If you would know strength and patience,
welcome the company of trees.
– Hal Borland
This week’s Happiness At Work theme is inspired by Steve McCurry’s beautiful photo portrait of trees in his blog collection
Steve McCurry’s new photo collection shows us in our relationships with trees and in these heart-lifting images, illuminates the timeless wisdom we associate with these majestic cohabitants of our planet.
It is not so much for its beauty that the forest makes a
claim upon men’s hearts, as for that subtle something,
that quality of air that emanation from old trees,
that so wonderfully changes and renews a weary spirit.
– Robert Louis Stevenson
Following on from these thoughts, here are some of the articles from this week’s Happiness At Work Edition #67 that draw on ideas of nurture, cultivation, slowness, patience, subtlety and longevity.
Aside from basic survival, the pursuit of happiness is arguably one of the most fundamental concerns of every human being on the planet (not to mention a driving force behind the $10 billion-a-year self-help industry). But according to Cornell cognitive psychologist Shimon Edelman, author of The Happiness Of Pursuit: What Neuroscience Can Teach Us About The Good Life,, we’ve been going about it backwards…
According to Edelman, understanding the workings of our own minds can help us to comprehend not only the nature of happiness but, perhaps eventually, how to optimize the brain for well-being. Recent developments in cognitive science have shed light on how positive emotional states (including pleasure, happiness, and euphoria) occur in the brain — and why we’re hardwired for happiness.
“In the past 10 years, neuroscience has witnessed a revolution. We used to treat the brain as a black box into which very limited glimpses were available, but we are starting to comprehend the basic principles within which the whole thing operates,” says Edelman, explaining that these simple principles are accessible to anyone who’s interested in getting to know his or her own mind…
Part of the reason we’re always seeking happiness is that it’s so fleeting in nature. As Edelman explains, “[Happiness] seemed difficult to grasp and hold onto… One has this compelling need to go on.”
This “need to go on” — to continue the pursuit — is one of the brain’s evolutionary advantages. “A species that rests on its laurels wouldn’t be doing that for very long,” he says.
But not all happiness is gone at a moment’s notice: eudaimonic happiness, which has to do with the way we evaluate our own lives and the feeling that we have lived well, is inherently longer-lasting than any state of pleasure, joy or euphoria (“hedonic happiness”). The distinction of these two domains of happiness goes back to Aristotle, who said that eudaimonic happiness happiness (also translated as “human flourishing,” or “living well,”) could be had by living in a way that follows a larger purpose beyond oneself. Happiness, for Aristotle, wasn’t the result of a life-long pursuit — it was the activity of pursuing.
“Eudaimonic happiness happiness is something you build up over a lifetime,” Edelman says. “In a sense, it’s a great consolation for older people — it’s nice to know that on that component, people can get more and more happy as they age if they led good lives.”
This eudaimonic happiness pursuit of the good life can also keep us in good physical health, according to recent research. A University of California study found that the two different types of happiness were associated with different gene expression. People with high levels of eudaimonic happiness happiness had low inflammatory gene expression and high antiviral gene expression, while those with high levels of pleasure-seeking happiness exhibited higher inflammatory gene expression.
“What happiness does in the short term, it also does in the long term,” says Edelman. “This [eudaimonic happiness] is what can be built and cherished and enhanced and preserved.”
In this long, erudite and thoughtful article, Roy F Baumeister reports on his findings and conclusions from a a survey that asked nearly 400 US citizens, ranging in age from 18 to 78, about the extent to which they thought their lives were happy and the extent to which they thought they were meaningful.
Happiness is not the same as a sense of meaning. How do we go about finding a meaningful life, not just a happy one?
Parents often say: ‘I just want my children to be happy.’ It is unusual to hear: ‘I just want my children’s lives to be meaningful,’ yet that’s what most of us seem to want for ourselves. We fear meaninglessness. We fret about the ‘nihilism’ of this or that aspect of our culture. When we lose a sense of meaning, we get depressed. What is this thing we call meaning, and why might we need it so badly?
…We found five sets of major differences between happiness and meaningfulness, five areas where different versions of the good life parted company.
The first had to do with getting what you want and need. Not surprisingly, satisfaction of desires was a reliable source of happiness. But it had nothing — maybe even less than nothing — to add to a sense of meaning. People are happier to the extent that they find their lives easy rather than difficult. Happy people say they have enough money to buy the things they want and the things they need. Good health is a factor that contributes to happiness but not to meaningfulness. Healthy people are happier than sick people, but the lives of sick people do not lack meaning. The more often people feel good — a feeling that can arise from getting what one wants or needs — the happier they are. The less often they feel bad, the happier they are. But the frequency of good and bad feelings turns out to be irrelevant to meaning, which can flourish even in very forbidding conditions.
Meaning and happiness are apparently experienced quite differently in time. Happiness is about the present; meaning is about the future, or, more precisely, about linking past, present and future. The more time people spent thinking about the future or the past, the more meaningful, and less happy, their lives were. Time spent imagining the future was linked especially strongly to higher meaningfulness and lower happiness (as was worry, which I’ll come to later). Conversely, the more time people spent thinking about the here and now, the happier they were. Misery is often focused on the present, too, but people are happy more often than they are miserable. If you want to maximise your happiness, it looks like good advice to focus on the present, especially if your needs are being satisfied. Meaning, on the other hand, seems to come from assembling past, present and future into some kind of coherent story.
