Khalil Gibran and The Happiness Index

Don't Spill! by Ack Ook via FlickrUK’s Happiness Index

David Cameron’s Happiness Index has most people puzzled.

How can we measure happiness?  Surely, we aren’t put onto this earth to be happy, we protestants cry?  Surely, happiness means different things to different people?  Surely, happiness is like a shadow – seen but essentially ephemeral?

Begin the science of happiness with poetry

All the usual objections are valid and in a strange way illustrate what we mean by happiness.  Khalil Gibran explains in the The Prophet.

“Then a Woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not  the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is the lute that soothers your spirit the very wood that was hallowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall in the truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say , “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep in your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at a standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weight his gold and silver, needs must your joy or sorrow rise and fall.”

Khalil Gibran and The Happiness Index

Indeed, we can cannot measure happiness.  But, we can measure the fullness of our emotional involvement with the world.

Indeed governments do not create happiness.  But, they do influence conditions that enrich or narrow our lives.

And remember, rich men too have narrow lives.  How much can we enjoy life when we are daily separated by car windows and personal assistants who keep us away from the people sharing our streets and the mysteries of unmatched socks?

A happy country is a country where we weep when others weep and smile when others smile.

A happy country is a country where winners celebrate losers because without willing losers, there is no race to win.

In a happy country delight leads to compassion, surprise leads to curiosity and our days are balanced between strangers and intimates.

Measure the size of our cup carved from joy and sorrow.

The happiness index is possible, but first we need to look to poetry to understand what we are trying to put into numbers.

Let the world look at you. I assure you, the world will like what it sees.

Gratitude or selfishness?

When I first encountered the idea of a gratitude diary, I was discountenanced by feeling grateful for things like . . .  well, my coffee.  I suspected greed, not gratitude.

Once I started using a diary, then I realised that I was often thankful for the meals I had had that day.  I am grateful for a homemade soup, for example. but am I grateful just because I could have been out all day and been subjected to junk food?  Partly.  Yet  when I feel grateful for soup, I never simultaneously think of the disgusting fare served up as food up-and-down the arterial transport spokes.  I am think of much I appreciate a well made home made soup.  I experience pleasure not gluttony.

In short, I experience me.

This still seems selfish, doesn’t it?  But it is my job to see me.  It is my job to appreciate who I am.

The funny thing is that we cannot see who we are, or appreciate who we, are except in the eyes of the world.  It is when I reach out to some thing I value and treasure, when I recognize what is good in the world, that I recognize the good in me.

Khalil Gibran talks of adventuring a path and meeting the soul.  Not a soul.  The soul.

David Whyte talks of the universe taking its ball home too, when we get up and take our ball home. He points out that universe is not punishing us.  It is just that without “the faculties of attention, there is nothing to be found.”

We are what we are grateful for

We are what we are grateful for.  It’s a simple as that.  When we remind ourselves of what we truly appreciate, we remind ourselves of ourselves.  We are validated.  We belong.

But because we are simple folk and all these word feel like mental contortions, we can listen rather to the words of Mr Chips’ fellow teacher.

“I found that when I stopped judging myself harshly, the world became kinder to me. Remember I told you once, go out, and look around the world. Do that now. Only this time, let the world look at you. And the difference, I assure you, the world will like what it sees.”

Only this time, let the world look at you. I assure you, the world will like what it sees.

Why have managers ignored the poets for so long?

Contemporary English poet David Whyte

David Whyte uses contemporary language to talk about the essential ontological question of management, work, organizations and successful business.

When he takes his ball home, the universe takes its ball home too .  .  .

Far too often, our remedies for this world involve sulking.  Like an aggrieved child in a playground, we pick up our ball and go home.  We don’t address the lack of respect that sent us into a spin.

Persian poet, Khalil Gibran

Poets through the ages tell us that we find meaning and satisfaction through action, not inaction.  Through engagement, not withdrawal.

Yesterday, I posted an excerpt on self-knowledge from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.  He says it too.

We don’t find our bliss by staying in.  We find our bliss by setting out on a path.  And on that path we don’t meet our soul.  We meet the soul.

It also matters little which path we follow.  Many lead paths to the soul. What matters is that we travel the path.  What matters is that we set out. What matters is that we adventure a path.

We will recognize the soul on the way because it will recognize us.  And we recognize ourselves, we acquire self-knowledge, when the soul says good day.

Goodbye Mr Chips

Similar lines were said in the iconic movie, Goodbye Mr Chips, by the German teacher to the gawky, awkward Englishman.

