In The Trenches

A System for Happiness

Published on June 6, 2023 Back to blog

Over Memorial Day weekend, I attended the Brown University graduation ceremony to witness my niece, Arielle, receive her diploma. While I was expecting to hear a speech from a famous person, I instead had the pleasure of listening to two graduating students take the honors. (I later learned that this is unique Brown tradition). 

Both graduates were incredibly well-spoken and shared insights that resonated with me. The first speaker, Margherita Micaletti-Hinojal shared seven life lessons to achieve happiness that she learned while at Brown. The second speaker, Kailiang Fu, spoke to the merits of Brown’s unique learning approach, referring to it as a highly fault-tolerant system – the same attribute we depend upon with our technology systems, where they continue to function even when parts of the system are failing. 

For those less familiar with Brown, they have an open curriculum where students create their own course of study, do not calculate GPAs and any class can be taken as “satisfactory/no credit.” Honestly, I always thought this approach seemed a bit too laid back, especially for an Ivy League school. But, after listening to both of these speeches, I’ve come to reconsider my thinking and identified five critical traits that I believe a system like Brown’s promotes. 

  1. Courage. College is a time to explore your horizons, discover new passions and prepare for the future. When you reduce the fear of failure (or potentially even encourage it) we increase our courage to take risks and try new things. You can’t succeed unless you try.
  2. Community. When you lessen (or even remove) internal competition (i.e., no grading system), everyone is more driven to help one another and discover new things together. This is what true community is all about.
  3. Credence. The success of almost every system is dependent upon those who use it. When you select and give credence to people that you believe will use it properly (you trust them), the system is more likely to work.  
  4. Confidence. When you are comfortable trying new things, not too scared of failure, and know that there is a community of support behind you, confidence levels can dramatically increase. And, in life, confidence matters.  
  5. Cheerfulness. In her speech, Margherita noted that Brown often appears at the top of the “Happiest Students” lists and referred to many of the concepts above in her lessons. For purposes of a fifth C, I’ve changed this trait to cheerfulness. While there are many things that can lead to cheerfulness/happiness, I’d argue that the four C’s above are certainly among the most influential: Courage. Community. Credence. Confidence. 

Congrats to all the recent graduates! Whether you attended Brown or any other school, I hope that you take these traits to heart and find a way to develop them. And for those running businesses, leading teams and/or raising families, I hope you can find a way to promote these traits among yourself and others. 

Jeff Freedman
CEO/Managing Partner
Small Army | Finn Partners