Updated: Jun 26
In the year 2017 I wrote a piece titled “the pursuit of happiness”. Through analysis over time, there are observations within my original writing which I now feel different about.
Dictionary definitions of “happiness” précis it as “a set of emotions that includes expressing pleasure, enjoyment, joyfulness, glee, carefree'ness, delight, good spirits and light-heartedness. A feeling that comes when life is good, you are successful, lucky or safe. It's the opposite of sadness.”
The raw honesty that arises in the African wilderness whether we are running a business intervention or leading a walking safari is unique and very special. Based on the environment we work, people often talk to us with regards their thoughts or reflections on happiness. We consistently see how spending time in wilderness, results in people undertaking taking professional and personal introspection.
Subsequent my original writing, in far over a hundred interactions with many sincere and successful people, whilst participating in workshops or safari activities that often take place in magnificent environments, the theme of happiness repeats itself with regular frequency. In juxtaposition, this wish is often contrasted with how much unhappiness exists. These contrasting truths stimulate questioning, new thinking, learning and ultimately growth.
Perception versus reality.
Typically on a groups arrival, whether for a walking safari or a workshop to be held in the bush, initial presentations suggest a good life – Good jobs, good relationships, earning a good living and good levels of confidence. All the key to happiness, right?
Fast forward a few days later, as trust and psychological safety starts building, often whilst we are sitting around a camp fire or simply reveling in a beautiful expanse of wilderness, our discussion becomes more relaxed. More frequently than not, new information reveals that precis’s as; “I have achieved what I thought I wanted to, BUT what I have done has not brought me what I thought it would”, “I wish I had paid more attention to what was important to me” or very sadly “I have to work very hard to maintain this mask”. Surely, unless we are emotionally cold, there must have many points of happiness [in the context of the definition of happiness] in the journey of achieving success?
These are vulnerable comments are often made by highly intelligent people, who have achieved much success and mostly of a similar maturity cohort.
We don't have a happiness challenge.
The highest levels of Blooms taxonomy, refer to the ability to “analyse/ test” and then “synthesize/ create/ formulate”.
In this context, and in that shared above, it makes me re-think the pursuit-of-happiness, and some of its perceived outcomes. I believe that we do not have a happiness challenge, we have a fulfillment challenge. Let me explain what I have observed and how I come to this point:
Happiness is NOT important to the achievement of success, nor targets, nor productivity. If this were the case, the high levels of success attained by many people would not have been possible.
Engagement resolutely precedes performance, BUT happiness is NOT necessary to achieve engagement [evidenced in validated research]. High levels of success, or high performance, is delivered through intrinsic motivation and deep engagement can result from a desire to change very unhappy, or bad, circumstances. With choice, a plan and action, we have the power to consciously move forward through challenge.
In almost all every discussion, there existed a clear distinction between the fantasy of running around feeling blissful, as if fueled by a mind-altering stimulant, versus feeling a sustained sense of contentment. For many it came as a surprise that after years of achieving “success”, which delivered increasingly shorter periods of bliss, that sustained contentment remained frustratingly elusive.
Shifting our attention to fulfillment.
Fulfillment results through living truthfully to self/ authentically [more follows shortly] whilst achieving ambitions uniquely important to us across different facets [not single slices] of our life. Within this state we can feel both happiness and sadness but remain at peace with self. Easy to achieve? I don’t think so.
Regardless of the number of fleeting moments of happiness achieved, not having a sense of fulfillment and/ or contentment through our lives, results in regret in not having trusted oneself in choosing to do what we really wanted to do. This feels increasingly uncomfortable in our realization that our time to live is not infinite, and that time which is lost, is lost.
Thus follows my observation of the five most common hurdles to the attainment of fulfillment:-
Confusing happiness and fulfillment. Enough already said in the above.
Living life according to a perceived success formula that does not take into account that there are many parts, or facets, that collectively make up who we uniquely are. Blindly following such formula's/ beliefs are a psychological “hit and miss”, put otherwise it is the equivalent of having a blood transfusion without knowing your blood type.
Pictures of perceived happiness are a movie highlight reel that do not reveal the process to get there, nor the real behind-the-scene-story, nor underlying motives. Although accomplishments that are achieved by misaligned motivators can result in periods of happiness, they are highly unlikely to result in sustained fulfillment.
Fulfillment demands authenticity. We cannot fool our sub-conscious with external propaganda nor denial - Denial simply fuels our feeling “unhappy”. Authenticity requires us to be truthful to self, truthful to others, our aligning to personally meaningful goals and working towards fulfilling our unique purpose in life. Authenticity CANNOT be based on someone else’s ideas or what we think we should project to others.
When it comes to self-work [work focused on our feeling, thinking and behavioral patterns], an expectation for a quick result without doing the hard work exists. The hard work is simply not as easy as hitting the “like button” on social media. Self-work is a lengthy process of commitment that combines development and maintenance work. Unless we do the work, life is likely to decide our future versus the other way around.
It requires effort.
Some time back I co-facilitated a 3-day program on personal effectiveness that provided some excellent insights and tools. Some months thereafter I asked some the participants about their subsequent development. The response was generally lack luster – Not due to a lack of desire, but rather due to a lack of doing the necessary work.
The achievement of any goal requires ownership, clear choices, sacrifice and disciplined hard work/ actions. Thinking about the work needed to achieve the desired state of fulfillment might be stressful but in truth it requires very little effort. Talking about the objective requires a little more commitment as some people might hold us accountable to our words, however it is the doing which sets the first REAL hurdle.
Outside of the necessary work, a healthy dose of courage is necessary to start, and continue, the process. Attaining a sustained feeling of fulfillment is easily derailed by a cocktail of fear, a lack of honesty with self [denial], a lack of confidence [which will support the belief of it is not possible] and an abundance of comfort offered by naysayers supporting our reasons for maintaining the status quo.
Bringing It Full Circle
Purpose and meaning allow for a sense of contentment, and ultimately balanced fulfillment to evolve. Once this exists, we operate off our underlying platform of positive inner energy independently of how our life is unfolding at a particular moment [happy or sad, good or bad, succeeding or failing]. The uplifting power of functioning from this space has an incredible uplifting power which we to easily confuse with happiness.
Contrasting the “pursuit of happiness” brings a constant roller coaster of emotional highs and lows, coupled with a constant searching.
Sitting around a small camp fire, in a wild and an unfenced Big 5 safari area, a hyena cackles not far away and we hear a lion grunting. Through this gift of time in wilderness I often see jaded eyes passionately re-ignite.
Often we are asked if we are happy, if we ever get scared whilst been out here, what our challenges are and how we find the constant transition between bush - business - home life? Although the situational context is different, these are relevant questions to most people.
If we are lucky enough to at a good age of 90 to look back on our lives feeling deeply fulfilled [or the contrasting the opposite], it will largely be as result of the conscious choices we have made, the subsequent decisions and our then undertaking the necessary action. In this journey I have no doubt that continuing exposure to wild places will help shape who we are and who we continue to become.
Food for thought?
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