It may sound like a Philosophy 101 lecture or the pitch for a self-help book, but it’s a question with a solid empirical foundation. There are whole sciences dedicated to defining exactly what factors drive happiness, especially at a global level.
The World Happiness Report, for example, defines a population’s happiness as coming from social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and corruption levels. The UN’s Sustainable Development Goals cover similar ground - no poverty, affordable connectivity and reliable water and energy, among others. South Africa’s National Development Programme emphasises reducing poverty, inclusive economic growth and gender equality.
In other words, the pursuit of happiness isn’t as airy fairy as the self-help gurus want you to believe. You don’t need to meditate nor go on a spiritual quest up a mountain to discover the secrets of happiness - you just need to pay attention to the many empirically based charters, studies and indices that give us benchmarks against which to measure our collective happiness.
What the data tells us is that happiness doesn’t just come from within, like many people believe. It comes from being able to access basic services, be financially well-off enough not to have to stress over day-to-day expenses, stay healthy, be treated fairly, and pursue opportunities.
In other words, the happiest nations are the ones best able to serve their citizens. We know that technology has a central role to play in doing so, but it takes more than just access. There are plenty of examples of governments and businesses alike that have failed to deliver more value despite having more digital resources available than ever before. Without purpose, digital is just a buzzword and new technology is just a very expensive white elephant.
There is a growing awareness that ensuring a better quality of life for all is our collective responsibility, from governments to businesses to individuals. In a world where strategic partnerships, knowledge-sharing and cross-industry collaboration is necessary to thrive, lifting others is key to a healthy society and market. Consumers are rejecting organisations that haven’t realised this and that operate purely for profit without delivering real value – Deloitte has found that 40% of Millennials believe the goal of businesses should be to improve society.
Doing business has never been just about making money, but especially now in a world where new technologies make it possible to solve those deeply entrenched societal problems that prevent many from being happy. Digital makes it easier than ever to bring together the core ingredients of great service delivery: accountability, transparency, collaboration, and engagement.
Two very different examples of how combining digital with purpose can be used for the betterment of society are Singapore and Cuba. From universal free Wi-Fi and smart sensors to citizen-centric digital government platforms, Singapore’s deployment of new technologies has been driven by the purpose of becoming a citizen-centric smart nation. The focus on using data and insights to improve civil services has made the island-nation a leader in service delivery.
On the other end of the connectedness spectrum is Cuba, emerging from global isolation for the first time in decades. It is only recently that Cubans have been able to fully access the internet on their mobile phones, yet there has been a grassroots tech entrepreneurship and start-up scene for years. Even without the digital resources other nations have had, Cubans have created their own versions of global services like AirBnB and Uber. Somehow, through sheer purpose and drive, the Cuban private sector has been able to start leapfrogging digitally without having much to work with.
What is your purpose as an organisation? What about as an individual? Do you understand the bigger purpose of why you do what you do?
The Japanese have a great formula for figuring it out - Ikigai. Your purpose, they believe, lies at the point where your passion, profession, vocation and mission meet. True happiness comes from being able to balance doing what you love, what you are good at, what you can be paid for, and what the world needs.
If you can pinpoint your organisation’s Ikigai, great. Use that as your guiding star, reimagining how your business must change to meet those criteria. How do you remove the constraints preventing you from achieving that larger purpose? That is how you can embrace digital in its own sense, to connect concept with execution. If you can’t, it’s time for some serious soul-searching and experimental thinking.
For individuals, you need to understand the what that drives you to do what you do and how it connects to the purpose of the organisation. Check against other people and see what’s out there – how others in your industry are changing the world around them for the better. Are you in the wrong job where you can’t connect to a greater purpose?
These aren’t easy questions to answer, but they’re necessary to unlock the secrets of success and shared value in the digital age. The road to global happiness is paved with purpose – how ready are you to embark on the journey?