What is Happiness?
Updated: Mar 31, 2020
While in my final year of university, during a business strategy senior level class, a profound moment was given to all the students.
This moment of learning had nothing to do with business. But it had everything to do with the business of life.
In what seemed one very ordinary, forgettable winters day, our professor asked the most insightful and thought provoking of questions.
I must admit it is a question I have neglected during certain times of my life. But no matter how far gone, when the time comes and I need it most, this same question finds its way to the surface.
Almost twenty years later it has stayed with me and evolved with time, age, and experience.
Its answer has become a guiding principle in the major decisions I make in my life and in the guidance I give to others.
I hope this question becomes something you can take in yours, and one that you reflect on, when you need it most.
You see, something that day troubled our aging professor, who paused to brush the back of his thinning white head of hair.
The professor slowly looked up at our class of forty students who appeared as a multi-cultural cross section of the world’s population.
And then he finally spoke.
“Ok class let’s take a pause on strategy.”
“I want to ask you one question. I then want you to prioritize the potential list I give you from most important to least. Number 1 being most important, number 5 least.”
“This is your question and your five options:”
“What is the most important thing in life?
Power. Wealth. Happiness. Wisdom. Or fame?”
The question seemed so obvious for my 23-year-old brain. But was it a trick question? I took a moment before deciding…
The professor scanned the room and quickly said, “Class, this is NOT a trick question. Don’t overthink. This ANSWER is more for you than for anyone else. Just answer honestly, with the order that comes first.”
So, without thinking, I quickly ordered my answers:
I looked at my sheet of paper. Should I move wealth up to number 2 or even 1? I wasn’t sure.
But I was confident with wisdom’s placement.
At least, I thought, THIS was the answer our professor was hoping for.
“Class, time is up. By a show of hands how many of you think that happiness is the most important in life?”
I sat motionless, but then without delay five students raised their hands, each with supreme confidence. Five students. Out of a class of forty.
Wow, what idiots, I thought.
“Ok,” said the professor, “How many of you think that wisdom is the most important?”
Two-thirds of the class raised their hands.
The professor quickly took inventory and continued.
“Now, how many of you choose wealth?”
The remaining almost one third raised their hands, except for a handful of students who actually must have selected power or fame?
I looked at the majority of students who raised their hands for wisdom.
What a noble group we were.
We were also the majority and therefore by definition, we must have been right.
But our professor’s face said otherwise.
“Ok for those who chose happiness, why did you chose it?”