Happiness At Work ~ Part One of a look back over the first year of collections

Happiness Books spread

Here, by way of a reflection back over the last year of happiness & wellbeing stories is just one story from each of the first 3 months of these collections.

And each of the Happiness At Work Edition headings provide a link to that particular collection if you are interested in looking back further…

Happiness At Work Edition #1 – 6th July 2012

7 Must-Read Books on the Art and Science of Happiness

by 

From Plato to Buddha, or what imperfection has to do with the neuroscience of the good life.

If you, like us, are fascinated by the human quest to understand the underpinnings of happiness but break out in hives at the mere mention of self-help books, you’re in luck: We’ve sifted through our personal library, a decade’s worth of obsessive reading, to bring you seven essential books on the art and science of happiness, rooted in solid science, contemporary philosophy and cross-disciplinary insight. From psychology and neuroscience to sociology and cultural anthropology to behavioural economics, these must-reads illuminate the most fundamental aspiration of all human existence: How to avoid suffering and foster lasting well-being…

Happiness At Work Edition #2 – 13th July 2012

Guys, be happy! Do the housework. Really.

Linda Carroll, July 5, 2012

An intriguing new study suggests that men are happier and less stressed when they do more of the housework…

Though there were no data to explain why men were happier and less stressed when doing more housework, the researchers have their theories. “Men who leave the chores to women may be subject to more complaints than men who do their share of home chores,” the researchers suggested. “It is also plausible that some men want a more equitable role in the home and their well-being is reduced when the pressure of their jobs gets in the way.”

Scott and Plagnol suspect that men might be more willing to share housework equally if they knew there were benefits to the arrangement.

“Our study points to wider benefits for men who do their fair share of the housework,” they wrote. “Men today play a far greater role in home and child care than their fathers or grandfathers. It might help change move faster if the benefits of a more equitable divide became more widely known.” …

Happiness At Work Edition #3 – 20th July 2012

Austerity? Stimulus? Or Happiness?

, 10th July 2012

Capitalism needs profit, of course. It will fail without the entrepreneurship that seeks profit. But at the extremity of private enterprise is greed, an appetite that runs amok when given the chance. Without regulations, without restraints backed up by law, the appetite for power — money and position — is uncontrollable. This human weakness, a lust which is quite basic in our nature, is behind all our economic recessions. Irresponsibility – buccaneering – is inevitable when entrepreneurs are left to themselves. Greed will win out!

What the business and financial people driving the economy have forgotten is that the gains they derive from profits produced by enterprise must be shared if our society is to function with any cohesion. We are one people, one nation. But is this today’s reality? Income inequality is now a major issue in the United States. In his time Franklin Roosevelt talked plainly about this problem. He brought it out into the light and made it a cornerstone of the New Deal. What do we hear from our leaders today?

And what of happiness? That’s the word Laura Musikanski used when reporting on a United Nations conference convened last April: “The UN Embraces the Economics of Happiness.” Don’t turn away thinking some well-meaning NGOs have gone off the deep end again with some half-baked notions of pie in the sky. The conference was a serious affair attended by 650 luminaries and addressed by senior diplomats from many countries. On this occasion, the UN’s Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon, proclaimed that “social, economic and environmental well-being are indivisible.” Well-known experts from academia also spoke. Lord Richard Layard, John Helliwell and Jeffrey Sachs introduced the unfortunately titled “World Happiness Report.”

Despite its name, the report is neither frivolous nor reckless. It seeks to introduce a new economic paradigm that shifts us away from looking at economic growth and recession as strictly financial matters, as if they were divorced from social consequences. It points to the current global order’s failure, even inability, to implement the drastic changes required for realistic, sustainable societies. Implicitly indicted are the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. Their previous conditions for loans we now see were often destructive to economies in the Third World instead of helpful. And yet we continue now on the same destructive path with the European Union’s strict policies when loaning money to Greece, Ireland, Spain and Portugal.

I found the U.N. report useful. It helps to reinforce the basic thrust of this column. Government policies today, whether they emphasize austerity or stimulus, fail to recognize and correct the fact that the overall well-being of citizens continues to be outweighed by the protection of a single sector of our society, the financial one. No matter how important the financial sector may be, this state of affairs is unconscionable. Economic thinking that ignores the social element is not good economics.

So here’s the million-dollar question: When will policymakers start to take happiness seriously? …

Happiness At Work Edition #4 – 27th July 2012

Wellbeing index points way to bliss: live on a remote island, and don’t work

 and The Guardian, Wednesday 25 July 2012

First annual results of Measuring National Wellbeing Programme show teenagers and pensioners have key to happiness.

As part of the government’s attempts to develop an alternative measure of national performance to GDP, the Office for National Statistics has published its first tranche of detailed subjective data exploring how happiness and anxiety levels vary according to factors including sex and ethnic group.

Responses by 165,000 people in the annual population survey reveal the average rating of “life satisfaction” in Britain is 7.4 out of 10 and 80% of people gave a rating of seven or more when asked whether the things they did in their lives were “worthwhile”…

Relationships also play a big part, with 82% of people in marriages or civil partnerships giving high or medium life satisfaction ratings, followed by cohabiting couples on 79%, single people on 71% and divorced people on 60%. Women also rated slightly higher on both the “life satisfaction” and the “worthwhile” question, but reported an average level of 3.3 for anxiety, compared with men’s three…

Far more significant, however, appears to be the impact of work: not only not having it – which leads twice as many unemployed people to rate their satisfaction levels as low or very low as those in a job – but also what kind of work you do. The highest average life satisfaction was reported by those in professional occupations such as teaching, medicine or law and was lowest among “process, plant and machine operatives”…

But work is significant. Higher scores were given by groups of employees “with more responsibility and control over their work, as well as higher incomes”.

Happiness At Work Edition #5 – 3rd August 2012

The Benefits of Being Awestruck

July 31st, 2012

We’re losing our sense of awe at our own peril, however. The title of a new Stanford study tells you all you need to know: Awe Expands People’s Perception of Time, Alters Decision Making, and Enhances Well-Being. Apparently, watching awe-inspiring vidoes makes you less impatient, more willing to volunteer time to help others, more likely to prefer experiences over material products, more present in the here and now, and happier overall…

Happiness At Work Edition #6 – 10th August 2012

Angela Mollard: When happy is hard

ANGELA MOLLARD, AUGUST 05, 2012

REMEMBER when ‘happy’ was just something you were? Or weren’t. Good days, bad days, happy days, sad days – all jumbled in a life you lived rather than thought about too much.

Today happiness is a commodity; a ‘goal’, a ‘revolution’, a ‘project’. It’s what we want for ourselves and our children. “Yes, please,” we’d say to the doctor if she could vaccinate against sadness, along with the usual measles and mumps. Anything to immunise ourselves against pain and unease.

I write this because I’ve had an awful week – made somewhat worse by the book I’m reading (for work, not pleasure) called The Happiness Project. Ironically, as my world filled with woes, I read chapter after chapter about one woman’s attempt to “lighten up”, “be serious about play” and “keep a contented heart”. “I am happy,” writes Gretchen Rubin in her mega-selling memoir, “but I’m not as happy as I should be.”

More helpful, I think, than having an articulate and much-blessed woman tell you how to find happiness, is having a flawed and down-in-the dumps columnist recount the details of her weekus horribilis. (Shall we start with my appalling Latin?)

I may be guilty of over-sharing, but my argument is this: we live in a culture that propagates the notion that happiness should be a constant state of mind and perfection our universal aim. To that end, most weeks I write jaunty, optimistic and ‘wise’ missives underneath a photo that makes me look 10 times prettier than I really am. “Great life, lucky cow,” you probably say to yourself and, yes, sometimes it is and sometimes I am.

But if I neglect to tell you the bad stuff – the hard, horrible, trying times – then I’m as guilty of perpetuating perfect images as those ads where mums are always smiling…

There’s lots of sound good sense in Rubin’s project, but I’m concerned we’re trying to anaesthetise anguish from our lives. Psychologists are observing a new generation suffering “a discomfort with discomfort”.

“Please let them be devastated at age six,” implores Wendy Mogel, author of The Blessing of a Skinned Knee. I hear her. Last year, my eldest didn’t practice for a music exam and received a correspondingly poor result. It’s been the best lesson in her charmed life…

Happiness At Work Edition #7 – 17th August 2012

London Olympics: a “feel good” fix, or will they bring lasting happiness?

AUGUST 14, 2012 // BY: JULIET MICHAELSON

A poll conducted for the BBC, published today, shows that 56% of us say the Games have had a positive effect on us personally, and a whopping 83% say they’ve had a positive effect on the UK as a whole. Another poll by the consumer group Which? also showed an Olympic bounce – an increase in the proportion of people who felt satisfied with their lives during the first week of the Games.

To find out why the Olympics have made us feel so good we can turn to the findings of well-being science. We know that experiencing a sense of belonging is a crucial component of feeling good about our lives – and the Olympics have certainly made us feel part of the nationwide ‘Team GB’. And more than that, they’ve demonstrated a sense of people pulling together to work towards a shared goal – from the ‘Gamesmaker’ volunteers and medal-winning athletes to the cheering crowds – another thing the research shows is a route to happiness. In fact, it is possible to see how each of our evidence-based Five Ways to Well-being – Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Keep Learning and Give – have been encouraged in some way by the Olympics.

The positive feelings that have been generated need no further justification – of course we are happy to be happy. But in fact, research has shown that experiencing positive emotions does have practical benefits. For example, psychologists have found that experiencing positive emotions broadens people’s horizons – encouraging creativity. So this could be a good moment for businesses to experiment with new ways of doing things – although there is a substantial body of evidence suggesting the long-termeconomic impact of major sporting events is negligible.

And will the feel good factor last? In the BBC poll over half of respondents said the effects for the UK will be short-lived. I suspect they may be right. Good feelings are, after all, a response to what is happening in our lives, and pretty soon both the Olympics and Paralympics will be over. If they succeed in bringing about the much-discussed ‘legacy’ and new sports-based habits form, it is quite possible that some of the good feelings associated with the Olympics could remain too.

But forming new habits is a notoriously difficult nut to crack…

Happiness At Work Edition #8 – 24th August 2012

Stress: Portrait of a Killer (with Stanford Biologist Robert Sapolsky)

August 22nd, 2012

“The implication both of the Baboon research and the Whitehall Study of British Civil Servants is how can we create a society that has the conditions that allow people to flourish?

“Control is intimately related to where you are in the occupational hierarchy…When people report they have more control in their work, they’re being treated more fairly, there’s more justice…the amount of illness goes down…

“Give people more involvement in their work, give them more say in what they’re doing, give them more reward for the amount of effort they put out and it might be that you not only have a healthier workforce but a more productive workplace as well.”

Michael Marmoot, The Whitehall Study, University College Medical School, London

Intelligence comes at a price. The human species, despite its talent for solving problems, has managed over the millennia to turn one of its most basic survival mechanisms–the stress response–against itself. “Essentially,” says Stanford University neurobiologist Robert Sapolsky, “we’ve evolved to be smart enough to make ourselves sick.”

In the 2008 National Geographic documentary Stress: Portrait of a Killer, Sapolsky and fellow scientists explain the deadly consequences of prolonged stress…

Chronic stress has also been shown in scientific studies to diminish brain cells needed for memory and learning, and to adversely affect the way fat is distributed in the body. It has even been shown to measurably accelerate the aging process in chromosomes, a result that confirms our intuitive sense that people who live stressful lives grow old faster.

By studying baboon populations in East Africa, Sapolsky has found that individuals lower down in the social hierarchy suffer more stress, and consequently more stress-related health problems, than dominant individuals. The same trend in human populations was discovered in the British Whitehall Study. People with more control in work environments have lower stress, and better health, than subordinates.

Stress: Portrait of a Killer is a fascinating and important documentary–well worth the 52 minutes it takes to watch…

Happiness At Work Edition #9 – 31st August 2012

Other people may experience more misery than you realise

Monday 24 january 2011

Have you ever had the feeling that everyone else seems so sorted, so at ease? You look about you and see friends chatting over lunch, people laughing on their mobiles, others escaping contentedly through novels or newspapers. According to Alexander Jordan and colleagues, most of us have such a tendency to underestimate other people’s experience of negative emotion. In turn the researchers think this skewed perception perpetuates a collective delusion in which we all strive to present an unrealistically happy front because we think that’s the norm…

…an enduring mystery is why we continue to underestimate other people’s misery whilst knowing full well that most of our own negative experiences happen in private, and that we frequently put on a brave, happy face when socialising. Why don’t we reason that other people do the same? Jordan and his colleagues think this is probably part of an established phenomenon in psychology – ‘the fundamental attribution error’ – in which people downplay the role of the situation when assessing other people’s behaviour compared with their own.

A fascinating implication of this research is that it could help explain the popularity of tragic art, be that in drama, music or books. ‘In fictional tragedy, people are given the opportunity to witness “the terrible things in life” that are ordinarily “played out behind the scenes”,’ the researchers said (quoting Checkhov), ‘which may help to depathologise people’s own negative emotional experiences.’…

Happiness At Work Edition #10 – 7th September 2012

Gretchin Rubin’s Great Questions We Might All Ask Ourselves…?

We still love these Great Questions that The Happiness Project author, Gretchin Rubin asks different people when she interviews them:

These are really great questions that we might ask ourselves ~ and ask each other ~ to uncover some of the wisdom we each already carry.  And, perhaps too, to reveal some of the holes in our current understanding about what helps or hinders our own happiness.

Enjoy…

  • What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
  • What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
  • Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?
  • Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve found very helpful?
  • Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
  • Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why?
  • Is there some aspect of your life that makes you particularly happy?
  • Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?

Happiness At Work Edition #11 – 14th September 2012

The Heart Has Its Own “Brain” and Consciousness

September 12, 2012

Many believe that conscious awareness originates in the brain alone. Recent scientific research suggests that consciousness actually emerges from the brain and body acting together. A growing body of evidence suggests that the heart plays a particularly significant role in this process.

Far more than a simple pump, as was once believed, the heart is now recognized by scientists as a highly complex system with its own functional “brain.” …

The heart’s ever-present rhythmic field has a powerful influence on processes throughout the body. We have demonstrated, for example, that brain rhythms naturally synchronize to the heart’s rhythmic activity, and also that during sustained feelings of love or appreciation, the blood pressure and respiratory rhythms, among other oscillatory systems, entrain to the heart’s rhythm.

