Being Home & Not Being Home ~ a reflection on the sounds and silences of living in London

by Mark Trezona

(This was a guest post originally written for Shaking Out ~ the Shaky Isles Theatre Company Blog. which publishes a new piece by a guest every artist every Tuesday)

Colin McCahon's 'This Is The Promised Land' + South London

Colin McCahon’s ‘This Is The Promised Land’ + South London

Have you ever done that thing in London where you go outside – especially in the smallest hours of the morning – and just listen in to as many sounds of the city as you can hear?

‘…that indefinable boom of distant but ever-present sound which tells that London is up and doing, and which will swell into a deafening roar as the day grows older [and] now rises faintly but continuously upon the ear’.  (Charles Manby Smith, 1857) 

The ‘roar’ here suggests the presence of some great beast, but more significant is this sense of continuous, distant sound as if it were a form of meditation or self-communing…

London has always been characterised by the noise that is an aspect of its noisomeness.  It is part of its unnaturalness, too, like the roaring of some monstrous creature.  But it is also a token of its energy and power.  

Its noise is ancient but always renewed,  a perpetual sound that’s variously compared to Niagara, in its persistence and remorselessness, and to the beating of a human heart.  It is intimate and yet impersonal, like the noise of life itself…

A celebrated American of the nineteenth century, James Russell Lowell,  has written: ‘One other thing about London impresses me beyond any other sound I have ever heard and that is the low, unceasing roar one hears always in the air; it is not a mere accident, like a tempest or cataract, but it is impressive, because it always indicates human will, and impulse, and conscious movement; and I confess that when I hear it I almost feel as if I were listening to the roaring loom of time.’  (Peter Ackroyd, London The Biography, pp.71, 75, 76)

Tuning in acutely to these sounds and feeling a connection to this vibrating chorus of so many different lives and possibilities and relationships and stories happening –  and heading towards happening – gives me a rush so strong that I always want to hug myself and shout out how fucking lucky I feel to be living here and calling this great over-sized mess of a city my home.

This same rush of euphoria pulses through every cell of me if I stop myself walking midway across any of London’s bridges and take time to stand and stare‘. In these moments the sights of the city overwhelm its sounds, and I hear, instead, myself, sounding out again: This is my city.  This is where I live.  This is my home.  This is the feeling that I felt the first day I arrived here and I feel it still just as strongly 27 years later.

And, even if it’s the middle of the day and London is glistening and prickling in its busyness, the feeling I get is of a moment locked into its own steel blue circular intensity that unstoppably re-conjures whatever echoes I can remember that moment from William Wordsworth’s enduring poem:

Upon Westminster Bridge

Earth has not anything to show more fair:
Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty:
This City now doth like a garment wear
The beauty of the morning; silent, bare,
Ships, towers, domes, theatres, and temples lie
Open unto the fields, and to the sky;
All bright and glittering in the smokeless air.
Never did sun more beautifully steep
In his first splendour valley, rock, or hill;
Ne’er saw I, never felt, a calm so deep!
The river glideth at his own sweet will:
Dear God! the very houses seem asleep;
And all that mighty heart is lying still!

All this powerful presence.

All this history and all this yet to be.

All this that I live in and amongst and call my own.

This is London, my home.

Yeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!

It is the feeling I recognised instantly when I read  the start of Katherine Mansfield’s 1918 short story, Bliss:

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at – nothing – at nothing, simply…

What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street you are overcome, suddenly, by a feeling of bliss – absolute bliss! – as though you’d suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe?

Oh is there no way you can express it without being “drunk and disorderly”?  How idiotic civilisation is!  Why be given a body if you have to keep it shut up in a case like a rare, rare fiddle?

These lines are used by Matthieu Ricard to start the first chapter of his book, The Art of Happiness: A Guide to Nurturing Life’s Most Important Skill.  I am reading Matthieu Ricard, Buddhist monk, photographer and author, and a man whose happiness has been widely studied and is considered to be the happiest man on the planet as part of my ongoing exploration through the subject of happiness and human flourishing.  (Check out Happiness Is A Skill, and his TEDTalk The Habits of Happiness for an introduction to his gentle wisdom.)

It pleases me very much to find the words of one of our New Zealand writers helping to elucidate wisdom from the happiest man in the known universe.  Just as it pleased me to discover that Katherine Mansfield is the only writer Virginia Woolf ever felt jealous of.  It makes me feel plumped up about being a New Zealander.

But back to the blissed out Bertha Young, home now in her London house of 100 years ago:

…in her bosom there was still that bright glowing place – that shower of little sparks coming from it. It was almost unbearable.  She hardly dared to breathe for fear of fanning it higher, and yet she breathed deeply, deeply.  She hardly dared look into the cold mirror – but she did look, and it gave her back a woman, radiant, with smiling, trembling lips, with big dark eyes and an air of listening, waiting for something…divine to happen…that she knew must happen…infallibly.

And here is the second dimension of what living in London feels like to me – that sense of possibility, that at any moment at any time in any part of the city you could meet someone extraordinary and make a connection and something intense and special could happen, maybe just for the shortest moment, maybe for much longer, maybe even for the rest of your life.  And that, if it didn’t happen today, this week, it will happen, and happen again many times more.  This city is too rich and magnificent and full of people with all of their experiences and expectations and dreams and demands and eccentricities and impossible certainties and jangling anxieties for you not to bang into someone, something, that feels… what?  meant?  important?  uniquely personal?  only possible here?

It happens for Bertha with a woman she has newly met and invited to a dinner party in her London home:

…the two women stood side by side looking at the slender, flowering pear tree.  Although it was so still it seemed, like the flame of a candle, to stretch up, to a point, to quiver in the bright air, to grow taller and taller as they gazed – almost to touch the rim of the round silver moon.

How long did they stand there?  Both, as it were, caught in the circle of unearthly light, understanding each other perfectly, creatures of another world, and wondering what they were to do in this one with all this blissful treasure that burned in their bosoms and dropped, in silver flowers, from their hair and hands?

For ever – for a moment?  And did Miss Fulton murmur: “Yes. Just that.”  Or did Bertha dream it?

This is what living in London is for me.  An ever-present effervescence of possibility, where any time could bring surprise and discovery, where there is still more potential and life to be uncovered than any living yet done could use up.  And where you can be whoever you decide to be today – so far as you yourself will allow – and walk out into the city and the city will absorb and make a perfect fit of the you you’ve made – or are imagining – yourself to be.

You can be.

Just that.

All that.

And yet, and yet…

Alongside the heady hearty noisy rush of my claim to this city, there is always a parallel track of feelings of alienation, foreignness, displacement, nostalgia and longing for people, places, smells, tastes and sounds from another country.

I am not from here, of here.  I am like the other 3 million of London’s 8.5 million residents, the 37% of Londoners who were not born in the UK, and, for as long as I live here I will always be living ‘away from home’.  For us, as much as this place is about the thrill and possibility of its noise, the full quality of our presence here is as ambiguous and hard to discern as London’s silence, sensed only sometimes and partially as

…an absence of being…a negative force…

There is almost a theatrical aspect to this silence, as if it had been tainted by the artificiality of London.  It is not a natural silence but a ‘play’, one of a series of violent contrasts which the inhabitants of London must endure.  It is in that sense wholly ambiguous; it may provoke peaceful contemplation, or it may arouse anxiety. (London, p.81, 82)

No New Zealand Londoner I know makes their home here for a quiet life.  That is what New Zealand is for, what pulls many New Zealanders back, and what those of us who stay here never quite stop romanticising up and longing after: that little piece of our own wide and spacious  utterly natural and wildly beautiful New Zealand serenity.  The Sounds.  The Huka Falls.  A Northland Beach.  South Island’s West Coast. An art deco boutique hotel in Napier.  Walking any one of our National Parks.  The Coromandel.  Substitute your own place of choice: even if you’re not a New Zealander, if you’ve been to New Zealand, you’ll have one.

We New Zealanders know why those of you who go there tell us it is such a special place.  When we are ‘back home’ we expat New Zealanders are always re-amazed at the number and brightness of stars in our southern sky.  We hold our homeland dear and remain constant and true to its natural wonderfulness, something we never expect London to begin to compete with.  This is the universal call of our homeland: its promise of perfect uncontaminated astoundingly beautiful wide open silence.

(In fact, when I was last in Auckland I was shocked at how shouty and loud and noisy our city dwelling native birds are – until I got to Sydney, where the birds are even louder still.)

But in London the birds sing all night.  London is never silent.  London’s silence has to be heard and felt in the contrasting relative quiet of our bedrooms (we hope), and in the moments when we are stopped in our lives just long enough to feel its echo, and in the delay we still hear across our telephone and skype calls to friends and family ‘back home,’ and in the felt absence of a newsy email update sometimes, (or, much more likely in my case, in the guilt of still not yet having written one), and in the marking of big moments happening across the world in another time zone without us being able to be there, in ‘being there in spirit’, in missing the lives we are forced to live apart from.

This longing back to New Zealand is part of being a New Zealander.  Katherine Mansfield very deliberately chose to live most of her life in Europe, but in March 1922, ill with the TB that she would die from less than a year later, she wrote ‘home’ to her father:

“ …the longer I live, the more I return to New Zealand.  A young country is a real heritage, though it takes one time to remember it.  But New Zealand is in my very bones.”

Our silence is felt in a kind of constant sense of loss, that, like the bereaved’s grief, after a certain period of time, becomes too shameful, illegitimate, not really allowable to be voiced in public or even to ourselves, because, of course we know this, there are noisier more important life-must-go-on and we-really-do-feel-lucky-for-what-we-have moments of living to be had and cheered and enjoyed and – well lived.

 The noise of living will always drown out the sounds of silence.

The silence of the living-away-from-home blissfully-at-home-here-in-London is mostly just that: silent.

And silence, just as is the case with listening, is mostly unappreciated, a passive not real thing, an un-action, a not-happening, an absence of dynamic, merely a pause in things before play is resumed.

Silence is the sound of not working, not making money. 

This is not the silence of the countryside, where repose seems natural and unforced.  The silence of London is an active element; it is filled with an obvious absence (of people, of business) and is therefore filled with presence.  It is a teeming silence.  (London, p.83)

For us Shaky Isles folk the noisy silence we hear lying in the depths of this city, never quiet if mostly out of sight, is the creature we call our Taniwha:

It is the pull of this dirty and excessive city when you yearn for another home.  It is that feeling … of knowing that someone – something – is just … over … there.   (Taniwha Thames)

I have grown to love this unquiet silence just as fervently as I love the noises of this city.  I know I will always have New Zealand, my motherland, in my veins and I love the pride this difference gives me as truly as I love the special pride I have for the courage and risk and expectation my nineteenth century ancestors must have had when they left England on their long uncertain voyage to make a better life for themselves and their families in New Zealand.

Being not from here, in fact, helps me to feel more of a true Londoner, for London is, and always has been, a city of outsiders.  London is one of those cities where you can wear your outsideness loud and proud as a badge of authenticity.  And this perhaps is the other dimension of what I love so much about London: its theatricality.

For Londoners, whether by birth or adoption, the theatricality of London is its single most important characteristic.  (London, p.152)

London does not offer uncontested peace and tranquility, because its silences are as full of ambiguous nuanced potent possibility as are its noises.  Strain your ears in to listen and hear the overrunning of its stories.  London is a permanently live performance.  London is a place and space of constantly amplified profound ambivalence, not just for its immigrants but for all of its inhabitants.

Ambivalence is, of course, the sense of having at least two – usually contrasting – feelings about the same thing… Being a theatre or performance audience or maker … can be an affirmative act of conversation and cosmopolitanism, an opportunity ambivalently to respect our differences and recognise what we share, to recognise the challenges we live with in our cities and to take up our cities’ opportunities.  (Jen Harvie, Theatre & the City, 2009 p.77)

The theatre we are engaged in making in Shaky Isles, and the ways in which are making it, are in many ways a microcosm of the complex messy fluctuations of noise and silence in which London works itself out as a city.

There are rules, but these will be broken when they do not fit the purpose of our lives.

There is intention and desired outcomes, but these are deliberately kept absorbent, porous, malleable, a living system of multiple intentions and  desires constantly infecting and being affected by each other as they rub into and through themselves.

