I have taught Creativity and Personal Mastery at many top business schools including Columbia, Kellogg, London Business School and Berkeley.
And, without fail, the same incident happens. Sometimes it happens more than once.
A woman — sometimes it is a man — tells me about a trip she took to some remote part of the world. And she tells me about the people and her experience.
“They had nothing,” she says feelingly. “But they seemed so happy.”
And there is more than a note of wistfulness in her voice. A sense of unfairness. How could they have nothing and be so joyful while she had everything and can hardly wait for the sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care?
And that reminded me of a 60 Minutes segment on Darfur at the height of the refugee crisis. If ever there was a deprived population, it was the inhabitants of Darfur at that time. And in that hell hole there were kids who trailed the CBS correspondents, and they peered into the cameras with wonder.
And, at that instant, there was unquestionably genuine, unadulterated happiness radiating from them.
The people my student referenced, the children of Darfur, did not have hot and cold running water, reliable power, indoor toilets or air conditioning. They certainly did not have smart phones, or Internet or email.
But they did have the ability to make peace with their circumstance.
Kurt Vonnegut supposedly was with Joseph Heller at a party in Shelter Island given by a billionaire. He nudged Heller and asked him how he felt about the thought that their host made more in a single day than the cumulative sales of Catch 22 in its entire publishing history.
Unimpressed, Heller said that he had something that his host never would have.
Vonnegut inquired what that was.
‘Enough,” replied Heller.
And there you have the dilemma of our society of stivers.
We have a gaping hole in our being, a sense that we are somehow incomplete, that we need something to make us whole.
And we try to patch ourselves up with attainment and accomplishment and acquisitions. We try to become famous and wealthy and powerful and accomplished.
But the hole remains.
It may even grow larger.
So here is a thought for you.
You cannot solve an internal problem with external action.