We propose that the heart’s field acts as a carrier wave for information that provides a global synchronizing signal for the entire body

Basic research at the Institute of HeartMath shows that information pertaining to a person’s emotional state is also communicated throughout the body via the heart’s electromagnetic field. The rhythmic beating patterns of the heart change significantly as we experience different emotions. Negative emotions, such as anger or frustration, are associated with an erratic, disordered, incoherent pattern in the heart’s rhythms. In contrast, positive emotions, such as love or appreciation, are associated with a smooth, ordered, coherent pattern in the heart’s rhythmic activity. In turn, these changes in the heart’s beating patterns create corresponding changes in the structure of the electromagnetic field radiated by the heart, measurable by a technique called spectral analysis.

More specifically, we have demonstrated that sustained positive emotions appear to give rise to a distinct mode of functioning, which we call psychophysiological coherence.

During this mode, heart rhythms exhibit a sine wave-like pattern and the heart’s electromagnetic field becomes correspondingly more organised.  At the physiological level, this mode is characterised by increased efficiency and harmony in the activity and interactions of the body’s systems.

Psychologically, this mode is linked with a notable reduction in internal mental dialogue, reduced perceptions of stress, increased emotional balance, and enhanced mental clarity, intuitive discernment, and cognitive performance…

Most people think of social communication solely in terms of overt signals expressed through language, voice qualities, gestures, facial expressions, and body movements. However, there is now evidence that a subtle yet influential electromagnetic or “energetic” communication system operates just below our conscious awareness. Energetic interactions likely contribute to the “magnetic” attractions or repulsions that occur between individuals, and also affect social exchanges and relationships. Moreover, it appears that the heart’s field plays an important role in communicating physiological, psychological, and social information between individuals…

The Heart’s Field and Intuition

There are also new data suggesting that the heart’s field is directly involved in intuitive perception, through its coupling to an energetic information field outside the bounds of space and time. Using a rigorous experimental design, we found compelling evidence that both the heart and brain receive and respond to information about a future event before the event actually happens. Even more surprising was our finding that the heart appears to receive this “intuitive” information before the brain. This suggests that the heart’s field may be linked to a more subtle energetic field that contains information on objects and events remote in space or ahead in time…

Happiness At Work Edition #12 – 21st September 2012

Backstory on Slaughter’s “Women Can’t Have It All” article

By EVE TAHMINCIOGLU | Published: SEPTEMBER 20, 2012

When Anne Marie Slaughter wrote her now infamous The Atlantic article titled “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” she wasn’t naive about how the piece might stir up women.

She wanted to question the status quo, and possibly help inspire change.

But for everyone out there who may have interpreted her article as a narrative meant to inspire women to give up their careers for motherhood, she says, you were wrong.

And for those who thought she damaged the women’s movement’s progress leveling the workplace playing field, she says, get over it.

It’s time to move beyond the tired mommy wars, and the notion that women should be afraid to point out the flaws in the U.S. workplace for fear of rocking the boat.

Slaughter wondered why we don’t hold up commitment to family the way we hold up commitment to fellow soldiers in the military. “We glorify ‘Band of Brothers’ but if you say, ‘I can’t stay in this job because of my commitment to those I love’ it’s viewed differently. In so many ways caring for family is not OK.”

“I value people who value those they are closest to,” she said.

So just in case you were wondering, Slaughter stressed, “I believe you can do it all.”

However, she’s come to the conclusion that it’s not “just a matter of individual commitment” when it comes to making it all work.

If we don’t change “the work environment” in the United States, or the arc of what makes a “successful-career environment,” she stressed, “some women will make it, but for every one else we actually need change.”

Anne-Marie Slaughter: Can women have it all?

Happiness At Work Edition #13 – 28th September 2012

Being Happy, Creative & Productive

BridgeBuilders STG limited

Presentation slides from a workshop, commissioned by Ardent Hare, at

Whitechapel Gallery, London, 17th September 2012
and
University of Portsmouth, 10th September 2012

Slideshow movie created by Mark Trezona
Soundscape by Mark Trezona & Martyn Duffy
with original music by Martyn Duffy

For more stories see this week’s latest collection:

Happiness At Work #52

Enjoy…

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Happiness At Work collection #52 ~ some highlights

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Vivienne Harris

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Vivienne Harris

Here are just some of the stories that you can find in this week’s collection:

Two Degrees: Imagine The Great Transition

Artsadmin and LIFT in association with nef, as part of the Imagine 2020 Network.

Are we trapped in business-as-usual?

Could the ‘less’ make us happier than the ‘more’?

What do we really value?

Can it still turn out right?

 A series of artist films that respond to these questions…

 

 

George Lucas, John Lithgow, and Other Luminaries on How the Humanities Make Us Human

by 

In her superb 2013 McGill commencement address, philosopher Judith Butler championed the value of the humanities as a tool of tolerance. And yet the humanities have slipped into endangered academic species status — so says a major new plea of a report titled to Congress from the Commission on the Humanities and Social Sciences at the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, titled The Heart of the Matter, which opens with a sense of unequivocal urgency:

“As we strive to create a more civil public discourse, a more adaptable and creative workforce, and a more secure nation, the humanities and social sciences are the heart of the matter, the keeper of the republic — a source of national memory and civic vigor, cultural understanding and communication, individual fulfillment and the ideals we hold in common. They are critical to a democratic society and they require our support.”

Accompanying the report is this beautiful short film, a collection of luminaries’ testimonials for the value and immeasurable impact of the humanities both in our individual journey toward understanding the meaning of life and our collective odyssey toward better understanding one another and our place in the universe. Selected highlights here…

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Mark Trezona

How To Be A Successful Optimist

by Mark Stevenson

It’s easy to accept the standard story of the future: that it’s all going to be rubbish, that vested interests will always win out and the best you can do is get your head down, try and beat the prevailing trend and do what you can for you and yours (even if it’s at the expense of your fellow man and the environment).

Luckily there are enough human beings out there who don’t accept this story, who believe things can change for the better and crucially do something about it. Without their input down the ages we’d all still be sitting in caves. Throughout history these, often maligned, men and women have consistently come up trumps for the rest of us. These people are called “optimists.”

Optimism is a bit of a dirty word at the moment, and of course blind optimism (that dangerous cocktail of denial and hope) deserves our disdain. But pragmatic optimists, who admit the scale of the challenges ahead of us but resolve to do something about them anyway, should have more of our support.

It’s not always easy to keep optimistic…

How To Be A Successful Optimist: Principle No. 2

…A recurring question philosopher Daniel Dennett (and probably most philosophers) get confronted with is, “What’s the definition of happiness?

Luckily he has an answer and it’s a good one: “Find something more important than you are and dedicate your life to it”.

This then is Principle Two for the successful optimist. All successful optimists have a project that is bigger than they are. By contrast, people who have a project that is the same size as themselves are invariably miserable and tedious company. Once you’ve got a bigger car/ nicer house/ television bigger than God what’s left? As so many find out, eventually the answer is a nagging emptiness accompanied by the thought, “Surely there must be more to life than this?

Those with something bigger than themselves generally derive a deep-in-the-core happiness from whatever that is. It’s a happiness that comes from a feeling you have a place in the world. A ‘bigger than me’ project can be your family, your religion, military service or a scientific calling…

Mark Stevenson is the author of An Optimist’s Tour of the Future (Profile Books, 2012). Check out the School of Life course, The Future is Up for Grabs with Mark Stevenson on 17th Septemeber 2013.

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Mark Trezona

Falling short: seven writers reflect on failure

, and  reflect on their own disappointments in life, love and work…

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Mark Trezona

Self-Discipline Can Lead to Happiness, Study Reports

CHERI CHENG

The study found a correlation between self-restraint and control and overall happiness. It concluded that self-control should not be considered self-deprivation but rather, time management of goals and tasks…

“People who have good self-control do a number of things that bring them happiness – namely, they avoid problematic desires and conflict”…

Do You Really Know What Makes You Happy?

By Gretchen Rubin

Research shows that many people are miserable at their jobs. Given how much of your life is spent working, finding happiness at work is key. But how do you get started? Gretchen Rubin, who wrote the book on happiness — literally and is AOL Jobs newest contributor, addresses that topic here. 

One key to a happy life is self-knowledge. I can build a happy life only on the foundation of my own nature. I’ve found that the more my life reflects my real interests, values, and temperament, the happier I become.

But it’s very hard to know ourselves; it’s easy to be distracted by the way we wish we were, or think we ought to be, or what others think we should be, until we lose sight of what’s actually true…

Here is a list of 20 questions 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…

What is the Best Predictor of Unhappiness?

by Alex Mayyasi

Psychologists armed with statistically significant survey data have a lot of advice on how to be happy, but we don’t seem to be very good at following it.

Interesting that a major contributor to being unhappy is a long commute!  What about money?  What about being married??  This article answers them all…

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Mark Trezona

The 5 Ps of professional happiness

by Jay Shepherd

In this short talk (just six minutes) at the LexThink Conference in Chicago, I explain why unhappiness abounds in the legal world. Then I give five simple steps for fixing it. And this advice doesn’t just apply to lawyers; any professional or creative person can use them to find happiness at work. So take six minutes and watch.  See if it can help you find your own professional happiness…

Career Change Advice – How To Be Happy At Work

By Aaron

The reasons of discontent at work are many and unique as you change careers. Change is the only solution to such discontent. The following points should be of great benefit to you and guide you through this process.

  • Change your perspective…
  • Change your environment…
  • Change your career…
  • Change your influence circle…
Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Mark Trezona

Why Grumpy People Can Be Super Productive

BY: DRAKE BAER

If you’re waiting for the “right mood” to strike before you attack that stack of work, you might be waiting a looooooooonnnnnnng time.

When we say that we’re “waiting for the right time” to start on something, we tend to mean that we want to feel good about what we’re doing–but new research suggests that a pinch of negativity can actually be a creative spark.

How so? Creativity, as we know, is both an emotional and intellectual process: Psychologists have found that positive emotions open up your inventory of possible actions–one of the many reasons that it’s good to feel good. But, as new research in the Academy of Management Journal suggests, it’s good to feel bad, too–depending on how you roll through the day…

Time to think differently

More diverse leadership is business critical in a complex environment, says Lubna Haq, director at Hay Group.

The current era of globalisation, slow growth, e-commerce, social media, big data and an ageing workforce requires new ways of working: ways that are more flexible, open, inclusive, collaborative and innovative than ever before.

In response, many organisations are dismantling their old, command-and-control leadership structures in favour of new, matrix-style roles. These carry much more accountability, but benefit from far less formal authority.

Leaders are therefore being forced to operate in a vast white space with just a handful of direct reports. To succeed in this context they need to be adept at collaborating with, influencing and quickly gaining the trust of their teams and peers.

This new environment calls for both a more sophisticated and a more subtle approach to leadership: one which Hay Group data suggests women may be better able to adopt.

Hay Group’s research over many years has found that great female leaders employ a wider range of leadership styles than their male counterparts, enabling them to be more effective at motivating and engaging people to perform.

They are also more skilled at knowing how and when to use which style…

How managers can improve the quality of feedback they offer

by 

New research about happinessunderscores the point. In an experiment, employees at a number of Fortune 500 companies were sent a daily email inquiring about their level of happiness. Some received the question worded this way: “How happy were you today?” Others got this version: “Did you do your best to be happy today?” Over time, the latter group reported a significantly higher level of happiness, because they came to see it as a goal for which they were personally responsible.

What would happen if you ask yourself each day: “Did I make a point to give and receive some valuable feedback today?” You’d be upgrading all three facets of high impact feedback — the source, the content and the recipient…

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Mark Trezona

 

How Can We Solve The Employee Disengagement Problem?

IT’S TIME TO LOOK AT THE CAUSES, NOT THE SYMPTOMS…

“Aren’t people curious about how you manage to create tens of millions of disaffected employees?  That’s not a trivial accomplishment.”

Recently, Mark Crowley reported on the results of the Gallup organization’s annual employee engagement survey. He painted a humorous, but compelling picture of the results, “… imagine a crew team out on the Potomac River where three people are rowing their hearts out, five are taking in the scenery, and two are trying to sink the boat.”…

Taylor’s philosophy made the manager responsible for all problem-solving. It sounds very much like our contemporary mindset, where for every organizational problem the answer is generally a new management task. With the best of intentions, solutions offered for employee disengagement depend on the manager “doing” for the employee. Without intending to, we may keep reinforcing a system that deprives employees of proper credit for their own capacity for self-management and independent problem-solving. Equally, we make unfair demands on managers who have been, more than likely, trained to play leadership roles, but were not developed to be leaders.

The better model would be one in which the responsibility for making work feel vital, motivating, and personally important is a task equally shared by everyone no matter what their title.

When so much management advice seems to come down to “treat employees like adult human beings” you have to wonder. Why do people need to be told that? If they’re not doing that, what are they doing? The fact that managers even need that advice and advice-givers seem to think it’s necessary to give may provide us with some additional insight into the origins of disengagement…

Vivian Giang, Business Insider

It’s the entrepreneurial age and everyone wants to work for themselves. By 2025, Gen Y is going to make up 75% of the global workforce, and these millennials’ independent-thinking and entrepreneurial mindset is going to change everything about the way companies are run…

Gen Y has a need to “solve the world’s problems” and if companies want to keep talent in their organizations, they need to clearly communicate long-term company goals with their hardworking and inspired workers…

Companies that employ a decent number of young people should support this independent thinking ability by developing entrepreneurial programs. Allowing workers to do this also increases loyalty, because employees know you care about their happiness and well-being. In the end, they will work harder for you, because you’ve allowed them time to work on something they care about.

In short, the typical 9-to-5 grind is on its way out and …“it’s going to be less about who you work for, but who you’re working with.”

Why 20% Time is Good for Schools

A.J. JULIANI’S BLOG

 20% time allows students to pick their own project and learning outcomes, while still hitting all the standards and skills for their grade level. In fact, these students often go “above and beyond” their standards by reaching for a greater depth of knowledge than most curriculum tends to allow. The idea for 20% time in schools comes from Google’s own 20% policy, where employees are given twenty percent of their time to work and innovate on something else besides their current project. It’s been very successful in business practice, and now we can say that it has been wildly successful in education practice.