There is apparent chaos, but it is really the forward fluidity of the flock that prevents stasis and keeps enough flow to be always in progressive movement, re-circling, re-firing, re-living, each iteration a bit different and a bit better than before.

These are the energies and rhythms we are learning to ride in Shaky Isles.  We are interested in what unfolds from bringing different voices together to tell a stories that are simultaneously intimate, personal and particular and, at the same time, recognisable, eternal and universal.  We use Open Space and Action Learning to uncover and discover our work together through and from and in our not-knowing.  We are practicing and slowly mastering the skills and qualities of trusting and sharing and questioning and experimenting and listening and saying and reworking and refining.  We are trying to get better at getting more of us in the room more often to do more of the work together.

And we know that the only way to make all of this work is to make it work together, as we go, as messy and as noisy and as ambivalent as this needs to be.

 

…the city is a model of dynamic relativism, a space where everything means more than one thing – a nondescript doorway, invisible for some, is for others the gateway to a magical garden… 

Because the tensions they have out there, the secrets they have out there, the journeys they go on, things they wish for or fear out there are the things you might well seek to amplify, uncover or remix on the stage.  Because what we might call the temporary community of the auditorium (negotiated each night, triangulated off the stage) reflects and refracts the temporary communities outside.

Because the city is a nexus of motorways, TV signals, Internets, dreams, global currents and trickle-downs, a place where our desires wash up, are fed, disrupted, chained, dodged or neutered by what people call late capitalism.

Because the city contains small beauties, zones of possibility…

Because it reflects the life you must reflect and must reflect on and the life already reflected in you.

Because the city can trap you, nurture you, teach you, unravel you, unspeak you.  Because you are just one among many here, and the dynamic of one in relation to many (conversation, dialogue, difference, the negotiation of public space) is what theatre emerges from and thrives on, what art must address and what cities must somehow contend with if they are to survive. (Tim Etchells, Foreword to Theatre & the City, p.xii, xiii-ix)

Katherine Mansfield did not survive her illness and died away from home aged 34.  The epitaph on her grave is one of her favourite quotations from Shakespeare’s Henry IV Part I which she had chosen for the title page of  Bliss and Other Stories:

“…but I tell you, my lord fool, out of this nettle danger, we pluck the flower, safety”

In her short story , Bliss, despite the intense emotional re-firing her heroine experiences, Bertha’s night does not end happily.  And yet…

…the pear tree was as lovely as ever and as full of flowers and as still.

Living in London is built on the most fragile of frameworks:  and being at home / not being home / making a home / missing home in London is perhaps the umbilical chord that holds many of us in together.  And helps to make us work.  Just as these same strands entwine to make London work around us.

Just Listen…

 

Mark Trezona has a passion for sound and listening and, with his partner Martyn Duffy, makes sound with and for Shaky Isles shows.  Through their company BridgeBuilders STG they make bespoke learning programmes in happiness at work, creativity, leadership, learning, team working & communications.  He has his own blog, performance~marks, dedicated to an exploration of happiness, creativity & resilience and what makes great audience experience.

 

The next Shaky Isles  Shake It Up evening is a theatre scratch night

7.30pm Wednesday 5th June, 2013 

 

Happiness At Work #47 ~ highlights from this week’s collection

creativity colour science and artistry

Happiness At Work #47 highlights ideas and stories linked to creativity.

We see creativity as central to our learning, our resilience and our happiness and a vital aspect of flourishing.

When we worked as Creative Agents with teachers and students in a variety of London schools, we regularly found two things to be live and relevant for whoever we were working with: firstly, the subject of creativity itself – what it means and how to tap into it in our day-to-day lives; and secondly, that almost every one us believes we are not as creative as we would like to be.

Why We Have Our Best Ideas In The Shower

In this article  writes up the results of his research into the science of creativity and offers some top tips for maximising our own creativity:

I’m not really a creative person”, always struck me as an odd sentence.
Could it really be that some of us are born to be more creatively gifted than others?  If so, I thought at first, that’s definitely a downer. In school, what was considered “being creative”, like writing or drawing nice pictures was never my strength.  It bugged me for a while I have to say.  
I finally decided to research and read up on the latest studies of creativity and the science behind it. The truth, which I was very happy to discover, is that any and everybody is creative.  In fact, we are all extremely creative.  A

nd the following science will hopefully prove it, in case you ever had any doubts about your own creativity.  After all, creativity, at its very core, boils down to this:

A creative idea will be defined simply as one that is both novel and useful (or influential) in a particular social setting.” – Alice Flaherty

This applies to every field, Flaherty explains, including programming, business, mathematics together with the more traditional “creative” fields, such as music or drawing…

In organisations, too, creativity is often a central spine of the the learning and development programmes we make, whether in relation to imagining and developing a way to reach a better future, or finding ways to collaborate and work more effectively as a team, or discovering and crafting ways to be more productive, effective and fulfilled at work, or to unblock and free an individual’s energy, voice and presence in order to be able to communicate and lead with greater impact, authority and influence.

The Thinking Hotel main web image

This week, with Maria Ana Neves, we co-hosted a creative thinking dinner with a group of dynamic people who gathered around a table of wonderful food to dream up ideas together for the next Thinking Hoteldue to open for just 72 hours this summer as a space for people to check into to imagine a better future ~ whatever that would mean to you ~ and  recalibrate yourself into a better more balanced you ~ whatever that would mean to you.

table seeting invitation pic

Before we hit these times of greater financial constraint and difficulty, the vitality and necessity of creativity for successful work and learning was understood and accepted.  These days, it seems, creativity has been shoved into luxuries pile – ‘lovely but To Do only if time and resource’.  It is again being treated with an old fashioned wariness, stripped of legitimacy and urgency in a business agenda that it is being prioritised instead with cost reductions, doing more with less, tightening belts, centralising, streamlining, tightening efficiencies still further, and crunching performances against less and less ambiguous indicators.

As if creativity cannot help to make any and all of these outcomes better, never mind a more proactive strategic longer range view that seeks to grow and adapt and learn and reinvent and expand and change…

Leading without a leader

The Business of Creativity

A really good article in MBA Warrior Blog outlines a number of compelling reasons that add to the business case for creativity in 21st century organisations:

The day-to-day operations of any business can become mundane at times, which can lead to complacency and mediocrity among employees. Creativity is just as important as the other more technical skills required to operate a business and business leaders should manage and promote creativity just as they would any other asset.

In the past decade business has grown more rigid as headcount has been reduced and we are asked to do more with less,” said Clark Finnical, a Florida resident who was employed by Avaya for 24 years. He received his MBA in Marketing and Finance from American University in 1989. “As work is more and more challenging, the need for creativity is greater than ever. Individuals who can develop creative solutions will stand out and be more likely to weather the next round of layoffs or even get promoted.”

What we learn from each other will enable us to be more creative,” Finnical said. “By honoring and respecting the differences among those we work with, we create a workplace characterized by mutual respect and acceptance. This does wonders for working relationships.

Creativity also lends itself to such skills as problem-solving and leadership, which are critical in the business environment. Self-motivated individuals breed creativity because they are always looking for fresh ideas or innovative ways to tackle problems.

Harvard Business School professor and coauthor of The Progress Principle  Teresa Amabile created the MBA course Managing for Creativity because “managers cannot be effective in contemporary business unless they can understand and support creativity — the production of new, useful ideas.

Rapidly-changing challenges and opportunities facing for-profit and not-for-profit organizations demand a continuous search for novel approaches that will work in a given context,”  she says. “This means that everyone inside organizations, from top-level leaders down to people working in the trenches, must constantly think creatively.”

Edie Raether, international speaker and corporate trainer on innovation and creativity, shared some tips to encourage creativity:

  • Keep a journal. Make it a habit to keep on the lookout for new and interesting ideas. Write them down in your journal. Your idea needs to be original only in its adaptation to the problem you are working on.
  • Don’t be afraid to get a little crazy. Genius has tolerance for the unpredictable. Ask yourself, is it crazy enough to be correct? Logic hides in the illogic. You must be willing to get out of your comfort zone and take a risk.
  • Allow for some right-brain thinking. Screen, filter, and get rid of negative thoughts such as fear, doubt, and worry that result from the fight-or-flight response of the instinctual brain. Numb the critical, left brain so the right brain can get into the flow.
  • Give technology a break. Excessive use of technology ‘dumbs’ us by 10%, twice the negative effect of smoking marijuana. Get back to cursive writing which stimulates the creativity centers of the brain.
  • Brainstorm strategically. Brainstorming is effective when done sequentially. For example, you don’t want left-brain critical thinkers interrupting the flow of the right-brain people. You can also try solo brainstorming in which people can reflect and then come together to pool their ideas and diverse thinking styles.
  • Ask questions. Questions ignite creative thought processes. Ask yourself continually ‘what can I do to make it better? How can I alter, adapt, magnify, add or eliminate? How can I rearrange and reverse it?’
  • Do mirror writing. Leonardo da Vinci would write from right to left to make the brain see opposite directions, thus breaking old thought patterns that limit and stifle new thoughts. Patterns are efficient and convenient, but make us robots. Think about how to get the water rather than making the water come to us.
  • Know your true talent. Get in sync with your instincts and then think BIG. Dare to dream and be bold.

Leading a crowd

Matt Monge writes a two-part article in his Mojo Company blog, the first part exploring the subject from an individual’s perspective, and then the second part from the organisational perspective:

5 Things You Need To Build A Creative Culture as an individual

…these are the things we should be engaging in for ourselves, encouraging in others, and ultimately making sure our organizations are facilitating as well…

  1. Curiosity…
  2. Imagination…
  3. Knowledge…
  4. Motivated Attitude…
  5. Community…

Who cares? You should. Don’t fall prey to the myth that only some people are creative and you’re not one of the chosen few. You are creative; it’s just a matter of figuring out in what way. So find things you’re curious about and that are interesting to you, use your imagination a little (even when the ideas sound silly), utilize all that knowledge you have locked away in that brain of yours, stay motivated and work at it, and surround yourself with others who are doing the same.

and 6 Considerations for a Creative Culture

…zooming out and looking at it from a broader, organizational level, here are some practical considerations if we really and truly want our teams to be creative:

It’s not as simple as telling them to be more creative, or nodding and smiling when someone mentions creativity or innovation. There has to be an intentional focus on it, or it will become an afterthought.  You’ll have little bursts of creativity here and there from individuals, but nothing on the level of organizational creativity.

Here are some things you could take a look at:

  1. Workspace…
  2. Interaction with others who think differently…
  3. Rules…
  4. Resources…
  5. Hiring…
  6. Leadership…

Creativity: The Shameful Truth

In this article Shane Burroughs explores how some of the world’s greatest innovators embrace their failures in order to acquire such greatness.

How ready are you to fail for the sake of your success?

Edison, Picasso, Disney, Cadbury, and Facebook learned that to be creative we have to venture new ground at the of risk failure, because always knowing what you are doing and always doing what you know is not a recipe for creativity: it’s the fast track to irrelevance.

Today, the most ambitious companies know that they have just two options; they can “fail to succeed” or they can “fail, to succeed.”

What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?

Business man looking at arrows pointing in different directions

Our God of Imagination

Of course not everyone is convinced about the essential virtues of creativity.

Launching a critique of the rhetoric and glorification of creativity in his latest “Easy Chair” column, Harper’s Magazine contributor Thomas Frank sarcastically eviscerates the business class’ most prized literary genre: creativity.

Consider, then, the narrative daisy chain that makes up the literature of creativity. It is the story of brilliant people, often in the arts or humanities, who are studied by other brilliant people, often in the sciences, finance, or marketing. The readership is made up of us — members of the professional-managerial class — each of whom harbors a powerful suspicion that he or she is pretty brilliant as well. What your correspondent realized, relaxing there in his tub one day, was that the real subject of this literature was the professional-managerial audience itself, whose members hear clear, sweet reason when they listen to NPR and think they’re in the presence of something profound when they watch some billionaire give a TED talk. And what this complacent literature purrs into their ears is that creativity is their property, their competitive advantage, their class virtue. Creativity is what they bring to the national economic effort, these books reassure them — and it’s also the benevolent doctrine under which they rightly rule the world.