“I found that when I stopped judging myself harshly, the world became kinder to me. Remember I told you once, go out, and look around the world. Do that now. Only this time, let the world look at you. And the difference, I assure you, the world will like what it sees.”

Only this time, let the world look at you.  I assure you, the world will like what it sees.

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Which path did you walk today to meet up with the soul?

Self-Knowledge XVII

And a man said, “Speak to us of Self-Knowledge.”

And he answered, saying:

Your hearts know in silence the secrets of the days and the nights.

But your ears thirst for the sound of your heart’s knowledge.

You would know in words that which you have always know in thought.

You would touch with your fingers the naked body of your dreams.

And it is well you should.

The hidden well-spring of your soul must needs rise and run murmuring to the sea;

And the treasure of your infinite depths would be revealed to your eyes.

But let there be no scales to weigh your unknown treasure;

And seek not the depths of your knowledge with staff or sounding line.

For self is a sea boundless and measureless.

Say not, “I have found the truth,” but rather, “I have found a truth.”

Say not, “I have found the path of the soul.” Say rather, “I have met the soul walking upon my path.”

For the soul walks upon all paths.

The soul walks not upon a line, neither does it grow like a reed.

The soul unfolds itself, like a lotus of countless petals.

Khalil Gibran

If our words for happiness and sadness were different, we wouldn’t feel muddled

I want to follow up Gaye’s comment

“ I’ve not seen happiness or sadness as fixed points. My own experience told me long ago that both come and go. While I’m not that good at going with the flow, I remind myself of that old Quaker saying “this too shall pass”.

However, I find it hard to be so accepting of grief and hurt and sadness and pain, and I am surprised at the anger I feel in the cold-blooded way that many casually brush all those feelings aside with this quote from Gibran, as if one compensated for the other. Contrast yes, but compensate no.”

I don’t disagree with Gaye. I would like to extend the thinking.

Empathy

Discussions about happiness become complicated when we are entangle questions about the nature of happiness and sadness with our ability to understand the happiness and sadness of others.

We vary a lot in our ability to empathize with others. We are also more empathetic in some situations and less in others. I suspect that we find it easier to be empathetic when we have been in a similar situation to the one we are observing.

Quite often we look for empathy from people who are simply don’t understand. They are out of their depth.

Belonging

If someone does not have experience to understand our distress, it does not really matter. What matters is that guiding them may be an extra task when we are already strained.

What really matters is when they are in power in some way. Their lack of empathy denies our reality and we experience rejection on top of grief. In theory, the two together could be sufficient to spin us out of the natural butterfly loop of life and out of the natural recovery from grief as time passes.

Appreciation

Almost in contradiction, but not completely so, close relationships such as marriage are more likely to flourish when one partner helps the other partner elaborate good times. Yes, listening in bad times is important. But of more importance is drawing out positive stories in positive times. Recounting good stories deepens our understanding of how good things work and our capacity to come back into the butterfly loop of flourishing when we have spun out of the orbit is widened.

In plain language, when we are struggling with the awfulness of life, we need the good times as a map to find our way back into the natural cycle of happiness and sadness. Becoming trapped in either is illness.

Semantics of happiness

The real issue is the ‘theory’ that we brought to the discussion. When we define happiness and sadness as separate and different, then we ask how much of one should we have and how much of the other should we have.

If we had a word in English to define happiness and sadness and the seasons of our life as one thing, stretching in a straight line or in that looping butterfly shape, we would ask different questions.

If someone is sad, then we act accordingly knowing that there will also be a time when they are happy and we will act accordingly them too.

I like Khalil Gibran’s words because he illustrated this notion of oneness. We find it hard to grasp the idea because of the words that we begin with.

If we had started with a different kind of word, we would have a totally different understanding. What that word should be, I don’t know, but flourishing and thriving are good starts. Languishing is the opposite of flourishing.

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Happiness & sorrow are two sides of a coin; it’s in the maths

4 puzzles of positive psychology

I forgot to finish my series on the 4 puzzles of positive psychology, but I was reminded by lines I read in Khalil Gibran.

The maths of happiness

Old school

It is easy to forget that everything written about psychology is based on an underlying mathematical model.  Psychologists like measuring things and as soon as they do, they’ve made an assumption, whether they realize it or not, about the shape of the thing measured.

Much of our work uses as straight line – like the ruler we used as school.  We fill in questionnaires. We get points and we get a score. We think of intelligence, for example, as being a straight line.  We have more. We have less.   And we can describe our intelligence as a point on that line.  A point.

