TOPIC: IDENTITY - Am I I even supposed to be happy?

Listen to the audio version, or read the text below

Hi, I’m Paul, and welcome to our journey into well-being through my Core Cohort Coaching! Those who’ve journeyed with me have come to a deeper understanding of their personal identity and story – and how that story impacts their response to their world. It’s a joy to watch people learn how to better live life in a way that is fulfilling, sustainable and transformative. A greater sense of personal well-being and of understanding one’s potential to impact the world can be life-changing. Get ready, your life may change a LOT in these next few weeks!

Let’s start by defining terms we will use often in your Core Coaching journey:

Each of you is a member of our Cohort. A Cohort member is a person pursuing a deeper understanding of their own personal value and the value of others and desires to use that understanding, not only to positively impact their workplace, but to benefit the broader culture around them.  

Your “core” is your innermost place – your “gut.”  It’s the place from which your emotions and reactions emanate. The quality of your decision making both professional and personal – is based on your core health. Just as your physical center of gravity and all body movements begin with your physical core muscles (i.e. midsection muscles), a healthy emotional core will result in healthy reactions and quality decision making.

Well-being is a sense of contentment and fulfillment that is not determined by external circumstances. A Core Cohort Member maintains a sense of well-being in the middle of both good and challenging circumstances.

Transformation is a change in a person, group of people, or organization that cannot easily be reversed or go back to the way things were before the transformation took place.

In the context of the Core Coaching, a “sphere of influence” is any space, organization, or group in which a leader may have an impact on its direction and outcomes.  

Let’s combine two ideas to define the “Core Cohort” in the context of the Core Leaders Network. The first is an ancient Roman military unit, was called a “cohort.” The second is a group of people who are banded together.  So, think of your Core Cohort as a group of people who are intentionally banding together in the common pursuit of conquering. What are we conquering together? Any obstacle that stands in the way of each of us being the best and most effective version of ourselves that we can be.

The Core Leaders Network is a group of leaders pursuing well-being and personal transformation so that each of us makes an impact on our spheres of influence. Together, we can bring positive transformation to our business, our city and our region.


Let’s start our time together by thinking about what happiness looks like for a leader. Life is tough, and the pressure is real. Can we be “happy” in the middle of it all? Are we even supposed to be happy? How much impact should the demands of leadership and the consequences of failing to meet those demands, determine our feelings of happiness on a regular basis? Let’s use this example from my own life:

It was Saturday. Payroll was due on Monday, and I was $12,000 short to cover it. I knew the company mail was normally delivered about 11 a.m. on Saturdays. So, late that morning I drove to the office praying the mail would include enough checks from the $65,000 of receivables on our books to cover the shortfall. With shaking hands, I sat in the empty office opening envelope after envelope. $2000 here, $500 there. I was tallying the totals in my mind. There were a few envelopes left. Would I make it? $1000 from a client who owed $5000. My heart sank. I knew the other two envelopes couldn’t possibly contain enough money to bridge the gap. My weekend was now ruined as I would spend the next two days dreading the Monday phone call I’d have to make to my partners to ask each to kick in cash to cover payroll… again.

Happiness seems hard to reach at times, and even when reached, it’s fleeting. After all, there is always another payroll in a week or two. Meeting a monthly quota means nothing when the next month begins. Having a good financial year is in the rearview mirror once the next fiscal season commences. So, how do we find happiness? Should happiness even be our goal, or is “Life a bitch and then you die?”


“Permanent happiness is the goal of our lives—a goal that we can never reach,” wrote Nancy Collier, LCSW in a recent article in Psychology Today. “What we can reach, however, is a state of well-being, a deep sense of lasting contentment that can include and survive both happiness and ‘not happiness!’” In other words, being happy is not our ultimate goal because permanent happiness is impossible to attain. A state of well-being that can survive the good days and the bad is a goal worth fighting for. Don’t you think?

A good definition of well-being is the Hebrew word “shalom.” Shalom is commonly understood to mean “peace,” or to be without war.  But to the ancient Hebrew person, shalom was much more. It meant “to be safe in mind, body, or estate.” It spoke to a wholeness or complete fulfillment in one’s life.

How do we get to a state of Shalom, or well-being in our lives. I believe a state of well-being is achieved when a person really begins to get honest about who they are. It’s stopping to take a look inside ourselves to find the hurdles keeping us from a sense of well-being and learning tools to overcome the root causes of those hurdles. Well-being requires one to ask, “Why do things push my buttons?” and then to go deeper to identify  “Why do I have those buttons in the first place, and how do I get rid of them?”

Happiness, you see, is based on external factors. These factors are beyond our control. The pursuit of happiness can drive us to do things that can be very unhealthy, causing a never-ending spiral of self destructive behavior – all in the pursuit of achieving happiness. Once we’re in this spiral, then we do things to try and help us forget we’re unhappy, which ultimately drive us farther from our goal of being in a healthy state of well-being.

