The Difference between Happiness, Fulfillment & Pleasure (or the Trials of being a Museum Director)


View from a friend’s home in London, where I was briefly staying at recently.

A couple of days ago a colleague of mine asked me what had been the happiest day of my life since becoming a Museum Director, and I said that I couldn’t really remember what that was.

I said that perhaps the happiest day of my life THIS YEAR, at least, was when I bumped into my predecessor on the streets of Piccadilly in London – literally by chance – last Monday, and we were able to catch up (at the Ritz, over glasses of champagne heehee) and vent about things that only WE as Museum Directors understood.

THAT was the happiest day of my life because for the first time in a very loooooong time, I was actually confiding my deepest, darkest thoughts and feelings to someone who understood what I was talking about. The happiness came because I felt connected with somebody in a way I hadn’t felt in a very long time; in a way that was very real, very satisfying and very cathartic.

Wow, what a relief, I thought to myself, to get all the pent-up experience – painful and awesome in turn – off my chest!!  What a relief to talk to someone who REALLY REALLY TRULY understood. There are so few people who understand the very specific circumstance of running this very specific museum (ACM) in this very specific place (SINGAPORE) with its very specific network of patrons, stakeholders, staff, etc.

But I’m just rambling now.


GUO PEI – CHINESE ART AND COUTURE at the Asian Civilisations Museum, 15 June – 15 September 2019. This is the Yellow Queen, most famously worn by Rihanna on the steps of The Metropolitan Museum New York in 2015.

GP Show

Guo Pei’s latest runway show at Paris Couture Week, which I had the chance to catch last week (on my own dime!!).

My colleague (in the present moment) then asked, brows furrowed, if I had not been even the very least bit happy about all that we had achieved at the museum – all I had ostensibly achieved at the museum.  In particular, had I not been even the very least bit happy at the wildly successful launch of our Guo Pei – Chinese Art and Couture exhibition? An exhibition that, against all odds and opposition, we managed to pull off at ACM?

I considered the question very carefully and replied that of course, I had felt awesome at all that we/I had achieved. But this sense of awesomeness was due not so much to happiness, but to a sense of FULFILLMENT.

The job (as the Director of the Asian Civilisations Museum and Peranakan Museum) has, as a matter of fact and a matter of course, offered me a tremendous amount of Fulfillment. Partly because the museum and its collection is quite literally THE BEST in the region (and one of the best anywhere in the world). And partly because I’m extremely driven, completely insane and will do just about ANYTHING to achieve what I feel the museum needs to achieve.

But Happiness and Fulfillment are two different things altogether. They look and feel somewhat alike on the surface, but at the core, their motivations aren’t the same. They are cousins, not twins.

One feels fulfilled when one has achieved one’s goals, particularly if these goals are seemingly unattainable; or in MBA parlance: involve stretch targets. This Cocktail called Fulfillment is liberally laced with PRIDE and SATISFACTION. Positive emotions – but definitely not the same as what laces Happiness – the Cocktail.

La Lune

William Dyce, Francesca da infini, 1837, Edinburgh National Gallery of Scotland. Featured in the exhibition La Lune, at the Grand Palais, Paris.

And then my intrepid colleague made reference to how I have publicly and liberally spoken about one of the privileges of the job being that I’m constantly surrounded by beauty and by beautiful things.  So the question, naturally, from her, was, “Doesn’t all this beauty make you happy?”

And once again, I considered the question carefully, and replied that it wasn’t so much happiness that I felt, really. Being surrounded by so much beauty afforded me an inordinate amount of PLEASURE. I am pleased by the fact that I’m surrounded by Beauty; I take pleasure and not a small amount of solace in this beauty.

But again, PLEASURE and SOLACE are not exactly Happiness.  And the fact that I need to frequently seek pleasure and solace amidst beauty suggests, perhaps, that I am often not very happy at all in the course of the job.

I guess what I’m saying, very frankly, is that the job has, thus far, offered me very little in the way of Happiness.  And that what I have drawn happiness from, are the rare opportunities I’ve had to REALLY connect with people as MYSELF; to engage and connect as KENNIE, and not as the high-end geisha / hotel concierge I’ve trained myself to become in the course of growing into this job as D/ACM-TPM.

[And might I add that I am a CONSUMMATE High-End Geisha cum Hotel Concierge. 😎]


Paris and la Tour Eiffel, view from the rooftop restaurant at Au Printemps Boulevard Hausmann.

I love the job and the museum. Don’t get me wrong.

But I’m now realising that the job is one of those things that isn’t at all what it seemed to be at the beginning.  The obligations of the job keep me at the museum 24/7; take me away from old friends and from family; and has, to a major extent, caused my long-term relationship – one of 16 years – to crumble and finally breath its last, heart-breaking, breath.

The job has given me the opportunity to not only be surrounded by beauty, but to CREATE beauty – gasp-inducing, pause-provoking, heart-breaking beauty – all around me.  But in order to create this, I am required to give up so much; to give up not just a little bit, but a WHOLE LOT, of myself.

I am constantly surrounded by people, but I often feel crushingly alone as I PERFORM my role as Director, and as the new social circles I find myself in increasingly regard me as DIRECTOR ACM-TPM, rather than just Kennie, pure and simple.

So yes – I told my colleague that I, in fact, can’t remember when I was last happy since I took on the job; except, of course, for that chance meeting with my predecessor in London, and for the increasingly rare occasions when I’m hanging out as me with my friends and family.

The emphasis is on the word RARE.

It’s time to do something about this.

So here’s fair warning that in the year to come, I’m going to be more Kennie, and less D/ACM-TPM.  That I’m going de-prioritise attending all these events and openings and dinners and soirees (and there are many, many, many of these), in order that I may spend quiet evenings with those whom I love and whom I love spending time with.

Here’s the tally so far.

FULFILLMENT:  ✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎

PLEASURE: ✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎✔︎

HAPPINESS: Still working on it.

Gotta focus on what’s most important, folks.


Just lazing around by the pool at home today… 

About Kennie Ting

I am a wandering cityophile and pattern-finder who is pathologically incapable of staying in one place for any long period of time. When I do, I see the place from different perspectives, obsessive-compulsively.
This entry was posted in Art & Architecture, Cities & Regions, Culture & Lifestyle, Heritage, Museums, Photography, Travel & Mobility and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s