Of course we don’t agree with these sentiments.  But we do endorse wholeheartedly any notion of creativity for creativity’s sake is a vacuous and saccharine pursuit.  Our definition of creativity is always situational:  just like any other tool it’s point and purpose is to either make something or to fix something.  That we often feel good while being creative is a happy by-product.

Artistry is different.  Artistry can lend itself to creativity, but art exists to help us to see and feel and understand differently, and its prime objective we would say is to communicate, often leaving it open to its audience to choose what they do or do not do as a consequence.

That said, there is a great deal we can learn about creativity from artists.  Here are some of their voices in this week’s collection:

Creative Integrity from Calvin and Hobbes Creator Bill Watterson

by 

“The truth is, most of us discover where we are headed when we arrive.”

Watterson speaks to the importance of work ethic and grit — but, like Freud, he places playfulness at the epicenter of creativity:

If you ever want to find out just how uninteresting you really are, get a job where the quality and frequency of your thoughts determine your livelihood.  I’ve found that the only way I can keep writing every day, year after year, is to let my mind wander into new territories.  To do that, I’ve had to cultivate a kind of mental playfulness.

 Letting your mind play is the best way to solve problems.

A playful mind is inquisitive, and learning is fun.  If you indulge your natural curiosity and retain a sense of fun in new experience, I think you’ll find it functions as a sort of shock absorber for the bumpy road ahead.

Watterson stresses the vital difference between “having an enviable career” and “being a happy person,” admonishing about the “hedonic treadmill” of achievement:

Creating a life that reflects your values and satisfies your soul is a rare achievement. In a culture that relentlessly promotes avarice and excess as the good life, a person happy doing his own work is usually considered an eccentric, if not a subversive.  Ambition is only understood if it’s to rise to the top of some imaginary ladder of success.  Someone who takes an undemanding job because it affords him the time to pursue other interests and activities is considered a flake.  A person who abandons a career in order to stay home and raise children is considered not to be living up to his potential — as if a job title and salary are the sole measure of human worth.

You’ll be told in a hundred ways, some subtle and some not, to keep climbing, and never be satisfied with where you are, who you are, and what you’re doing.  There are a million ways to sell yourself out, and I guarantee you’ll hear about them.

To invent your own life’s meaning is not easy, but it’s still allowed, and I think you’ll be happier for the trouble.

He concludes by echoing Rilke:

Your preparation for the real world is not in the answers you’ve learned, but in the questions you’ve learned how to ask yourself.

Brain & Skeleton

Perhaps one of the most important characteristics of creativity – we believe even its defining characteristic – is its application for solving problems.  This is one of the points made by Arthur Miller in this video of a British Library seminar held in partnership with University College London Neuroscience on 18th April 2013.

Inspiring Science 2013: Your Creative Brain

This is a long (nearly 2 hour) watch, worth enjoying if you can make the time, but here are some chapter headings and their timing markers as a guide:

1’37”   Professor Vincent Walsh, Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL sets some quick creative tests to try, and then goes on to talk about the merits and limitations of MRI scanning for our understanding about creative brain activity.

5’46”   The Table, Blind Summit Theatre – an improvised performance made by a 3-person operated cardboard puppet illustrates a dazzling array of the creative complexities, synchronicity  and artistry we are capable of achieving and a real delight to watch.

30’11”   Arthur Miller, Emeritus Professor of History & Philosophy of Science, UCL and author of Einstein and Picasso talks about Creativity in Art and Creativity in Science:

‘We all have the capacity to be creative but what is it?  It can be defined quite easily as “to produce new knowledge from already existing knowledge”.  Creativity is essentially problem solving…it couldn’t be anything else…improved creativity helps us to solve problems better…’

57’09”   Chiara Ambrosio, Lecturer in History of Art & Science, UCL talks about Creativity and Constraint: How Do You Break Out Of Tradition? and illustrates her ideas with examples of how artists have redefined science in order to represent anatomy:

‘Sometimes creativity comes from frustration about wanting to do something else…’

1:10’23”  Milton Mermikides, Lecturer in Music, University of Surrey & Professor of Guitar, Royal Academy of Music, composer talks about creativity and music in his talk, The Myth of the Museillustrating his ideas with formulaic approaches to composing great music such as cryptograms, using the letters of a name (Bach) or a line drawing of the New York skyline (Villa-Lobos):

‘One of my favourite Stravinsky quotes is when he was asked how he composes, and he said “Well I go to the piano at 10am and I work til 1pm and then I go back from 2pm til 8pm and that’s my daily routine.”  “But maestro what if the muse doesn’t visit?”  “Well at least I kept my appointment.”  

‘The real-world muses are deadlines, money/non-poverty, promotion for better circumstance, and constraint – the limiting of those huge ideas…  

Creativity and inspiration are the result of a hard earned skill placed in the right circumstancecreativity requires training and enough obstacles.’

Anatomy Model

 

Uncommon Genius: Stephen Jay Gould On Why Connections Are The Key to Creativity

The importance of routine and sheer hard work is reiterated in a 1991 book, Uncommon Genius: How Great Ideas Are Born, rediscovered by   Maria Popova in her Brain Pickings.  This book is a synthesis of insights on creativity from conversations with 40 winners of the MacArthur “genius” grant — artists, writers, scientists, inventors, cultural critic.  It’s author, Denise Shekerjian writes in it:

There’s no use trying to deny it: a conscious application of raw talent, far more than luck or accident, is at the core of every creative moment. … The cultivation of aptitude, far more than coincidence or inspiration, is responsible for most creative breakthroughs…

The trick to creativity, if there is a single useful thing to say about it, is to identify your own peculiar talent and then to settle down to work with it for a good long time.  Everyone has an aptitude for something.  The trick is to recognize it, to honor it, to work with it.  This is where creativity starts.

One of the geniuses she features in this book is palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould, about whom Shekerjian writes:

Gould’s special talent, that rare git for seeing the connections between seemingly unrelated things, zinged to the heart of the matter. Without meaning to, he had zeroed in on the most popular of the manifold definitions of creativity: the idea of connecting two unrelated things in an efficient way.  The surprise we experience at such a linkage brings us up short and causes us to think, ‘Now that’s creative’…

Stephen Jay Gould’s talent for forging vital connections happens to go to the heart of creativity, but, even so, it’s a talent that wouldn’t amount to much if he didn’t work at it.  Endurance counts for a lot in cultivating talent to the point of being able to do creative things with it — endurance and a concentration of effort to a specific sphere of activity. As D. N. Perkins, another researcher in the field of creativity, put it:

Be creative in a context, for to try to be original everywhere, all at once, all the the time, is an exhausting proposition.

tree knot circles concentric pattern

The importance of hard work and working hard is emphasised again in another Brain Pickings article, this time underscoring the need for routine and being able to ritualise some aspects of our process.

The Pace of Productivity and How to Master Your Creative Routine

by 

“When you work regularly, inspiration strikes regularly.”

…there is something to be said for the value of a well-engineered daily routine to anchor the creative process. Manage Your Day-to-Day: Build Your Routine, Find Your Focus, and Sharpen Your Creative Mind, edited by Behance’s 99U editor-in-chief Jocelyn Glei and featuring contributions from twenty of today’s most celebrated thinkers and doers, delves into the secrets of this holy grail of creativity.

In the foreword to the book, Behance founder Scott Belsky, author of the indispensable Making Ideas Happen, points to “reactionary workflow” — our tendency to respond to requests and other stimuli rather than create meaningful work — as today’s biggest problem and propounds a call to arms:

‘Only by taking charge of your day-to-day can you truly make an impact in what matters most to you.  I urge you to build a better routine by stepping outside of it, find your focus by rising above the constant cacophony, and sharpen your creative prowess by analyzing what really matters most when it comes to making your ideas happen.’

And in this next article, B. Jeffrey Madoff offers similar advice about the importance of perseverance.  :

Creativity: Making a Living With Your Ideas

Anyone pursuing a creative career should realize it’s a job.  A fun job.  However, discipline is essential and like an athlete, dancer, film maker or musician, practice and challenge yourself constantly to get better.  Although I make my living as a film maker, I teach a class I developed about entrepreneurship called “Creativity: Making a Living With Your Ideas” at Parsons School for Design in New York City.

Making a living with your creativity is a tough, but it’s tougher going through life doing something you don’t like.  Passion is the fuel that propels talent, but you need the perseverance to deal with the hustle & the rejection.  Creativity is the passion to affect change.  Passion is internal.  Follow your passion.

We, too, fully recognise the importance of perseverance in our creativity training work.

It is part of a set of skills linked to being Persistent, which is one of our adapted set of 5 Essential Essential Capbilities for Creativity that we have recently updated taking a lead from the the prototype of 5 Dispositions for Creativity being developed by the OECD for assessing creativity in schools.

Here is our adapted full set of 5 Essential Essential Capbilities for Creativity:

being Imaginative 

~ asking “What if…?”

  • divergent thinking & playing with possibilities
  • making connections
  • using intuition & instinct
  • using unconscious thinking, day dreaming
  • embodying: showing rather than telling

 being Curious 

~ asking “What else…?”

  • wondering & questioning
  • exploring & investigating, generating multiple possibilities
  • challenging assumptions
  • shifting perspective & looking for the unexpected
  • experimenting & taking risks

being Persistent

~ asking “Why is this necessary…?”

  • resilience, passion & determination
  • tolerating uncertainty
  • perseverance & sticking with difficulty
  • original thinking & daring to be different
  • facing fears and taking action

being Collaborative

~ asking “Who can I work with…?”

  • empathy, listening & noticing deeply
  • enjoying complexity, seeking difference & diversity
  • making a shared vision
  • collectively growing ideas & possibilities
  • dialogue, problem solving & sharing ‘not knowing’

 

being Disciplined

~ asking “How can I make this better…?”

  • reflecting critically
  • learning, practicing, developing techniques & expertise
  • crafting & improving
  • improvising
  • keeping balanced

Creativity & Self-Mastery

Office Worker with Mountain of Paperwork

Remembering that creativity is a skill, and, so its various theories and ideas are only helpful to us up to a point, we have also collected a number of articles with real down-to-earth practical guidelines.

Phil McKinney offers these practical tips:

8 Simple Steps To Be More Creative

So you want to be more creative?

It may not be as hard as it sounds. Like so many other things in life, there are steps you take to train your creative muscle.

  1. Want it.  Teach yourself to be original, rather than continuing in any kind of “same old” routine…
  2. Motivate yourself.  Take another look at the suggestions in Step #1, and follow those suggestions consistently and with some degree of self-discipline…
  3. Stimulate your brain.  There are several ways to make this happen.  One way is to learn something new…
  4. Rub shoulders with people who are creative.  You might learn some things about them that you can use yourself to become more creative…
  5. Be part of a team.  You’ll get perspectives, feedback, and ideas you would never have conjured up on your own …
  6. Have some self-confidence.  Remember, “can’t” is a four-letter word.  If you don’t believe in yourself, then it’s likely that you won’t ever be creative or successful…
  7. Be happy.  Research shows that positive emotion enhances creativity.  This point might be difficult to follow if you are under a lot of pressure or emotional stress.  If that’s the case, then … strive to ensure that happy thoughts are predominant in your mind, rather than worrisome or sorrowful thoughts…
  8. Down time.  There’s been a lot covered about diligence, perseverance, and commitment.  But it’s also important to remember to take some down time.  Sometimes, the brain just needs to step away from the problem before the light bulb goes off…

Leading the way

7 Ways To Spark Your Creativity Without Leaving the City

 suggests this list – see his article to find out what he means and why these suggestions increase our creativity:

1).  Get lost.  On purpose.

2).  Break your routine.

3).  Challenge your creativity.

4).  Remove boring people and boring things from your life.

5).  Bring awesome people together. 

6).  Collect people, not things.

7.) Get emotional. 

In this next article,  outlines some practical techniques for overcoming self-doubt…

When Your Inner Critic Stifles Your Creativity: 4 Helpful Truths

We live in an artistically enriched country.  The world is already full of all kinds of music, so much art, and so many books.  With the Internet, you can experience art’s many forms at the click of a mouse.

