I have alluded to some significant disruptive innovation work we are doing at g as we set our course for the next 3 - 5 years. I will lay out the work in a future post but an article in today's New York Times speaks to some of it. Check it out here.
We see that as a thinkers, we are using one tool. The detached, analytic approach championed by Galileo and taught from kindergarten to University. And we see the limitations of that approach if it is used all the time. But there were different ways of thinking prior to this and Rousseau, who turns 300 today was clear about the power of them. Rather than externalize, dissect and analyse, the view within is just as valuable. As it relates to happiness for example, he says “nothing external to ourselves, nothing if not ourselves and our own existence.” So happiness in this case is from within not without.
However, today we know too well that the search for happiness appears to be an "out there" activity. The article continues :
"In 2010, two Harvard psychologists, Matthew Killingsworth and Daniel Gilbert, performed a study that used an iPhone app to ask volunteers, at random moments, what they were doing and how happy they were. They discovered that we spend most of our lives not thinking about what we are doing at that moment, whether it’s shopping, eating or, in particular, working. No matter how enjoyable or unenjoyable the activity we’re engaged in is, this gift for distraction comes at a psychic cost: “a wandering mind,” they wrote in the journal Science, “is an unhappy mind.
No one seemed to remark on the incongruity of scientists’ using a technology that, in studying their subjects’ inability to focus, interrupted their focus.
The paradox would not have been lost on Rousseau, who believed we were happy only in our original state of nature — before the advent of technology and society. It was not that our thoughts did not yet wander but rather that there simply were no thoughts, wandering or otherwise, knocking about inside our heads. Our soul, “agitated by nothing,” gave itself up entirely to “the sentiment of its present existence without any idea of the future.” Our first ancestors stood Descartes’s axiom on its head: I don’t think, thus I truly am".
Rousseau saw the distractions of theater as a driver of the wandering mind and a source of unhappiness.
"Staged productions representing life, he believed, distracted us from one another, and from ourselves. Theater replaces lived experience with vicarious experience and condemned participants to wander the sea of the non-present. “Nothing appears good or desirable to individuals that the public has not judged to be such,” he observed, “and the only happiness that most men know is to be esteemed happy.” Status updates and emoticons: Rousseau saw it all".
As I reflect on the Facebook phenomenon and talking with our manny Mike who has just come back from a back packing trip through Europe, we discussed the ludicrous situation of travellers who don't know whether to simply experience the awe of sitting in the Colosseum (yes, do that) or rush to update their Facebook status (really?). If we are honest with ourselves, each of us have 4 -5 really good friends we can pour your hearts out to. So who are our other 200 "friends" on Facebook? And what does it say about us that we have to telegraph every waking moment of our lives to a group of near strangers (yes, the guy you met at Uni 20 years ago who has friended you on Facebook is more of a stranger than a friend)? I see Rousseau was right back then and he would be right today. Facebook is the perfect place for the wandering mind and generated from that derives the opposite of happiness.
This then leads me to our amazing gMums and their desire to really meet one another in person. I see they are tapping in to the very thing Rousseau speaks of. Is it possible that Facebook is distracting ourselves from the one thing we truly want and that is to connect with others live and in person?
The article closes with this:
"the Harvard psychologists noted that, after sex, the two activities during which we are most fully in the present are conversation and exercise. Rousseau saw this as well, but forget the treadmill: he lost himself in mountains and valleys and, while walking, conversed with himself. Indeed, “Reveries of the Solitary Walker” is a manifesto on the benefits of wondering while wandering.
At all times, the Harvard psychologists invite us to click onto their Web site, Trackyourhappiness.org, in order to know how happy — or at one with ourselves — we are at any given moment in the day.
Rousseau, though, would say that happiness lies not in clicking, but in being. Bon anniversaire, Jean-Jacques: may our gift to you be recapturing the present you gave us."