From Six Degrees of Happiness

Adnan Chilwan, PhD.

“Happiness is a how; Not a what. A talent, not an object” – Herman Hesse

What is the most popular course at Harvard Business School that has ever been taught? Usually one would say Business, Law, Social Sciences and the likes. Not the correct answer.  Many would be surprised to know that it is a course on how to be happier in life. It has gone down in the history books of Harvard with the maximum number of enrollments and so far has topped any other course ever taught. Who wouldn’t want to know the secrets to living a well fulfilled life. I am sure everyone reading this is nodding in approval.

Have you heard the theory of “six degrees of separation”? It suggests that we are no more than six acquaintances away to connect with anyone in the world. The world actually is a very small place. In fact, Facebook has reported that the average number of links between 2 people in this digitized day and age is around 4.74. What does this mean? It means that you only need around 4 to 6 persons to get connected to anyone in the world. Fascinating. But I added a twist to it. If it is so easy to connect with any of the 7 billion people on the outside, why is it so difficult to connect within yourself to find happiness?

Happiness. The fuel that drives accomplishment. The energy that makes you do grand things. The constant needed to keep a motivated spirit. Yet we have absolutely no clue about what it is and what is its crucial role.

To my understanding, happiness is one of the most misunderstood gems of our century. However, if tapped in, it can aid personal, management and company mantras to unprecedented levels. Our lack of understanding or rather our over simplification of it, is where the confusion lies.

We usually associate happiness with end goals such as getting that perfect job, or making an extra million somehow or even finding that perfect life partner and the wish list goes on and on. That is not happiness. That is success. “Success is getting what you want, Happiness is liking what you get.”

To know how to be happy, you must first understand what it is. Happiness to me, is an art and needs to be worked on like cultivating a habit. It is not the frivolous nature associated to being cheerful and joyous 24/7. It is deeper than that. It is an approach and it’s a way of being. To me, happiness is another word for “lasting contentment”. I am sure you never thought of happiness in such details, but it is a sum of parts. This is all about having:-

Positive Emotion – Gratitude, peace, satisfaction, pleasure, inspiration, hope, curiosity and love.

Engagement – Having a life purpose to a project that is what you are highly engaged about.

Relationships – Having a meaningful, positive relationships with others

Meaning – Serving a cause bigger than yourself

Accomplishment – To feel significant life satisfaction we must strive to better ourselves.

Fascinating? There is more. You at this moment can actually make your way to everlasting contentment. There are various strategies for grooming happiness, which I will dwell on later, but there is an overriding factor. Understand one point. To conjure constant happiness, you need to understand the realistic approach. It is simply this. Happiness is not an end but a means to an end. It is not a destination but the savoring of the journey. We think if we get what we desire, we will finally be happy. Our brain does not work that way and it is a clear myth. The reality is simple really. Happiness goes hand in hand with your philosophy of life, attitude to coping with adversity and maintaining hope.

The reality is the lens with which you see the world. Usually we chase happiness and think that the absence of suffering is the birth of the same. To me, happiness is the strength to rebound from adversity and to experience a whole range of emotions, positive and negative, and yet not be deterred from a meaningful life plan you are working towards. The state is one of contentment, well-being and emotional flexibility. In other words, happiness is less about having a 32-teeth grin , and more about learning to handle stress factors fluidly, without losing sight of the big picture.

There is an interesting story I would like to share to elaborate this.

In the ancient days in China there was a villager who had a strong handsome son and a strong white stallion. Every one talked about this man saying how lucky he was.He would always answer them,  “Maybe, it’s good. Maybe, it’s bad… You never know!”One day the stallion ran away. All the villagers came to console the old man. They told him it was so bad and he was so unlucky. They were sad for his loss.The old man answered them,  “Maybe, it’s good. Maybe, it’s bad… You never know!”

A week later the stallion returned bringing with him, twelve beautiful mares. The villagers were amazed at his great luck and congratulated him.The old man came back with his usual refrain,  “Maybe, it’s good. Maybe, it’s bad… You never know!”

The next day his handsome son was taming one of the wild mares and the horse fell on his leg and broke it. And, by now, you know how it goes, the villagers came to him and before they could utter a single word he smiled and said, “Maybe, it’s good. Maybe, it’s bad… You never know!”