New school of positive psychology

Positive psychology tosses that assumption of as straight line out of the window.  Mostly.

We stop seeing something like intelligence or happiness as being more or less.  We discard the line.  And we definitely discard the point.  Points will now signify illness. And what’s more, serious illness requiring hospitalization and round the clock care.

The new school of positive psychology psychological phenomena in terms of “flourishing” or “languishing”.  Are we moving around the world freely, or are we stuck in the mud unable to move in any direction?

The mathematical model that we now use describes what is means to be flourishing.  It is a model of movement, not a model of stillness.  It is a model of action & reaction and how we change from one moment to the next.  It is not a model of how we stay the same.  If we are a fixed point, then the new model regards us as ill.

Kahlil Gibran came to my rescue to explain the combination of happiness and sorrow  in poetry

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Sorrow and joy are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other.  When our life is all one or all the other, we are ill.  We are living in a make-believe world.”

Personal, persistent & pervasive

But being what we are, we humans tend to think that “what is” will continue forever.  When times are bad, we tend to feel that bad times will continue forever.  We often feel that a situaton is “personal, persistent & pervasive” when in reality is nothing more than  a natural oscillation that in this moment is giving us particular pleasure or sadness.

The danger is that in our anxiety we might bring our worst fears to pass.  The trick of a flourishing life is to mourn that which should be mourned but not to over-generalize and claim that everything else is also a source of sorrow.  Nonetheless, over-generalizing is a trap that we all fall into sometimes.

Happiness is not a point – it is constant movement between many points

Enough for now.  The important idea to grasp is that happiness is not a question of a mark on a ruler.  Happiness exists only in contrast to sorrow; so it coexists with sorrow.  Oscillation between the two, and all the points in between, is normal and healthy, because without sorrow, it would not be possible to be happy. It would not be possible to appreciate happiness.  If nothing changed, if nothing ever changed, we would not even notice it were there.  It is impossible to be happy all the time because if we were, we wouldn’t notice.

Not a contraction; just maths

It is not a contradiction to say that happiness includes sorrow.  It just depends up on the maths that you assumed at the beginning  : a line of fixed points or constant movement in space.

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Thinking about modern careers in the words of Khalil Gibran

Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup

I am reading Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet.  His words on marriage might well be a manifesto for modern day careers and organization.

“Fill each other’s cup but not drink from one cup.”

Careers & work of the future

Switching to contemporary times, if you want to skate to where the puck will be rather than where it is now, find opportunities to work in exchange with others, “to replenish their cup”, rather than subsumine yourself to the goal of a larger institution or one boss or teacher.

Careers & sustainability

But also remember, Khalil Gibran’s words

“When you love you should not say, “God is in my heart,” but rather, “I am in the heart of God.”

In prosaic contemporary terms, think about a wider system that provides enough to drink for everyone.  We don’t need to share one cup except when there is only one.  When we make many cups and fill each other’s cups, then we we are in a healthy place and we want to strive to make that so.

  • Take your cup, allow others to fill it.
  • Take your cup, and fill those of others.
  • Ponder those who have no cup and no one to fill it.

Using the old wisdom of Khalil Gibran to extend management theory

All this is obvious though not so if you teach management theory.  Old management theory charges us with drinking from our line manager’s cup and ultimately from the company’s cup.  There are legal reasons (and mainly legal reasons) for this.

We could also train young people to understand the company as a mega-system that must benefit all stakeholders ~ all stakeholders ~ if it is to sustain itself.

We can train young people to understand power, its use and misuse, and how to work thinkingly yet safely with people who deny others their own cup.  But never to give up their own cup.

I want to see young people exploring the whole system in their online portfolios.  I would like to see youth support systems put youngsters in situations where they must sort out which cup is which, who is filling which cup, and how they can act in small & gentle ways to drink from their own cup, to fill the cups of others, and to influence the wider econ-system.  It’s an important skill to learn and many of us lose it along the way.

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A teacher . . . leads you to the threshold of your own mind

Teaching XVIII

No man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the dawning of our knowledge.

The teacher who walks in the shadow of the temple, among his followers, gives not of his wisdom but rather of his faith and his lovingness.

If he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind.

The astronomer may speak to you of his understanding of space, but he cannot give you his understanding.

The musician may sing to you of the rhythm which is in all space, but he cannot give you the ear which arrests the rhythm nor the voice that echoes it.

And he who is versed in the science of numbers can tell of the regions of weight and measure, but he cannot conduct you thither.