In my heart, I am an artist.  Ever since I was a young girl, I have loved creating artwork.  Writing stories, drawing illustrations, playing the piano, painting, sculpting…

The unfortunate thing is that I am paralyzed—not in the medical sense. I have working limbs, imagination, training, experience, and the resources to “actualize my potential” as an artist. The thing I lack is confidence.

I am crippled by my own self-doubt…

And Drake Baer suggests some ways to learn and practice patience and how this can fire our creativity:

Hone ‘Strategic Patience,’ Watch Your Creativity Spike

Look at this picture for as long as you can – what more do you see in this it the longer you look?

An Art History Professor makes her students sit in front of a painting for three hours.  

P&G invents the Swiffer.  

Those events are more alike than you think….

Deep patience. Close attention. These are not virtues often associated with college students (or some tech workers, for that matter). But as Harvard art history professor Jennifer L. Roberts recently explained, the skills for finding the “details, relationships, and orders that take time to see” can be introduced.

She calls it “decelerating education,” like when, for an intense research paper about a single work of art, she prompted her pupils to plop down in front of a painting for three hours, giving them a stillness they don’t usually get in a multi-tabbed way of life.

(It’s) designed to seem excessive,” she says, but students end up “astonished by what they have been able to see.”

…acute, focused observation births creativity.  And innovation often begins with observation…

Patience, then, is a kind of appreciation:  In the same way that a gourmet can savor the flavors of a dish and reverse-engineer its preparation, the patience-practicing, insight-seeking observer becomes familiar with the subject of her study, whether canvases or customers – and, in so doing, can begin to know their needs.

Woman washing up

All I Need To Know About Creativity I Learned From Washing Dishes

Heather Caliri, writer and blogger at A Little Yes provides a very practical everyday life application of creativity and challenges us to see its wider possibilities:

Doubt that dishwashing has much to teach about handicrafts, starting a small business, or using your imagination?  Think again.

The truth is, the more we rescue “creativity” from the clouds and make it an everyday habit, the more creative we are.  Like any other skill, creative projects take practice, perseverance, and a big helping of grit.

We often look on creativity as a nice add-on for some people: perhaps a profession if you’re specially gifted, or an enviable hobby if you’re above-average.  But the truth is we’ve all been given a creative drive, and we’re all called to use it.  Making a daily practice of the things that give you joy will make your whole life sparkle.

Here’s what time at the sink has taught me about creativity…

Creativity & Resilience

 

Phil Hansen: Embrace the Shake (TedTalk)

Inspirational and relevant, Phil Hansen shares some of the ways he has responded to his own limitations and uses these constraints to fuel his artistry…

In art school, Phil Hansen developed an unruly tremor in his hand that kept him from creating the pointillist drawings he loved. Hansen was devastated, floating without a sense of purpose.  Until a neurologist made a simple suggestion: embrace this limitation … and transcend it.

Taking a cue from his own artistic journey, Phil Hansen challenges us to spark our creativity by thinking inside the box…

‘After having gone from a single approach to art I ended up having an approach to creativity that completely changed my artistic horizons – embracing my limitations could actually drive creativity…  We need to first become limited in order to become limitless…

“Learning to be creative within the confines of our limitations is the best hope we have to transform ourselves, and, collectively, transform our world…’

The power of the arts and creativity to transform our lives and our world is so clear to those of us who already believe in it.  But if you are not yet convinced, here is still more evidence for why the arts matter:

Oklahoma’s lessons for teaching creativity. Hint: don’t kill the arts

Erin Millar writes:

For a long time, Susan McCalmont has worried about the marginalization of the arts in schools. As she saw it, music and fine arts were shoved aside as a result of prioritizing science and math. The focus on outcomes as defined by standardized tests only made the problem worse.

“What happens in the future if our children only become compliant test takers?” she wondered. “What if they go through school told to get the highest GPA and go to college, but not to imagine, to think, to have ideas?”

…Ms. McCalmont and a group of like-minded leaders launched Creative Oklahoma in 2007, a non-profit dedicated to increasing creativity in Oklahoma. In consultation with Sir Ken Robinson, the group began organizing initiatives and conferences aimed at bringing leaders from education, cultural and business together to boost the creative economy and innovation in general in the region.

The end goal,” explains Ms. McCalmont, “is economic prosperity in the state and more jobs and startups, as well as helping existing businesses to improve the quality of their products. But fundamentally, it’s to improve our quality of life.”

Artistry

Artists as much as the rest of us use creativity to solve problems and express their solutions.  Some of the examples you will find in his week’s collection include:

Steve McCurry’s Blog: Just A Moment

Any time you feel the stress mounting or the fatigue seeping through you, we can think of no better antidote than to go to Steve McCurry’s site and get a lift from what you will find there.  This week Steve McCurry celebrates and draws us in to contemplate the importance of the here-and-now moment, and, as he always does, makes poetry with his photographs:

Life is not made up of minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, or years, but of moments.
– Sarah Breathnach

Wellbeing

Young Couple with Two Children (8-12) Walking on the Beach

This week’s top happiness story comes from new research with 1,000 families that shows having relaxed time to enjoy being with our loved ones is more important to our happiness than any luxury product or material possession:

Parenting News: Quality Family Time beats Money and Career in Quest for Happiness

A family day out was rated one of life’s biggest luxuries, followed by dining out with the family, and spending quality time together.

For deeper and further exploration into the wonders and workings of creativity, here is a handy book list:

10 Books We Love on Art and Creativity

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

Happiness At Work #46 – some highlights from this collection

Here are some of our top stories and ideas from this week’s latest Happiness At Work #46

10 Keys To Happiness (infographic)

10-keys-to-happiness_518dd6750678b

Facts About Happiness That May Surprise You

  • You have to earn 2.5x as much money to be as happy working for someone else as you would be working for yourself…
  • Greater rewards mean less motivation and poorer performance:  “Researchers have found that people are sometimes happier and more effective when they do a task for no money at all than when they receive a small payment…
  • Happy people are lucky:  Lucky people tend to focus on the positive side of their ill fortune. They imagine how things could have been worse…
  • Happiness is not a destination:  I will be happy when I’m married, have more money, or move to a new location. This is what we tell ourselves.  But according to Web MD, achieving these milestones account for only about 10% of your whole happiness picture. “Lasting happiness has more to do with how you behave and think — things you control — than with many of life’s circumstances.

Mattieu Ricard: Happiness Is A Skill

An interview with the man purported to be the happiest man in the world…

If we think of happiness as a way of being, as something that represents a state of flourishing, of fulfillment, of a well-being that endures through all events in life, even all different kinds of emotions and mental states, something that gives you the inner resources to deal with whatever comes your way—pleasant, unpleasant circumstances, helpful circumstances, adverse circumstances—something that gives you some kind of platform or way of being that’s behind all that, and that gives you the resources to deal with all that. So then if it’s something that pervasive, then it’s not something that is so personal that it’s incommunicable with others.

I think it comes with a cluster of qualities. There is no such thing as “happiness” as an isolated quality or skill. It is a skill, but it is a skill that has many components, and each of those components are constructive ways of being, like altruism or benevolence, compassion, inner peace, inner strength, inner freedom. [It is] the sense of freedom from being carried away by all sorts of wild chain reactions of thoughts due to craving, or hatred, or all that. It is the real freedom to maintain your inner peace. All of those together make a way of being that I think characterizes authentic happiness.

It is a skill, because each of those factors, like altruistic love, can be cultivated, a greater inner strength can be cultivated. There are ways to cultivate the skills to be free from being overwhelmed by afflictive emotions. You could say that all of those combined make a general skill, a resulting skill that is authentic well-being or happiness.

labrador river

How Well Do You Know Yourself? Take This Quiz

A key–perhaps the key–to a happy life is self-knowledge.

Here is a list of questions from Gretchen Rubin meant to help you think about yourself, your daily habits, your nature, and your interests. There are no right or wrong answers; they’re fodder for reflection…

Living Your Best Life: Things You Should Do To Be Happy

new UK study that asked 2000 people to nominate the top 50 things that contribute to a full life.

Guess what? Making lots of money wasn’t on the list. Neither was owning a house, buying a car, paying bills or any of the other stuff that many of seem to spend our days obsessing about.

But passionately kissing a random stranger was up there, as was having a one night stand and trying as many foods as possible. Although, not necessarily at the same time.

Write them down and they seem perfectly obvious, so why are so many of us left confused about happiness.
Life coach Shannah Kennedy blames modern life.

Clients come to me saying they feel unfulfilled all the time. Even though they are doing all the right things in order to feel fulfilled,” she said.  “The problem is that we don’t ever make time to sit down and process everything we are doing. Our achievements just pass us by.”

Two businessmen jumping and celebrating on the beach

6 Ways To Build A More Positive Workplace

You may think you lack the resources to affect levels of happiness and success within your workplace, but you have more ability to do so than you might have ever imagined. Research in the area of positive psychology has revealed the inherent power of a positive mind set has far-reaching potential to enhance not only psychological well-being, but the achievement of valued performance outcomes.

As a theory, positive psychology explores what is “right” within our lives—emphasizing the role of positive experience to help us “broaden and build” our psychological power base. For more information on this subject, read the work of Barbara L. Fredrickson. Research has shown that building four key psychological resources, hope, self-efficacy, resilience and optimism (or HERO), can influence how we approach our daily work lives. These resources, which form the construct of psychological capital, can be integral in affecting our behavior. Developing them can help us to effectively meet and master challenge in the workplace.

Traditionally we might believe the external manifestations of career success (promotions, title or salary) bring us work-life happiness, but in fact, the reverse mechanism may be operating. First enhancing your overall happiness quotient can actually help you to learn, excel and capture success.

Taking an active role to encourage a more positive workplace can prove to be a worthy investment of time and energy. Keep in mind, it only requires a single person to provide the “spark” to start the movement toward change within your environment. Take a moment to take stock of your own psychological resources and those of others around you. Do you have the strength to meet the challenges that lay before you at work? Do you feel confident and hopeful? How about your team?

Here are a few ideas to encourage positivity…

two sparkplugs together

Shawn Achor and Sonia Lyubomirsky on Happiness

By exploring Achor’s and Lyubomirsky’s contributions, various considerations emerge:

  • We are quintessentially emotional (not merely rationale) animals.
  • Our mindsets determine how we experience reality.
  • We focus and cope with the reality we experience, which requires timing, variation, motivation, effort and commitment.
  • We are creatures of habit.
  • We are social animals.
  • Positive emotions fuel performance.

Advice for Living

The marvellous  posted this story in her Brain Pickings:

Make Good Art: Neil Gaiman’s Advice on the Creative Life, Adapted by Design Legend Chip Kidd

“Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before.”

Commencement season is upon us and, after Greil Marcus’s soul-stirring speech on the essence of art at the 2013 School of Visual Arts graduation ceremony, here comes an exceptional adaptation of one of the best commencement addresses ever delivered: In May of 2012, beloved author Neil Gaiman stood up in front of the graduating class at Philadelphia’s University of the Arts and dispensed some timeless advice on the creative life; now, his talk comes to life as a slim but potent book titled Make Good Art

When things get tough, this is what you should do: Make good art.

I’m serious.

Husband runs off with a politician — make good art. Leg crushed and then eaten by a mutated boa constrictor — make good art. IRS on your trail — make good art. Cat exploded — make good art. Someone on the Internet thinks what you’re doing is stupid or evil or it’s all been done before — make good art.

Probably things will work out somehow, eventually time will take the sting away, and that doesn’t even matter. Do what only you can do best: Make good art. Make it on the bad days, make it on the good days, too.

So About This Happiness Thing Everyone’s Talking About

Happiness is to everyday humans what dark matter is to physicists. You know it’s out there, you know it’s important, but you can’t put your finger on how to get to it or what it even is.

We tend to perceive happiness as a binary existence—either it’s true or false; it’s either 100% or 0%. 

Well, happiness has a language problem.

If you know Spanish, it’s like the difference between the verbs Estar and Ser. They both mean “to be” but not in the same way. One is a temporary state; the other is an identity. You can be both hungry and tall, but only one changes by the minute.