Two days later the king’s soldiers came and conscripted all the young men of the village for the king had decided to expand his territory and most would die for the vanity of his Majesty. However, the handsome son could not go to war as his leg was in a cast. The farmers ran to tell him how lucky he was and the answer was the same.

“Maybe, it’s good. Maybe, it’s bad… You never know!”

For me, this is exactly it. No matter how circumstances prevail, whether good or bad, if one keeps an outlook on the end destination, the ups and downs both will not matter and happiness prevails.

Happiness fuels success and not the other way around.  We think if we get that next promotion or lose 5 pounds we will be happier. This formula is actually backward. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, productive, resilient, motivated at work. This is backed by years of statistics and research and is a fast becoming fact. Let me repeat. Happiness fuels success and not the other way around. Got it?


I think to be happy, you must work on it like a skill with dedication to the cause. Here are a few tips that you should incorporate to make the journey worth it. I call it reprogramming your brain to see life through a new lens. Happiness is within you at this moment in time.

1.  Eye on the Big Picture all the time.

The big picture here means your life plan and goals you are working towards. How you see yourself in the next 5 to 10 years. Any struggles that come your way, need to be positively analysed. Often we get so involved in the problem at hand, our vision for the future narrows and we lose sight of where we are heading.

2. Communicating positively and creating a new reality

I have attended too many meetings which start with how difficult the situation is or how bad the week is going. It ruins the energy in the room and narrows the vision of the ultimate goal. My take is always to focus on past wins and pushing to work together and finding a solution. My faith is that the solution is always there and needs a little searching for. Its more fun, activates energies and starts building a new reality. It is not an all or none situation, but a work in progress.

3. The rituals that will set you free

The most creative individuals have always spent time on daily rituals to help channel their energies positively. Keeping a journal where you write things spontaneously or possibly three things you are grateful for daily, is a good way to start. Others include writing that email to thank someone, charity, helping someone out at work, and so forth. Doing something and logging it which brings good energy within, is a ritual that must be done. I repeat. Must. Bringing value to others is a set mechanism of making one feel better about themselves.

4. Happiness is a currency. Take it seriously.

I have used happiness and seriously together here. Important take here. You must understand where you spend your time and how you are trading here. Is what you are working on meaningful? Is what you are focusing on giving you pleasure and works well with your strengths? This can be about the job you are in or the kind of people you spend time with or even the programs you watch on TV. What are you trading your happiness for? It is a simple question, but one that can really steer you towards your goals in a better way.

5. Your Master Mind Group

You must be well aware of the constant complainers and the ones who shoot down your ideas? I call them “energy vampires”. Best way to deal with these happiness busters are to stay clear of them or atleast try and spend less time with them . It is best to put your focus in making a think tank group of your likes and meet with them often. This group of individuals can be across industries but need to share one thing. The enthusiasm to achieve and finding a way. That is all the defining you need. My advice. Stay away from the complainers. Resonate and flourish in the energy of the doers. They are out there. Like you, they are seeking you too.

Now these are tips that I use to make the day a thrill to get through with. This should get you started to define your own ways to keep cheerful yet content no matter what life throws your way. You will find a way to get through it. Have faith. Life is a test of patience and will power as you tread along your way.

Happiness is not the absence of suffering but the ability and strength to rebound from it. During both times of adversity and prosperity, your outlook on life should not be changed. You are a special creation meant for greatness, like everyone else around you. No one is superior or inferior to you. People on the outside do not determine your happiness. What determines it is the realistic lens you see life through. And that lens is determined by your very thoughts.

If you see the world as one of suffering and disappointment, your own life will reflect the same. If you see the world as one that is in perfection with imperfect beings trying to find their way, your outlook will be one with hope, sincerity and nobility.

Where you are at this moment in time, is the reaction to your thoughts and the lens you see life through. The new year has begun. Maybe its time to reanalyze your thoughts and mindset and see where your ship is heading. It is time to take over the steering and navigate it to where you want to go. Believe me . All is possible if you just believe in yourself. Have faith. Strong faith. The rest will take care of itself.


Your happiness is within you. Not outside. Tap it, and help it help you to do what you were made for. To do great things.


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