Happiness Guaranteed: The Backwardness of the American DreamIt was my pleasure to chat today with another true culture change catalyst: Rich Sheridan, Cofounder and CEO at MenloInnovations and author of Joy, Inc.
There are four main issues that I take from my conversation with Rich, also reflected in some ways in Arianna Huffington’s latest book, Thrive:
1. Backwardness of a Dream: In the classic version of the American Dream, happiness is the result of achievement: first you need to become something (successful, rich, famous, whatever) and only after that you will be happy. Happiness is seen like a sort of cake, which you will eat only after finishing all your homework and your dinner’s vegetables, both under strict parental supervision. Happiness needs thus to be pursued and, as if it wasn’t enough, the pursuing of happiness is guaranteed by the Constitution.
We need to reverse the formula for happiness and success. [...] Most companies and schools follow a formula for success, which is this: if I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier! This is scientifically broken and backwards. SHAWN ACHOR, TEDx, “The Happy Secret to Better Work”
2. Prisoners of a Dream.
If happiness is a sort of consequence of a lifetime of hard work, then we are all imprisoned by it. Whole nations and organizations are chasing the prey of happiness, are running the treadmill of achieving and having. We count the years, weeks and days left until retirement, this sublime moment when we will allow ourselves to feel and be happy, when we will finally do all the things that we have been always passionate about and wanted to do, but we couldn’t since we were busy working hard in order to be happy.
Do you know who else are counting the days “until...”? Yes, exactly, the incarcerated ones, who scribble the walls of their cells with dates and little rods, counting the time until they will be freed. And you know what happens to so many of those long-term prisoners? They end up back in prison, for incarceration feels more familiar and safe to them than the unpredictability and responsibility that come with freedom.
3. Two minuses do make a plus: entering backwards in the backwardness of the American Dream. It is entrepreneurship and entrepreneurs, mainly the millennials, who have had the brilliant idea (and the guts!) to disrupt the whole system by entering backwards in the backwardness of the American dream. Happiness, they say, is not an end result, a reward for 45 years of behaving yourself and correctly running the treadmill. Happiness is something that one experiences from the beginning and throughout, it is the source of work that contains purpose and passion.
All parents and teachers that I advise want their children/students to be self-sufficient, fulfilled individuals, able to establish meaningful relationships. And at the same time, paradoxically, most want to accomplish these goals by doing exactly the opposite: requiring their children to obey. They reward conformism and obedience and they punish disobedience. They train children to function in accordance with external incentives (reward, and punishment — which now they mask by calling it “consequence”) and prevent them from constructing internal meaning as a way to regulate their behavior, choices and decisions. At the other extreme, but with similar results, we have parents who have no ability to say “no” to their children, ending up as a sort of servants of a “tyrant” child.
It is not accidentally that you read this article on the Huffington Post. For Arianna Huffington and Rich Sheridan are two wonderful leaders who have performed a daring chiropractor maneuver to the American Dream, promoting happiness as the source and not the moving target of a satisfaction guaranteed society. Both are key players in a global revolution, aimed at restoring intercultural communication and relationship by focusing on the preservation of meaning, passion and purpose.