So, feeling happy and being happy are two colossally different things. One is happiness; the other is Happiness.

Mistaking happiness for Happiness is like trying to get one side of a Rubix cube done but neglecting the rest. It’s not that the one side is worthless, it’s just that there is more to the puzzle.

happiness vs. Happiness

happiness is the big smiles
Happiness is the little things

happiness is your outward mood
Happiness is your silent disposition

happiness is the raise you get
Happiness is the impact you have

happiness is an on/off switch
Happiness is on a dimmer switch

happiness is the found acorn the squirrel eats in the fall
Happiness is the stored acorn the squirrel eats in the winter

happiness is the nice things people say about you to your face
Happiness is the nice things people say about you when you’re not there

happiness is when you get what you expect
Happiness is when you get respect

happiness is what takes your breath away
Happiness is what no one can ever take away from you

happiness is the moment
Happiness is the story

You don’t need to feel happy to be Happy.
You don’t need to be Happy to feel happy.

sugar and slopes

Tips for Achieving Greater Happiness

It makes us glad to be alive and scientists say it has the power to heal and extend life. But it’s elusive.

“Happiness is as invisible as electricity and just as powerful,” says Lois Blyth, author of The Secrets Of Happiness: How To Love Life, Laugh More, And Live Longer (Cico books).

“The difficult bit for some people is choosing to step away from unhappiness and deciding wholeheartedly, and with total commitment, that happiness is something that they really do want — and that they deserve. The challenge for others is choosing to step out of the place of comfort and familiarity, and to start experiencing new challenges that inspire them to live their life in a different and vibrant way.”

Her guidelines include:

  • Sensing Happiness…
  • Think Like a Lottery Winner…
  • Face the Fear…
  • Healing Hugs…
  • Reset your Grumble Reflex…
  • and Don’t Delay…

Are You An Input Junkie?

As of 2012 the average attention span in 2012 was 8 seconds according to the Associated Press.  That is 3 seconds less than reported in 2000 – a 25% decline.

It is now official that our attention span is LESS than the attention span of a goldfish!

Goldfish in fishbowl

I heard this statistic while listening to Sally Hogsheadtalk about the subject of Fascination and how we can capture that limited attention span.  While as a business owner I continue to work hard to learn how to capture people’s attention so I have the opportunity to actually make a difference with them, I couldn’t help but think about the implications of this alarming statistic for my life.

We are bombarded daily with a staggering amount of information.  If I printed my daily e-mails for a month I would probably be classified as a hoarder. Sure there are the spammers, but most of that information I have invited into my inbox in one way or another. There is literally a stack of books on my nightstand (and in my Kindle reader) that seems to grow much faster than it shrinks.

Truth be told I love all that input, including my beloved social media streams, most especially twitter.

 But is it really a problem?

Said more personally, do I have a problem?

Trying To Be Happier Works When Listening To Upbeat Music

The song, “Get Happy,” famously performed by Judy Garland, has encouraged people to improve their mood for decades. Recent research at the University of Missouri discovered that an individual can indeed successfully try to be happier, especially when cheery music aids the process. This research points to ways that people can actively improve their moods and corroborates earlier MU research.

Our work provides support for what many people already do – listen to music to improve their moods,” said lead author Yuna Ferguson, who performed the study while she was an MU doctoral student in psychological science. “Although pursuing personal happiness may be thought of as a self-centered venture, research suggests that happiness relates to a higher probability of socially beneficial behavior, better physical health, higher income and greater relationship satisfaction.”

Woman Listening to Headphones

Sad Music Can Help Mend A Broken Heart

New research suggest an aesthetic experience that reflects a person’s mood can help calm emotional turmoil. Thus, sad music or books may help someone get through heartbreak.

“Emotional experiences of aesthetic products are important to our happiness and well-being. Music, movies, paintings, or novels that are compatible with our current mood and feelings, akin to an empathic friend, are more appreciated when we experience broken or failing relationships,” write the study authors.

Prior research has reported that individuals in a negative mood prefer pleasant, positive aesthetic experiences (cheerful music, or comedies) to counter their negative feelings.

However, under certain circumstances, consumers in negative moods might choose aesthetic experiences consistent with their mood (sad music, or tear-jerking dramas) even when more pleasant alternatives are also available.

Little Joy To Be Had Chasing Happiness

Hugh Mackay - The Good Life

Hugh Mackay’s bestselling book, The Good Life: What Makes a Life Worth Living?, was prompted by his concern at the trend towards people believing they are entitled to happiness.

”We have been through gender revolution, IT revolution, cultural revolution, threat of global warming and the threat of international terrorism.

”When we feel as though everything is changing too fast we look for stuff we can control and that leads us to think ‘I am going to have the best life I can’.

”But the pursuit of happiness does more harm than good – it sells us a rather shallow and hollow idea, that if we work hard enough at it we can feel happy.”

The Good Life is all about engagement, and the idea that as social creatures we do better when we think of ourselves being socially engaged, rather than obsessing about ourselves and what emotional state we happen to be in.

Couple Working in Homeless Shelter

Community and Wellbeing Away From Home

They say it takes a village. This well-worn expression comes up again and again and its message is straightforward: our social connections and communities matter. They make us feel grounded and supported and, quite frankly, they make life both easier and better. Anyone who has moved somewhere new and has had to move a mattress up three flights of stairs without knowing anyone to call for help, knows how true this is. In other words, social connections make for a better life.

American author and explorer Dan Buettner studies what he calls “blue zones”. He coined the term to refer to regions in the world where people live the longest. Immortality, or at least longevity, has always been both an object of fascination and a popular objective. How to live longer? What to eat? What not to eat? Ikaria, a Greek island, is a blue zone. Buettner has closely studied the island’s population of nearly centenarians, what they eat, how much they drink and sleep and socialize. His findings further support the notion that community and social structure matter.

None of these blue zones have discovered the fountain of youth; instead, they demonstrate the importance of having both a raison d’être and a community. In Ikaria, Buettner says,   even if someone is antisocial, they will never be alone. That person’s neighbors will always give a light push to get that neighbor out and to the local festival to get a share of the feast.

Tiny Bhutan Redefines Progress as the Level of Happiness

In July 2011, Bhutan introduced the only resolution it has ever presented at the United Nations. Resolution 65/309 was called “Happiness: towards a holistic approach to development.” The country’s position was “that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal” and “that the gross domestic product…does not adequately reflect the happiness and well-being of people.” The General Assembly passed the resolution unanimously. It was “intended as a landmark step towards adoption of a new global sustainability-based economic paradigm for human happiness and well-being of all life forms to replace the current dysfunctional system that is based on the unsustainable premise of limitless growth on a finite planet.”

The Bhutanese understand that well-being and happiness depend on a healthy environment. They vow to protect 60% of forest cover in their country, are already carbon-neutral (they generate electricity from hydro) and have vowed to make their entire agriculture sector organic. They have snow leopards, elephants, rhinos, tigers and valleys of tree-sized rhododendrons — and know their happiness depends on protecting them.

The people of this tiny nation see that money and hyper-consumption aren’t what contribute to happiness and wellbeing.

opposites facing out - shadow professionals

Leadership

The Duality of Leadership

Lolly DaskalLead From Within writes:

In life and in leadership, we are constantly dealing with duality.

To learn, we need to be curious.  

To lead, we need to have followers.

To be strong, we need to be vulnerable.

To give, we need to receive.

As twenty-first century leaders, we need to understand that we are moving toward a NEW ethic, one that is built on duality.

In the OLD way of thinking, we based our leadership on a set of shared values and principles aimed at achieving moral perfection while maintaining social order and well being.

What got left behind in the old approach are the things that we are coming to value and seek out in the NEW: authenticity, vulnerability, unity.

The old approach was built on the duality of contradictory opposites. In or out. Black or white. Right or wrong. We divided things, labeled them, decided their value.

In the new ethics of leadership opposites are about reconciling.

The foundation is a concept of opposites that are contrary but not contradictory, that exist as points on a spectrum—not black and white, but darkness AND light.

Instead of choosing one and rejecting the other, we accept both, we live with both, we seek to know both…

The Mongrel Discipline of Management

 This theme also runs through David K. Hurst’s post in the Harvard Business Review Network Blog:

Humans engage with their world in two reciprocal ways: firstly as passionate participants and secondly as detached observers. As managers we cycle between these modes constantly. It’s the mark of a great manager to be able to judge, in a complex situation, when and how to use each of them.

The reality of organizations is that they are both social and technical systems, comprising both people and things. And they have twin tasks to attend to — the pursuit of “today’s business” and the creation of “tomorrow’s business”. The first task is usually more technical and the second is more social, but it’s always “both…and” and never “either/or”. The key to good management, then, is never to forget this duality; it is using both modes of engagement in dynamic situations, where our means are always threatening to run away with our ends.

One frequently finds complex human systems lumped together with inanimate ones (like the weather!) and the position of the detached observer is still privileged. This violates one of the few certainties in managing human organizations: that the blurring of task and person marks the road to ruin. The two must be kept distinct, yet joined. The role of the passionate participant must always embrace that of the intellectual spectator. The “who” and “why” of our concerns should constantly enfold the “what” and “how” of our methods. We must seek explanations, but only in the perpetual pursuit of meaning.

With maturity, a person gains the ability to detach from passionate participation in a system and rigorously observe its overall shape and workings. But the most detached observers do not make the best managers; the wise ones know that after all the analysis is done, they still have to throw themselves back into the mix. We need a hybrid vigor for our mongrel discipline of management: one that draws its energy from both the ways we engage with our complex world.

opposites leaning in - shadow professionals

Resilience

Kayaking

From White Knuckling It to Letting Go: My 5 Tips for Alleviating Anxiety

How to Live in the Present Moment

We can think of our anxious thoughts as if our mind were running on a hamster wheel. Round and round it goes, and the harder we try to fight the thoughts, the faster our mind races. Every time we try to stop our anxiety, we draw attention to it and spin the wheel faster and faster. If you’re experiencing a panic attack, trying to stop it will often make it seem that much worse. How do you get off the wheel? You stop running.

Matt Rosenman gives his top five ways that he has found work to help you live in the present moment and stop worrying…

Depression Part 2

Artist Allie Brosh is back with the second installment in her poignant illustrated account of what depression actually feels like:

As I grew older, it became harder and harder to access that expansive imaginary space that made my toys fun. I remember looking at them and feeling sort of frustrated and confused that things weren’t the same.

I played out all the same story lines that had been fun before, but the meaning had disappeared. Horse’s Big Space Adventure transformed into holding a plastic horse in the air, hoping it would somehow be enjoyable for me. Prehistoric Crazy-Bus Death Ride was just smashing a toy bus full of dinosaurs into the wall while feeling sort of bored and unfulfilled.  I could no longer connect to my toys in a way that allowed me to participate in the experience.

Depression feels almost exactly like that, except about everything…

How Gratitude Can Help You Through the Bad Times

Being grateful is a choice, a prevailing attitude that endures and is relatively immune to the gains and losses that flow in and out of our lives. When disaster strikes, gratitude provides a perspective from which we can view life in its entirety and not be overwhelmed by temporary circumstances. Yes, this perspective is hard to achieve—but my research says it is worth the effort.

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Artistry

Steve McCurry’s Blog: Grief, Grind & Glory of Work

Sensational photos as always from Steve McCurry telling different stories of work, too many of them more of intense unhappiness than joy…

Whether it is men fishing,  nuns washing dishes, miners digging beneath the earth, or working in the heat of a steel mill, work is universal, yet intensely personal. Millions work in order to survive, and for them, there is no debate about how to achieve a life/work balance.  

Working for long periods under extreme stressful work conditions can lead to
sudden death, a phenomenon the Japanese call karoshi. The word in China is guolaosi.

Many find their identity in the work they do. Some enjoy intense satisfaction in their work.
For others, the line between work and play is hard to find.

All happiness depends on courage and work.  

