The literature of business, which I am engaged in by virtue of this blog, focuses almost entirely on things such as goals, planning, risk management and the like. By its very nature, business is predominately a forward looking affair, developing and assessing strategies on how to prevail or at least survive in a competitive marketplace.
But sometimes, I think it behooves us to look back and see where we have come from, and what we have (and have lost) and, yes, give thanks. I doubt that gratitude or the giving of thanks is covered much at all in business schools, but maybe it should be.
This time of year — regardless of our cultural/religious/ethnic background or persuasion — we pause for a moment from our increasingly hurried lives to reflect upon the more important things in life, which should go beyond whether a branding campaign is taking root in Philadelphia or Fiji.
While I aspire for my consulting business to grow, I give thanks for growing up in a stable, loving home in which I had two parents who sacrificed so much in order that I might become the first person in our family to go to college.
They sat in the grandstands of Camp Randall Stadium at the University of Wisconsin , with so many other proud parents, to watch their boy go through the ritual of getting his diploma. That was back in 1978. Both my parents have since passed onto that other shore, and I while I am not yet an old man, I’m certainly no longer a young man, a fact that my younger wife will occasionally remind me of.
But I also give thanks to her, for sticking by me through all the tumult that comes with a life. To suggest that I have been on a straight incline in my career aspirations would be a lie. Life throws you curves and still, she has stuck by me, believing in me. My wife, Tera, is why I do what I do today, why I get out of bed. She is my reason.
Finally, and this may turn some of you off, but I give thanks to my Lord, my creator, and who I just happen to believe watches over me. Things have happened, have worked out, which I can only interpret as intervention from or at least a nudging by God. He gives me great solace, by simply knowing that He is there. I cannot tell you how thankful I am for His watchful presence.
My fears are always calmed by a simple reading of Psalms, which reminds me that He is in my corner. If you find peace in the Koran, or the Tanakh or the Bhagavad Gita, I won’t begrudge you.
Not So Startling Research Reveals
After exhaustive research, Richard Layard, who founded Europe’s leading economics research center at the London School of Economics, comes to this conclusion, which may not be so startling but bears repeating:
“People are happier if they are compassionate; they are happier if they are thankful for what they have. When life gets rough, these qualities become ever more important.”
In April of this year, the United Nations actually held a summit titled “Wellbeing and Happiness: Defining a New Economic Paradigm.” Those attending held to the belief that measuring Gross Domestic Product doesn’t go far enough in explaining the metrics of an economy or the well being of a nation.
At the conference, the prime minister of Bhutan spoke about his country’s commitment to Gross National Happiness. Now, I know what you are thinking, because it was my initial thought: How silly is that? And where in the hell is Bhutan?
Despite my best efforts, sometimes I get these rather intolerant and sometimes even mean-spirited views about other cultures bubbling up. No little pissant country (a phrase coined by LBJ in describing Vietnam) on the other side of the world is going to tell me, a proud Texan, how to be happy.
I will tell you right now, folks, that my initial way of thinking is a dumb way of thinking. We can learn from other people even if they speak in a foreign tongue and don’t look like us.
It turns out that this idea of GNH was an outgrowth of the Buddhist philosophy that had long guided Bhutan, which by the way is a landlocked country in South Asia located at the eastern end of the Himalayas. It is bordered to the north by China and to the south, east and west by India. (Your geography lesson for the day.)
In today’s fashionable business parlance, Bhutan’s take on the world would be called “sustainable growth.” The idea is to not grow too fast, to not grow the economy at the expense of the well-being of the people or the environment. To maintain leadership that can be trusted. (With approval ratings of Congress at historic lows, here’s is one we could probably work on.) To respect and celebrate your cultural heritage rather than be swallowed up by the sometimes menacing forces of globalization.
Now, myriad studies are showing little ol’ Bhutan might be on to something: that working together in community toward shared goals, living a balanced, healthy life that involves time for interaction with each other, time and again trumps making piles of cash. Apparently, Bhutan was sustainable before sustainable was cool.
Never mind that millions of Americans will continue to play and dream of winning the lottery, thinking that is their path toward happiness. Lottery officials said no one won the estimated $325 million Powerball jackpot Saturday night, setting up the possibility of a record $425 million winner Wednesday night. The jackpot is the fourth largest in the game’s history.
The Price of Joy
But when your basic needs are covered, you have to wonder, at least I do, if more money and more stuff will actually bring you happiness. Of course, this message might understandably ring hollow for the millions of Americans who are unemployed and/or facing a debt-ridden, uncertain future. Money would go along ways to solving their problems and frankly putting them on the Happy Trail. I get that.
Going back to our Thanksgiving theme, I am thankful that I have the means to pay for good food and shelter, something that cannot be taken for granted all over this world of ours. Having clean and safe drinking water is a luxury in some places, much less having enough food. Why are some exposed to and suffer from seemingly preventable tropical diseases and not me?
As a nation, we may be up to our eyeballs in debt, facing tough challenges ahead on all sorts of levels in our ability to compete with the rest of the world. But still I must count my blessings that I can at least become depressed by watching the news on my 42-inch flat screen TV after getting off my laptop or my tablet or my smart phone after chowing down on delivered pizza or Chinese food.
There is no question in my mind that I am hooked on the material things of life, thinking that I must have these things in order to be happy. But it’s a fool’s errand to believe for a moment, that as a musician (my principle hobby) that I might actually need five banjos, four guitars and two fiddles.
If I Am to Be Remembered
Mind you, I don’t feel ashamed or am burdened with guilt that I am not living a hard scrabble life. But I do take note of it and feel compassion, rather than blame, for those who suffer. The way I see it, touching lives and leaving a positive mark in this world, other than accumulation of wealth, might be the only way that I will ever be remembered, if I am to be remembered.
It wasn’t the big houses or the luxury automobiles or the RVs that I remember about my parents, it was their love for me, pure and simple. I was so blessed in that regard.
So I guess the point of this blog is that you should take stock in what you have, now, today, and not take it for granted. Maybe it’s only your health, but that is something to cherish while you have it.
As I believe in capitalism and this sometimes fleeting thing we call the American Dream, I certainly will not tell you that your business and financial affairs and aspirations are not important. Of course, they are important. It’s how you feed your family, and keep the lights on and educate your kids.
But I am saying there is more to life than the accumulation of wealth. I think most Americans sense this just as much as folks in Bhutan. And in this holiday season, I think it is worthy to reflect that while we cannot take money and things with us to the grave, we can give thanks by bounties, big and small, offered to us while we are here in this broken world.
And we can offer love and compassion to others, especially to those who are hurting. We will only be remembered for what we have done.
Dean Barber is the principal of Barber Business Advisors, LLC., a site selection and economic development consulting firm based in Plano, Texas. He can be reached at 972-767-9518 or at firstname.lastname@example.org Please visit our website at www.barberadvisors.com