Thus begins our journey together. Let’s go on this path to discover well-being, even on the days when there aren’t enough checks in the mail to meet payroll.

WELL-BEING = Safety, Comfort & Value

While I would never over-simplify our core psyche and humanity, there are some very basic building blocks of well-being in humans. I’ve found everyone is in search of three basic things: Safety, Value and Purpose.

SAFETY: Safety trumps all other needs. If a person doesn’t feel safe, they will do whatever it takes to feel safe. In trauma situations as a youth, the human core is built to survive in such horrific instances. Disassociation, for instance, is one way human beings will search for safety in the unjust world of childhood trauma. Without opportunity to find safety in a normal situation, through nurture from parents, family, home household, these unhealthy means can protect a person in the traumatic time, and can then be carried as an unhealthy resource as adults. In adulthood, means of reaching for protection and justice in youth can become very unhealthy mechanisms – like rage or passive aggression. They can also become unhealthy coping mechanisms like addiction or mind numbing. Because, no matter what, the human spirit has to feel safe and will find protection in whatever means is necessary to survive.

VALUE: Once we have some sense of safety in life, human beings need to know they matter to someone. I always say “You’re not only made of matter as a human being, but you DO matter.” A child is taught they have value in the world by a loving parent or authority figure. Likewise, a sense of value can be stolen by parental neglect or an addictive environment where the parent has to be maintained by a child. These non-nurturing environments provide space for a child to be told their needs don’t matter. Words like “children are to be seen and not heard” or by specific roles that devalue the needs of someone can also cause a lack of self-value. For instance, female members of households are often taught high value for the role of service to others and, while serving others is important, the underlying message can be that this individual’s personal needs are less valuable than others.

We all have needs. You read that right, ALL of us have needs and those needs must be expressed. Our need for value WILL be expressed. It will be expressed in a healthy, honest way or, without an outlet, will be expressed in a more volatile, explosive manner.

PURPOSE:  When safety and value can be attained to some measure, humans want to know there’s a reason for existence that is beyond day-to-day subsistence. “Why am I here?” is an age-old human question. Being able to envision a purpose for existing is a vital component of a fulfilling well-being. When we start to see ourselves as those involved in changing the world, a purpose for living starts to become a reality. A fulfilling and sustainable well-being can be perpetuated through pouring out into a world bigger than us, and receiving back the safety and value one feels when we can be transformative in the world, rather than a victim to it.


Each week in the Core Curriculum, you’ll find a Review – a brief set of review questions from the session, Discussion – some questions we will discuss in our 1-on-1’s and in the cohort meetings, and Action Steps – some thought-starters to help us dig deeper into the topics of the session. You’ll also have a Core Journal at the end of the session to write some thoughts. Your journal content will be sent to you and to me so that we can track together. What you share in your Core Journal will be available to you and me only.

Let’s start here:


Follow this diagram, and ask yourself, “Am I Happy?”

The diagram asks if you’re happy. You can see that if the answer is “yes,” then the diagram encourages you to “keep doing what you’re doing.”  If the answer is “no,” then the next question is “Do you want to be happy?” If you say “no, I don’t want to be happy” then the diagram, again, encourages you to “keep doing what you’re doing.“

I assume by the fact that you’ve signed up for this program, that you aren’t in the “doesn’t want to be happy” category.  Likely you’re in the “Yes, I want to be happy” category. Now, the twist for us is that we just learned that happiness isn’t really our goal. But, since you’re walking this journey with me, I can assume you want your life to be better. So, the diagram says, to make that happen we have to “change something.”

Let’s do that. Let’s take this journey and see what opportunities are available to improve you true Core Well-Being to come. Each lesson will have “Discussion Questions” and “Action Steps.” Please consider these questions for discussion in our Cohort Meetings and our 1-on-1’s:

Think about what “happiness” means for you in terms of well-being, or contentment. Are you at a place in life where you can be OK on the good days and the not-so-good ones?


Think about a day when you were unhappy. Maybe the things that make you happy were simply not available or maybe you had a family member who was ill or an angry client. Journal about your response in that moment. Did you respond well or not? What things occur on a regular basis that upset your well-being and make it difficult for you to be “happy.” How do those things make you feel? I’ll ask you about your feelings a lot because those feelings are telling us what’s happening in your core. If your reaction didn’t make you feel good, think about how you can react differently in the future.

Your Core Journal - Opening Cohort Lesson

  • Please enter your thoughts here for your Core Journal. What you enter will be e-mailed to you and to your Cohort Mentor, Paul Swearengin. Thanks for sharing your thoughts from this session.