Honore de Balzac

old large gears

10 of the Best Hand~Drawn Maps – in pictures

Hand-drawn maps are enjoying a renaissance as contemporary artists use their imagination, creativity and humour to breathe new life into the traditional craft of cartography. Here are 10 of the best…

Why Hand-Drawn Maps Are Back in The Picture

“Maps and memories are bound together; a little as songs and love affairs are,” writes Adam Gopnik in the preface to newly-released picture book Mapping Manhattan. “The map is a stronger version of the trip than a video might be; it is almost a stronger version of the trip than the trip is. I look at the subway map of New York, see the dull line of numbers – 33, 42, 51, 59 – and they fill you at once with memory. Maps, especially schematic ones, are places where memories go not to die, or be pinned, but to live forever.

Argument With Myself

Mike Jay reviews Permanent Present Tense: The Man with No Memory, and What He Taught the World by Suzanne Corkin

Permanent Present Tense by Suzanne Corkin

A long but fascinating story about the nature of memory based on neuroscientist Corkin years of study of as lead investigator and ‘sole keeper’ of famous amnesia patient, Henry Gustave Molaison…

Memory creates our identity, but it also exposes the illusion of a coherent self: a memory is not a thing but an act that alters and rearranges even as it retrieves. Although some of its operations can be trained to an astonishing pitch, most take place autonomously, beyond the reach of the conscious mind. As we age, it distorts and foreshortens: present experience becomes harder to impress on the mind, and the long-forgotten past seems to draw closer; University Challenge gets easier, remembering what you came downstairs for gets harder. Yet if we were somehow to freeze our memory at the youthful peak of its powers, around our late twenties, we would not create a polished version of ourselves analogous to a youthful body, but an early, scrappy draft composed of childhood memories and school-learning, barely recognisable to our older selves.

Henry had occasional episodes of frustration, anger or panic, but was usually good-natured and accepting of the scene around him. In many respects he displayed the serenity and detachment promised by the Buddhist ideal of living in the now, freed from regrets about the past or anxieties for the future. He was certainly more content than his most extreme opposite, Solomon Shereshevsky, the subject of A.R. Luria’s The Mind of a Mnemonist. Shereshevsky’s inability to forget became a life-destroying torment. ‘The trail of memory can feel like a heavy chain,’ Corkin observes, ‘keeping us locked into the identities we have created for ourselves.’ Henry was, by contrast, ‘free from the moorings that keep us anchored in time’...

Happiness At Work #45 ~ some highlights from this week’s collection

Happy People

Happiness At Work Edition 45 of 10th May 2013

This collection features a number of stories about smiling and laughter – why it’s good for us, how we can smile more, and looking through Steve McCurry’s latest pictures featuring people smiling we think is guaranteed to bring your own smiles out:

Steve McCurry’s Blog: The Universal Language

Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but
sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

Just see how many of these of his pictures you can look at without smiling yourself…

Businesspeople Laughing in Meeting

Insights from Brené Brown, Cal Newport, Gretchen Rubin & more at the 2013 99U Conference

Embrace vulnerability.  Stop chasing a passion.  Cultivate a “get better” (rather than a “be good”) mindset.  That’s just a taste of the counter-intuitive insights on idea execution that were shared last week at the 2013 99U Conference, presented by GE.

Researcher and writer Brené Brown dug into the vulnerability inherent in the creative process by sharing a bit of personal experience. After her TED talk went viral, the negative comments started to affect her process until a Theodore Roosevelt quote changed her entire perspective: “It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena.” …

When everyone else heard Steve Jobs’ now-legendary commencement address at Stanford in 2005, the common takeaway was that we should “follow our passion.” But writer, computer scientist, and professor Cal Newport argues that following your passion isn’t actually the path to happiness…

Tony Schwartz began with the question, “How do we solve what feel like are impossible problems?” (e.g. world hunger, climate change, poverty). He believes that these big, nagging problems will never be solved by a single approach; instead, we must embrace a more holistic way of viewing the world and the creative process. On a practical level this means training ourselves to strategically switch between right-brain and left-brain thinking when problem solving…

Whether it’s going to the gym, making time for passion projects, or quitting your email addiction, we’re always trying to make and break new habits. Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, explains that determination alone won’t get the job done — the key to success is having insight into your own nature before going after a goal…

For Tina Seelig, bringing ideas to life is all about reframing perspective. As executive director for the Standford Technology Ventures Program and author ofinGenius: A Crash Course on Creativity, she helps entrepreneurs challenge assumptions and use an “Innovation Engine” to reframe a problem and boost imagination…

Upon reading story after story about geniuses, prodigies, and other successful people, Heidi Grant Halvorson found herself noticing that people in the U.S. tend to attribute failure and success not to controllable factors such as work ethic, but rather to innate ability or talent. She walked attendees through a series of studies and experiments that show how powerful your perspective can be in pushing toward success…

Happiness Is Up To You, Authors Say

Tal Ben-Shahar, a well-known author and professor, was one of the influential figures who brought the concept of embracing optimism into the mainstream. His class on positive psychology at Harvard University has been wildly popular, attracting national attention.

But even Ben-Shahar, who has a doctorate in organizational behavior from Harvard, hit a wall recently. Demands for his happiness seminars had skyrocketed over the last 10 years as the economy tanked and more clients ended up in crisis. After what he termed an exhausting year, the sage of happy described himself as worn out, burned out and unhappy.

So, the man who had written “Happier” and other popular books decided to write yet another book.

This time, he went beyond concepts of positive psychology, giving readers of his new book an easy-to-follow road map to a life of contentment. He based his latest writing on the idea that the small choices we make day in and day out have a big impact on our overall happiness…

Tal Ben-Shahir - Choose the Life You Want

Kahneman and Bentham’s Bucket of Happiness

Daniel Kahneman, who has plausibly been called the “most important psychologist alive today,” has spent a decade experimenting with “hedonimetrics,” which analyzes “single happiness values” assigned to each moments felt pleasure or pain. Commendably candid, he concludes: “we have learned many new facts about happiness. But we have also learned that the word happiness does not have a simple meaning and should not be used as if it does. Sometimes scientific progress leaves us more puzzled.” Despite eons of thinking, happiness has become a low-resolution word, unhelpful in seeing useful distinctions.

It’s time we pulled happiness out of Bentham’s befuddling bucket, which seems of dubious utility. Biological realities require restraining the maximization of pleasure within healthy limits. We’d feel better if our sovereign minds pursued healthier happiness rather than the heedlessly hedonistic sort.

Yellow Flowers in Bucket

Rick Hanson on the Neuroscience of Happiness (podcast)

The best-selling author and psychologist discusses how we can literally re-wire our brains to cultivate positive emotions, inner peace, and lasting happiness…

Buddha's Brain

Mindfulness

10 Reasons Why Meditation Is America’s New Push-Up for the Brain

The push-up is an incredible tool to help you get in great physical shape; that’s why it’s used in almost every gym in America. With all the scientific evidence pointing to mindfulness meditation, the practice is literally becoming America’s next push-up for the brain.

Here are 10 reasons why you should do the practice…

Office Worker Meditating at Work

3 Simple Ways to Enter the Present

The calm of the present moment is always available and getting to it is deceptively simple.

In fact, it is more complicated to escape the present moment than to be in it.

The problem is, we are naturally complicated!

We learn early in life to avoid the simplicity of the moment and live inside an entangled mind-mess.

So, back to basics!  Listen.  See.  Feel.

We connect to the present moment through our five senses. In this article, we’ll review simple ways to use three of your senses to sweep away the mind-mess and just be present. No drama. Just present.

The trick is to avoid making meaning. When you make meaning, you must go inside your mind. It is so easy at that point to make meaning that is emotionally upsetting.

All of us need a break from the internal commotion…

water dropping into pool

Resilience

Career Advice: Give

Givers focus on others, takers on themselves, and matchers care most about fairness. Studies show that most professional success, not just satisfaction, goes to givers.

Only 8% of people describe themselves as givers at work. That’s because most people think it’s safer to operate like a taker or matcher at work; givers, they think, are chumps who will fall behind in the game of life.

Adam Grant explodes that myth in his book, Give and Take, showing that givers are among the most successful people in business. They may also be the happiest. “There is powerful evidence,” Grant tells me “that givers experience more meaning in their work than takers or matchers.”

This is important considering that Americans spend most of their waking hours — most of their lives — at work. The average American man works 8.4 hours per day and the average American woman works 7.7 hours a day. How they feel in those hours is a major determinant of their well-being. But, according to the American Psychological Association, nearly 70 percent of Americans cite work as a major source of stress in their lives and four out of ten say that they experience stress at work on a daily basis. One report indicates that over half of working Americans are unsatisfied and unhappy with their jobs. The top person people don’t like being around is, according to the National Time Use survey, their boss. Bosses and work seem to be significant sources of unhappiness for many people.

When people are stressed out, their first instinct is to protect themselves — or to retreat into a taker mentality. But operating like a giver may actually be more effective in buffering against stress and enhancing well-being. On its face, this is counter-intuitive. Time is a scarce resource, especially for people who are stressed. Being a giver involves taking time away from yourself to help someone else. This could seemingly aggravate stress levels, but it actually alleviates them…

giving a daffodil

7 Tips for making Other People Feel Smart and Insightful

We all want to get along well with other people, and one way to do this is to help people feel good about themselves. If you make a person feel smart and insightful, that person will enjoy your company. The point is not to be manipulative, but to help other people feel good about their contributions to a conversation.

Here are some suggestions…

Social Connections Drive the ‘Upward Spiral’ of Positive Emotions and Health

People who experience warmer, more upbeat emotions may have better physical health because they make more social connections, according to a new study published in Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

The research, led by Barbara Fredrickson of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Bethany Kok of the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences also found it is possible for a person to self-generate positive emotions in ways that make him or her physically healthier.

“People tend to liken their emotions to the weather, viewing them as uncontrollable,” says Fredrickson. “This research shows not only that our emotions are controllable, but also that we can take the reins of our daily emotions and steer ourselves toward better physical health.”

couple fly a kite together at the seaside

Happiness At Work

Secret to happiness: “I want this job for a week”

How can we be fulfilled at work? A British theorist argues that we should experiment, not specialise

Krznaric’s book “How to Find Fulfilling Work” is an entry in the School of Life, Alain de Botton’s series of self-help books for people who wouldn’t be caught dead in the self-help section. In it, Krznaric argues that the way we’ve been trained to find our life’s work is completely wrong. He takes issue in particular with the personality tests administered by career counselors to judge one’s strengths and interests. They’re complete bunk, Krznaric argues, pointing out that you’ve got a 50 percent chance of being placed in a different personality category if you retake the test.

Instead of pondering your ideal occupation long and hard, Krznaric says, just pick something. Nearly anything will do. “We need to act first and think afterwards,” he said. Once you’ve tried something, you’re in a much better position to decide whether you like it or not.

At its root, Krznaric wants to flip our idea of what success looks like. Instead of aspiring to become “high achievers,” he argues, many of us would be more happy as “wide achievers” — dabbling in many fields rather than becoming an expert in one. And with the disappearance of stable jobs in almost every field, cultivating skills across a range of occupations could be a smart move.

According to Krznaric, the only career advice you really need comes from Aristotle: “Where the needs of the world and your talents cross, there lies your vocation.” Finding those talents — well, that’s up to you…


balance - couple walking across a log over stream 2balance - couple walking across a log over stream

Getting Closer To Work~Life Balance

Happiness is not a matter of intensity but of

balance, order, rhythm and harmony. 

Thomas Merton

The good news is that you can have better in both worlds. You can work hard and still find time to enjoy your family and friends, and your life. You must take the initiative and  decide that you need to create a better balance for yourself.

How?

You will need to adopt a few essential strategies. And, no, it is not always simple, especially in the beginning. Work-life balance is about finding new ways to balance the demands of your work with the demands of your personal life. You actually can be successful and happy doing both; or at least happier…

Bored With Your Job? How To Get the Spark Back

If you’re finding it hard to drag yourself to work, maybe you need a new job – but maybe you just need to adjust your attitude.

After the initial “honeymoon phase” of a new job wanes, it’s easy for the day-to-day grind, or a difficult boss, to take a toll on your job satisfaction, leaving you with a negative attitude.

“Workplace happiness is finding the right job, the right culture and the right boss,” said Brandon Smith, a workplace coach and founder of theworkplacetherapist.com, which is based in Atlanta. “The challenge is that when one of those is out of line, you have to find ways to manage that.