With 20% time, we can solve one society’s biggest problems by giving students a purpose for learning and a conduit for their passions and interests. If you listen to Sir Ken Robinson or Daniel Pink talk, you’ll discover this is an issue that starts with schooling. We spend 14,256 hours in school between kindergarten and graduation. If we can’t find a time for students to have some choice in their learning, then what are we doing with all those hours? …

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Mark Trezona

Steve McCurry’s Blog: When Things Come Alive

Night
when words fade and things come alive.
When the destructive analysis of day is done, and
all that is truly important becomes whole and sound again.
When man reassembles his fragmentary self and grows with the calm of a tree.
– Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

More stunning photos from this master artist showing us into a new range of impressions of the human life force…

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013

Designed by Sou Fujimoto

Until 20 October 2013

Describing his design concept, Sou Fujimoto said:

“For the 2013 Pavilion I propose an architectural landscape: a transparent terrain that encourages people to interact with and explore the site in diverse ways. Within the pastoral context of Kensington Gardens, I envisage the vivid greenery of the surrounding plant life woven together with a constructed geometry. A new form of environment will be created, where the natural and the man-made merge; not solely architectural nor solely natural, but a unique meeting of the two…

The delicate quality of the structure, enhanced by its semi-transparency, will create a geometric, cloud-like form, as if it were mist rising from the undulations of the park. From certain vantage points, the Pavilion will appear to merge with the classical structure of the Serpentine Gallery, with visitors suspended in space.” …

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013 Designed by Sou Fujimoto  Photo by: Mark Trezona

Serpentine Gallery Pavilion 2013
Designed by Sou Fujimoto
Photo by: Mark Trezona

For more stories see this week’s full collection:

Happiness At Work #52

Enjoy…

Happiness At Work #51 ~ a guide to this week’s collection

balance

Our lead story this week is Judy Martin’s compelling Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto and The Third Metric, a rousing urgent call to action to remedy our ailing organisations and the world we are making for ourselves before it is too late.  We really recommend you read her superb article in full, but here are some extracts we have taken from it…

Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto and The Third Metric

Written on June 12, 2013 by 

The Work, Stress, Bliss Manifesto

“Deprived of meaningful work, men and women lose their reason for existence; they go stark raving mad.”

–  Russian Novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky

Well-being at work is threatened with extinction. The new world of work is governed by expanding technology, exponentially increasing demands, and a changing workforce that strives to be successful in an always-on competitive marketplace which values money, power and fame above the human condition.

Tethered to technology in the work-life merge which has been thrust upon us, we are precariously teetering between the polarities of stress: the burnout kind and the euphoric kind that can trigger innovation, especially in a knowledge economy.

As never before, it seems we are faced with a cruel choice between overworking ourselves miserably to pay the bills at the expense of our well-being, and taking risks to satisfy our own deep desire to move toward a more joyful and blissful state of vocation that fuels our humanity and connection to a larger purpose…

Getting Into the Flow

We’re starving for a workplace culture and the individual internal conditions that allow for an emergent state of flow – where work is done with the kind of focus, intention and purpose that results in a feeling of satisfying accomplishment. Chronic work stress impedes this process threatening creativity and innovation which is crucial to compete.

But how can exhausted stressed-out employees enter the kind of rapture, immersion and positive energized focus in ones work that Hungarian psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi talks about? The kind of flow which triggers challenge, sparks creativity and elicits a sense of a larger contribution. That point where your challenges meet your skills, in “the zone.”

“Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”    

~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience

Such work when in the flow is a mindful extension of ones personal values and skills, amplification of individual core energy and unique creative prowess. In a perfect world, it’s being in a vortex with the ability to tap a unique set of skills against the backdrop of an inexhaustible inner passionate drive…

Human Beings at Work

We must take efforts to remember that we are human beings – living a work experience. And within that experience we must embrace the ethos of our Veritas: the truth of who we are at our core, as creative human beings.  Turning toward the very thing we have been programmed to forget and leave behind, gives the much-needed oxygen to the unique voice, pulse and rhythm that has been quieted.

The drive to expand our creativity at work and advance our careers has been crushed and/or left behind in the struggle to keep up in the new complex world of work and managing the integration of our working and living experience, which can cause enormous stress.

We have to refine our mindset around the interconnectedness of Work, Stress and Bliss in this new workplace era which I call The Human Capital Zeitgeist: a socio-economic and cultural shift defined by an emerging recognition that talent well-being is the kingpin to competing in a volatile marketplace. So much so, that big business might actually have to throw a bit more respect at the “human” in the human capital equation…

The New World of Work

Work and Life are no longer separate: By default we’re now living a work-life merge. Exhausted, over extended, uncertain about the future, and trepidacious to draw a line and define boundaries for fear of being replaced, scrutinized, or penalized in some way, a revolution in thought and behavior is coming down the pike that will upset the apple cart and force new ways of doing things…

It’s time to sound the alarm, for big business and entrepreneurs alike, to realize they are on a treadmill toward a demise in productivity and innovation. The way we work- the 40 plus hour-week, increasing workload, no work-life balance, opting out of lunchtime and vacation inevitably leads to chronic stress, the consequences of which are serious health issues, poor engagement and weak productivity.  The mindset of overwork in the context of our 24/7 hi-tech marketplace will never sustain growth…

The Stress Conundrum

  • 65% of workers cite work as a significant source of stress (APA, 2013)
  • Burned out employees develop heart problems at a 79% higher rate than less stressed out workers. (Tel Aviv University)
  • 98% of employers that measure employee well-being say stress is a workforce issue. ( Towers Watson, UK 2013)

When not managed, stress fueled by resentment at work, anxiety about competition, lack of control, job uncertainty, financial insecurity and work overload –  as opposed to the good kind gleaned from inspiration, motivation or a good old-fashioned deadline – will sabotage success, happiness, innovation and creativity…

If employees were a little happier, less stressed and more valued at work, chances are their well-being and productivity might improve.  Think of it as a simple equation. Neuroscience continues to reveal that managing stress and triggering the Relaxation Response influences stress hormones in our body in a positive way. It’s time to retrain the brain to respond better to stress, and to start thinking differently about our working experience as vocation.

The Bliss Crisis & Renewal

“Our real job is to be the people we are capable of being. Often people think, ‘I have to get a job,’ as though it’s something outside yourself. A real career when it’s seen as a calling, is something that emerges organically from who you are. A career is not separate from who you are, a career is an extension of who you are.” 

                ~Marianne Williamson, Spiritual Teacher and Author

The idea of blissful vocation has devolved, and we have grown to deem such thoughts of joyful work as an idealistic dream and the stuff of fairy tales. How can one find happiness in a job or career where the bottom-line trumps the quest for meaningful work, wisdom, wonder and well-being? …

The Cultural Evolution of the Workplace

Research shows that meaningful work can no longer take a backseat to the almighty dollar if companies want to secure and retain top skilled talent.

In The Progress Principle: Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement and Creativity at Work, Harvard Business School’s Teresa Amabile cites research that found that employees who have satisfying inner work lives – perform better, are more engaged and creative.

If employees were a little happier, less stressed and more valued at work, chances are their well-being and productivity might improve.  Think of it as a simple equation. Neuroscience shows us that the brain responds well to positive emotions. A happy brain works more effectively, is more focused, engaged, innovative, and creative. A happy brain improves cognition and increases productivity (A. J. Oswald, E. Proto, and D. Sgori, 2009)

The New Integrated World of Work, Stress and Bliss

Doing business in a 24/7 uncertain world, and all the bells and whistles of exponentially expanding technology, makes it difficult to tap our potential or “truest nature” at work when there is so much stress and noise. Uncertainty throws everyone. It’s easier to go with the status quo, than be the person who thinks out of the box.

Our charge is to better understand the new world of work, manage workplace and chronic stress with more consciousness, and finally do the work needed to reveal more meaning and purpose in our jobs. Ultimately, by cultivating resilience, we can trigger our own unique restorative skills, manage work stress, spark the creative impulse and consciously evolve in the workplace –  engaging in meaningful vocation. That means that well-being, wisdom and wonder might just inch their way into a more influential place in business.

I’ll be writing more about the components of The Veritas Principle and how we can cultivate resilience while tapping our truest nature in vocation.  I’m happy to hear your thoughts on the Work, Stress Bliss Manifesto. We’re on the precipice of change in the new world of work and I for one am thrilled to be witness to the journey of this evolution toward valuing human capital in the workplace and in the bottom-line.

Please join me in the conversation on Twitter @JudyMartin8.

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Here are some snippets from some other stories that we have especially liked this week…

…Margaret Mead once said, “If we are to achieve a richer culture, rich in contrasting values, we must recognize the whole gamut of human potentialities, and so weave a less arbitrary social fabric, one in which each diverse human gift will find a fitting place.”

We are currently living in a less-than-perfect world. We need new ideas, new organizations, new solutions and new leaders to be a part of creating change. We need people who are mindful, inclusive and interested in creating environments that respect the diversity that surrounds us. This will mean continuing the “Third Metric” dialogue, challenging current definitions of success and allowing diversity as a path to innovation through flexible and global leadership mindsets…

The Key To Happiness At Work (infographic)

JUNE 11 BY 

We spend so much of our lives at work that it’s important we find happiness while their. Unfortunately, boring, stressful and tedious jobs can take their toll and many people find their time at work more miserable than happy. So how can you find happiness at work?

Well, there are a few things you can change..

Not happy at your job? Your company is paying for it in innovation potential.

A Nov. 2011 paper from European Union-backed academic institution evoREG makes the case that happiness is both integral to the innovation process and oddly enough simultaneously misunderstood. The authors find happiness to be both an input factor as well as an output factor of the innovation process.

In other words, happiness leads to more innovation, and when directed properly, innovation creates more happiness for societies…

There is also evidence that happy employees are more productive.

In a 2004 paper titled “The Role of Psychological Well Being in Job Performance: A New Look at and Age Old Quest”, Thomas Wright and Russell Crapanzano documented that employees at research and development facilities and in inherently creative positions are more likely to be innovative when their self-reported psychological well-being, or happiness in other words, is high.

The authors go on to present three possible approaches to building a “happier” workforce:

  • Select employees who are already “happy” (though the authors point out that this could make the other candidates even more depressed and unemployable!).
  • Train employees to be happier through a number of cognitive restructuring stress-management techniques.
  • Through situational engineering, change the environment so that it is more conducive to happiness.

So, let’s have more cheesecake and happy employees. Innovation and economic growth depends on it…

Employee Happiness as a Business Tool [infographic]

…employee happiness affects the productivity of the workplace, and the overall feelings that employees have about their work. Fixing issues that make employees unhappy can turn the productivity of a workplace around, and can ultimately save a doomed business. When looking for jobs, I will definitely look at the environment of my future employers to see if it is a place that I will feel happy in…

This is your brain on happy: Machine can read your emotions

Maggie Fox, NBC News

Carnegie Mellon University Brain scans show a person who is happy, left, and sad. Researchers used fMRI to image emotional states of the brains of 10 volunteers.

Researchers have figured out how to read your mind and tell whether you are feeling sad, angry or disgusted – all by looking at a brain scan.

The experiment, using 10 acting students, showed people have remarkably similar brain activity when experiencing the same emotions. And a computer could predict how someone was feeling just by looking at the scan…

You are what you think

By Bob Bailly

To put it simply, neurons that fire together wire together and survive. Our brains are being wired moment by moment and then pruned according to use. We become what we do and think.

This ability to wire our brains has been called neuroplasticity. Think of it as use it or lose it. Alexander Luria, a famous Russian psychologist who studied fundamental systems of the brain, discovered in the early part of the 20th century that damaged brains can be retrained through repetition. In a sense you grow your brain through exercise, both mental and physical, with results similar to exercising. By stressing your muscles, they strengthen and grow; by stressing your brain it too will grow in response to the stress…

I would argue that the incredible number of hours spent by many kids today with new technology is also having an effect on their brain development. I’m just not sure whether it is positive or negative. Assuming the mind can control the brain, we need to be careful what we think and do…

How is your emotional intelligence doing? Interview from Época Negócios

For over 15 years, American-born expert Joshua Freedman has been dedicated to putting the concept of emotional intelligence into practice. He is one of the professionals responsible for the Six Seconds EQ Certification Training, which bridges the gap between the concept of emotional intelligence and the real life of people and businesses.  The concept of emotional intelligence was first popularized by the American psychologist Daniel Goleman, in the 90s…

In the following decade, the 2000s, was the time to try and figure out how it works. Now, in the third decade, we are applying the concept. There are many projects and people finding different ways to take advantage of emotional intelligence. Our ambition is that by the year 2039, one billion people will be practicing the techniques of emotional intelligence.

There are several approaches to emotional intelligence. In the Six Seconds method, the primary practice consists of three steps:

1. Become more aware of what you feel and your reactions in the present moment.

2. Enjoy the opportunity to decide, consciously, how you will respond to situations rather than react impulsively.

3. Take into account your major goals and ensure that your answers are in alignment with those goals.

In summary, the three steps are: feelings, options, goals. If people practice this process they will be using their emotional intelligence to create better results. At each meeting, in negotiations, decision making, on a daily basis…

Lunch Meeting

Creative freelancers: who’s sitting round your table?

Just because you don’t work in an office doesn’t mean you don’t have colleagues. Gather your network, says Juliet Simmons

“Are you leaning in?” Thanks to Sheryl Sandberg, today’s working women are mulling over a question that often seems to focus on the need to work harder and faster. But if you just step back or dig a little deeper, you’ll find that it’s not all about the hours that you put in – it’s also about taking advantages of the people and opportunities that come your way…

As Jonathan Saffran Foer recently wrote in the New York Times: “Everyone is always in need of something that another person can give, be it undivided attention, a kind word or deep empathy. There is no better use of a life than to be attentive to such needs.”

At the heart of The Table and its success and growth is a realisation that in this technology-filled world, it’s human face-to-face contact and connections that help you in life. The Table is about connecting with smart creative people, realising that there’s a bit of smart and creative in all of us, and that we need others to fulfil that potential…

Happy People

Community Bonding Protects Your Happiness in Times of Stress

Emerging research suggests that social cohesion across communities can help others cope better with crises, and improve happiness among individuals.

