Below is an excerpt of the speech that I delivered to our Year 12s at this week’s Graduation Dinner:
Class of 2018,
There is some interesting analysis coming out of the United States where social commentator, David Brooks, has looked into the key messages delivered at graduation ceremonies – often called commencement addresses. Brooks identifies the key messages being delivered at these events as:
“Follow your passion, chart your own course, march to the beat of your own drummer, follow your dreams and find yourself.” He says: “this is the litany of expressive individualism, which is still the dominant note in American culture.”
The problem with this advice is it neglects the nuance that positive psychology has taught us can lead to a fulfilled and contented existence. The key to happiness is not found in individualism. Rather, it is in togetherness, belonging and a sense of purpose.
Another social commentator, Steven Pinker, points out that according to many measurable data sources the world is much better than we think it is. We live in an age where health care, nutrition and leisure time have increased significantly and most significant diseases are reducing dramatically. Further the horrors of slavery, racism, misogyny and homophobia that were institutionalised a hundred years ago have each seen great improvement and are being constantly challenged. Despite these objective improvements, surveys across the world show that we are not reporting being happier. Rather, we know that Depression and Anxiety are breaking new records and that these seem to represent the modern plagues.
A recent study of Milennials found that over 80% nominated becoming rich as a major life goal. Another 50% nominated becoming famous as a life goal.
Whilst these may come, numerous studies seem to suggest that neither is of paramount importance in answering the question of: “what makes a contented life?”
One important answer has come in the form of The Harvard Study of Adult Development. This 75 year study is considered to be the lengthiest longitudinal study of human behaviour.
Unsurprisingly, the results show that it was not ATAR, wealth, Snapchat streaks nor instagram likes that denoted the happiest of existences. Rather, to quote from the study’s author, Robert Waldinger, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
I know you are sick of studying and don’t want to see another formula for a little while but let me try one more on you. A summary of all this theory is that happiness equals connectedness plus purpose.
So Class of 2018, my challenge to you is not to go and find yourself but rather, go lose yourself in something you are passionate about. Hold on to those who are dear to you – the faces in this room have proved to be a very good start and I hope you can remain connected with one another going forwards. You have so much promise and I know each of you will make a positive difference.