The Happy Monster

If there is one moment all year that I know I do my best thinking, it’s on the flight back to New York after SXSW. The combination of a week of inspiration and a deliberate avoidance of in-flight wifi puts my mind in a rarely contemplative place.

On one particular such flight, I found myself facing something of an existential crisis. I had just been telling everyone who would listen that the coworking movement and the corresponding shift toward an increasingly independent society was inevitable. This shift was happening, regardless of what anyone said or did about it.

But if that’s true, I wondered, what impact could I really have? I had done a lot to grow coworking in NYC, but if I hadn’t, surely someone else would have eventually stepped up, right? Coworking would thrive in New York whether I existed or not.

This perplexed me. Could I do anything meaningful at all? Was there any point in existing in the first place? There had to be an answer. I started thinking about other examples and started noticing a pattern:

Would the slaves have been set free were there no Lincoln? Yes. Eventually.

Would the light bulb ever have been invented were there no Edison? Yes. Eventually.

Would the piece of trash you picked up off the sidewalk have been swept up by someone else? Yes. Eventually.

Anything you do might happen anyway, eventually– but it wouldn’t happen as soon, and it might not get done the same way. For the people affected by the accelerated progress, it could make all the difference in the world.

The slaves freed by Lincoln, for example, might have inevitably ended up free through some other course of history. But it might have been years or decades before it happened. If you asked them, they’d probably tell you they really appreciated those added years of freedom.

While contemplating this on that plane ride, I started sketching a graph. This graph represents an arbitrary approximation of the happiness of a person or group of people over time.

The peaks represent good things that happen in life, and the valleys represent the bad. One could argue this graph should be descending over time and not ascending, but in this case I’d rather this be inaccurately optimistic than depressingly realistic.

If what one does is going to happen anyway, but not as soon and not as well, then we could suppose that one’s impact on the happiness of others bumps up the happiness graph over time.

The gap between these two lines is the impact one has on the happiness of others. Coloring in that area looks like this:

That, incidentally, looks like the mouth of a giant monster:

I call this the Happy Monster. It represents all of the positive impact you can have on the world. My interest is in making it as large as possible.

The bigger the monster, the bigger the impact.

Everything I write on this blog will, in some way, reinforce this mission.

So what do you say? Are you ready to join me?

Let’s create a monster.