Economist Dr. John Helliwell and colleagues from the University of British Columbia in Canada believe this shows that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called “pro-social” beings.

In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others…

In the study, researchers reviewed the relative roles of social capital and income as determinants of happiness.

They discovered that countries in economic transition show the power of social trust, i.e., the belief that generally speaking, most people can be trusted. Social trust is an indicator of the quality of a country’s social capital, which increases happiness directly but also permits a softer landing in the face of external economic shocks.

The authors wrap up the paper with a look at the power of human nature and the suggestion that the core goal of public policy should be to facilitate the development of institutions that bring out the best in humans…

Businessman Thinking on Steps

Are we caught in a happy trap?

by Jill Stark

Happy ever after: We want it for ourselves, we want it for our kids, and we want it now. But what if everything we know about happiness is a lie? What if the relentless pursuit of pleasure is in fact making us miserable?

A growing number of psychologists and social researchers now believe that the ”feel-good, think positive” mindset of the modern self-help industry has backfired, creating a culture where uncomfortable emotions are seen as abnormal. And they warn that the concurrent rise of the self-esteem movement – encouraging parents to shower their children with praise – may be creating a generation of emotionally fragile narcissists.

Some therapists believe this positivity obsession is partly to blame for rising rates of binge drinking, drug use and obesity. The more that genuine contentment eludes us, the more we seek to fill the gap with manufactured highs. But as we try to anaesthetise feelings of sadness, failure and disappointment, our rates of depression and anxiety continue to climb.

“So many people now think, ‘If I’m not happy, there’s something wrong with me.’ We seem to have forgotten that feelings are like the weather – changing all the time; it’s as normal to feel unhappy as it is to have rainy days,” said Russ Harris, a British-born Australian doctor and author of The Happiness Trap, in which he argues popular wisdom on happiness is misleading and destined to make you miserable. “Increasingly people are developing anxiety about their anxiety and dissatisfaction about their dissatisfaction. Painful emotions are increasingly seen as unnatural and abnormal and we refuse to accept that we can’t always get what we want. This sets you up for a struggle with reality, because the things that make life rich and full – developing a meaningful career, or building an intimate relationship, or raising children – do not just give you good feelings, they also give you plenty of pain.”

Carol Dweck urges parents to talk to their children not just about their victories but their struggles. Like Harris, she maintains that accepting setbacks and unpleasant emotions, rather than trying to block them out, is the key to building resilience. “Research has shown the great successes are people who are able to endure long periods of tedious work to accomplish what they want. If we’re taught things should be effortless – we should be happy all the time, everything should be exciting and interesting – we’re at a great disadvantage. Struggle should be something that’s valued, not something that we view as being just for incompetent people” …

“We have to nurture our relationships, our engagements with other people, our responsibility for other people’s wellbeing – that’s what nurtures community, and we are sustained by those communities. If we’re just going for the easy emotional stuff or the materialist stuff this is actually bad for the life of our community because it nurtures self indulgence, self-centredness and competitiveness,” says Australian social researcher Hugh Mackay. “If we focus only on happiness we’re neglecting the richness of the full emotional spectrum and we’re overlooking the fact that you couldn’t make sense of happiness if you didn’t know sadness.”

New Zealand psychologist Chris Skellett knows this only too well. His book, When Happiness Is Not Enough, explores how a fulfilling life can only be achieved by balancing being happy in the moment, with a drive towards longer term goals.

He speaks from a position of tragic, lived experience. Last month, his 21-year-old son Henry died suddenly and unexpectedly. Whilst coping with overwhelming grief, his understanding of the importance of the full range of human emotions has never been greater…

Clinical Psychologist Chris Skellett talks about his book When Happiness Is Not Enough –
Balancing pleasure and achievement in your life.

Sleep - man asleeo at desk (soft focus)

Four top tips for better sleep and improved workplace performance

In his book, Internal Time: Chronotypes, Social Jet Lag, and Why You’re So Tired, Professor Till Roenneberg discusses the research he’s done into sleep patterns and the impact they have on personal performance.

Social jet lag, as Roenneberg refers to it, occurs when the body clock is out of synch with the rhythms we’re being asked to comply with, whether they be family routines, school or office life. This doesn’t only make peak performance challenging, it can also have a negative impact on how we eat, how we exercise and even how we are able to make changes in our lives – the ability to give up smoking is one surprising example he cites – so it’s something we should all make an effort to take account of, both for ourselves and to help those we live and work with.

So what can you do if you’re at risk from social jet-lag? Here are some tips that we’ve found can make a positive difference…

Man Reading Book and Sitting on Bookshelf in Library

Study: Reading novels makes us better thinkers

New research says reading literary fiction helps people embrace ambiguous ideas and avoid snap judgments

BY 

A trio of University of Toronto scholars, led by psychologist Maja Djikic, report that people who have just read a short story have less need for what psychologists call “cognitive closure.” Compared with peers who have just read an essay, they expressed more comfort with disorder and uncertainty—attitudes that allow for both sophisticated thinking and greater creativity.

“Exposure to literature,” the researchers write in the Creativity Research Journal, “may offer a (way for people) to become more likely to open their minds.”…

“The thinking a person engages in while reading fiction does not necessarily lead him or her to a decision,” they note. This, they observe, decreases the reader’s need to come to a definitive conclusion.

“Furthermore,” they add, “while reading, the reader can stimulate the thinking styles even of people he or she might personally dislike. One can think along and even feel along with Humbert Humbert in Lolita, no matter how offensive one finds this character. This double release—of thinking through events without concerns for urgency and permanence, and thinking in ways that are different than one’s own—may produce effects of opening the mind.”

The researchers have no idea how long this effect might last. But their discovery that it is stronger in frequent readers suggests such people may gradually become programmed to respond in this way. “It is likely that only when experiences of this kind accumulate to reach some critical mass would they lead to long-term changes of meta-cognitive habits,” they write.

Their results should give people “pause to think about the effect of current cutbacks of education in the arts and humanities,” Djikic and her colleagues add. After all, they note, while success in most fields demands the sort of knowledge gained by reading non-fiction, it also “requires people to become insightful about others and their perspectives.”

If their conclusions are correct, that all-important knowledge can be gained by immersing yourself in a work of literature. There’s no antidote to black-or-white thinking like reading “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Blank canvas and easel

How Do Artists Differ From Bank Officers?

By Scott Barry Kaufman

…the more research I conduct on this topic, the more I become convinced there really are a particular set of personal characteristics that distinguish people in creative professions, as well as people who are making innovative and valuable contributions in their respective fields (whatever the field)…

Consider a hot off the press study just published in Creativity Research Journal. Edward Necka and Teresa Hlawacz recruited 60 visual artists and 60 bank officers in Poland, and administered a variety of tests of temperament and divergent thinking (one component of creativity requiring the ability to generate many different possibilities). How did the artists differ from the bank officers? …

Socrates Teaching The Humanities

Why Study Humanities? What I Tell Engineering Freshmen

By John Horgan

The humanities are subversive. They undermine the claims of all authorities, whether political, religious or scientific. This skepticism is especially important when it comes to claims about humanity, about what we are, where we came from, and even what we can be and should be. Science has replaced religion as our main source of answers to these questions. Science has told us a lot about ourselves, and we’re learning more every day.

But the humanities remind us that we have an enormous capacity for deluding ourselves. They also tell us that every single human is unique, different than every other human, and each of us keeps changing in unpredictable ways. The societies we live in also keep changing–in part because of science and technology! So in certain important ways, humans resist the kind of explanations that science gives us.

The humanities are more about questions than answers, and we’re going to wrestle with some ridiculously big questions in this class. Like, What is truth anyway? How do we know something is true? Or rather, why do we believe certain things are true and other things aren’t? Also, how do we decide whether something is wrong or right to do, for us personally or for society as a whole?

Also, what is the meaning of life? What is the point of life? Should happiness be our goal? Well, what the hell is happiness? And should happiness be an end in itself or just a side effect of some other more important goal? Like gaining knowledge, or reducing suffering?

Each of you has to find your own answer to these questions. Socrates, one of the philosophers we’re going to read, said wisdom means knowing how little you know. Socrates was a pompous ass, but there is wisdom in what he says about wisdom…

Crayons

12 Ways to Spark Your Creativity

The Creative You

Everyone is born creative.

The boxes of crayons in kindergarten were not limited to those who possessed potential; because the truth is, everybody has potential.

People appear to have the delusion that only a few are capable of creative genius. This is one of life’s biggest myths.

The truth is, creativity is very much like a muscle; everyone has the ability, but some people don’t practice it because they don’t believe they are capable.

You know this isn’t true.

If you’ve tried to create something in the past and it didn’t work out, maybe it’s because you were trying too hard.

Creativity is a matter of doing, not a process of thinking. Learn to be spontaneous to be able to bring ideas to fruition, and don’t be afraid to make mistakes.

Here are some ways you can unleash the creativity within yourself…

We often think of artists and writers as fueling their creative process with endless cups of coffee (as well as other substances). But, writes Maria Konnikova on the New Yorker‘s “Elements” blog, all that caffeine may actually inhibit creativity…

“While caffeine has numerous benefits, it appears that the drug may undermine creativity more than it stimulates it…

According to a recent review of some hundred studies, caffeine has a number of distinct benefits. Chief among them are that it boosts energy and decreases fatigue; enhances physical, cognitive, and motor performance; and aids short-term memory, problem solving, decision making, and concentration.

But all of that comes at a cost. Science is only beginning to unravel the full complexity behind different forms of creative accomplishment; creativity is notoriously difficult to study in a laboratory setting, and the choice of one approach over another limits the way that creativity can be measured. Still, we do know that much of what we associate with creativity—whether writing a sonnet or a mathematical proof—has to do with the ability to link ideas, entities, and concepts in novel ways. This ability depends in part on the very thing that caffeine seeks to prevent: a wandering, unfocussed mind…

Dimming the lights can increase your creativity by making you feel ‘free from constraints’

  • People in dim light are better at solving creative insight problems

  • Those in normal light are no more creative than those in bright light

  • And we can become more creative just by thinking about being in dim light

German researchers found that people sitting in dim light are significantly better able to solve creative insight problems than those working under normal or bright lights.

However, people working under normal lights are no more creative than those in very bright light.

They also discovered that people who work under dim lights feel ‘free from constraints’.

The researchers, at the University of Stuttgart and the University of Hohenheim, believe that this perceived increase in freedom improves people’s creative performance.

Medical Daily reports that a person can actually increase their creativity just by describing sitting in the dark because of a psychological effect known as priming – this occurs when a person moves an idea to the forefront of their brain by recalling it…

This near darkness, near silence

Author: Tim Etchells

I am still sitting in the auditorium. Looking forwards. I can’t see so much at all. The backs of people’s heads maybe. And the volume of the stage space hardly looms in the quiet and the darkness. All the lights are off. Did I mention that already? I don’t think so.

It’s the first space of imagining, isn’t it? This near darkness, near silence. Something foundational about it – at least from the Christian creation story of course. First darkness, then light. But without the exit signs. And in our own lives, the experience of darkness must be pretty much foundational…

Darkness as a space of social isolation. Lying there you’re aware of your own isolation. Hearing the rest of the house or the apartment continue as you lie there. Remember there is no silence – sleep as the state that wills silence into being, demands or imposes silence…

In the Forced Entertainment performance Bloody Mess John Rowley bids the audience “Close your eyes”. He is trying to explain to the darkness at the beginning of the world. Close your eyes.

The other space of imagining – close your eyes.

“Close your eyes”.

Because for some reason story state, story place, is close to the state or place of sleep. The habit of reading to children at bed time. Speaking them out of this world and into another one. Mimicking the transaction that will soon come from the waking state to the state of sleep.

Maybe. Yes. But.

CLOSE YOUR EYES

Connected deeply to the act of imagining. Because, in its pure form imaging is best done without present distraction. We need to put our attention elsewhere. To bring a picture in the mind it’s best to have none in front of us. Z, I say as I am reading to him. Please do not whisper to yourself, or please do not play with that as we’re reading.

We’re busy working in here. In the head. We don’t need anything getting in the way of that. Like now, for example.

And here is BridgeBuilders Martyn Duffy’s piece about listening and the sounds around us that he wrote this week for Shaky Isles Theatre company

Your noise, my music

Listening in and out of context –  daydreaming on the sound-making process

BY MARTYN DUFFY

Music is continuous, but listening is intermittent.

John Cage

…I have come to think of sound as something that is all around me that I am exploring and finding my way through.  Swimming through the sound waves.

This has led to a new awareness of the ordinary sounds and noises that are present in every aspect of my day.  Some call this noise.  To me it is a kind of music. It does not matter whether it is indoors or out, in the city or in the countryside.  The world is a very noisy place.  And our process of how we listen is what helps us make sense of it all – order out of chaos if you like.  I don’t believe there is ever such a thing as true silence.  Silence is not the absence of sound but a field of possibilities…

A sound is all the possible ways there are to hear it.

Listen for a moment.

What do you hear?

 

Turn It Up: How the Right Amount of Ambient Noise Increases Creativity

by David Burkus

For most creatives there is a “Goldilocks” zone of just the right amount of noise, but not too much.

Perhaps this is why so many creatives often retreat to public spaces like coffee shops. They’ve become a virtual second office to so many. Specifically, settings like coffee shops contain the right level of ambient noise that just happens to trigger our minds to think more creatively. A paper published late last year in the Journal of Consumer Research, argues that the ideal work environment for creative projects should contain a little bit of background noise.

