Rainn Wilson is known for his work on NBC’s “The Office” as Dwight Schrute, the intense paper salesman at the fictional Dunder Mifflin company. But on March 3, Wilson took a less comedic tone when discussing his philosophy about life and his program, “SoulPancake,” in an auditorium filled with California State University, Northridge students and faculty.
“You can’t pursue happiness,” Wilson said to the crowd at CSUN’s Valley Performing Arts Center. “Happiness comes from within — it is something you make a decision about.”
In his presentation, “SoulPancake: Chewing on Life’s Big Questions,” Wilson gave students insight about what it means to be human, from his own spiritual journey.
In his first few moments on stage, Wilson humored the crowd by posing for social media pictures and bantering with the American Sign Language interpreters. Then, he took a poke at the image built around his TV persona.
“That’s not love, that’s appreciation for my dorkishness,” he told the laughing crowd. He then continued to tease the interpreters about how they would sign “dorkishness.”
“This company [SoulPancake] was really an expression of who I am as a human being,” Wilson added. “It is my life’s journey in what I like to call SoulPancake.”
Wilson grew up a member of the Bahá’í faith, which is focused on a sole creator and is built upon a steadfast belief in equality among the masses and the pursuit of afterlife through a lifetime of good works. At 24, he had met his now wife, fiction writer Holiday Reinhorn, and was making a significant living acting in New York.
“But here’s the thing,” Wilson said, “I was unhappy.”
Wilson took some time to reflect and found himself on a spiritual journey that brought him back to his Bahá’í faith roots. In his reflection, he started to develop his own thoughts about true happiness in relation to American culture.
“Buying things will not make you happy,” Wilson said. “We have a very distracted, entertained, materialistic society — and people are more unhappy than ever.”
He views happiness as an overarching feeling that people must find for themselves. SoulPancake, he noted, does not provide answers to life’s big questions. It’s up to everyone to find the answers for themselves, Wilson said.
“I never expected it to be spiritual,” CSUN student Danielle Estrada said of the program. “I thought about a lot of things that I never thought about, so it was really enlightening.”
Many attendees, including faculty and students such as Estrada, left the lecture with a new viewpoint on spirituality and how to find their own sense of joy. Wilson’s parting message to young students was to give themselves a break in the midst of their academic and career pursuits.
“Take some time off to be of service,” he said. “Travel the world, and find a way to take some time and be of service to others.” Estrada took this piece of advice as the most valuable guidance from Wilson’s lecture.
“When he told us to give back to get our own happiness, it spoke to me,” she said. “I’m going through some things personally, and focusing on myself hasn’t worked. I think I am going to try and give back to others to see if that helps me out.”
SoulPancake encompasses various media, from Web to print and live events. In 2010, Wilson released his book, “SoulPancake: Chew on Life’s Big Questions,” which featured thought-provoking essays, bold questions and mind-bending art. It can be found at soulpancake.com.
“Speaking at CSUN was a sheer delight,” Wilson said. “The students were whip-smart and passionate, ready to explore some deep ideas. I wish I had gone there!”