Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

Contribution II:


Landmark Wisdom Developmental Course On Contribution, Grand Ballroom, Sofitel San Francisco Bay, Redwood City, California, USA

September 21, 2013

"Happiness is a function of accepting what is."  ... 
"What contribution are you willing to acknowledge?" ... Landmark Wisdom Developmental Course On Contribution
This essay, Contribution II: Happiness, is the companion piece to Bring Happiness To Life.

It is also the second in a trilogy on Contribution:
  1. Contribution: Surrender
  2. Contribution II: Happiness
  3. Contribution III: Performance
in that order.

It is also the thirteenth in an open group inspired by Landmark Programs: I am indebted to JoAnne Bangs and to Brian Regnier and to Helen Gilhooly and to the participants in the Landmark Wisdom Developmental Course On Contribution who inspired this conversation.

Foreword To The Contribution Trilogy:

Unlike the other essays in this Conversations For Transformation internet series, I've left the three which comprise this Contribution trilogy deliberately rough cut, jaggedly hewn, unpolished. Although their inquiries are completely started, they're far from over. Actually they're entry points only - diving boards, if you will.

My intention to offer them here in their raw naked states like this, isn't to make finished reference materials available. Rather it's to invite you to join me in an ongoing inquiry into what contribution is ie into what contribution looks like  in the subject areas of each of the three essays: surrender, happiness, performance.

Notice "contribution" as I articulate it here, could have a triple implication. It could be the contribution I make to another. It could be the contribution another makes to me. It could be the contribution another makes to another.

What is happiness?

Theatre Masks
For this inquiry we could also go in the one hundred and eighty degree  opposite direction and inquire instead "What is un‑happiness?". Then, once we've fleshed out what unhappiness is, isn't happiness simply the absence of unhappiness? Isn't happiness simply not  unhappiness?

Well, isn't it? Maybe, maybe not ... but it's interesting, yes? Yes, and to keep this simple, let's stay with "What is happiness?" and its related form "What makes you happy?" because there's a powerful distinction I'd like to reveal from them - from the related form, in particular.

It's easy enough to go to the dictionary and read its definition of happiness. If we do, we'll get the answer to "What is happiness?". But we're looking here to inquire into what happiness is, rather than to merely come up with the answer. And the trouble with coming up with the answer is it's only one measly answer  ... whereas if we stay in the inquiry, we'll come up with lots and lots and lots  of answers.

In this context we could also form the question as "What is happiness for you?"  which is actually better suited to an inquiry in which anyone can participate and thereby each make a personal contribution.

It's the question "What makes you happy?" in particular which interests me - much more in fact than "What is happiness?" or "What is unhappiness?" or even "What is happiness for you?". It brings an edge to this inquiry: if happiness is defined in terms of what makes  us happy, then without that which makes us happy, can we be happy? In other words, without that which makes us happy, what's the possibility of happiness?  That's the implication of "makes" as in "makes us happy". Now that's  an inquiry. It's pertinent. It interests me. A lot.

When someone or something makes me happy (or, said another way, when I consider happiness comes from someone or something who / which makes me happy) I've locked myself into believing I'm the passive respondent  in the matter of being happy - that's the implication of someone / something / anything making me happy, yes? She makes me happy. They make me happy. It makes me happy. Icecream makes me happy (cookie dough and mint chocolate chip are my favorites). Any time anything makes me happy, and especially when I believe happiness is something I'm made (if you will), I have no power in the matter of being happy. Moreover, when that which makes me happy isn't available (she, they, it, ic cream etc), there's nothing to make me happy. What does that mean? That I then must inexorably  lapse into my natural unhappy  state? That unhappiness is my ground of being which (if I'm lucky) I can occasionally rise above and be happy ... but only if something like icecream just happens to be available?

No, I don't think so. And seriously, what's noticeable is how prevalent this view of happiness is. It's entrenched in our speaking. "What makes you happy?". "She makes me happy.". "They make me happy.". "It makes me happy" etc. It's epidemic. And if you answer "I make me happy", you get my attention immediately. But my next questions will then be "How do you do that? How do you make yourself happy? What is happiness for you?". Make no error: it's not that I'm denying you make yourself happy. It's I want you to articulate usefully for people what happiness is for you, and what your access to happiness (and what your access to making yourself happy) is. Really.

If you take that avenue in this inquiry, what there is to confront is: what if we've constructed an entire belief system around happiness, which is fundamentally flawed? What if the very question "What makes you happy?" is essentially self-defeating? And what if (and this is the big  "What if?"), what if nothing  makes us happy? What if being authentically happy isn't a matter of being made happy at all? What if being happy isn't even a matter of whether you consider yourself to be a happy person  or not? Listen: what if being happy is a linguistic act?

Excuuuse me? Being happy is a linguistic act? What's that?
Werner Erhard distinguishes authentic happiness by asserting language  is its access, its blunt instrument. It's a simple enough assertion. But then again, all great truths are simple once they're known. Simple, yes. But easy?  That's for you to decide. What I get from listening Werner, is whenever I say "I'm ...", the very next thing to come out of my mouth  shapes my world. Whenever I say "I'm ... unhappy", it's the simple linguistic act  of saying "I'm unhappy" which is  unhappiness.

Similarly, whenever I say "I'm ... happy", it's the linguistic act of saying "I'm happy" which is  happiness. This is being happy like a possibility  not like someone or something making me happy. There's an enormous  balance of power in favor of happiness I can command (which is to say, in favor of happiness I can have)  as the possibility of happiness invented by the linguistic act "I'm happy", as opposed to someone or something making me happy - like cookie dough and / or mint chocolate chip icecream.

Whatever's going on which (you say) makes you happy, I assert when you say "I'm happy", it's that specific linguistic act which is happiness. Happiness has little or nothing to do with that which you say makes you happy, even if  that which you say makes you happy, is going on at the same time (and if it is going on at the same time, it's merely co-incidental) as you say "I'm happy.". Sit with it in your lap, like a hot brick: happiness comes from "I'm happy" - not from the things we say make us happy. That's both profound as well as truly powerful. "I'm happy" is available at every moment of our lives under all circumstances - even (and especially) when the things we say make us happy, aren't available.

So here's what this all comes down to:

What is happiness? What is being happy? Happiness / being happy is "I'm happy.". That's it. That's all.

Now, be careful: this isn't positive thinking  (if you listen it as positive thinking, you'll totally ruin it), and neither is it affirming  anything or (worse) willing something into existence. And while I assert it works, I'm not touting it as "the truth" either. Rather, I'm touting it as a powerful place from which to stand and look and inquire and try on for size.

Revealing happiness through inquiry as an experience we source for ourselves through a linguistic act ("I'm happy") rather than as something we're made ("Icecream makes me happy") is a huge  contribution. Revealing happiness as "I'm happy" makes available the always tangible, the always real possibility of happiness, the always tangible, the always real possibility of being happy. That's Werner's contribution.

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