But what if you aren’t free to roam to coffee shops and hotel lobbies in search of distracted focus? What if you need to re-create the coffee shop environment inside your cubicle or office? Luckily there are several virtual options available…

Night Noise: What a Sleeping Brain Hears

By Dorian Rolston

Earlier this year, a Kickstarter campaign for a documentary film called “In Pursuit of Silence” raised $35,371, exceeding its goal in just a few weeks… By “exploring the value of silence, our relationship with sound, and the implications of living in a noisy world,” promised Patrick Shen, the documentary’s director, viewers could indulge in 80 minutes of quiescence. And, for over 35 million Americans suffering from hearing loss, toiling in urban cacophonies roughly 1 decibel louder every year, perhaps that was worth the price of admission.In a 2011 publication, “Burden of disease from environmental noise,” a WHO-led research team analyzed data from numerous large-scale epidemiological studies of environmental noise in Western European countries within the past 10 years. The studies looked closely at planes grumbling, trains whooshing and whistling, and automobiles bleeping, and then traced links to cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment in children, sleep disturbance, tinnitus, and relentless annoyance. Poring over these data, the WHO team calculated the disability-adjusted life-years or DALYs—in essence, healthy years of life—lost to “unwanted,” human-induced dissonance. The toll: not counting industrial workplaces, at least one million DALYs each year. “There is overwhelming evidence,” they conclude, “that exposure to environmental noise has adverse effects on the health of the population.” …

European countries, included in the WHO publication, attributed to noise nearly 1 in 50 heart attacks across Western Europe. The panel ultimately ranked traffic noise second among environmental threats to public health, just behind air pollution, and affirmed the threat to be, unlike that from exposure to second-hand smoke, dioxins, or benzene, rising inexorably. Noise pollution “is considered not only an environmental nuisance,” WHO has warned correctively, “but also a threat to public health.” All of which raises the question: If the world is so much noisier, then why is no one listening?

The insidiousness of noise is not only that it kills, but that it does so quietly. According to the WHO publication, the majority of lost DALYs can be traced to noise we aren’t even aware of hearing. The real danger, it appears, is from whatever drifts into our ears undetected—during sleep….

As we nod off, our perceptual faculties become attuned to the environment in such a way that, unlike during the day, can’t be consciously managed. The mind is rendered vulnerable to whatever stimuli happens to filter through, and, since the eyes can be shut, that happens to be through the ears. This receptivity was undoubtedly adaptive for our ancestors, alerting them to predators lurking in the darkness.

But for us today, the WHO reports, it “constitutes a health issue.”…

Shen, for his part, remains ever in pursuit of them. “There’s a quality of sound we’re looking for when we say we’re seeking silence,” he says. “The sound of birds chirping, research shows, is very calming and soothing to us. If you think about our evolutionary past, that sound would be a signal of safety, indicating that the danger is gone and we are now safe to leave our caves.” If the night noise that invades our sleep is any indication, abiding in our caves—or, as Shen intends, donning the cavernous protection of noisecancelling headphones—sounds more or less right…

Windows light at night in office block

Radio Silence Is Not a Leadership Strategy

by Alli Polin

Globally, we’re living at a time that the call to action is more, better, faster, NOW!  Leaders are overwhelmed with emails, meetings, conference calls and technology that keeps them connected 24/7 all demanding immediate response and resolution.  Despite the fact that we realize that we want thoughtful solutions, we also want immediate attention and action from leaders.  When there is a pause between our super important message and the leader’s response, we frequently make up stories to fill the void.

Some stories we tell ourselves are:
– My idea was terrible.
– They just don’t care.
– I guess I’m on my own.
– The leader stinks.

In contrast with the stories, here’s a glimpse into the reality of many leaders:
– Sincerely want to support their team and be responsive to customer requests.
– Buried daily under an avalanche of meetings and messages that takes away critical time from working with the team.
– Truly want to take the time to process and think before replying on gut alone.
– Next steps are unclear and they need time to connect with others to figure it out.

How can the gap between the leader’s reality and the desire for constant contact be bridged? …

You Write Like a Girl! 5 Ways Women Sell Themselves Short When Writing

Linguist Deborah Tannen has been studying gender differences in communication for nearly 40 years. In her bestselling book, Talking From 9 to 5: women and Men in the Workplace, Tannen outlines how women are socialized to use language in ways that hurt them in the workplace.

She explains that even young boys are conscious of their public image, rarely discussing their weaknesses. Girls, on the other hand, “…are expected to be ‘humble’—not try to take the spotlight, emphasize the ways they are just like everyone else, and de-emphasize ways they are special.”

Here are five questions to help you determine whether you’re giving yourself the credit you deserve:

1. Do You Emphasize Process or Results?

2. How Specific Are Your Verbs?

3. Are Your Individual Contributions Clear?

4. Are You Speaking Directly, or Through a Filter?

5. Do Your Adjectives Describe Emotion, or Action?

deadline

Living in a Brainwashed Culture of Urgency

By 

Everything is urgent and important. 

Or so it seems.

How do we better understand that this is all an illusion that is occurring in this very era we’re living in?

The way I see it, gaining freedom from false urgency is the most important practice of our time, or so we’ll come to understand in the years to come.

Now, this may seem simple, but it’s not easy, because our brains have been conditioned for years now to believe that all these forms of media are urgent and important. That means it’s now become a default, meaning it’s what happens when there’s no awareness.

In this moment right now, you have the ability to break free from the illusion of urgency and step back into your life. All it takes is recognizing the reality of the illusion and being on the lookout for it.

As an initial practice to play with, take today to be on the lookout for the illusion of urgency and see what you notice. Is there a space to step into greater freedom? …

Country Road On Cloudy Day

Defining Leadership

What is your definition of leadership? Only few people have a solid answer to this question. Few have a clear definition of what leadership means for them personally.
Therefore it’s useful to explore the different definitions, perspective and viewpoints on leadership….

 

Reckless person

Our favourite thinkers about resilience are Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney.  It is their model of 10 Essential Elements for Resilience that we use in our training.  And it is their model that Ingrid Wickelgren refers to in her article about the importance of facing our fears and stepping up to challenges:

How to Become More Resilient

Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney confirm that one of the best ways to build resilience is to make an effort to take on increasingly difficult, but manageable challenges (see “Enhance Your Resilience”). Doing so will help you handle higher levels of stress. (For more on why, see “When Is Stress Good for You? [Video].”) Other strategies for building resilience include getting physical exercise, learning to regulate your emotions, solidifying your personal relationships and looking for resilient role models. Resilience is apparently not just something that comes about by accident. You can train yourself to bounce back from adversity…

Life Breath of Half the World

Steve McCurry’s pictures this week are all of people in Monsoon water.  But this does not mean that these are pictures of disaster…

India’s  monsoon rains have covered the entire country a month ahead of schedule, brightening the prospects for a bumper output of summer-sown crops such as rice, oilseeds and cotton in one of the world’s leading producers.

ENTER GREATIST’S FIRST-EVER WRITING CONTEST! “HOW I FIND HAPPINESS”

There are as many ways to find happiness as there are people walking around on this planet. But even though happiness can mean so many things, it’s important to understand the role it plays in our individual lives. Owning our happiness can motivate us to pursue our goals, inspire us to make changes in our lives, and make it that much easier for us to spread kindness and smiles around the world.

At Greatist, we’re big on happiness. So we want to know: What makes you happy?How do you cultivate happiness in your own life? How do you find happiness?

We’re announcing the launch of Greatist’s first-ever Writing Contest: “How I Find Happiness.” The top three stories (as determined by Greatist’s editorial team) will be featured right here on Greatist.com.

The Details
  • Submissions will be accepted from now until 11:59 pm EST onJuly 1, 2013.
  • Stories can be up to 1,500 words but cannot have been published elsewhere (including personal blogs).
  • Multimedia is encouraged, but not required.
  • Unfortunately, Greatist ambassadors are unable to apply. But we still love you!
  • All submissions should be emailed to myhappyis@greatist.com. Be sure to include your name and contact information. It would also be great if you told us how you learned about Greatist (but this won’t affect the judging one iota).
  • Any questions can be sent to the same email address (above).

You can find all of these stories – and many more – in this week’s new collection:

 Happiness At Work Edition #51 

And here is a poem by CultFit that we like very much and hope you will enjoy too…

And For No Reason

And

For no reason

I start skipping like a child.

And

For no reason

I turn into a leaf

That is carried so high

I kiss the Sun’s mouth

And dissolve.

And

For no reason

A thousand birds

Choose my head for a conference table,

Start passing their

Cups of wine

And their wild songbooks all around.

And

For every reason in existence

I begin to eternally,

To eternally laugh and love!

When I turn into a leaf

And start dancing,

I run to kiss our beautiful Friend

And I dissolve in the Truth

That I Am.

Happiness At Work #50 ~ the future is now

Andrew McAfee: What Will Future Jobs Look Like (TEDTalk)

It’s tough to make predictions – especially about the future… Yogi Berra

Growing up in the 1960’s and 1970’s, when computers first began to be used in businesses, I can remember being told that the biggest challenge our generation would face would be what to do with all of our leisure time.  Because automation was going to free from us from so many things, we would have a ridiculous surfeit of our own time to do whatever we liked with.  Well, until now, I and the millions of others  who have been unsuccessfully trying to chase down an ever-increasing To Do List and get back any pretence of being even slightly in control as much as I have thought “well ha bloody ha!”

But could it be this prophecy at last be within reach of becoming true?

This is exactly what economist Andrew McAfee is claiming that this TEDTalk.

In the world that we are creating very quickly, we are going to see more and more things that look like science fiction and fewer and fewer things that look like jobs.

He admits that people have been wrongly warning of technology-induced unemployment since the Luddites smasked the looms 200 years ago, but says that what is different about now is that our machines have just started doing things they have never ever done before:

…understanding, speaking, hearing, seeing, answering, writing.  And they are still acquiring new skills…and the day is not too far off when we are going to have androids doing a lot of the jobs that we are doing now.

The world that we’re creating is going to involve more and more technology and less and less jobs, but this is great news he tells us.

…the best economic news that we have these days is that the New Machine Age will free us from drudgery and toil…

Just what we were told 35 years ago.  But maybe, just maybe the future is actually here this time…

This is a time of great flourishing for inventors, innovators and artists who are able to do things with less constraints than ever before…  we are in an astonishing time…

McFee is not concerned about dystopian fears that our machines will rise up to overwhelm and enslave us.  Or, at least, not ‘until my computer becomes aware of my printer…’

The societal challenge he thinks we do need to be thinking about is that, since the computerisation began in our work in the 1960’s, the gap has steadily widened between what work provides for people with college education, so-called white collar workers, and the life that non-college educated so-called blue-collar or low skill workers can make.  And these trends are now becoming so severe that they show signs of overwhelming any of last century’s civil rights achievements:

We have to do better than this.

We see some green shoots that things are getting better.  We see technology deeply impacting education and engaging people from our youngest learners up to our oldest ones.  We see business leaders telling us we need to rethink some of things that we have been holding dear for a while.  And we see very serious and data-driven efforts to understand how to intervene in some of the most troubled communities that we have…  But I don’t want to pretend for a moment that what we have will be enough…

My biggest anxiety is that we are going to have brilliant technologies embedded in a kind of shabby society and supported by an economy that supports inequalities instead of opportunity…

But I don’t believe for a second that we have forgotten how to solve tough challenges or become too hard-headed or apathetic to even try…

If we are going to bring the broad masses of the people in every land to the table of abundance it can only be by the tireless improvement of all or our means of technical production.

Winston Churchill

Systems that Perceive, Think, and Act

Technological advances are allowing scientists to begin building a cognitive computer that functions like a brain.

Since computers were invented, they’ve been called “brains.”

Yet, the fundamental tasks at which computers and human brains excel, the vastly different design underlying each, and the brain’s remarkable ability to learn and adapt has always set them poles apart — until now.

By bringing together the recent advances in neurosciencesupercomputing, and nanotechnology, we’re at the beginning stages of creating cognitive machines: inspired by the function, low power, and compact volume of the organic brain.

Ancient Greece people together and female column

This week I  have been questioning how much these days, if in fact at all, we are mindful to try and learn from the past.

I recognise the superabundance of history that we get – our television has perhaps never been so rich with re-creations, re-imaginations, re-enactments, re-stagings and other styles of historical re-tellings.  But I have been wondering how much this exists as a kind of wonderful-story product, something to know and enjoy as a distant and effectively fictionalised aspect of ourselves with little relevance or practical application to our fabulously enlightened and self-actualised lives today.

The childhood, adolescence and early adulthood I remember growing up was laden with ominous lessons from recent and more distant history.  We were taught to be vigilant against the horrors and oppressions of war and tyranny and to distrust any form didacticism, whether political or religious.  And we grew up in a tense spreadeagled balance between our fear of nuclear catastrophe along one dimension, and in the other, fiercely determined in the headstrong battles we fought to force out a kinder more equal world: feminism, black and ethnic minority rights and gay, lesbian and transgender activism.

And in a great many of these ambitions we have been successful and the world we wanted is the world we now have.

So what can history teach us now?  Do we believe that we have now transcended anything that we could ever need or expect to learn from our past.  Are we so arrogant to think that our world and lives now are so far removed and evolved from any of our previous iterations, that from here on in we are walking blind and will just have to make it up as we go along?  If so, why then do we seem to be doggedly and dogmatically banging down our old solutions that seem to me to have been conceived and designed for a previous time for a now outmoded set of circumstances?

George Papandreou: Imagine A European Democracy Without Borders (TEDTalk)

I am not the only one with an interest in looking back as a way of looking optimistically forward.  In this TEDTalk George Papandreou, the former Greek Prime Minister, invites us to remember the conditions and aspirations of the original democracy of Ancient Greece…

He talks about how mastery over our own fates was a discovery, a revelation to the Ancient Greeks and how this liberated us from the fear of being always subject to the whims of the gods or despots.  This was also the time that many of our modern ideas about happiness were invented, where we chose to see happiness as eudaimonia, wellbeing, more about the rewards of living a good life, living well and less down to happenstance, luck, whatever the gods chucked at us.

Bringing some of the insights that he has found though his reflections since leaving office, his story of what has happened in recent years, not just in Greece but across the whole of Europe and even across the globe, points up some of the deeper problems and complexities that we are all facing but not yet approaching with 21st century intelligence, collaboration and creativity.  Our problems, he tells us, are not so much of economics as they are of democracy itself.  We are, he suggests, responding with too much of a knee-jerk reactionary panic to an overbearing sense of subserviance to the market’s power and, as a consequence, destroying people’s belief and trust in democracy, just as happened centuries ago in Ancient Greece:

Democracies are once again facing a moment of truth…

Greece is only a symptom in the wider vulnerabilities of the system, vulnerabilities of our democracies.

Our democracies are trapped by systems to big to fail.  Or, more accurately, too big to control.

