Everybody needs a challenge in life, and not just any challenge. It would be weird if I would say that the only thing I want to do with my life is to solve a very difficult Rubik’s Cube, wouldn’t it? Luckily that is not the case; one of the things I want to do is organize the world’s coolest symposiums on the science of happiness. Hello my name is Arjan Haring, founder of the Huh? - Haring institUte of Happiness and I would like to share my raison d’être with you.
My father worked as a photographer for the city archives of Utrecht, a beautiful Dutch city in the centre of Holland. He did is job well and after 25 years he got promoted to head a small department of photographers and graphical designers. Soon he got in to problems with his boss, who thought my father was too friendly and social with his personnel.
The ending of the story is that my father was put on a nasty sidetrack and proud as he was, he quit his job. In Holland this is not the smart (normal) thing to do, because the employer always has to have a good reason to fire you, otherwise they have to pay you a fair sum. This gives an employee incredible job security. But my father was proud and he quit himself.
Nowadays we call the state he was in a burnout, and he had one because he was too human to be a manager. Completely stressed about the treatment he got after 25 years of working for the same employer he started his own company. During the start-up phase of his company my father had to work day and night time to support his family of six. The company wasn’t doing that great when he heard from the doctor that he had blatter cancer. We had to sell the house and had to live in a much smaller rented apartment. Soon financially things were okay again, my father didn’t really work anymore, but the Dutch social system helped us out. Our family managed to get by, and after 5 years the doctors said my father’s cancer was in remission.
The tough life of an average suburban kid in Holland. I don’t want to complain about my childhood at all. All I want to do is show you how my childhood shaped my sense of purpose. I think it is a noble quest to make the world a little happier by convincing, showing and helping organisations to implement insights from the science of happiness.
I seem to have a problem with authority. When managers, for example, are clearly not capable of leading other people to do their work in a better way, I tend not listen to them. When managers act inhuman it annoys me a lot. Actually I don’t like managers. I have been lots of things within many big organizations, and have seen a lot of inhuman behavior. And, actually, I don’t like organizations either.
I love working with a lot of people in big organizations. But I don’t like the organizations themselves, the atmosphere, the cultures or their location based truths. I love the people. I love their deepest wishes and goals in life. I don’t like the goals organizations normally pursue. I think that the business logic of today is outdated, old fashioned, I would even call it ancient.
If I look into myself I can feel that most of the purpose in my life resonates with setting the record straight for what has been done to my father and our family. Symbolically the logo’s for both Huh? as well as ToH were created by my father. I didn’t yet find another explanation for the enormous drive I have while working on Thoughts on Happiness. So to some degree I think my childhood shaped my reason d’être. Nothing written in my genes has put me on this track and nothing written in heavy books either, for that matter.
So it is like that. Thoughts on Happiness: The Meaning of Life is about how your childhood influences your behaviour? No, not quite. The subtitle of this year’s Thoughts on Happiness was Did Evolution result in Purposeful Human Life? There are scientists that say the answer to this question is "No". If I had to choose a top 3 interesting Thoughts on Happiness in correlation to the Meaning of Life, I would pick the following:
Professor of Social Conditions of Human Happiness Ruut Veenhoven
It is commonly assumed that humans have an innate need for meaning, and that gratification of that need causes happiness. However, that assumption should not be taken for sure. An alternative theory holds that we have no hardwired 'need' for meaning but rather a universal ‘interest' in meaning as a consequence of the fact that we can think. This theory fits the fact that we can live fairly well without convincing answers about the objective meaning of life.
Professor of Genetics Bjorn Grinde
If nature had supplied us with a goal, you would have known, and there would no need to seek high and low for it. What nature has supplied us with is self-awareness. When this quality Is combined with an intellect, and an urge to do things considered to be useful, we assume there must be a purpose, or we wish for a purpose. We look for a meaning in order to justify our existence, because otherwise we get this terrible feeling of futility and emptiness.
Thinking -as a physical capability- about a difficult dilemma demands a lot of brain processing power, this is something that can make us happy. Like otters that play the whole day, we are also mammals that like to train our (brain) muscles in case we would really need them. Evolution makes sure that animals get a positive reward when they do something that is helping their genes to survive.
But I think that there are other difficult dilemmas next to organizing challenging symposiums, it could also be the almost impossible Rubik’s Cube mentioned earlier. Trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube doesn’t make you less happy than organizing a kick-ass symposium. Even thinking about the Meaning of Life can be rewarded by positive emotions. Let me clear about one thing: I have never finished a Rubik’s Cube in my life, but this will be my second Happiness Symposium.