I said that I was going to write about passions and stuff today but I’m going to put it off until another day because I have other pressing thoughts to write about. This blog post is a brain dump. It doesn’t totally make sense to me, so it might not make sense to you. That being said, I would absolutely love any and all thoughts/feedback/disagreements/frustrations. I want to hear from you!
Many people seem to think that happiness, as in the lack of suffering, is the goal in life. People constantly are aiming at what makes them happy. I have a big issue with this. Happiness is unsustainable as an outcome and is impossible to have as a life goal/purpose.
Happiness is not an end, but a choice. I am convinced that we cannot do anything to bring us happiness consistently and sustainably except to choose to be happy. Buying a new car might make me happy for now, but in a year, probably not. Being married might be the best thing for me now but in ten years, it could be the most painful. Happiness/the avoidance of pain is not a good goal. Everyone feels pain. Part of being human is suffering. There is no way to escape it, so don’t chase happiness highs. If you think that you’re happy all the time, you’re lying to yourself about some big things. Ironically, if your goal is to be happy all the time, you will become sad, because it is truly impossible to always be happy.
Choosing happiness now will not make you happy later. Suffering now, might lead to happiness later… but, it might not. We never know what will make us happy in the long run, so it is not a valid way to make decisions. Happiness should not play a role in any choice humans make. Again, happiness should not play a role in any decision. How then might we make decisions if not by choosing to chase happiness?
I believe in excitement. When people are excited, they are alive, their eyes are lit up, and they are struggling towards something. Excitement is fun, it’s energizing, and it’s healthy. Excitement is my north star in life. I firmly believe that excitement leads to fulfillment and to a life well-lived. Don’t get me wrong here, though: what we are excited about won’t be easy and it will suck sometimes. Starting a company is exciting to me. Writing a book is exciting. Are those things easy? By no means! Those things are going to cause me pain, I’m going to suffer and face challenges, and I’m going to be unhappy sometimes but it’s worth it, because I’m excited about them.
Again, do not chase happiness for it cannot be caught. Happiness is not a commodity that can be bought and kept. It is not an end goal. Happiness is a choice we make, it is a mindset we intentionally adopt. Instead, do something meaningful to you, follow your excitement. Follow what you’re afraid of doing because often when we face our fears we find the most excitement. Choose fulfillment over happiness.
Disclaimer: This is written as an exploratory, devil’s advocate type piece in which I am trying to figure out what I believe. If what I’m saying makes you upset, please talk about it with me! I’m ignorant in many fields, especially history and economics. I am by no means an expert in the following. I want to learn and grow and figure out the truth.
Okay, so, Social Entrepreneurship. I am in Bolgantanga, Ghana this summer working with a company that is connecting weavers in poor, rural villages with the US market. The goal is to alleviate poverty and raise these weavers’ standards of living. For years now social entrepreneurship has been my guiding light. It is the only thing I believe can save the world because it is inherently compassionate and generous. It requires empathy.
I can’t get into the details about my work here because it is proprietary. That being said, during my time, my perspective has changed about the effectiveness of “social entrepreneurship” and the companies that claim to be socially oriented. Let me lay out a hypothetical that I’ve been having.
First let me give an example of what many would call a social enterprise. Let’s say a startup wants to help people in rural Vietnam learn how to sell their bracelets to people in Europe for 5x what they can sell them for in Vietnam. Let’s say they go to Vietnam, build a team, train the artisans, and send the first shipment to their US office. Maybe they can work with 50 bracelet makers and can pay them each 10 dollars more than they could make otherwise. Now these 50 people can eat three meals per day. In 10 years maybe they can feed 1,000 people. This is good, yes? These people are social entrepreneurs because they’re helping raise the artisans out of poverty. Maybe. Maybe not.
On the other side of the coin, let’s take something that many think of as atrocious and awful: outsourcing in unfair work conditions. Let’s think back to the growth of China. Years ago they were a developing country, they didn’t have many factories, and they had a weak economy. Today, they are one of the biggest power in the world. What happened to bring them there? The answer is interesting. In my opinion one of the biggest factors is that richer countries, like the US, funneled money into their factories. Let’s take the famous example of Apple and it’s suppliers. Apple’s supplier in China had to install nets outside their buildings because people hated working there so much they tried to kill themselves. This is bad, right? The answer is not as obvious as I once thought.
Let’s try to think about these two situations objectively. The social enterprise is small and their impact is limited. Apple is huge and its impact is gigantic and fast. We don’t know what the working conditions are for the social enterprise, but I know for a fact that they’re probably not great. The people are still in poverty and there are still injustices, as much as we might like to believe the opposite. We know the working conditions for Apple’s supplier are horrible and it’s truly awful that people could be inspired to commit suicide.
But let’s think about the overall impact of both situations. The social enterprise will take years and years to do anything of real substance. Their impact will likely be small and within a certain area of the world. Apple, on the other hand, can shift whole percentage points of a country’s entire GDP with a wave of its hand. Apple can lift entire countries out of poverty and change the lives of millions of people. Even though the pain of working in horrible factories is bad, hateful even, did it not lead to the growth of China? Is Vietnam not following the same path?
Did we ourselves, as the US, not do the same thing. Think about The Great Depression. Americans endured horrible, horrible working conditions but on the other side was growth. Humans are meant to endure pain, to be resilient, and to grow. The more pain we can survive the faster we can grow and evolve. So really, who deserves to be called a social enterprise?
In the same way that chasing short-term happiness is an issue, chasing short-term alleviation of poverty might be as well. Who’s to say what companies deserve the title of social enterprise? Overall, I’m pretty confused right now about what I should be doing and how I can make an impact. What I do now is that all people struggle and all people have pain. Some people hunger for dinner, others hunger for love, still others long for easy outs. Life is not easy. To do something great for the world, it takes sacrifice and it takes pain. Humanity today is deeply uncomfortable with these concepts. We must learn to challenge our beliefs of what is correct and of where we are aiming to go.
In the US pain is hidden. In developing countries it’s in your face. In the US we pretend that we are great, we pretend that we are fair and that people are happy. Think about mental health, though. Is mental health not simply a manifestation of the desire to block out pain and suffering. We must acknowledge the truth and embrace the pain. We must make sacrifices for the future of our world.