Our democracies are weakened in the global economy with players that can evade laws, that evade taxes, evade environmental or labour standards.

Our democracies are undermined and constrained by the growing inequality and the growing concentration of power and wealth, lobbies, corruption, the speed of the markets, or simply the fear of  an impending disaster.  And this has constrained the capacity to imagine and use the potential of  the collective for finding solution.

Greece was only a preview of what is in store…

He talks about how the group of leaders who met to solve the crisis in Greece shared a common ignorance of never having had to deal with these circumstances before, but that this ignorance led to fear and panic-led decisions and actions rather than anything like the creativity and innovation that can be born when the people around the table acknowledge their not-knowing and use this energy and honesty to forge brand new ideas and possibilities for action.

They used dogma and determinism when they would have been better to orient themselves with the sense and capabilities of creativity and learning and dialogue –  to look for and find meaning through conversation rather than defend an existing position, what Papandreous calls

…the blind faith in the orthodoxy of austerity.  Instead of reaching out to the collective wisdom in our societies, investing in it to find more creative solutions, we reverted to political posturing.

And then we were surprised when every ad hoc new measure didn’t bring an end to the crisis…

But this could be the pattern that leaders follow again and again when we deal with these complex cross-border problems, whether it’s climate change, whether it’s migration, whether it’s the financial system.  This is abandoning our collective power to imagine, falling victim to our fears, our stereotypes, our dogmas.  Taking our citizens out of the process rather than building the process around our citizens…

It’s no wonder that our political leaders, and I don’t excuse myself, have lost the trust of our people…

He says the reason he called for a referendum was because, before trust and confidence in the markets could be restored, it was necessary to restore trust and confidence in our people:

If politics is the power to re-imagine our problems, then 60% youth unemployment in Greece, and across other countries in Europe, is certainly a lack of imagination, as well as compassion.

His call-to-action is to:

…see how we can throw democracy at the problem.  The Ancient Greeks, with all their shortcomings, believed in the wisdom of the crowd.  ‘In people we trust.’  Democracy could not work without the citizens deliberating and debating, taking on public responsibilities for public affairs.

Average citizens were often chosen for citizen juries who decide on critical matters of the day.

Science, theatre, research, philosophy, games of the mind and the body – these were a daily exercise.  Actually they were an education for participation, for growing the potential of our citizens…

The term ‘idiot‘ originated in Ancient Greece, coming from the term ‘idio‘ meaning self, a person excluded, self-centred, someone who doesn’t participate or even examine public affairs…

Today we have globalised our markets but we have not globalised our democratic institutions…

How do we secure the demos, the space, the platform of values so that we can tap into all of your potential?

Citing Europe as already the most successful peace experiment ever achieved, he then makes the challenge that Europe might also be an equally successful new pan-nation experiment of global democracy, offering and even greater citizenship across its regions where they can come up with creative solutions, where our common identity is democracy and our common value is participation.

Today I will talk to you about the failure of leadership in our western democracies.  And I will not provide any feel-good ready-made solutions.  But I will in the end urge you to re-think, take risks and get involved in what I see as a global evolution of democracy.  Because I believe the failure of democracy is that we have taken you out of the process…

At the end of this talk he tells us:

I have been, and am, part of Europe’s political system.  And believe me, I know: things must change.

We must revive politics as the power to re-imagine and re-design for a better world.

But I also know that this disruptive change won’t be driven by the politics of today.  The revival of democratic politics will come from you.  And I mean all of you. Everyone who stands up…

See also these articles about the links between resilience and the collective…

Governments shirk their responsibilities in the name of ‘resilience’

Those with power and resources may be able to engage with and influence resilience agendas. Vulnerable people and communities may find themselves significantly affected by the retreat of the state and the steady erosion of the services they once provided.

In an age of uncertainty where the complexity and global reach of our social, economic and environmental systems can deliver what are claimed to be unavoidable shocks, the idea of self-made resilience has found a welcoming political home.  The impact of this widespread acceptance needs to be very carefully considered however.  Bouncing back or adapting is not better than avoiding risk in the first place.

Prevention is better than cure.

Resilience in trying times — a result of positive actions

Communities that stick together and do good for others cope better with crises and are happier for it, according to a new study by John Helliwell, from the University of British Columbia in Canada, and colleagues. Their work suggests that part of the reason for this greater resilience is the fact that humans are more than simply social beings, they are so-called ‘pro-social’ beings. In other words, they get happiness not just from doing things with others, but from doing things both with and for others…

Artistry: 

U3: The 7th Triennial of Contemporary Art in Slovenia. Resilience

20 June–29 September 2013

In recent years the concept of resilience has grown out of the global trend of developing sustainability in the societies of the global North.

In natural sciences or physics, a resilient body is described as flexible, durable, and capable of springing back to its original form and transforming the energy received into its own reconstruction (a good example of this is the sponge).

In psychology, resilience refers to the subject’s ability to recover their original state relatively quickly after some significant stress or shock and continuing with the processes of self-realization without a major setback.

Resilience is more than just the ability to adapt, promoted by the concept of the flexible subject over the past two decades, which was adopted by corporate capitalism and triggered the precarious mass movement of labourers.

Resilience encompasses exploring reciprocal codependence and finding one’s political and socio-ecological place in a world that is out of balance and creates increasingly disadvantageous living conditions. Rather than trying to find global solutions for some indefinite future or projecting a possible perfect balance, resilient thinking focuses on the diversity of practical solutions for the here and now, and on the cooperation and creativity of everyone involved in a community or society.

The 7th Triennial of Contemporary Art in Slovenia gives prominence to practices that can be seen as analogous to the concept of resilience, i.e. community-oriented, site-specific, participatory, performative, architectural, social, civic and other discursive practices exploring new (or revived) community principles, such as the “do-it-together,” urban gardening, and co-working, as well as the fundamental social question of how we coexist. Blending work and everyday life forms the basis of new economic, ethical, and production principles that the younger generation of artists uses to transform the role of the creative subject in contemporary Slovenian society…

This week we have also discovered the artist: Suli Breaks.  Highly recommended:  We think his spoken word videos are truly exceptional and really reward tuning into…

I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate||Spoken Word

Hear his articulate urgent voice about the world we have made and its consequences.  This is the video that is getting a lot of online attention.

The American’T Dream (The Purse Suit Of Happyness)||Spoken Word

For a more gentle and perhaps more optimistic here is his potent relevant vital Spoken Word video about living the life you care about.

Engaging Kids Today

Dan Haesler, a teacher, writer, speaker and consultant who’s worked with governments on education initiatives, says that teachers and parents need to be clear about what they mean by the term ‘engagement’.

According to Haesler, too many adults understand ‘engaged’ to mean occupying “the attention or efforts of a person”. This may be correct but it’s far too limiting. Yes, kids today are definitely occupied. There’s even the phenomenon now of the ‘hurried child’ whose calendar is filled with back-to-back commitments. Haesler wonders though if this is the best we can do. His much-preferred definition of ‘engaged’ is to “genuinely attract and hold the attention of our kids”.

This is the definition he wants us all to consider, “the sense of living a life high in interest, curiosity, and absorption. Engaged individuals pursue goals with determination and vitality,” he says…

Daniel Suarez: The Kill Decision Shouldn’t Belong To A Robot (TEDTalk)

‘No Robot should be allowed expectations of privacy in a public space…’

Science-fiction writer, Daniel Suarez – insisting that he is not talking fiction but facts here – says that we already have fully autonomous combat drones that can make lethal decisions about humans ‘all on their own‘ – having a human being in the loop is a choice not a requirement.  How might this change our social landscape he asks, and provides a brief tour of war history from the knights in armour through to the canon and on to the ‘weapons of mass destruction’ that we have been living with for more than a century now.  70 nations are now preparing their autonomous combat robots, and he argues we must develop global agreements that build our immunity to these machines rather escalate conflicts before it is too late and we are already in the maze…

gun closeup

From fitness to wellness: OMsignal’s smart shirts measure your motion … and emotion

A host of fitness tracking tech is currently on the market allowing users to measure and monitor their daily activities, heart rate, exercise intensity and even how much they sweat.

 But what about your emotional state? Montreal-based smart apparel company OMsignal has developed a T-shirt and a bra that not only tracks your daily steps, calorie burn and heart rate, but it also measures your breathing and emotional well-being using your heart rate variability, or HRV.

OMsignal started to work on a wellness wearable in 2011 after the team members initially designed a fitness bracelet in 2008. The goal was to access a greater body footprint — to get deeper data — and then to extract more meaningful signals and generate more meaningful insights.

Those insights have a lot to do with stress. CEO Marceau — who’s a high-energy, passionate, excitable person — has been practicing mindful breathing for a long time. With an active, busy lifestyle plus the stresses of a startup, he needs the chill factor, and needs the health benefits.

Especially the benefits of mindful breathing — even when you’re not exercising.

“With breathing, you control your stress,” says OMsignal’s chief medical officer, Stéphane Borreman — who is not only an emergency room physician but also a mechanical engineer. “Good breathing can make overall better balance in terms of the nervous system.”

All of which means that OMsignal’s apparel doesn’t just count your calories or tally up your steps for the day. It helps you understand how you are feeling, and why … it measures your emotional state.

Happiness At Work #50 – this week’s new collection

See this week’s full collection for these and many more stories, not just under this Future Is Now heading, but also across our usual spread of stories about happiness & personal flourishing, resilience & wellbeing, creativity & artistry, learning & leadership…

Beyond Glorious – what made this symposium so very special and extraordinary

Sheila Ghelani's conversation starters: http://sheilaghelani.co.uk

Sheila Ghelani’s conversation starters: http://sheilaghelani.co.uk

Beyond Glorious: the radical in engaged artistic practices

Thursday 30 May to Sunday 2 June 2013, Birkbeck College and Artsadmin, London

What is the place of art in acts of social re-imagination and repair?
What languages can be found to articulate such practices?
Is it possible to break new ground within the realm of engaged artistic practices?

This symposium marked the end of Rajni Shah Projects’ Glorious.  It brought together people from different spheres of life to discuss and experience the meanings, methods and effects of art in relation to engaged and radical practices.  Using Glorious as a starting point, events explored the potential of engaged artistic practices, not in terms of a reductive understanding of the ‘efficacy’ of art in the world, but as a complicating, delicate, nuanced, uneasy journey towards new ways of thinking.

What to say to capture and keep for memory about an event that lived and breathed through its quiet gentle generous friendliness?

Not just this.  This makes it sound too much like a tea party.  Which it was.  Its tea-and-cakeness was a vital part of its spirit and its lightness.  But it was so very very much more as well.

One of the symposium’s central questions explicitly tried to open out this difficulty of expressing the intangible, articulated in the question What remains?

Elizabeth Lynch (independent producer and external evaluator for Glorious), Mary Paterson (writer, producer, creative documentation for Glorious), Sarah Spanton (Waymarking), and

Chloé Déchery (theatre-maker, writer, co- artistic director of ÉCLATS Festival) opened a series of conversations around questions about what and who matters, needs to be held up and out in testament to show the worth and value out of work that makes and finds its intrinsic liveness in quiet nearly invisible and usually disregarded moments of connection, relationship, insight, inhalation.

From this session I remember the word ‘traces’ being important – as something slight and nearly gone that remains after the rest of its bulk has disintegrated, and also as something that we might use as a guide to trace out a new form from what has been left for us to follow.  We talk about when something is ‘gone without a trace’ but in doing so somehow keep still a trace of what it was that has gone.  But these subtle nuances are badly unequal to these shout-y times of unquestioning demands and unambiguous agendas.

I remember, too, the question: who gets to decide the value and worth of what was done? and I remember thinking, and am thinking still, this must be the people we hoped to bring some value and worth to, to make something that they find valuable and worthwhile.  And worrying that too seldom we go to these people to ask and listen to to decide the worth of what we have done.

But these are big questions that took the concentration of this whole symposium, as well as the work of Glorious itself, as well – as I discovered through this event – as well as a great deal more work that is being made quietly and unchampioned out there in the world amongst its peoples.  These are questions too big for this piece to try and sensibly answer.

Start again.

What I am remembering still about this experience are moments of easy unexpected encounter that tumbled joyfully out from alert interest and invitation and into depths and diversity of conversation.

I remember the warm friendliness and easy friendly warmth that was begun and renewed each day by Rajni waiting at the gate, or the outside door, to greet and welcome people as they arrived.  When I joined her in this quiet ritual for the last brunch event I discovered for myself how personal, charged and engaged this made me feel.  A small act done with great love that I am convinced sent out a ripple of similar welcomings and greetings across the whole event.

I remember the repeated joy of surprise encounters.  Sometimes these came from extended conversations with the people I was working alongside to make the backroom support.  Sometimes this was a stranger asking me to join them for lunch and drawing me lightly into their conversation.  Sometimes it was the joyful ‘aha’ of hearing the wisdom of another’s experience or the sharp brightness of their questioning inside the sessions.  What made these encounters so exceptional was their unusualness – I seldom have this same experience at other events – and their frequency.  I don’t believe it was my Glorious team member’s badge that made the difference, but rather that a mood and expectation and curiosity and readiness for surprising encounters that was woven through the DNA of this whole event: in its themes and its processes and its design and in the behaviours and values if its makers.  You get what you go looking for and something was in the water we were all drinking at this symposium that made us all more heads up, eyes open, ears widened…

I remember too the luxury of space…

…the space of time from 2hour sessions and 2hour lunch breaks with local restauranteurs who greeted us like they knew us and made us feel this meal would be special.  This elongated time that allowed for an unfolding discovery of dialogue rather than the more usual forced smash of ideas through too little time, too tight an agenda, too squeezed a set of objectives and expectations;

…the space and spaces made by questions that created openings and extensions rather than the more usual objectives that push for reductive thinking and positioning, driving and herding us into conclusions and certainties (as if there could be any, but how often are we asked, anyway, to just let go of our intelligent beliefs that our situations and ambitions are way too complex to carry the heavyweight load of certainty?);

…the physical space of being able to inhabit different spaces, to choose a session that involved walking after lunch each day, to, at any time, come into the coffee-always-ready-and-several-varieties-of-tea-room to sit, take time out, chill, or make your own conversations.

