In the seventeenth century, Blaise Pascal said, “Being unable to cure death, wretchedness, and ignorance, men have decided, in order to be happy, not to think about such things. . . . Despite these afflictions man wants to be happy, only wants to be happy, and cannot help wanting to be happy. . . . But how shall he go about it? The best thing would be to make himself immortal, but as he cannot do that, he has decided to stop himself thinking about it.”
Four hundred years later, while we still can’t cure death, we have many opportunities and conveniences that should provide us with the conditions for happiness. But, as we are all discovering, these choices are not making life simpler; they are making it more complex.
There are so many good choices, it’s difficult to decide. Or there are so many hard choices, they’re difficult to act upon. As a result, we ignore the complexity and choose a path that seems the least troublesome. We face our opportunities with a form of denial. Like the man who cannot make himself immortal, we deny that complexity has any control over our lives. We lean on the tried and true, denying that the world has changed.
I see this particularly in how people dealt with our country’s most recent recession: a classic hunker-down, trim-away, downsize, wait-it-out scenario. That may work for some if your industry is healthy and your community is growing, but for others, not so much.
We must work through the complexity to discover simplicity, which leads to happiness.
Simplicity, in this sense, is becoming clear about what we want and how we want to get there. That’s how the Circle of Impact pictured below came to be. Through many conversations about change, finding clarity in the midst of confusion, and discovering a simple path forward, this process emerged. I encourage you to study this image and step-by-step view for a few moments.
Working Through Complexity to Simplicity
Complexity comes when we see many opportunities. They are embedded in the relationships we have with people and the many places we encounter those people. Instead of turning away from the complexity, looking for an easy way out, let’s examine these opportunities more closely:
Network of Relationships
Consider for a moment the full range of people you know and with whom you regularly interact. This interaction may be face to face, over the phone, or through social media. It really does not matter; there are opportunities for impact almost anywhere we engage with others. Each relationship has its own natural potential waiting to be realized.
If you were to map your network of relationships, meaning first listing everyone with whom you regularly interact and show the links between them, then with you, by interest, values, social or organizational proximity, and your desire for greater depth in the relationship, you will see a broad range of opportunities emerging. If you are at a transitional point in your life, these are the opportunities that will carry you into the next stage of your life or work.
Social and Organizational Settings
Next, list the social and organizational contexts in which you live and work. These are places where you meet people, work with them, have fun with them, do serious things with them, serve with them, worship with them, do things with your children with them, and interact with them on the large and small issues of life and work.
The complexity for a lot of people has not come from those they meet face to face, but with those they meet online in virtual relationships. Facebook is an example of a place where people go to interact with a wide diversity of people. Within those settings, there is a small percentage of people with whom there are opportunities that advance us forward in our life and work. Make sure these people are included in your list of network relationships.
Identify the various places where you interact with others. There are opportunities that come in each, but they are dependent upon common ground.
Focusing on Values and Purpose
List the values that matter to you. There is no master list. What matters is that these ideas matter to the extent that they are non-negotiable. From this list comes a sense of purpose that orients us toward what we want to achieve in life.
For example, one of my ambitions is to help people discover what they are meant to do and realize their potential. It is based upon more core values of respect for and belief in the inherent dignity and value of people. My strongest relationships are with people who share a similar set of values. We support and mutually mentor one another based on those values.
When our purpose and values align with our social and organizational settings, we’ll find happiness and fulfillment growing in our lives. When these become clear, we will find our lives and work simplifying naturally; decisions are more easily defined and the actions that follow are performed with greater focus and passion.
Happiness is a product of values, purpose, and action. It is not simply a feeling, which is fleeting. It is the full flourishing of human life. Happiness becomes simple when we work through the complexity to become clear about our purpose and share the effort with like-minded people.