The quest for happiness

Citywise Founder Xavier Bosch kicks off our series of  ‘foundations’ where we explore the fundamentals of what Citywise is all about. 

Where do we get our vision from?

We’re in the business of helping the young, especially the disadvantaged, to grow in character.

I started Citywise in Castlemilk, Glasgow over 20 years ago but cannot claim credit for doing what we do. Credit where credit is due: Messrs Plato, Aristotle & Co is where it belongs.

The perennial and universal quest for happiness has been the subject a many a philosophical discussion. What makes us happy is what makes us good. Happiness is the necessary by-product of goodness; it cannot be reached when sought directly, it cannot be reduced to pleasure. As Viktor Frankl, the Austrian Psychiatrist, said: happiness is not something one pursues but something that ensues. It’s inextricably connected to goodness. The goodness of something is the result of achieving the purpose for which it is made: we talk of a good chair because it can hold someone comfortably in a sitting position without breaking and ruining the person’s back. If it breaks when you sit on it, it’s a bad chair.

When it comes to humans, the whole issue of goodness becomes somewhat tricky – we are more complex than chairs. What is a good person is not something most people would like to pronounce themselves on, but in the end most people agree that generous, cheerful, honest people are likely to be better than selfish, gloomy and cheating people. Virtue seems to be an integral part of goodness.

This is what the Greek philosophers discovered more than 2,500 years ago. It seemed to be common currency among the Greeks but it is these two who first articulated and confined to writing the ideas on virtue and happiness in a systematic way. And they added their own unique and rather insightful ideas to it.

So hats off to the Greeks and their prodigious thinking skills. They set the ball rolling and we are all the better because of it.

Since then many a philosopher, a teacher, and more recently a psychologist have picked up where the Aristotle and his pals left off. Interestingly, the arrival of psychologists at the scene has added an interesting twist. Their presence is indicative of the tremendous development this science has undergone over the past 100 years, as well as the relentless efforts by modern man to measure and quantify everything, even such abstract concepts as happiness. But psychology seems to corroborate what Plato & Co found all those years ago. The high king of positive psychology, Martin Seligman and his team at University of Pennsylvania  concluded that happiness is the result of virtues. They specifically highlighted 6 key virtues: Wisdom, fairness, courage, temperance, humanity and transcendence. Sound familiar? At Citywise we focus on the first four of the list, as they match the ones suggested by the Greeks: Good judgement (wisdom), fairness, self-control (temperance) and resilience (courage).

So in a very 21st century way, through the offerings of psychology, has been able to scientifically validate the theories of the Greeks.

So as you can see what we do is not new, and certainly not ours. Our innovation was to use the mentoring model to apply the theory to the young and disadvantaged and start them off on a lifelong journey of character growth. The results speak for themselves.