I remember, too, and maybe this above all else, how all the espoused values we, as the company, and we, as this makeshift community, were championing, advocating, advancing were every bit in evidence in the practice and experience of this event:  qualities of generosity and friendliness and inclusion and welcome and giving and gifts and relationship and exceptional experience at every moment and being fully present in every moment…  all these qualities were alive and active.  This is rare, and, sadly, it is a kind of truism that whatever is held to be most important for the people we work to benefit, we are least likely to be doing well for ourselves.

Blossoms on Branch

There is something more to say about this symposium, and this about the depth and range and interrogation of the inquiries that were the thread and weave of this symposium.  I have so far, perhaps, made it seem like a collusive gathering of the smug and complacent.  But its questions and the responses people bought were challenging and original.  And the provocations that started each day were provoking, not in a way that antagonised or tore at us, but rather they invited a kind of positive disruption, nudging us to think bigger, better, wider, more keenly.

One of the symposium’s most difficult acts to pull off – and that it did is further testament to its great success – was that many of its participants came without any prior knowledge or experience of  Glorious, the project on which it was built, and yet in conversation after conversation there seemed to me an equal sense of ownership and involvement and engagement and trust and uncertainty in the material, irrespective of how much immersion in Glorious you came with.

So my learning to take away in a memo to ourselves:

…continue, when preparing events, to devote time and creativity and care and minute attention to what will help to make a great experience for the people who will come.  Because, just as we have always believed, this matters immensely, and, because we might just dip into believing that we are already doing this enough.  And this experience has shown me that there is much more that is simple and wonderful that we could be doing.

A note: lest I seem to be bragging intolerably about this event I should say that I take no credit for its many successes.  I was there and helped to make it work, yes, but the things that it made it so very special and exceptional belong to a whole team who made it and especially the people who imagined and led it.  And, yes, to Rajni herself for the light gifted way she held it and us so potently open.

 

A beautiful bespoke publication that contains Mary Patterson’s  exquisite reveries about Glorious, and Elizabeth Lynch’s storytelling consideration of what Glorious achieved for the people who inhabited it, as well as two films made in response to Glorious – Becky Edmunds‘ collaged palimpsest made from different shows, and Lucy Cash’s Six Actions:

rajni glorious - Dear Stranger, I Love You

Dear Stranger, I love you

the ethics of community in Rajni Shah Projects’ Glorious

Dear Stranger, I love you offers an in-depth exploration of artist Rajni Shah’s Glorious, an experimental performance project that began with a series of conversations between strangers and ended in a large-scale theatre production involving local residents and musicians in each location where it was presented…

The publication brings together four ways of looking at Glorious: a short film made in response to six performances of Glorious by filmmaker Becky Edmunds; a music video shot in and around Lancaster and Morecambe by Lucy Cash; a critical overview of the process behind two iterations of the project by Elizabeth Lynch; and The Glorious Storybook, a collection of memories from throughout the process, edited and contextualised by writer Mary Paterson…

Happiness At Work #49 ~ listening, giving, empathy and quietness

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This week’s Happiness At Work collection #49 highlights stories about the power and effectiveness of what many would call the especially softest of the soft skills: listening, giving, empathy and quietness.

We’ve always been unhappy about the term ‘soft skills.’  Used as a catch-all for the skills that privilege human interaction over the more so-called ‘hard skills’ that are concentrated on results, efficiency, facts and figures, tasks and outcomes that, we argue, are a doddle compared to the much much ‘harder’ expertise needed to enact the highly complex demands of making high quality relationships, communications, feelings and experiences.

So here is a special selection of ideas, provocations, invitations and practical techniques for honing our soft skills into the strength, suppleness and resilience that our 21st century professional lives so deeply demand from us.  There are some really potent ideas here that challenge our default assumptions about what constitues ‘good’ and ‘bad’ leadership and question just how valuable and necessary being the archetypal inspirational leader really is for getting high quality outcomes in a complex fast-changing and unpredictable environment…

Spider's Web

Julian Treasure: 5 Ways To Listen Better (TEDTalk)

We are losing our listening…

This is how Julian Treasure begins his deeply-felt talk, which includes, as his title promises, five practical techniques for practising better listening skills.  These are some of the ideas taken from this talk that ring out especially for us:

Listening means making meaning from sound.

We listen through a funnel of unconscious filters that all go towards creating the reality and meanings we form:

Culture

Language

Values

Beliefs

Attitudes

Expectations

Intentions

The premium of good listening is disappearing partly because of our recording capabilities, which makes the need for good listening seem less needed and so less looked after than ever.  In our headphone bubbles, we are living in a noisier, more impatient and desensitised world where it is becoming harder for us to pay attention to the quiet, the subtle, the understated…

We need to learn to listen as if for the very first time.  Here are five tools for improving our ability to do this:

  1. Silence.  Just make 5 minutes a day of consciously observed silence – or as near to it as you can make.
  2. The Mixer.  Listen to how many individual channels of sound you can hear and tune into in the air around you.
  3. Savouring.  Enjoy mundane everyday sounds.  Discover how interesting and layered and dynamic and different sounds actually are.
  4. Listening Positions.  Most important this one.  Shift and play with different positions to get conscious about different ways of listening.  These are some, but there are many more:

active ~ passive

reductive ~ expansive

critical ~ empathetic

  1. RASA.  Sanskrit word meaning ‘juice’ and the acronym for Receive Appreciate Summarise (“So…) Ask questions.

I live to ask questions.  But I believe every human being needs to listen consciously in order to live fully connecting to the physical world around you and top each other.  In terms of spiritually connecting, every ritual path has listening at its heart.

We need to teach listening in our schools.

(And – we add emphatically – to our professionals and leaders across every different sector, organisation and enterprise.)

A world where we are not listening to each other is a very scary dangerous place.

Listening can help make connection, understanding, peace…

soothing ripples

Below the Noise: Listening as a Lifeline: Virginia Prescott at TEDxPiscataquaRiver

In this talk broadcaster and sound artist Virginia Prescott invites us to think about how we can learn to appreciate and enjoy listening more as we go forward in an environment of social media and increasingly individualised technologies…

Broadcasting means to throw out seeds.  And we don’t always know where these seeds will land or what will grow from them…

A Story Sung: Why Fiction Writers Should Read Poetry

In this article the ideas that Lucas Hunt writes for writers has so much resonance that I have substituted a more universal pronoun to amplify his wisdom for us all…

Any [one] who desires to get at the truth of human experience should read poetry, because it contains a multitude of possibility. Poetry is the mud that grows the seed that becomes the forest. It is the clay that makes the brick that forms the building. It is the blood that moves the body that holds the spirit. Poetry has the essence of life in it.

Poets voice that which has no voice in this world. They speak in tongues, and hope their words reach the ears and touch the hearts of those who know what it means to live. Much like fiction writers, poets struggle to remember how to make sense of existence. They share a passion for language, and a common, driving need: to imagine the world not just as it is, but how it ought to be.

Poetry tends toward silence…  Poetry aspires to be a song, more than a story, to be lyrically rich. It is also full of primal messages that, somehow, can express the inexpressible. There is more than meets the eye…

And if you enjoy this piece, you might also like to check out:

How To Enjoy Poetry by Maria Popova

“True poetic practice implies a mind so miraculously attuned and illuminated that it can form words, by a chain of more-than coincidences, into a living entity,” Edward Hirsch advised in his directive on how to read a poem.

But how, exactly, does one cultivate such “true poetic practice”?…

The poet and novelist James Dickey, winner of the National Book Award for his poetry collection Buckdancer’s Choice, offers some timeless and breathtakingly articulated advice…Ultimately, James Dickey champions the enlivening potency of the learn-by-doing approach:

The more your encounter with poetry deepens, the more your experience of your own life will deepen, and you will begin to see things by means of words, and words by means of things.

You will come to understand the world as it interacts with words, as it can be re-created by words, by rhythms and by images.

You’ll understand that this condition is one charged with vital possibilities. You will pick up meaning more quickly — and you will create meaning, too, for yourself and others.

Connections between things will exist for you in ways that they never did before. They will shine with unexpectedness, wide-openness, and you will go toward them, on your own path. ‘Then,’ as Dante says, ‘will your feet be filled with good desire.’ You will know this is happening the first time you say, of something you never would have noticed before, ‘Well, would you look at that! Who’d ‘a thunk it?’ (Pause, full of new light.)

‘I thunk it!’

quiet - soft focus purple floral print

Not Any Old Pencil

Brazil born, US based artist Dalton Ghetti carves minute masterpieces on the tips of pencils.

Here is some wisdom we can all learn from him by attending to the five things a pencil should never forget:

1) Everything you do will always leave a mark.
2) You can always correct the mistakes you make.
3) What is important is what’s inside you.
4) In life, you will undergo painful sharpenings which will only make you better.
5) To be the best pencil, you must allow yourself to be held and guided by the hand that holds you.

Leading Quietly by Adam Grant

In this talk at Wharton, University of Pennsylvania, occupational psychologist Adam Grant begins with a story of his experience building motivation in a call centre.  To improve things, he brings in two very different students who had benefited from the scholarships that these people were trying to raise money for to talk about how their bursary had changed their lives.  The first, Will, a student who was achieving meteoric success, came in and gave a dynamic high-imact presentation.  The average caller who heard Will increased the revenue they raised by 170%.  The second student, Emily, was painfully shy, and could barely get through her words.  But Emily’s effect was 2.5 times stronger than Will’s – leading to a 400% increase in revenue by the people who heard her.  Partly this is because of empathy, her audience really felt for her, but even more it was because of Emily’s authenticity:  her listeners knew she was telling the truth about how important her bursary was because it was clear that she was not speaking to them for any pleasure.

What stood out for me was they never once had to hear from a leader.  And this led me to thinking why do leaders think they have to be the ones who deliver the inspiring messages?  Why is this common sense but not common practice?

He then provides a quick self-assessment for Introversion and Extraversion which is not visible in this video, but most of us will already be familiar with our preferences across this scale.

This site  – Myers Briggs Test – is a helpful place to start to explore your  own preferences if you don’t know whether you are more of an Extravert, Introvert or Ambivert (half-and-half)

Grant tells us that Extraversion is how your neocortex processes stimulation, and helps govern willpower and self control.  Optimal arousal is that point when we are fully engaged, ‘in the zone,’ neither overloaded with too much stuff coming at us, but not getting so little stimulation that we are bored.  This is also the place where we are likely to be happy and flourishing.  A high Extravert preference wants lots of social interaction because that’s what brings stimulation for the neocortex, whereas people will an Introvert preference will be trying to get time to themselves in order to get their version of this same high level of optimal stimulation.

Even though Extraversion-Introversion preferences are cut right in the middle for the whole population, meaning that there are just as many Introverts as Extraverts, a piece of  research in 2009 found that 96% of American leaders score on the attention seeking Extravert side of this continuum, and only 4% below the mid point, and there is no reason to think that results in the UK would be significantly different.

If most leaders are the Extraverts, they feel they need to be the ones in the centre of attention…to be the ones who are delivering the inspiring messages…

When these figures are broken down further they reveal that 50% of supervisors are actually in the top 25% of high Extraversion scores, so are very extraverted, and  this has increased to 80% of top level executives who score at the high end of Extraversion.  For Adam Grant this leads to the question: ‘What are the consequences of this?  Is it good to be an extraverted leader?’

Extraverts, Grant suggests, are great for people who like to have a strong steer, but not at all for more proactive people who have a high degree of initiative and self-sufficiency.  These are the very people that we need most when the environment is turbulent and uncertain.  We know that it is impossible for leaders to recognise all of the problems that might be going on in these conditions.  And these people need Introverts to lead them, but in a more proactive and dynamic way than we might think.  This is not to say that all Introverts lead proactive self-starting people well, but, if they do, they get much better results.

And the evidence suggests that most Extraverts will be leading these people ineffectively.  Extraverted leaders tend to feel threatened by suggestions coming from below, and tend to ignore or reject what their people bring.  This in turn discourages these people and decreases the likelihood of them bringing more suggestions.  Grant’s research found a 28% lower output when people brought their suggestions to an Extravert rather than an Introverted leader.

So maybe there are some benefits to leading in a more Introverted and quiet way…

Grant owns up to being an Introvert.  He was once told that he was so nervous when he spoke that he caused his students to shake in their seats.  As a manager he felt he had to be constantly engaging and became completely exhausted. Introverts that operate at high rates of engagement all the time are at high risk of burnout and ill health.  But he goes on to wonder if ‘sometimes we get trapped into roles more than we meed to…’  Rather than quitting another job he was failing in, Grant did the job of his people were doing and became a salesman for a week, and, even though he was pretty rubbish at it and began by doing very badly, he ended up achieving a reasonable amount of revenue by going out to find new people that were not currently aware of their product.  This stimulated his thinking about whether he needed to be very extraverted in order to be an effective leader.

We can all act outside of our preferred style so long as we get a restorative retreat, a chance to return to the way of being that re-energises and refocuses us – quiet reflection for Introverts, social interaction for Extraverts.

Leading by doing, behavioural integrity, is one way of leading quietly.  When Grant spent time doing the job of the people he managed, he found his words took on far more meaning for people.

Our ‘first nature’ or signature strengths are those ways of being that just feel right, easy, natural for us.  But all of us develop a second nature, an out-of-character role, which we master because it helps us achieve something that we care about.  For Introverts, this is public speaking.  For Extraverts, it might be to do more stepping back, shutting up and listening and accepting others’ ideas and suggestions.

Grant gives us three practical ways forward in his call-to-action for leading more quietly:

  1. Spend time actually doing the work of the people you lead.  One expert recommends 10% of your time actually doing the work your employees do.
  2. Outsource inspiration.  Just as with the call centre, maybe the ideas about what is really valuable, and thus the inspiration and big ways of motivating people, are better brought by beneficiaries, clients, patients, customers, stakeholders, partners rather than you as the leader.  For example: Facebook engineers regularly get to hear invited users to talk about the actual differences that Facebook has made to their lives.
  3. Think about the other 80:20 rule.  Do not talk more than 20% of the time and spend at least 80% of your time really listening to the people around you.  Grant says to remember that ‘do not learn anything when I am talking’…

As an Extravert, myself, I have to say that this is only partially true, because, as an Extravert, talking and thinking are synonymous and I often literally do not know know what I think until I hear myself saying it.  I have great respect for the Introvert’s mystical ability to make fully formed fully considered conclusions without saying anything to anyone, but this is not easily in my gift, but rather something that I have had to develop as a consciously applied ‘second nature’ skill.  But back to Grant:

I’m not going to say that all Extraverts are narcissists but the correlation is positive…

So just as I’ve made myself feel better about my over-talkative style Grant points up the joy of talking for Extraverts, who tend to find listening to themselves talking exactly the happy learning experience I was just defending.  And research has found that the more Extraverts talk, the more they like the group they are with, even saying that the more they talk the more they learn about the other people in the group.  Ouch.

