[November 15, 2019] Let’s be direct about this idea from the beginning. The phrase pursuit of happiness is probably the most widely known in the U.S. Constitution and a popular catchphrase with American citizens. But it is not what leaders do.
Leaders don’t pursue happiness, and they don’t pursue it on behalf of others. The closest idea I can find to that concept is that leaders pursue responsibility. From adopting responsibility, they find a level of satisfaction that exceeds all other emotional needs to include happiness.
I was listening to a young High School football coach talk the other day to some of his team. He said that “Happiness is not what we’re after; we’re after winning.” That made sense. To win a football is the result of many hours of physically-demanding practice, learning the plays, and studying your opponent. These actions are not a happy time because it’s hard work.
If what we want is “happiness,” then drugs and alcohol are a way to achieve it. The downside is that five to ten percent of the population is destroyed by drugs and alcohol, very effective but also very destructive. I will argue that happiness is not what most people are after in their lives.
“The happiness of your life depends upon the quality of your thoughts: therefore, guard accordingly, and take care that you entertain no notions unsuitable to virtue and reasonable nature.” – Marcus Aurelius, Emperor of Rome
I will assume that the translation of Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius is correct when using the word “happiness,” but I think perhaps the real meaning is not literal. However, a key to better understanding the Emperor’s quote is his comment about virtue and nature. Only through our association with virtue (correctly achieving our responsibilities) and nature (which tests our strength) can we be truly satisfied with our selves.
There’s an old saying that goes something like this, “People take different roads seeking fulfillment and happiness, and both are at the end of the road.” My thinking on this issue for a long time has led me to believe that we are better for ourselves and others only when our actions fulfill (satisfies). Happiness is an ancillary result.
Leaders don’t pursue happiness or eternal bliss. From hard work, vision, and the ability to bring people together for a cause is what leaders do. Satisfaction comes from having the weight of the world on their shoulders and bearing up under that weight.1