Silicon Valley and the Search for Happiness
- Kamran Mofid
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First, a bit of personal reflection; very relevant to ‘Silicon Valley and the Search for Happiness’.
It was in 2010, I remember clearly, in preparation and planning of our GCGI 2010 Conference, which was held at California Lutheran University, I visited a few local universities, think tanks, and civil societies to introduce the GCGI to them and to invite them to participate at the Conference.
I recall a couple of meetings which I had with a few senior and up-coming leaders from Silicon Valley, all very bright IT specialists, excited that they were changing the world; those whom I called the Silicon Valley Dreamers.
I, too, was excited, meeting these individuals, these IT leaders that I had never before met, but heard about a lot.
So I asked them: You are changing the world: But for why, and to what; for the better, or for worse?
I asked them: In all your studies of engineering, science and technology, at all your degree levels, in your MBA studies and more, did you ever have a chance to get yourselves engaged with life’s bigger questions? Questions that are Deeply Spiritual:
Who am I? Where Have I come from? Where am I going to? What is the purpose of this journey we call life? What is success? What is it for a human life to be going well and be happy? What is the value of happiness, and what is the relationship between the value of happiness and other types of values, especially spiritual, moral and ethical values? What is the source of true happiness and well-being? What is the good life? What is the purpose of economic life? What is true affluence? What is genuine wealth? Does money hold the secret to having a happy life? Should money be a means to an end or the goal itself? Other questions include: What is education? What is knowledge? What is wisdom? What is a University? What does it mean to be a human being living on a spaceship with finite resources? How can we contribute to creating the new civilisation for the common good?
The answer to my questions was very clear and firm: NO, NEVER.
Anyhow, this is now all history. Silicon Valley people went on and created the “NEW WORLD” they were dreaming about. They have given us what has become known as social media, which very sadly and indeed tragically, has been noted to be the single most destructive reason for the huge rise in youth depression, loneliness, anxiety, cyberbullying, self-loathing, self-harm,…, and suicide: Popular social media sites 'harm young people's mental health': The Royal Society for Public Health
My conversation with those talented IT specialists at Silicon Valley left me cold and anxious. It reaffirmed all I knew about the short comings of our education system and models: Values-free, telling our future leaders how to make money, but not how to live.
I began to write extensively on matters of values-led education, life, happiness and well-being, a short sample of which is noted below in (The Wisdom Corner).
In 2011, in Why Happiness Should be Taught at Our Universities I noted that:
‘From the dawn of our creation, our ultimate desire has been to find happiness. This desire is in the nature of things; it is common to all of us, at all times, and in all places. Nature, the material of the universe, is modified by us to create wealth so that this desire may be satisfied.
Today, at the dawn of the Third Millennium, our civilisation has scored its greatest successes in the material sciences. Our glory is the willing application of these achievements to daily life: they have brought us enormous benefits. However, in our understanding of the forces governing the relations between people in society we have shown little aptitude. So tragic is this failure that we have turned the masterpieces of the material sciences into engines of destruction which threaten to annihilate the civilisation which produced them.
This is the challenge of our time: we must either find the way of truth in the government of our relations one with another, or succumb to the results of our ignorance.
Many prophets, sages and philosophers throughout history have reminded us that there are two forces at work in society: the material and the spiritual. If either of these two is neglected or ignored they will appear to be at odds with one another; society will inevitably become fragmented; divisions and rifts will manifest themselves with increasing force and frequency.
It is clear that this is exactly what has happened today. We have a situation of disequilibrium and disharmony. Only the reawakening of the human spirit, of love and compassion, will save us from our own worst extremes. Physical wealth must go hand in hand with spiritual, moral and ethical wealth.’…
Today I was pleased to read an article that the Silicon Valley has indeed risen to the challenge that I had raised with them in 2010: ‘Silicon Valley is now obsessed with happiness.’
A “practical” philosophy for Silicon Valley
‘Silicon Valley’s strivers might find happiness by rethinking their definition of “success.” Stoics had something to say about this. Far from being emotionless scolds as the name suggest today, says Irvine, Stoics were early psychologists who sought to rid us of illusions that bring misery. By refocusing on what truly matters, people can find joy and purpose in their daily lives. As Irvine puts it, why “spend your life in an affluent form of misery when it’s possible to have a much simpler life that would be much more rewarding?”…
…‘Median family income in Palo Alto is greater than $160,000/year (the third highest in the nation from 2012 statistics). Median home value is upwards of 1.5 million. Average rent for an apartment in nearby San Francisco is around $3K/month (a mortgage payment!). But there are jobs - great jobs - Google, Apple, Oracle, Facebook, Paypal, HP, SAP, Vmware, Stanford and more - and I take all of their insurance plans.
Over the decades - as both a psychiatrist practicing in Silicon Valley and a civilian living here locally - I have witnessed so much success and yet so little happiness. In our valley of material riches and natural beauty, the two are regrettably too often in opposition.’…Happiness versus Success
For further reading see ‘The Wisdom Corner’
"Passing of Knowledge" by Victor Tan Wee Tar
What is this life all about?
Why am I here? What’s my Life’s purpose? How can I make the most of my Life?