seedling emerging from earth

In certain disciplines such as philosophy and systems theory, there's a concept called emergence.

Emergence occurs when the entirety of a thing has properties the individual parts don't possess on their own. It's the synergy of a system, the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

I've become interested in this concept lately in terms of happiness and success.

I spent a lot of years grasping at what I thought would make me happy. I wanted fame. I wanted wealth. I wanted to be noticed. I tried numerous routes to get there, only to end up with the same frustration, the same depression, the same misery. Happiness always seemed just out of reach. I felt an emptiness inside, a longing for that elusive state, and I toiled diligently, day after day, believing that if I just worked a little harder, I could find fame and wealth, and then – only then – would I find happiness.

Year after year, I did this. Story after story. Song after song. Performance after performance. Like Conan turning the Wheel of Pain, I grew in my craft and my talents, suffering daily, until one day, finally, I looked up and realized I was free. Free of depression. Free of anxiety. Free of sorrow.

I was happy.

This led me to question how I had arrived at such a marvelous state. I began to dissect what had changed in my life and started to pinpoint certain things I had been doing. In 2010, after a painful divorce, I began talking myself up in the mirror; this was the beginning of a set of mental exercises. After a health scare in 2014, I started eating right and working out; here was a physical connection.

With the mental and physical development underway, my approach to the world changed. Relationships grew stronger. Social anxiety decreased. I reconnected with a childhood sweetheart, fell in love, and remarried. I published a few books and started engaging with readers at speaking gigs and book signings. I stumbled across a mentor who made me ask myself some tough questions and answer truthfully. In 2018 an even bigger health scare – my wife's heart surgery – brought me closer to God, and a spiritual connection grew.

Unwittingly, I had developed in mind, body, and spirit, all in succession, without realizing I was doing so.    

And so the conclusion I came to was that happiness is less a thing to achieve, and more a byproduct of moment by moment, day by day decisions.

Happiness is not something you do.

It's not even something you find.

Happiness emerges.

It's a hologram in the scattering of light.

It's the fifth voice, or "ghost soprano", that can be heard when four voices harmonize at certain frequencies.

And I've found that success is the same. It's not one thing. It's not one great book or one amazing song. It's not one contract or one award. Those things can bring money and fame, but true success is a life lived well.

It's mindset. It's gratitude. It's nutrition. It's exercise. It's prayer. It's meditation. It's thinking less often of yourself, and more often of others.

It's belief.

It's being in the moment, and not grasping.

How do you draw a handful of water to your mouth?

You let it rest in your palm.

That's happiness.

That's success.

That's emergence.


SJ Duncan is an author, ghostwriter, and musician.

He lives in North Texas.


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