Some people, in fact, are more prone to negative thinking, which can make them even more unhappy at work than others in the same situation.

One type of therapy, called cognitive behavioral therapy, is based on the theory that you can improve your mental health, or in this case your level of happiness at work, by reframing the way you think about things and taking steps to improve how you cope. It helps you change your thinking to make it more accurate and less tinged with emotion.

Here are some common “mindset traps” that can sabotage your level of happiness at work, and tips on how to reframe your thinking about the situations…

Blue sky and white sun clipart

Honoring Happiness: What Bhutan, a Cowboy Hat, & the Economy Have in Common

“What does happiness have to do with sustainability?”

The short answer is, everything. As Lovins delved deeper into ecological economics, it became apparent that happiness was a serious topic and that the meaning of happiness was being refined. The kind of happiness that Lovins was presenting was not just a fleeting feeling, but rather it was the notion of happiness as currency

Happiness needs to become part of the business dialogue. It needs to become a part of our national debate. However, the world cannot wait for corporations and governments to adopt GNH. In the spirit of Hunter Lovins, I remind you that the power is in your hands. What can you do to increase your happiness and how can you incorporate the nine happiness principles into your organization?

person with rain

Happiness At Work: Applied Happiness

Zappos.com built a  hugely successful brand and company through outstanding customer service and an unusual company culture, but even more inspiring is the fact that they succeeded in doing this by using happiness as a business model. Drawn by the notion that anyone can apply the science of happiness to work, communities and our everyday lives, happiness has become the organizing principle behind a new business and now, a movement.  Watch her fascinating TED talk and decide for yourself if she is worth listening to.

Six Ways To Stop Worrying and Find The Work You Love

Most of us spend the majority of our day at work so it is crucially important that the work that we do makes us feel happy and fullfilled.  This article by Roman Krznaric from Yes magazine, which was originally published in The Huffington Post, looks at 6 ways to stop worrying about what to do to find a fulfilling job and some simple steps we can take to improve our sense of fulfillment at work.  Romans has also written a book on the subject entitled How to Find Fulfilling Work if you would like to read about this topic more.

Looking For Happiness At Work? Consider these three things

We spend 35% of our waking hours at work. That’s a lot, right?  If finding happiness at work seems as elusive as chasing down the holy grail, here are three thoughts that may help you..

Millennium bridge, looking towards St Paul's Cathedral.

Here are some suggestions to keep up the Motivation and Happiness…

It’s no surprise that happy workers bring good results. They are more motivated and driven in anything they do. However, with the high amount of concerns and uncertainties in the workplace today such as increasing work pressure, under-staffed teams, and boundary less career; it’s hard to keep the vibe up all the time.

The Institute of Leadership & Management published a study recently on the social behaviour of employees within an organisation. Results have shown that employees are most satisfied and happy within the first 2 years of their current employment where they find it being most exciting, challenging and enthusiastic. This level of motivation drops significantly after 2 years on average with employees finding their duties repetitive.

Employee Happiness Should Not Be An Impossible Task

Fortunately or unfortunately, employee engagement is a hot topic.

Don’t get me wrong, engagement is important. There’s a proven link between engagement, productivity and profits. Companies should want to have engaged employees.

It’s virtually impossible to have an engaged employee who isn’t happy. So step one in the engagement formula should be creating happiness at work. This doesn’t mean that everyone will be 100% happy 100% of the time. That’s not realistic. But it’s not unreasonable to strive for more happy days than not happy days.

As an employee, I should be able to tell my employer “With rare exception, I’m happy coming to work.”

When was the last time someone asked “What makes you happy at work?

Do you know the answer?

Self Mastery

woman presenter

What On Earth is the Power of You?

With courses abounding to ‘be yourself’, and attendance numbers sky rocketing, why do so many of us remain poor communicators, continuing at the same time to be both terrified and dull? Well, perhaps quite simply, because many of us, no matter what course we’ve done have not actually discovered authenticity!

‘Being you’ won’t be easy, our work, society and sometimes even our families encourage us to fulfil prescribed roles. And it requires contemplation and consideration. Don’t be driven by corporate gain, it’s merely a valuable by-product. Be driven by the simple fact that, unless you have some need to hide your identity, like you’re under police protection or a spy, not being yourself is plain bloody ludicrous…

3 Tips to Connect With Your Authentic Self for a Happier Life

Selflessness is disconnecting from ego and connecting with your essential self. It’s being in your element, without trying to be something other than what you are.

And the good news is you can learn how to be selfless by simply observing nature. If you can, take a few minutes and walk outside.

Notice how every flower, every plant, and every tree is an exquisite expression of itself. Each one is what it is. A rose is a rose. A tree is a tree. They aren’t trying or struggling to be anything other than what they are. And that’s what makes them beautiful.

Dandelion

Animals also are magnificent manifestations of themselves. They don’t fight against their true nature. They are what they are. And that’s why we love animals.

So too, we are who we are. Yet, unlike nature and animals, our ego gets in the way and prevents us from being ourselves. It wants us to believe that we are someone we are not. When I craved acceptance and approval from others. I wanted to fit in and be liked by everyone I met. I put on an act to impress, while trying to camouflage awkward feelings of inadequacy.  To avoid this from happening to you, you need to connect with who you really are.

Here are 3 steps that will help you connect with your authentic self…

3 Tips To Win the Battle Against Your Inner Perfectionism

Think every project you work on has wrapped up perfectly in a neat little bow? Think again! Sure, you’re a professional and you can obviously produce stellar results, but you’re also human. If you’re constantly battling your inner perfectionist, you’re killing your productivity. Follow these three tips to win the battle against your “perfect” mindset and make your business more productive and profitable…

Explore: Genius Is… (poster)

Genius Is poster

5 Core Skills Your Life Depends Upon

Each moment, each situation, each turn of events presents you with an opportunity to build the self you are capable of being.  It’s just a matter of accepting opportunities, implementing ideas, taking action, and actively expressing the purpose that is uniquely YOU.

You are stronger than any barrier standing in your way, because you have a purpose that cannot be denied.  You can be adaptable, innovative, hard working and tenacious.  You can imagine the possibilities and then work to make them real.

Here are five life skills that will help you do just that – the real fundamentals of being an empowered, self-directed human being:

  1. Curiosity
  2. Creativity
  3. Resilience
  4. Patience
  5. Self Reliance

Creativity

Brain & Skeleton

Innovation Excellence: Cultivate Mental Confusion

When it comes to our daily job, we also become very proficient at it over time. Our brains develop routines and we stick to them because they work. That said, by not challenging the way we do things we invariably plateau and reach a state of pleasant comfort, sometime without even realizing it. However, there is nothing more dangerous in life than comfort because it can quietly kill your creativity, desire to innovate and aspiration for a better tomorrow.

If you have reached that dangerous level of comfort or don’t want to get even near it, let me offer a solution: Mental Confusion.

7 Japanese Aesthetic Principles to Change Your Thinking

Japanese Tsukubai Fountain

Exposing ourselves to traditional Japanese aesthetic ideas — notions that may seem quite foreign to most of us — is a good exercise in lateral thinking, a term coined by Edward de Bono in 1967. “Lateral Thinking is for changing concepts and perception,” says de Bono. Beginning to think about design by exploring the tenets of the Zen aesthetic may not be an example of Lateral Thinking in the strict sense, but doing so is a good exercise in stretching ourselves and really beginning to think differently about visuals and design in our everyday professional lives.

 The principles are interconnected and overlap; it’s not possible to simply put the ideas in separate boxes. Thankfully, Patrick Lennox Tierney (a recipient of the Order of the Rising Sun in 2007) has a few short essays elaborating on the concepts. Below are just seven design-related principles (there are more) that govern the aesthetics of the Japanese garden and other art forms in Japan. Perhaps they will stimulate your creativity or get you thinking in a new way about your own design-related challenges…

Bridge at Shinsen-en Sacred Spring Garden

Leadership

Few Executives Are Self-Aware, But Women Have The Edge

The single area where both female and male managers need to improve is in self-awareness. While women did outperform men on that metric, notice how low the rates for both genders are — under 20%. “If you think about most people in our day-to-day lives we tend to run on auto-pilot,” says Malloy. “We often are not mindful about our impact on others or how and where we spend our time. We can easily get caught up in the task or the day-to-day distractions” and pay less attention to ourselves and effect we may have on others.

“Improving self-awareness requires getting some source of credible feedback, and being open to that feedback,” she advises. “Find a trusted colleague or someone from your personal life who can give you constructive feedback in real-time.”

Malloy continues, “Developing self-awareness also requires reflection… Schedule time every week on your calendar to reflect on what went well, what did not, and how could you react differently in the future.”

Self-awareness is essential to effective leadership. A leader must know herself — her abilities, her shortcomings, and her opportunities for growth in order to be able to provide direction, guidance and inspiration to others.

Leadership demands strong interpersonal skills. And while research may show that women leaders have the edge in certain areas, the lesson I take from this study is that both men and women have work to do in order to become the leaders their followers need…

Young Couple Talking in Cafe

A Gen Y Definition of Leadership

Gen Y is the next generation of leaders, and we bring with us a fresh outlook on leadership.

If you read this and scoffed, then I wish you luck as you descend into irrelevance. If, however, you’re reading this, wondering how it will affect your organisation, you may want to consider the following:

  • How do my company’s programmes support Gen Y in leadership roles?
  • What is likely to become redundant or obsolete?
  • What frustrations might Gen Y leaders face, and can anything be done to alleviate them?
  • What are the implications of changing nothing?
  • How will newer leadership styles mesh with more traditional styles? What might be the impact on employees transitioning from a traditional-style manager to a Gen Y?

Dealing With A Change That’s Hard To Swallow

If you’re struggling with a change on your team, start by asking what it would look like if you did believe in the change.  How can you increase the likelihood this will work instead of increasingly the likelihood that it will fail? Then don’t wait until you believe it, just start behaving it.  And in one of the most fascinating examples of the complexity of our human brains, once you are doing it, you will start to believe in it.

young girl looking down road

The Ripple Effect You Create As A Manager

Each one of us holds a set of beliefs and attitudes — a mindset — that determines how we interpret and respond to situations. That mindset shapes how we interact with others, and therefore it also affects the people we work with — in ways both subtle and profound. A person with a distrustful mindset, for example, views situations at work as competitive and acts to advance his own interest at others’ expense by politicking: shifting allegiances, taking credit, assigning blame, withholding or distorting information. These behaviors drive up stress and burnout in others, and undermine organizational effectiveness.

On the other hand, a mindset of openness, trust, and generosity promotes behaviors that have beneficial effects on others. In his new book Give and Take, Wharton professor Adam Grant marshals an impressive body of scientific evidence to show how a mindset of generosity radiates to yield broad gains.

Here’s one powerful research example: a 20-year longitudinal study of healthy employees found that people with social support from coworkers were two and a half times less likely to die prematurely than those without. So it’s not an exaggeration to say that by being supportive of people at work, you’re not just brightening their day — you’re literally helping to save lives…

Two Young Women in Front of the Computer Talking

Happiness At Work #44 – highlights from this week’s collection

Businesswomen Balancing Over Money

Here are some of the highlights you will find in

Happiness At Work #44

Guardian Screen Shot 2 May

News is bad for you – and giving up reading it will make you happier

News is bad for your health. It leads to fear and aggression, and hinders your creativity and ability to think deeply. The solution? Stop consuming it altogether.

In the past few decades, the fortunate among us have recognised the hazards of living with an overabundance of food (obesity, diabetes) and have started to change our diets. But most of us do not yet understand that news is to the mind what sugar is to the body. News is easy to digest. The media feeds us small bites of trivial matter, tidbits that don’t really concern our lives and don’t require thinking. That’s why we experience almost no saturation. Unlike reading books and long magazine articles (which require thinking), we can swallow limitless quantities of news flashes, which are bright-coloured candies for the mind. Today, we have reached the same point in relation to information that we faced 20 years ago in regard to food. We are beginning to recognise how toxic news can be.

Brighton Festival 2013 A-Connection-Nicosia-2012

We know spending on the arts makes big money for Britain. So why cut it?

