I wanted to derive one more entry from the excellent book The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt. The aim of the ten chapters of the book is to zero in on the core of our lived experience, which is a blend of conscious and subconscious reasoning, to best align our behavior with principals which balance the individual within the larger world.
In this frame, the eighth chapter of the book addresses the concept of virtue. Haidt explains that virtue is not purity, and it is not the suppression of our wants at all. Rather it is an extension of wisdom tracing back to the Ancient Greeks which teaches that the development of character and the application of ones strengths to the benefit of others yields deep and lasting happiness.
Earlier in the book, it is shown that there are two types of joy; pleasures and gratifications. Pleasures are things which you experience, often sensory luxuries such as nice meals or extra sleep. These produce great joy in the moment, but do not provide lasting elevated emotions, and as the mind becomes accustomed to them they fade into banality.
Even traveling on a private jet, for those for whom it is commonplace, is subject to this ʻadaptation principalʼ.
This is in contrast to what Haidt calles ʻgratificationsʼ. It is from the process of stretching our skills and meeting reality with raised performance that we have a ʻpeak experienceʼ, resulting in gratification. Examples could include anything from delivering a speech to taking a masterful photograph to preparing a meal - or anything where skill developed over time is performed with feedback in the moment.
When earned skill is converted to gratification, it offers us many benefits such as a job well-done, a sense of identity which is earned and admiration from those who witness it. These benefits endure in the mind and build with time, in ways simple pleasures cannot.
By seeing this additional dimension of satisfaction we can more clearly appreciate virtue in the same sense as Ben Franklin, who held.. “A richer notion of virtues as a garden of excellences that a person cultivates to become more effective and appealing to others.”
For entrepreneurs, discovering and developing ones virtues is central to the project of wrangling the good will of others to build a new business. Indeed, when done in the spirit of the ancients, it produces both lasting effects and felt happiness.
When heaven is about to confer a great responsibility on any man, it will exercise his mind with suffering, subject his sinews and bones to hard work, expose his body to hunger, put him to poverty, place obstacles in the paths of his deeds, so as to stimulate his mind, harden his nature, and improve wherever he is incompetent.
- Meng Tzu
One constant of entrepreneurship is adversity, for both the business entity and the individuals involved. Does adversity serve a purpose, or is it merely dead resistance? In The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt, a chapter dedicated to the "value of adversity" illuminates some very positive outcomes from difficult challenges, provided the right mix of individual characteristics and external factors.
The determining factor in whether an individual benefits from setbacks is their natural level of optimism, which allows them to find meaning and lessons within challenges. By converting struggles into stories, and contextualizing the lessons learned within a larger personal narrative, an individual makes progress from the loss of our strongest attachments.
Therefore, the individual must still be flexible in the development of their personal narrative in order to derive the benefit from adversity. Most of us establish our personal narrative between the late teen years and the end of our twenties, making this the ideal period for deep adversity.
Think of how massive fires allowed whole cities to reexamine assumptions and bloom into more cohesive modern metropolises, as was the case with Chicago and London. Likewise, this inner coherence comes to individuals who overcome great hardship and assimilate its lessons into a "vitalizing life-myth".
Haidt continues by explaining that this progress comes in three main areas; revealing resilience, testing relationships and clarifying life values.
Discovering one's true strength is an obvious enough benefit. Building on this, I feel that it's from this resilience that we can confidently take risks - the more resilience, the greater the risks, and the greater the potential rewards.
When reeling from a major downfall we have a chance to glimpse the true nature of the characters in our lives. Who rises to the occasion? Who turns away either from loss of interest, or loss of potential gain? Those who remain true though a battle with cancer or a divorce or a DUI or bankruptcy could be considered our "bankable" friends, our dearest assets. (removing disingenuous people from your life not only strengthens your team, but also frees up a lot of time)
Finally, adversity clarifies one's values for living. If you were to die tomorrow, would you keep doing what you are doing today?
In sum, Haidt shares that people need adversity, setbacks and even trauma to reach the highest levels of strength, fulfillment and personal development.
You can find his talk on TED.com and I strongly recommend The Happiness Hypothesis as a deposit towards one's own wisdom.
Leading this blog series with the topic adversity is a nod to the tremendous people who continued to believe in me through the rough path that lead to the formulation of Currency. I'm grateful and humbled, and proud of what's to come.