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Self, Inc.

David Cowles

Apr 30, 2024

“You’re the CEO of Self, Inc…What’s your mission statement?”

You can’t open a business today without a Mission Statement. Before you manufacture a single widget or serve a single burger, you have to tell the world all the good things you’re going to do for it: 

“Our mission is You, our customer, so we will always deliver a quality product at a fair price. We are committed to maintaining a healthy environment through sustainable business practices and a carbon neutral footprint. We cherish diversity. We offer all members of our business family a competitive, living wage, a generous package of workplace benefits, and opportunities for personal and professional growth.”  How’d I do?

Around the turn of the century (yes, we can say that now and mean 2000, not 1900), it was fashionable for self-helpers to proclaim, “You are the CEO of Self, Inc.” It’s not wrong. 

So, M/M CEO, what’s your mission statement?

“I just want to be happy,

And I want my life partner to be happy too.

I want my kids to have happy childhoods,

And satisfying adult lives.

And, of course, I deserve to be happy too.”

Well, sorry, but I won’t be buying any stock in your IPO. Apparently, you didn’t get Life’s memo. I think you should sit down for this. Ready? “No one is happy…and no one is ever going to be  happy!” 

It’s not that life is so terrible (unless it is); it’s because happiness is not a thing. For the most part, life is just life. And life doesn’t make anyone happy. It’s not supposed to! That’s not what life is; that’s not its purpose. Does water make a fish happy? Or does it just enable it  to be a fish?

When you were very, very small, someone whispered in your ear, “The purpose of life is happiness.” Unlike other whispers, this one took. I mean, why not be happy? 

As if! No one chooses to be truly miserable, yet all of us are miserable, at least some of the time. Then what is happiness? The absence of misery? Ok – but do we require something more – like ecstasy (not the drug) or euphoria or contentment…? 

So according to your mission statement, the purpose of life is your happiness. When you say that, do you mean that’s the purpose of all life…or just your life? All life? Then you’re a megalomaniac. Just your life? Then you’re pathetic. Sorry, but you’ve been given the great gift (grift?) of life…and you plan to spend it, How? Crouched in a corner, wrapped in cotton batten, mumbling, “Please don’t hurt me,” until it’s all mercifully over? I’m not on board.

If Happiness is my Summum Bonum and if Life is what makes me happy, then “Woe is me!” Life ends, so Happiness must end, and ‘Bonum’ must vanish. Good that vanishes certainly can’t be Summum Bonum

If your goal in life is your own personal happiness, then either (1) you are unhappy today, or (2) you are afraid of being unhappy tomorrow. Either way, your happiness is incomplete; so the search for personal happiness is in fact a symptom of unhappiness.

I’ve just arrived at Heathrow. “Sir, what is the purpose of your trip? Business or pleasure?” “Business!” I answer, it transforms my restless wandering into an arrow headed trajectory. 

Now a purpose accomplished can undoubtedly generate a sense of self-satisfaction akin to happiness; but it was not the purpose of my trip. The purpose of my trip was to do business; happiness might be my reaction if the business goes well.  

Suppose I had answered, “Pleasure!” instead. Pleasure is me drinking real ale on the lawn of a pub called, “The Apple and the Butterfly”, eating steak and kidney pie with a glass of port at lunch, visiting the Tate Modern, and strolling Kew Gardens. Would these pleasures make me happy? 

“Of course,” you say, automatically. But maybe not! Pleasure and happiness do not always go hand in hand, do they? 

Happiness is a measure of my success in accomplishing my purpose, but it cannot be that purpose. The instant we make our happiness our purpose, we manifest our unhappiness.  Happiness then is a one word oxymoron. Say it, “Happiness!” There, you did it, congratulations, now you’re an ‘Oxy Moron’. Put that on a T-shirt!

Purpose does not emerge over the course of an event (it may self-modify); it wraps around the event. Purpose must be present ab initio. There are no purposeless acts, no matter how much we’d like to convince ourselves otherwise. 

Ultimately, the success of any event, its ‘satisfaction’, is a measure of the degree to which the event fulfilled its purpose. Purpose motivated the event, organized the environment, and energized the action; now it measures the outcome. 

In the terminology of Alfred North Whitehead, happiness is a subjective form that may accompany an event. It’s not the event itself; it is not the purpose of the event; it’s not the event’s subjective aim. It is not any part of the event itself, nor is it part of the event’s superject (its ‘objective immortality’). Essentially, it’s a superfluous artifact of consciousness, much like the appendix in human physiology. 

Jack and Jill went up a hill to fetch a pail of water. Jack fell down and wore a frown, but Jill was filled with laughter. Was the water fetched? Check. Did Jack and Jill both perform as expected? Check. Then how do their moods figure in? 

Every event has a unique purpose that entails a novel mix of Beauty, Truth, and Justice. 

So now at last, the sales pitch you’ve been waiting for: Will you hire me to rewrite your mission statement? I was thinking of something along these lines:

“Make me a channel of (your) Peace,

A conduit of Beauty, Truth, and Love.”

Let me know what you think. Or have you heard something like this before?


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