Why Rainn Wilson Shuns Happiness…and So Do I
I never thought I’d learn life lessons from the likes of Dwight Schrute.
But alas, that relentlessly annoying character from NBC’s The Office is played by a rather thoughtful and likable fellow named Rainn Wilson. And RELEVANT magazine recently featured him in a surprisingly touching cover story.
What struck me most from the interview were Wilson’s comments on happiness, a state we humans seem to be constantly chasing. Heck, it’s even written into the Declaration of Independence. Yet the whole concept of happiness seems so shallow, so fleeting. I’ve always thought we should be striving for something a bit more substantive, like fulfillment or satisfaction.
Here is an excerpt from the piece on Wilson:
“I truly believe that happiness is not an if/then statement,” he says. “I think through most of our culture it’s, ‘If I get this, then I will be happy. If I get this job, I will be happy. If I make this much money, I will be happy. If I find my mate, I will be happy. If I have success in my career, I will be happy.’
Whatever it is, there’s this series of if/then relationships. I think that’s not how happiness works.”
“I don’t like the word ‘happiness,’” he clarifies. “I think we have it in the United States—‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ What is the pursuit of happiness?
Happiness, to me, is like my son when you take him to Santa Monica pier and he goes on a roller coaster and eats cotton candy. He’s happy. And then eight minutes later, he’s not happy. He wants to do it again to get happy again. Or he wants to go on the merry-go-round so he can get happy. He wants to go swim in the ocean so he can be happy. Happiness is this thing that you’re chasing.”
“I think that the better word is ‘contentment,’” he says.
“Contentment lies in living fully in your life’s purpose. Living in God’s purpose for you breeds a contentment that’s not contingent on achieving certain things or doing certain things … The ancient Greeks believed in a concept called eudaimonia, which translates as ‘human flourishing.’ That was the highest ideal in the Greek world.”
He wonders aloud, “Can you imagine if our natural motto was, ‘Life, liberty and the pursuit of human flourishing?’ It’s not happiness; it’s human flourishing—deep, soul-enriching stuff. It’s connection. It’s service. It’s work. It’s creativity. It’s beauty.”
Then he settles into that thought, declaring, “I believe in life, liberty and the pursuit of human flourishing.”
Can someone please give Dwight an “Amen”?