I do recognise wholeheartedly and without any reservation that I do not hear anything when I am talking and this matters.  And I would add to this that we cannot do exceptionally well more than one thing at a time, even if we are woman, so that if I am mostly concentrated on listening, this will be what gets my fullest energy and attention, whereas if I am thinking about what I want to say, it will not, and I will miss important and potentially vital things.

One more idea at the end of this talk caught my interest:  apparently Extraverts are more likely to be optimists and Introverts more pessimist.  But – crucially since realistic optimism is such a critical element of resilience – both optimism and pessimism are largely learned orientations, as we know from, for example, the exercise of spending 21 days writing down what you most appreciate that day which literally rewires the automatic circuitry in our brain and leads to long-lasting levels of increased optimism and positivity.

silhoutte of two business people talking

Susan Cain: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (The RSA)

Susan Cain is one of the people Adam Grant references in his talk about Leading Quietly.  In this talk Cain speaks passionately about the problems that come from the world that we have made that biases the preferences and needs of Extraverts over what Introverts need to be able to flourish:

We set up our workplaces and schools for maximum group interaction and we’re losing sight of the importance of solitude for creativity…  There is no correlation between being the best talker and having the best ideas…

We are living in a world that has become so  overly extraverted, so lopsided in that direction, that even extraverts don’t feel they have permission to tap into that side o themselves.

In companies, it has been found that the most effective teams are those that combine Extraverts and Introverts.  The two types are really drawn to each other and need each other.

Quiet - Susan Cain

Susan Cain: The Power of Introverts (TEDTalks)

In her TEDTalk Cain outlines her thesis in more detail and here are some of the things she tells us:

The key to maximising our talents is to put ourselves in the zone of stimulation that is right for us.  And when it comes to creativity we need Introverts doing what they do best.

Introversion is not about being shy, which is fear of social judgement.  Introverts feel most alive and most switched on and most creative when they are in quieter environments.  Not all of the time.  None of these things are absolutes.  There is no such thing as pure Extravert or Introvert, and some of us, now called Ambiverts, actually fall right in the middle.

But now here’s where the bias comes in.  Our world’s most important places, our schools and our workplaces, are designed for extraverts, for stimulation.

And we’re told that creativity comes from an oddly gregarious place.  In schools students sit in pods, face-to-face, are encouraged to work in groups, and the ideal student is said to be outgoing, assertive, extravert, even though, according to research, Introverts get better grades and are more knowledgeable.  At work we are arranged in open plan offices, where we are subject to the constant gaze and noise of our co-workers.  And when it comes to leadership, Introverts are more likely to be passed over when it comes to promotion, even though Introverts are likely to be much more careful, much less likely to take outsized risks, and, as Adam Grant’s research has shown, much more likely to let proactive employees run with their ideas, whereas Extravert leaders are likely to get so excited about things that they end up always putting their own stamp on everything and other people’s ideas have less chance of being able to bubble up to the surface.

Culturally we need a much better yin and yang between these two types, especially when it comes to creativity ad productivity.  When psychologists look at the most creative people they find that these people are very good at exchanging ideas and working with others, but they also have serious strands of introversion in them.  And this is because solitude is a crucial ingredient to creativity.  Darwin took long walks in the wood and turned down dinner party invitations.  Steve Wozniak invented the first Apple computer sitting alone, and he said that he never would have had he not been too introverted to leave the house when he was growing up.  And he needed Steve Jobs to get it out into the world.

For centuries we have known about the transcendent powers of solitude.  Only recently have we forgotten it.  Profound epiphanies tend to happen in solitude in the wilderness.

Groups famously follow the best talkers or most charismatic personalities in the room.  They may not have the best ideas.  None of this is to say that we don’t need social skills and teamwork.  In fact the problems we face in the world today are going to need armies of people to come together to solve.  But the more freedom we give Introverts to be themselves the more likely they are to come up with unique solutions to bring to some of these problems.

And here are Susan Cain’s three calls to action:

  1. Stop the madness for constant calls to constant group work.  I deeply believe our offices should be encouraging chatty cafe-style spaces for the conversational interactions where people can come together and serendipitously get exchange of ideas that is great for Introverts and Extraverts.  But we need much more time for freedom, autonomy, solitude.
  2. Go the wilderness.  Be like Buddha.  Have your own revelations.  Unplug and get inside our own heads more often.
  3. Look at what is in your suitcase:  Extraverts – grace us with your joy; Introverts – guard what you have but know that the world needs what you carry with you and have the courage to speak softly.

beach sea sky painting

Altruism & Happiness

Here are some ideas about the value and importance of giving taken from The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubormirsky

Acts of kindness

Altruism—including kindness, generosity, and compassion—are keys to the social connections that are so important to our happiness. Research finds that acts of kindness—especially spontaneous, out-of-the ordinary ones—can boost happiness in the person doing the good deed.

Reasons why acts of kindness make people happier:

  • Being generous leads us to perceive others more compassionately; we typically find good qualities in people to whom we are kind
  • Being kind promotes a sense of connection and community with others, which is one of the strongest factors in increasing happiness
  • Being generous helps us appreciate and feel grateful for our own good fortune
  • Being generous boosts our self-image; it helps us feel useful and gives us a way to use our strengths and talents in a meaningful way
  • Being kind can start a chain reaction of positivity; being kind to others may lead them to be grateful and generous to others, who in turn are grateful and kind to others

Compassion fosters happiness, but being sacrificial reduces well-being

Being kind and compassionate is linked to greater happiness, greater levels of physical activity well into old age, and longevity. One important caveat: if people get overextended and overwhelmed by helping tasks, as can happen with people who are caregivers to family members, their health and quality of life can rapidly decline. It seems being generous from an abundance of time, money, and energy can promote well-being; but being sacrificial quickly lowers well-being. This seems to be a good argument for communities sharing the burden for everyone’s benefit.

Angela Maiers: People Know They Matter When…

Choose2Matter is a global movement that challenges people to solve problems that break their hearts.

In her article Angela Maiers lists the essential attributes that cause people to know that they matter, and they are all about being quiet, listening and empathetic.  She writes, people know they matter when:

You see them…

You listen earnestly…

You ask meaningful questions…

You believe they can…

You dwell in possibility…

You celebrate them…

You do small things with great love…

You show up…

quiet - cream satin

What a Leader Needs Now: 7 ‘Feminine’ Qualities by Leah Buchanan

These traits, typically associated with women, make for great leaders – whether women or men, writes Leah Buchanan.  How close are these to the capabilities you are trying to develop and master, or, perhaps, to those you are trying to nurture in others?

Empathy: Being sensitive to the thoughts and feelings of others.

Vulnerability: Owning up to one’s limitations and asking for help.

Humility: Seeking to serve others and to share credit.

Inclusiveness: Soliciting and listening to many voices.

Generosity: Being liberal with time, contacts, advice, and support.

Balance: Giving life, as well as work, its due.

Patience: Taking a long-term view.

candle

Roman Krznaric – The Six Habits of Highly Empathic People (The RSA)

This theme is explored and continued in this talk about the new importance of nurturing excellence in empathy and how we might start to do this…

The 20th century was the age of introspection.  That was the age in which therapy and self-help told us that the best way to discover who we are and what we are was to look inside ourselves.  And combined with capitalist individualism, that pointed us towards pursuing the good life through self interest and luxury lifestyle.  And what we’ve discovered is that has not delivered the good life for most of us.

So the 21st century needs to be different.  Instead of the Age of  Introspection, we need to shift to the Age of  ‘Outraspection’ – discovering who you are and what you are here for by stepping outside yourself, discovering the lives of other people, other civilisations.  And the ultimate artform for the Age of Outraspection is empathy…

In this talk, cultural historian Roman Krznaric sets out his ideas about how the art of empathy can not only enrich our own lives, but also bring about social change, in six habits to try and master:

Habit 1:  Nurture curiosity about strangers.  For example, George Orwell used to dress and live as a homeless person in order to discover and learn.  We have assumptions about people, especially those who seem least like us.  Finding out about what they care about increases not only our compassion, but also our capacity for empathy.

This reminds of Louise Bougeoise’s Instruction: Smile At A Stranger which you can see in Maria Popova’s summary of  Do It: The Coppenedium  by Hans Ulrich Obrist in her

Do It: 20 Years of Famous Artists’ Irreverent Instructions for Art Anyone Can Make

Habit 2: Challenge prejudices and discover commonalities.  Look for what you share rather than what divides us.  For example, white extremist C.P.Ellis co-chaired a group looking at racial problems in schools and discovered a shared sense of oppression from poverty in common with his co-chair, a black civil rights activist.  This resulted in him tearing up his Klu Klux Klan membership card and the two becoming friends for life.

Habit 3: Extreme sport of experiential empathy.  For example, US industrial designer Patricia Moore decided to dress up as an 80 tear old and visited 100 cities to come up with inventions for new products based on her experience.

Habit 4: Practice the art of conversation.  Listening to and sharing ourselves and emotions.  For example, the brass roots peace organisation, Parents Circle which brings together Palestinian and Israeli parents who have lost a child for conversation, picnics, sharing stories.  Includes the “Hello Peace” freephone telephone line to be able to speak to someone from the opposite community.

Habit 5: Inspire mass action and social change.For example, the anti-slave movement was built on empathy with exhibitions, writing and presentations about what it was like to be a slave by formeslaves.

Habit 6: Develop an ambitious imagination.  Be more adventurous in who you think about and how.  For example, ‘those greedy bankers’ – think about their lives, values and have conversations that help to bridge divides.

Only through high levels of empathy can we start to create social change across time as well as space.  Failing to empathise through time with future generations will be extremely hazardous to all of our futures.

Socrates wrote: Know thyself.  This can also be achieved by stepping outside ourselves and discovering people least like us.

Homeless Young Boy Holding a Sign

Simon Baron Cohen: Zero Degrees of Empathy (The RSA)

In this talk, psychiatry professor Simon Baron Cohen presents a new way of understanding what it is that leads individuals down negative paths, and challenges all of us to consider replacing the idea of evil with the idea of empathy-erosion. 

He provides a two-dimensional definition for empathy that combines:

Cognitive component – the drive to identify another person’s thoughts and feelings, putting yourself in someone else’s shoes; and

Affective component – the drive to respond with the appropriate emotion to another’s thoughts and feelings, the emotional reaction we bring.

Most of us are in the middle of the normal bell-curve distribution for empathy.  Females score slightly but statistically significantly higher in empathy than males.

Philosopher Martin Buber identified the point you start treating a person as an object is when you switch off empathy:  the “I”  ~  “You” relationship is switched to “I” – “It.”

This is worth thinking about in our relationships – to what extent do we talk about you and what you feel, think want, need and to what extent do we only talk about the task, what needs to be achieved, the problem, the thing that needs doing…?

John Bowlby argued that early experience makes a major difference, and insecure attachment as child can lead to delinquency, because attachment is key to the formation of empathy.

Baron Cohen’s research is finding that the more testosterone in the womb the more different the empathy reading in the later 8 year old.  This links somewhat with the lower readings of empathy in males.

We know that there is not one part of the brain responsible for empathy, but rather Baron Cohen counts at least ten highly connected parts of the brain that are activated in a highly connected ’empathy circuit’ when we are being empathetic.

If psychopaths are one example of having no empathy, he asks whether zero degrees of empathy is always bad, and answers “No.”  The condition of Autism tends to cause people who have it to be extremely moral rather than cruel, making them likely to avoid or withdraw from social situations rather than want to harm.  Zero positive means their unusual attention to detail often leads to giftedness.

Evolution suggests that empathy has been positively selected.  In the 1960s Masserman trained rhesus monkeys to learn that when they pulled a chain they would get food.  He then changed this so that, as well as getting food, they also saw another monkey getting an electric shock, and found that they soon stopped pulling the chain that gave them food but hurt another monkey.

Like language and memory, empathy is likely to be influenced by many different components including our culture and our society.

Empathy is the most valuable human resource because it has the power to resolve conflict, either between two individuals – or extended to two nations – empathy allows us to understand the other’s point of view.  Empathy is cheaper and more successful than either military or legal solutions.

Young Couple Talking in Cafe

Disruptive Happiness: Mario Chamorro at TEDxWilliamsburg

For a wonderful creative illustration of these ideas in action see Mario talking about his enterprise, The Happy Post Project, an initiative that in less than 2 years has reached millions of people in over 30 countries, and today continues to spread happiness all over the world.

Most recently, Mario founded Make it Happy, an organisation devoted to the generation and support of positive social change, by creating projects that spread and inspire happiness, while cultivating a grassroots network of social innovators.

Sunnie Toelle: The Happiness Tipping Point

In this article Toelle looks back over the rapid recent advances in the various disciplines that put happiness at their centre and wonders…

Some fascinating and potentially powerful happiness-related frameworks and initiatives exist on multiple levels and across geographic regions. Happiness matters for many reasons, but most of all, because business as usual is leading to a staggering increase in mental disorders, mental health costs and a massive loss of human potential. Arguably, it should therefore become a key agenda item in boardroom meetings and at policy roundtables. Yet, it remains to be seen who and what will hit off the tipping point.

And for some advice about creativity, making art and living the life you want, see these ideas in

Austin Kleon on 10 Things Every Creator Should Remember But We Often Forget by Maria Popova

Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use — do the work you want to see done.

 

Here is a link to this week’s entire Happiness At Work which includes more ideas linked to these themes in my reflections about what made the Beyond Glorious Symposium so exceptional in my piece:

Beyond Glorious – what made this symposium so very special and extraordinary

Enjoy your week – especially its softer moments that we really hope you will be able to hold gently open…

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