Whingeing luvvies are easily mocked but it just doesn’t make sense to give way to this purblind, anti-cultural bias, writes Polly Toynbee in The Guardian

A reason to be cheerful: Britain is exceptionally good at some things. With a dead economy, a million young people kicking their heels, exports anaemic and worse cuts to come, hope itself can look hopeless. So what would you do? Analyse what we do best and invest in our talents to the hilt. In that great broad envelope labelled “arts and culture”, we are among the world’s engines of invention.

That’s why a cultural Olympiad ran alongside all the running, jumping and cycling. In sport, state investment paid off in medals. In the arts, state investment can be counted out in gold too: better still, it infuses everything that brings pleasure. Only life under the Taliban is untouched by music, storytelling and eye-opening imagery, broadcast or live, designed into everything around us. Culture is not something apart but breathed into all of civilisation. When we are all dead and gone, culture is all that will be left – as a visit to the British Museum will confirm.

This week saw the deadline for ministers to make their final pitch before the axe falls in June’s comprehensive spending review. By rule of thumb, each department can expect a 5.2% cut, (except the NHS, schools and aid). That is a mighty crunch for any ministry, but the one with the smallest budget would be struck hardest. Of the £700bn the government spends, the Department for Media, Culture & Sport‘s budget is a minuscule £2.2bn, and already suffering a 43% cut.  Deep scars will be left by this government’s anti-culture bias. The sums are so paltry that the animus seems deliberate. But luvvies whingeing are easily mocked when dementia patients are neglected, so how can the case be best made?

On Saturday the Brighton festival opens – three weeks of eclectic theatre, music, dance, comedy, literature and visual arts…We can show how the festival brings in at least £20m to Brighton, but no one can compute its true value to its reputation or the pleasure it gives. So there’s a reason to be cheerful – for now.

As for the future, what might persuade this government of the value of the arts – financial and spiritual – is a loud public demand that our cultural assets, live and broadcast, are not squandered…

Brighton Festival 2013Brighton FRINGE-LOGO-ILLUSTRATIONS-copy-2

Happiness At Work

Don’t Worry, Be Happy – At Work

A recent joint job happiness survey from Yahoo Finance and PARADE magazine finds that almost 60 percent of 26,000 workers in the United States were so unhappy with their current jobs that they would prefer to choose a new career.

This dissatisfaction is causing a voluntary exodus of employees from a tight job market, where you’d expect the opposite. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that more than 2 million Americans each month are flying the coop—leaving their positions—despite the high unemployment rate. And the number is continuing to increase.

To help get to the bottom of your office malaise, consider these strategies to become happier at work:

  • Avoid the negativeThere’s nothing more demoralizing than negative talk at the office, so avoid it as much as you can…
  • Seek perksthere is a reason why companies that offer additional incentives like flexible, relaxed work environments face fewer employee complaints than companies that don’t—their employees are happier…
  • Confront the slackers93% people work with someone who is not carrying their weight, but only 10% confront that person.  Suspend judgement and get curious, enter into conversations to find out more…
  • Examine your drivesthree common needs are for accomplishment, autonomy and good relationships.  Evaluate what you need and find what you can do to get it…
  • And if none of this works – go solo ~ entrepreneurs tend to feel better about their career than office workers because if you’re doing what you love, it doesn’t feel like work…

Exuberant Man in Office Cubicle

How To Be Happy At Work

A month ago, I started really focusing on people who are happy at work.  Everywhere I go, I pay attention to who is around me.  And, I am documenting those who appear to be happy in their workplace.

How can we – and any of us – achieve happiness at work?

We can begin by believing that it is possible.  In fact, we can begin by believing it IS (a fact, a truth, ‘reality’).  As long as we believe that our reality is that we have the kind of job at which happiness is an illusion, we’ll continue to create that experience for ourselves.  We’ll be oblivious to the opportunity for happiness that is present around us every day…

11 Characteristics of Meaningful Work

For work to be meaningful, it is the employee who must label it so.

Meaningful work is employees’ perceived positive value of what they are doing. It’s a source of joy in their overall life. In the words of Max Depree, “[it’s] maturing, enriching, and fulfilling, healing, and joyful.

Here is our adaptation of these 11 essentials that go toward making our work feel meaningful:

  1. Basic needs are met
  2. Work is perceived to be fulfilling
  3. Seeing clear connections seen own work fits and the bigger picture
  4. Feeling included – informed and in on things
  5. Feeling respected by peers and managers
  6. Feeling valued by organisation and managers
  7. Being able to regularly play to your strengths
  8. Deepening self awareness & personal mastery
  9. Strong united team relationships and helping others to flourish
  10. Balanced autonomy (independence) and collaboration (interdependence)
  11. Efforts and accomplishments are recognised

The Science of Happiness at Work™

Following years of rigorous research carried out worldwide, led by Jessica Pryce-Jones and her in-house research department at iOpener Institute, the world of work is awakening to the reality of the research findings; that our happiness at work determines our performance. This research has been well documented in the press, most notably in the Wall Street Journal which has twice invited its readers to take the Happiness at Work survey – the iPPQ – boosting our global database considerably.

This unprecedented understanding of the tangible link between happiness and performance at work requires an understanding of the Performance Happiness Model™

There are five drivers / factors of happiness at work. We call these the 5Cs:

Contribution is about the effort you make,

Conviction is about your short-term motivation,

Culture is about your sense of organisational fit,

Commitment is about your engagement with your role, and

Confidence is about your level of self-belief at work and how your current job fits your career trajectory.

If all of the 5Cs are working well, you will feel that you are Achieving Your Potential at work, which sits at the core of the Model.

Interview of the Day: “Even a moderate increase in happiness at work improves the bottom line by 20%”

Alexander Kjerulf AKA The Chief Happiness Officer is the founder of Woohoo inc and one of the world’s leading experts on happiness at work

How important is happiness at workplace?

Happiness at work is the most important success factor for businesses, and has a huge impact on the bottom line. One study showed that even a moderate increase in happiness at work improved the bottom line by 20%. Another study showed that the happiest companies are three times as profitable as regular businesses.

Also happiness at work is one of the main sources of happiness in life, so it also has a huge effect on employees. In fact, being unhappy at work can not only make you unhappy in life, it can also make you sick and ultimately kill you.

What are the ways and means by which employees can be happy at work?

Arbejdsglaede - constructing a man

Happiness At Work by Alexander Kjerulf, Chief Happiness Officer [Video]

If you do not know who Alexander Kjerulf is, then you have been missing out. Alexander is one of the world’s leading experts on happiness at work and is also the founder of Woohoo inc. His company, Woohoo has a simple philosophy: happy companies make more money.

Earlier this year in March, Alexander traveled to Boston University to share his wisdom about differences between workplace happiness in Europe (Denmark) and the United States. We recommend you watch (or listen during work) Kjerulf’s lecture! Inspiring words that we should all be living by.

  • Arbejdsglaede (ah-bites-gleh-the): translates in Scandinavian to Workhappiness.  This word does not exist in any other culture.
  • ANYONE can be happy at work. ANYONE.
  • Research shows that a raise, bonus and promotions make employees happy for only about two weeks before returning to the original state.
  • Kjerulf believes happiness at work is derived from two factors: creating meaningful results, achievements (feeling like you made a difference) AND having good relationships.

Resilience

Man Performing Yoga by Lake

In Search of Resilience

Most of the time, we build our jobs and our organisations and our lives around today, assuming that tomorrow will be a lot like now. Resilience, the ability to shift and respond to change, comes way down the list of the things we often consider.

And yet… A crazy world is certain to get crazier. The industrial economy is fading, and steady jobs with it. The financial markets will inevitably get more volatile. The Earth is warming, ever faster, and the rate and commercial impact of natural disasters around the world is on an exponential growth curve.

Hence the need for resilience, for the ability to survive and thrive in the face of change.

The choice is to build something that’s perfect for today, or to build something that lasts. Because perfect for today no longer means perfect forever.

Here are four approaches to resilience, in ascending order, from brave to stupid:

  • Don’t need it
  • Invest in a network
  • Create backups
  • Build a moat

6 Steps Toward Resilience & Greater Happiness

The opposite of depression is not happiness, according to Peter Kramer, author of“Against Depression” and“Listening to Prozac,” it is resilience: the ability to cope with life’s frustrations without falling apart.

The tools found in happiness research are those Therese J. Borchard practiced in her recovery from depression and anxiety:  “even though, theoretically, I can be happy and depressed at the same time. I came up with my own recovery programme that coincides with the steps toward happiness published in positive psychology studies, involving…”

  1. Sleep
  2. Diet
  3. Exercise
  4. Relationships and Community
  5. Purpose
  6. Gratitude

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Forced Exercise Still Builds Stress Resilience Against Anxiety and Depression

Physical fitness is known to reduce anxiety,depression, and other stress-related conditions, but it’s notoriously difficult to motivate oneself to move when already down in the dumps, or if one just hates exercise.

Researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder used an animal model to investigate whether forced exercise can yield the same mood resilience as voluntary exercise.

The results showed that both voluntary and forced exercise helped rats avoid the behavioural results of uncontrollable stress. Being in good shape allowed them to learn how to escape from electric shocks instead of succumbing to learned helplessness, while the sedentary rats were far more likely to lie there and accept the shocks.

“Regardless of whether the rats chose to run or were forced to run they were protected against stress and anxiety,” said Greenwood in a news release.

Rat brains and human brains don’t work in exactly the same ways, but the UC-Boulder team believes they are similar enough to draw tentative conclusions from this study.

Mindfulness

easy chair

Easy Introduction to Mindfulness

It’s tempting to think that you need the tropical beach, the hammock by the lake, the walk in the woods, the yoga retreat or the special meditation cushion in order to feel the “ahhhhh” of inner peace. We all have certain props or places that we use to jump start that special sensation of anchored contentment.

But what if, like the witches and wizards of Hogwarts, you could be transported to a place of peace whenever you want? What if your eyes, ears, nose, tongue, and fingertips were actually portkeys to mindfulness and that feeling of deep inner stillness and peace? Mindfulness is the ancient art of attentive awareness to your present circumstances. Going to that place of mindfulness can produce a feeling of calm and contentment. When you use these shortcuts every day, calm and serenity quickly become your home…

Creativity

Is Our Trust in Technology Trumping Our Natual Instincts?

Designer James Victore writes in a new 99U book Manage Your Day-to-Day:

We have become so trusting of technology that we have lost faith in ourselves and our born instincts. There are still parts of life that we do not need to “better” with technology. It’s important to understand that you are smarter than your smartphone. To paraphrase, there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in your Google. Mistakes are a part of life and often the path to profound new insights—so why try to remove them completely? Getting lost while driving or visiting a new city used to be an adventure and a good story. Now we just follow the GPS.

To “know thyself” is hard work. Harder still is to believe that you, with all your flaws, are enough…

Artistry

Beauty in Imperfection: Steve McCurry’s Photos

It is only with age that you acquire the gift to evaluate decay, the epiphany of Wordsworth, 
the wisdom of wabi-sabi: nothing is perfect, nothing is complete, nothing lasts.
– Paul Theroux

Bring the Happy

Bring the Happy

Bring the Happy was created by Invisible Flock in collaboration with Hope and Social.

Bring the Happy is an ongoing large scale project about happiness, at the heart of it is an attempt to map the moments and memories of happiness of the UK and beyond.

We will be taking over empty shop units throughout the country and filling them with giant maps of our host cities.
We will be asking you to come and visit us and leave us a moment or memory of happiness that has taken place anywhere in your city, telling us:

what it was – where it took place – and how happy it made you on a scale of 1-10

Each memory is then marked onto the map with its own 3D rod, the height of which is based on the 1-10 rating.

Bring the Happy originally took place for two months in Leeds back in 2010, when we took up residence in an empty shop in the Light Shopping Centre before later moving to Leeds’ Kirkgate Market.

What emerged was not simply stories about happiness or wellbeing, but a portrait of the city, the lives entwined within it; first loves, lifetime regrets, personal and political grievances, births, marriages, deaths, drunken nights, wartime stories, snow stories, market stories, dances, chance encounters, life changing moments and buildings long gone and more often than not memories that spoke of home…

theatre mask mosaic