Take Away Line
Much of the literature on happiness seems to emphasise the importance of removing barriers to happiness, since happiness is more or less a natural state. Removing barriers has been a theme of all these articles. But there is also the question of our relationship with our core, our inner lives, the very engine of who we are and how we live. This for many is the spiritual aspect of happiness; the self-knowledge proposed in some of the other articles inevitably leads to this aspect. If it does, why not put it on the agenda from the outset?
Self-understanding and achievement
How can a discussion through a set of articles on happiness at work take us from the Olympics to spirituality? Common themes seem to run through each of the articles in this series. Whether we’re talking about handling challenge, promoting greater wellbeing, connecting with our calling or even getting into the ‘zone’, in each case there’s an element of removing barriers and, perhaps more importantly, to gaining greater self-understanding. Thus, what top Olympian and Paralympian athletes have to do is, of course, not just train in the techniques of their particular activity, whether that’s boxing or wheel-chair rugby, but also to gain some sort of self-mastery and sense of responsibility that is beyond the norm.
Indeed, this is what marks them out. It’s also what marks out top leaders. And, as we’ll see in a moment, monks too! So, to achieve top performance, achievement, satisfaction and indeed happiness, we need somehow to connect, not just with our chosen field, but also with our inner energy field, our core. So, building our own post-Olympic Legacy may be based more on the inner and less with the outer. This is our spiritual life.
Navigating an inner life
Connecting with the inner is where the monks and nuns come in handy because they’ve been trying to do this for centuries and have learnt a thing for two about what works and what hinders things.
If we’re looking at the question of happiness (at work), for the religious minded, there is a strong link between happiness and virtue. So, let’s be clear, we’re not so much talking about happiness here as pleasure: one of the tricks here is to understand the difference between the two, between virtue and pleasure. Obvious really – ask any athlete: pleasure is frequently not a feature of practice, but a virtuous approach to training (dedication, generosity, overcoming fears and limitations, etc) can lead to satisfaction or happiness later.
There’s some philosophical backing for this as Christopher Jamieson points out. Plato was sceptical of the lower pleasures and saw happiness as ‘what is good and beautiful’. His pupil Aristotle saw happiness as living virtuously and by virtue he means the tendency to make good choices, a quality that can be learnt through training. All this is far away from a modern sense of ‘feeling good’, Jamieson argues. Rather, drawing from Plato and Aristotle, true happiness is about learning how to know and do good. This is quite different from just feeling good.
A journey requiring discipline – and support
We probably all know that the simple things that improve our wellbeing – eating or drinking more modestly, exercising more consistently, ensuring there is some ‘down time’ in our lives and so on, require a degree of discipline until they are routine. Indeed, we all know that we often fail to integrate such things into our lives. Other things get in the way and we slip off course. We find that without support and encouragement, we haven’t quite got the strength and resolve to see our intentions through.
The inner work is the same: discipline and support are needed to see us through what can be unpleasant reverberations from within. We are, as Jamieson says, all afraid of the dark. Of course, we also know that when we can overcome these bumps, we often feel a little freer in ourselves. This is often called a greater purity of heart. Seeing it through was worth it, but not easy. This ‘not easy’ idea has a name, acedia, in Latin, or spiritual apathy. A disciplined approach is needed to overcome acedia and develop our own spiritual exercise routine, with support if necessary.
It’s beyond the scope of this piece to indicate how to take this idea forward; indeed, technique should not be a key ingredient, rather commitment to a kind of inner union or taking ‘the mind to the heart’ as Archimandrite Sophrony puts it. Yes, slowing down, submission and receptivity may be in the mix, but it is worth emphasising that this is work without a specific destination; rather it is a journey that perhaps has only some stepping-stones, many of which were previously laid down by people who have been there before and have written about it.
See for yourself.
A Wise Fool
I met an old, dear school friend after Christmas and asked him light-heartedly what his New Year’s resolution was. ‘To be happy’, was his immediate and witty response. It seemed ridiculous to me that happiness could be a choice – as his joke suggested. Surely it was an outcome? I wonder if part of my personal legacy from the Olympics is to conclude that he was right all along and, in playing the fool, was in fact being wise.
- How do you manifest your commitment to an inner life?
- What can employers do to encourage spiritual wellness?