Building Happiness

A hazy blue-grey photo of the alps

We’re in tumultuous times. Such unprecedented times. Times of uncertainly. We’ve all heard the ads and the reporters and gotten the emails and seen it on the telly. Frankly, I wish people would find more creative ways to talk about what’s happening in society and the world and also look at the possibilities that come from how we can each build upon ourselves – to take the tumultuousness and see about creating intentional happiness – in the times we’re in.

Last week The New York Times Magazine featured a series of essays on “What We’ve Learned in Quarantine.” One of the essays talked about the process of caterpillars turning into butterflies, highlighting that we typically talk about the “before” of being a caterpillar and the “after” of emerging as a butterfly, but spend little time looking at the messy and crowded process of being cocooned inside the chrysalis itself. Sam Anderson writes:

“It turns out that the inside of a cocoon is – at least by outside-of-a-cocoon standards – pretty bleak. Terrible things happen in there: a campaign of grisly desolation that would put most horror movies to shame. What a caterpillar is doing, in its self-imposed quarantine, is basically digesting itself. It is using enzymes to reduce its body to goo, turning itself into a soup of ex-caterpillar – a nearly formless sludge oozing around a couple of leftover essential organs (tracheal tubes, gut).

Only after this near-total self-annihilation can the new growth begin…. These parts gorge themselves on the protein of the deconstructed caterpillar, growing exponentially, taking form, becoming real. That’s how you get a butterfly: out of the horrid meltdown of a modest caterpillar.”

An illustration from “What We’ve Learned In Quarantine.”

Now, I don’t know about you, but over the last 10-12 weeks, I’ve found myself in various stages of this caterpillar-to-butterfly transformation. I’ve put opportunities in my path to force thinking, conversation, and growth. One of these is a course on well-being.

Through this course, I was introduced to an awesome tool to determine my Signature Strengths, which are basically the top characteristics of my emotional quotient (or EQ). (If you have the cash to spare, I highly recommend getting the expanded results at the end to learn more about your strengths at all levels.) If you know me even a little, you won’t be surprised to know that Kindness was my number one strength and that Leadership and Love of Learning also made the top five.

I could have easily read the report and put it to the side, but as part of the course I was taking, I was encouraged to stretch my strengths. For the last four weeks, I have been flexing my Signature Strengths, focusing on one each day and finding ways to deepen my understanding of each trait and to use that day’s strength in creative ways.

As I stretch myself in the daily actions of exhibiting kindness, learning more, recommitting to the principles of servant leadership, finding beauty around me, and deepening my social intelligence, I find myself making sense of the growth goo into which I have been submerged and intentionally solidifying into the person I am becoming. The person I want to be.

This is, by no means, and easy process. Growth sucks sometimes. We are brought face-to-face with ingrained aspects of ourselves and the lives we live and have to make decisions on if we are going to continue down the path we are on or if we are going to pivot. In creating intentional happiness for us and the world around us, it is ultimately up to each of us to ask ourselves the questions:

Am I happy?
Am I making others happy?
Are my actions hurting or helping?
Am I a force for good in the world?
What can I change today to make myself a better person and the world a better place?