For the vision of one man lends not its wings to another man.

And even as each one of you stands alone in God’s knowledge, so must each one of you be alone in his knowledge of God and in his understanding of the earth.

Khalil Gibran

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.

Like so many people, I resent the paper of business. I resent the untidiness of returns that go off to government at odd times that bear no relation to what is happening in the business itself.  I hate the way it takes half-and-hour to process a bit of paper.

Other people hate other aspects of their job and probably for the same reason.  The rhythm of what they are doing clashes in some respect with another rhythm.  As I resist settling down to a task that takes far too long to orient – to work out a step-by-step process – and needs to be finished from beginning to end otherwise that settling down time will be wasted again tomorrow, I found another poem from Khalil Gibran.  We work to be in step with “life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.”  We need to find the rhythm of the dull parts of our job and revere them.   Not to do that is “to become a stranger to the seasons”.    That’s a more interesting way to look at the parts of our job that we find deadly.

What do you think?

Work chapter VII

Then a ploughman said, “Speak to us of Work.”

And he answered, saying:

You work that you may keep pace with the earth and the soul of the earth.

For to be idle is to become a stranger unto the seasons, and to step out of life’s procession, that marches in majesty and proud submission towards the infinite.

When you work you are a flute through whose heart the whispering of the hours turns to music.

Which of you would be a reed, dumb and silent, when all else sings together in unison?

Always you have been told that work is a curse and labour a misfortune.

But I say to you that when you work you fulfil a part of earth’s furthest dream, assigned to you when that dream was born,

And in keeping yourself with labour you are in truth loving life,

And to love life through labour is to be intimate with life’s inmost secret.

But if you in your pain call birth an affliction and the support of the flesh a curse written upon your brow, then I answer that naught but the sweat of your brow shall wash away that which is written.

You have been told also life is darkness, and in your weariness you echo what was said by the weary.

And I say that life is indeed darkness save when there is urge,

And all urge is blind save when there is knowledge,

And all knowledge is vain save when there is work,

And all work is empty save when there is love;

And when you work with love you bind yourself to yourself, and to one another, and to God.

And what is it to work with love?

It is to weave the cloth with threads drawn from your heart, even as if your beloved were to wear that cloth.

It is to build a house with affection, even as if your beloved were to dwell in that house.

It is to sow seeds with tenderness and reap the harvest with joy, even as if your beloved were to eat the fruit.

It is to charge all things you fashion with a breath of your own spirit,

And to know that all the blessed dead are standing about you and watching.

Often have I heard you say, as if speaking in sleep, “he who works in marble, and finds the shape of his own soul in the stone, is a nobler than he who ploughs the soil.

And he who seizes the rainbow to lay it on a cloth in the likeness of man, is more than he who makes the sandals for our feet.”

But I say, not in sleep but in the over-wakefulness of noontide, that the wind speaks not more sweetly to the giant oaks than to the least of all the blades of grass;

And he alone is great who turns the voice of the wind into a song made sweeter by his own loving.

Work is love made visible.

And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.

For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.

And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.

And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.

Khalil Gibran

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Do you agree with Khalil Gibran’s ethics of market place?

It’s tax return time again and I began looking around for some poetry about commerce.  Here we go. Do you agree with Khalil Gibram?  Does he put the case for honest business well?

Buying and Selling chapter XI

And a merchant said, “Speak to us of Buying and Selling.”

And he answered and said:

To you the earth yields her fruit, and you shall not want if you but know how to fill your hands.

It is in exchanging the gifts of the earth that you shall find abundance and be satisfied.

Yet unless the exchange be in love and kindly justice, it will but lead some to greed and others to hunger.

When in the market place you toilers of the sea and fields and vineyards meet the weavers and the potters and the gatherers of spices, –

Invoke then the master spirit of the earth, to come into your midst and sanctify the scales and the reckoning that weighs value against value.

And suffer not the barren-handed to take part in your transactions, who would sell their words for your labour.

To such men you should say,

“Come with us to the field, or go with our brothers to the sea and cast your net;

For the land and the sea shall be bountiful to you even as to us.”

And if there come the singers and the dancers and the flute players, – buy of their gifts also.

For they too are gatherers of fruit and frankincense, and that which they bring, though fashioned of dreams, is raiment and food for your soul.

And before you leave the marketplace, see that no one has gone his way with empty hands.

For the master spirit of the earth shall not sleep peacefully upon the wind till the needs of the least of you are satisfied.

Khalil Gibran