On Happiness and Enterprise Points as Life Lessons

Michele Weldon | December 15, 2010

The quarter just ended, the grades are in. And looking over the grade roster, I can't help but notice how enterprise points made a difference.

I teach the fundamental reporting and writing course at what everyone who works here likes to call the best journalism school in the country, Medill at Northwestern University. When I worked to redefine this course and its multimedia storytelling companion course, I initiated a system of extra points, giveaways for the earnest students who tried hard, put in the effort. Enterprise points. They are not automatic. You earn them. This is for the student who interviews 10 sources when six are required, who rewrites stories on time, participates in discussion and is in general hardworking, cooperative and diligent.

This is not just for the stars, those students for whom this is natural, comes easily, and they are working for a grade, not for improvement. They can earn the points most definitely if they move beyond the requirements. But this is not for those who do what we used to label as "phoning it in," but could now be called "clicking it in."

Enterprise points reward a student who may struggle with concepts or execution but who tries very hard, who seeks help, who needs reassurance. Who improves. I feel if a student tries his or her best, he or she should get all the points.

This is not so different from life. Like I said, enterprise points are not awarded to everyone. You have to earn them.

Which brings me to happiness. And how enterprise intersects with happiness.

I was at a fancy holiday cocktail party on Sunday, with --no kidding-- about 150 women. It was an elaborately delicious and festive event and I was thrilled I was included.

A friend was talking about her kids; we all were talking about our kids-- how sports are going, school, what schools they applied to, what schools they are coming home from on break, jobs, activities, girlfriends, boyfriends, funny stories, a few honest stories.

"I just want my kids to be happy," she said. The mother continued, "That's my goal in life; for my kids to be happy. Whatever makes them happy, makes me happy."

What I responded pretty much shocked her out of her pinot grigio.

"I don't think that's the point and I don't think that's my job. If my kids only did what made them happy, they would eat, sleep and play video games."

She pushed me, "C'mon, you only do what makes you happy, you wouldn't do it if you didn't."

Apparently she does not know me so well. I do a lot of things that don't make me deliriously happy. Laundry, grading, cleaning, driving, polishing a story, dishes, grocery shopping. But doing them results in a true sense of accomplishment, which is a close relative of happiness.

I believe happiness is a byproduct of being productive, contributing to the world, even if that contribution on that day can only be measured at your address. I believe happiness is the result, not the goal. It's the afterglow of accomplishment, the joy of doing something well, whether that is being a good friend, parent, partner or colleague.

"Happiness depends upon ourselves," Aristotle wrote. I love the quote so much, I painted it in fancy script on the breakfast room wall.

A lot of elements can make us happy, and it is not my goal to make my sons happy. I want them to be joyful, but I want them to figure out a way to find joy in doing something larger than themselves.

I know Colin is working very hard to win wrestling matches this season, to improve as a wrestler and I know it makes him happy. He makes himself happy. I did not do it for him. He is not happy cutting weight, he is not happy when he comes home from a hard practice sore and bruised. But contributing to a winning team makes him happy, being with his teammates makes him happy. Learning from Coach Powell makes him happy.

Watching Colin makes me happy. Having Weldon and Brendan sincerely care how Colin is doing at wrestling every week makes me happy. It's about more than me.

Which brings me all back to the point. It is not to be happy. If that was my goal, I would be asleep right now.

Some of us feel compelled to define our missions clearly. Some play the mission out publicly, like Elizabeth Edwards, who was buried this week. Like me, she is a mother who loved her children in extraordinary measures, who had a loss of love, who still worked hard and kept going. Like her, I had cancer. She did a lot that did not make her happy and her goal was not to make her children or her husband happy-- and I will not even go there.

Her goal was to live with integrity and resilience, what I try to do. Elizabeth Edwards' death hit me hard because I am really scared sometimes that my breast cancer will return with a vengeance, as it did with her. As it did with another woman I know, whose son was in grade school with Weldon, who passed away this week following a long battle with cancer. She would have been at that cocktail party in earlier years. And like more women I know than can count on both hands, she is not here.

I do not want to look back on my life and say, "I made my boys happy."

My goal is for my boys to make themselves happy by doing something with their lives that is beyond the immediate, something that makes the world better because they are in it. I want them to be men of emotional and spiritual strength, who each knows what it means to be reliable, accountable and kind. A side effect can be happiness, but not the goal. And in the meantime I want them to know what it means to earn the enterprise points, even if they are not articulated so distinctly. I want this just as clearly as I want my students to know that how they behave and how they present themseves completely matters. Just do that, try, and you will get the enterprise points. You really will.

I try to live my life as if someone is always passing out enterprise points. Be a better parent. Friend. Sister. Partner. Professor. Writer. Mentor. I fall short a lot. And I don't now want to dwell on the legacy I leave behind. I want to be clear about what I do in the present and how absolutely enterprise begets happiness. And live the lessons like someone somewhere is adding up the points.

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Comments (3)
  1. WOW. Beautifully and smartly written. thank you for giving me something to think about. I can testify that your friendship makes me happy. Lisa

  2. This post was a great afternoon pick-me-up. You’ve definitely earned those enterprise points.

  3. This explains perfectly what I have been thinking about for the last couple of weeks. The best lessons learned from wrestling is that there is a difference between fun and fulfillment. What you say about how you don’t want the goal to be just to have fun is an idea that I have been struggling with. In life there are things that are fun and there are things that go deeper than that. I don’t think any parent will say that raising children is at all times fun, but the happiness that comes from watching your son get his hand raised is a much better experience than going sledding or any other simple fun in the world.

    P.S. Brendan and Weldon are not the only people who care how Colin does on the mat each week.


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