“Happiness is so fleeting—it’s like cotton candy. It looks amazing, delightful, fluffy and pink. You joyously eat it and almost immediately regret your decision. Your fingers are sticky, you’re undergoing an insulin crash from the half-pound of sugar you just sucked down, and you’re hungry again almost immediately.”
So says Rainn Wilson, actor, author and keynote speaker at USC’s Baccalaureate ceremony held on May 15, 2014.
On the eve of USC’s 131st commencement, the actor best known for his role as the scheming, maniacal paper rep Dwight Schrute from NBC’s long-running hit The Office, spoke to a capacity crowd at Bovard Auditorium.
“Tomorrow you graduates will be receiving a piece of paper—one of the most important pieces of paper you will ever get,” he said. “And trust me, if there’s one thing I know a lot about, it’s paper.”
Unlike the character he’s most known for, Wilson proved a perfect keynote speaker for this celebration rooted in the medieval Christian traditions of Oxford but updated for today’s exuberantly multi-faith culture at USC.
“As a member of the Bahá’í faith,” Wilson explain, “I believe in the divinity and sacredness of all the world’s great spiritual teachers and messengers.”
In a talk titled “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Service,” the Seattle native proceeded to lay down “Rainn’s Six Laws of Contentment,” peppering his spiritual insights and illustrative quotes with well-timed wisecracks. Warning against the evils of materialism in words borrowed from Jesus, he said: “I hope, for your soul’s sake, that this piece of paper you’re getting tomorrow leads you on a quest to find your soul and not on a journey to try and gain the whole world—or the Clippers.”
In this me-me-me culture, focus on yourself [and you will] find only misery, depression, emptiness.
Other laws of contentment included “Have an attitude of gratitude” and “Desire for the things of this world lead to dissatisfaction.” Wilson ended on an earnest note with advice for a balanced life. “In this me-me-me culture,” he warned, “focus on yourself [and you will] find only misery, depression, emptiness. Focus on helping others [and you will find] joy, contentment, gratitude and buckets and buckets of eudaimonia”—a reference to the ancient Greek concept of happiness, which, Wilson explained literally means “human flourishing.”
Wilson had been introduced by USC President C. L. Max Nikias, who highlighted the actor’s affiliation with SoulPancake.com, a digital media company, book and YouTube channel promoting spirituality, introspection and service.
The Baccalaureate program also featured musical performances by the Trojan Brass ensemble, USC Thornton Chamber Singers, the SoCal VoCals a cappella group and an invocation and benediction by USC dean of religious life Varun Soni.