Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Pursuit of Happiness

"Independence Day in America"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

At first I thought I was reading some sort of online “spoof” about life in contemporary America, but then I discovered it was an actual report about some new trends in the corporate life in this country. It appears as if some of the more cutting-edge corporations like “Google” have now added a new position to their roster of chief executive officers. Now, in addition to a CEO - Chief Executive Officer, and a CFO - Chief Financial Officer, is the newly-added position of a CHO - the Chief Happiness Officer.

Although this may sound somewhat satirical, it’s really what is happening in many of America’s top-level corporations nowadays.

As one might suspect, the main job of the CHO is to make sure that all the employees in the corporation are “happy.”  The CHO monitors employee conversations, and observes their body postures, including how often they smile – always checking for the “happiness factor.”  In order to boost corporate happiness, every morning the typical CHO adds some humorous cartoon or a funny story to the desktop of employees guaranteed to bring a smile to their faces when they log in. The CHO also arranges for a variety of comfort foods to be served in the cafeteria, organizes “Happy Hour” events, and even runs various corporate assemblies where the employees can get together and have some fun.

As it turns out, the principle reason for adding the CHO to the company roster is because corporate America is convinced that “happy” employees are also more “productive.”  So, while the bosses may be “happy” that their employees are “happy,” they are way more interested in the fact that this means they are more “productive.”

What I also found interesting about these new CHO positions is that many of the people who occupy this role also claim to be Buddhists - after all the Buddha has a lot to say about happiness.  And yet, paradoxically, the Buddha’s approach to happiness may actually look quite a bit different from the way in which one of these new CHO officers might approach happiness in today’s work force.

For the Buddha, we human beings find “true happiness” when we don’t “cling onto” or “crave” anything in life. In essence, you can’t be genuinely happy by pursuing happiness- seeking after the bigger, the better, the newer, clinging to and hording all the stuff you have accumulated in life. The Buddha’s teaching is basically the antithesis of the gospel preached by corporate America in our own culture today.

Today Americans celebrate Independence Day, a day to reverence our Declaration of Independence - the inalienable rights to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” guaranteed to every citizen of this land.  But on this Independence Day, I really wonder if we haven’t gone way off track when it comes to understanding what happiness and the pursuit of happiness is really all about.

It seems to me that someone can be perfectly content and extremely satisfied, smile a lot,  chuckle at jokes all day long, enjoy hour-long “happy hours,” live in a nice house and even have plenty of cash in the bank and yet, when it comes right down to it, can still be pretty miserable.

I am convinced that we can only be happy by making others happy.

We can only find true happiness when we change the focus of our lives from gazing inward at our own self-centered ego and instead look outward in relationship with others. The pursuit of happiness involves looking toward the building up of the common good - the good of the poor and the needy as well as the good of those who have nice cushy jobs in a fun corporation, the good of those who live in nice homes as well as the good of those who sleep on a piece of cardboard on a sidewalk.

I think Martin Luther King Jr, may have really “nailed it” when he talked about this idea of what happiness means and what it means to pursue happiness:

Those who are not looking for happiness are most likely to find it
because those who are searching forget that
the surest way to be happy is to seek happiness for others.

On this Independence Day, I reverence that Declaration of my native land. I do indeed believe we all have a right to be happy and to pursue happiness, and so I pledge again to devote myself to the welfare of the common good.

On this 4th of July, I also have a little fantasy about those employees who will go to work on Monday and when they log onto their computers, instead of a finding a morning chuckle in their inbox, they discover that their Chief Happiness Officer has posted a “happiness quote” from the Dalai Lama:

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.
If you want to be happy, practice compassion.

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