and Other More Important Matters
I really like this definition of happiness because it makes most sense for me. You’ve been in those situations where someone asks you if you’re happy, and most of the time, just sitting there, doing whatever (eating, drinking, staring into space, daydreaming…) you’re not happy. You just are. And as far as I’m concerned, that’s okay. It’s only when you’re engaged in some project that has meaning for you that you are happy.
The Chief Happiness Officer, on the other hand, seems to be upbeat most of the time. He’s got a picture of himself jumping up in the air, clicking his heels together. You’ve got to be pretty upbeat to have your picture taken like that. I don’t think I’m happy like that. Of course, it could be the difference in our ages. Could also be genetics, since it seems that general happiness is half determined by your genes. At least according to this article from Forbes.
Given my northern European background (think Ingmar Bergman films) I’m probably not inclined to be happy. I do work at home, though, and the Forbes article suggests that a short commute can go a long ways toward making one happy.