Today, the concept of happiness has been so popularised that it has almost become a burden, perhaps even a cliché. There is a booming happiness industry of self-help books and programmes that rarely serve as more than a plaster on a sick and stressed culture. Companies hire ‘chief happiness officers’ in a valiant attempt to measure, weigh and quantify happiness, as if a person were just ‘another brick in the wall’.
The importance of balance
According to Greek philosopher Aristotle, happiness is rather less tangible than the happy pop lyrics of today. To him, happiness was leading a life worth living. Such a life is able to stay in balance despite the changing winds of time.
Even the art of balancing depends on our abilities and general life circumstances. But what seems to be crucial is independence from the time restraints and stress of our surroundings. It is good for our well-being to be extravagant with time every once in a while. Aristotle spoke of the golden mean as the way to a life worth living: neither too much nor too little. This is not as easy as it sounds, which many young people experience in their initial encounters with carousels, candy or alcohol. Buddha also spoke of the Middle Path between austerity and indulgence.
Kill your idols
This balanced path is found or even created as you gradually investigate life’s opportunities. Yet, unlike many contemporary self-help programmes that advocate a one-size-fits-all approach, the philosophical path to a happier life is paved with innumerable exits.
A happier life is never more than a side effect of leading a life worth living, a meaningful life.
It requires an understanding that the world’s so-called ideologies are never more than fleeting ideas disguised as incontestable and unalterable truths. Even Buddha said, ‘If you meet Buddha on the road, kill him.’ Meaning: kill the idealised concept that inhibits a critical examination of your own mind.
Explore, experiment, try things out.
Instead of focusing on happiness, I suggest concentrating on creating a meaningful existence through cultivating a more caring and loving relationship with all aspects of life: family, friends, work, nature, etc.
I am not, therefore, referring to obsessive narcissistic self-love, nor the romantic love of the nuclear family. Rather, I try to propose a worldlier, more politically or socially transformative love. A love that does not discriminate but embraces life in its multiplicity.
The challenge for a philosophical leader is to step back and make room for love, that is, to relinquish one’s need to control, one’s desire to polish one’s ego.
Only through a more honest and humble approach can we establish meaningful relationships. Only this way can love’s multifaceted revelations become manifest.
Philosophical leadership is about protecting life’s various energies, not one’s own ego. Therein also lies the potential for creating a future without domination; one of trust, respect, care and equality for all.
Finn Janning, TBS Professor of Human Resources and Researcher