A couple Saturday's ago, while running the usual weekend errands, I was tuned to my local public radio station, KQED-FM, listening to NPR's Weekend Edition Saturday. My mood perked up immediately when I heard one of my favorite interviewers, Scott Simon, announce that next up on his show would be Eric Weiner, author of The Geography of Bliss: One Grump's Search for the Happiest Places in the World. For the next eight minutes I listened to the delightful grump entertain with stories about fascinating people and places and the lessons he learned and epiphanies he had while traveling the globe from Iceland to Thailand in his hunt for happiness. Do yourself a favor and listen to the entire eight minutes online on NPR. Then read the book.
One of the insights that Weiner had, and one that is well worth all of us pondering, is that "Happiness is not inside of us but out there. Or, to be more precise, the line between out there and in here is not as sharply defined as we think." And then he goes on to quote the philosopher Alan Watts who observed, "…you cannot have what is 'in here' unless you have what is 'out there.'" In other words, place matters.
I hope I am not spoiling the book for you in sharing one story. (Actually, I really can't spoil the book, because Weiner is a wonderful storyteller, and you'll want to read all of what he's written.) I think one vignette captures his main point. "Of all the places I visited, of all the people I met, one keeps coming back to me again and again: Karma Ura, the Bhutanese scholar and cancer survivor. 'There is no such thing as personal happiness,' he told me. 'Happiness is one hundred percent relational.' At the time, I didn't take him literally. I thought he was exaggerating to make his point: that our relationships with other people are more important than we think….But now I realize Karma meant exactly what he said. Our happiness is completely and utterly intertwined with other people…."
This point was driven home to me this past weekend when I was with an annual gathering of some very close friends and colleagues. We've been meeting ritualistically the second week of January for the last ten years. One of the activities we did with author John Izzo, based on his new book, The Five Secrets You Must Discover Before You Die, was to first think about all the things we wanted to do or accomplish between now and the time we die. Next John asked us to now imagine we were given the news that we had only six months to live. What would that list of things to do or accomplish look like?
There was a marked difference in the two lists. The long-term future was more about lofty goals and meaningful contributions. The second six-month list was all about relationships. It was all about spending time with family and friends, visiting people I hadn't seen in a long time, enjoying the little pleasures of being with people. This was true for the majority of my other colleagues as well. Perhaps what we want most is to take with us on our next hunt for happiness is the very thing that brings us happiness in this life—the people we love, the relationships we have.
What has all this got to do with leadership? It struck me that Barry Posner and I have written for years about how leadership is a relationship—a relationship between those who choose to follow and those who aspire to lead. It's the quality of this relationship that determines how effective leaders are. After having listened to Eric Weiner and looked at my own life, it also strikes me that exemplary leaders play a role in how happy we all are. Not just satisfied, but happy. Is there a correlation between our happiness and our performance? I don't know that we know, but maybe it doesn't really matter. When our final days arrive my sense is we'll be thinking less about what we accomplished and more about the joy we brought to the lives of others. What do you think?
Posted by Jim Kouzes