This begins to suggest a theory for why it is we care so much about meaning. Perhaps the idea is to make happiness last. Happiness seems present-focused and fleeting, whereas meaning extends into the future and the past and looks fairly stable. For this reason, people might think that pursuing a meaningful life helps them to stay happy in the long run. They might even be right — though, in empirical fact, happiness is often fairly consistent over time. Those of us who are happy today are also likely to be happy months or even years from now, and those who are unhappy about something today commonly turn out to be unhappy about other things in the distant future. It feels as though happiness comes from outside, but the weight of evidence suggests that a big part of it comes from inside. Despite these realities, people experience happiness as something that is felt here and now, and that cannot be counted on to last. By contrast, meaning is seen as lasting, and so people might think they can establish a basis for a more lasting kind of happiness by cultivating meaning.
Social life was the locus of our third set of differences. As you might expect, connections to other people turned out to be important both for meaning and for happiness. Being alone in the world is linked to low levels of happiness and meaningfulness, as is feeling lonely. Nevertheless, it was the particular character of one’s social connections that determined which state they helped to bring about. Simply put, meaningfulness comes from contributing to other people, whereas happiness comes from what they contribute to you. This runs counter to some conventional wisdom: it is widely assumed that helping other people makes you happy. Well, to the extent that it does, the effect depends entirely on the overlap between meaning and happiness. Helping others had a big positive contribution to meaningfulness independent of happiness, but there was no sign that it boosted happiness independently of meaning. If anything, the effect was in the opposite direction: once we correct for the boost it gives to meaning, helping others can actually detract from one’s own happiness.
If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself
A fourth category of differences had to do with struggles, problems, stresses and the like. In general, these went with lower happiness and higher meaningfulness. We asked how many positive and negative events people had recently experienced. Having lots of good things happen turned out to be helpful for both meaning and happiness. No surprise there. But bad things were a different story. Highly meaningful lives encounter plenty of negative events, which of course reduce happiness. Indeed, stress and negative life events were two powerful blows to happiness, despite their significant positive association with a meaningful life. We begin to get a sense of what the happy but not very meaningful life would be like. Stress, problems, worrying, arguing, reflecting on challenges and struggles — all these are notably low or absent from the lives of purely happy people, but they seem to be part and parcel of a highly meaningful life. The transition to retirement illustrates this difference: with the cessation of work demands and stresses, happiness goes up but meaningfulness drops.
Do people go out looking for stress in order to add meaning to their lives? It seems more likely that they seek meaning by pursuing projects that are difficult and uncertain. One tries to accomplish things in the world: this brings both ups and downs, so the net gain to happiness might be small, but the process contributes to meaningfulness either way…
The final category of differences had to do with the self and personal identity. Activities that express the self are an important source of meaning but are mostly irrelevant to happiness. Of the 37 items on our list that asked people to rate whether some activity (such as working, exercising or meditating) was an expression or reflection of the self, 25 yielded significant positive correlations with a meaningful life and none was negative. Only two of the 37 items (socialising, and partying without alcohol) were positively linked to happiness, and some even had a significant negative relationship. The worst was worry: if you think of yourself as a worrier, that seems to be quite a downer.
If happiness is about getting what you want, it appears that meaningfulness is about doing things that express yourself. Even just caring about issues of personal identity and self-definition was associated with more meaning, though it was irrelevant, if not outright detrimental, to happiness. This might seem almost paradoxical: happiness is selfish, in the sense that it is about getting what you want and having other people do things that benefit you, and yet the self is more tied to meaning than happiness. Expressing yourself, defining yourself, building a good reputation and other self-oriented activities are more about meaning than happiness...
Questions about life’s meaning are prompted by more than mere idle curiosity or fear of missing out. Meaning is a powerful tool in human life. To understand what that tool is used for, it helps to appreciate something else about life as a process of ongoing change. A living thing might always be in flux, but life cannot be at peace with endless change. Living things yearn for stability, seeking to establish harmonious relationships with their environment. They want to know how to get food, water, shelter and the like. They find or create places where they can rest and be safe. They might keep the same home for years. Life, in other words, is change accompanied by a constant striving to slow or stop the process of change, which leads ultimately to death. If only change could stop, especially at some perfect point: that was the theme of the profound story of Faust’s bet with the devil. Faust lost his soul because he could not resist the wish that a wonderful moment would last forever. Such dreams are futile. Life cannot stop changing until it ends. But living things work hard to establish some degree of stability, reducing the chaos of constant change to a somewhat stable status quo.
By contrast, meaning is largely fixed. Language is possible only insofar as words have the same meaning for everyone, and the same meaning tomorrow as today. (Languages do change, but slowly and somewhat reluctantly, relative stability being essential to their function.) Meaning therefore presents itself as an important tool by which the human animal might impose stability on its world. By recognising the steady rotation of the seasons, people can plan for future years. By establishing enduring property rights, we can develop farms to grow food.
Crucially, the human being works with others to impose its meanings. Language has to be shared, for private languages are not real languages. By communicating and working together, we create a predictable, reliable, trustworthy world, one in which you can take the bus or plane to get somewhere, trust that food can be purchased next Tuesday, know you won’t have to sleep out in the rain or snow but can count on a warm dry bed, and so forth…
My own efforts to understand how people find meaning in life eventually settled on a list of four ‘needs for meaning’, and in the subsequent years that list has held up reasonably well.
The point of this list is that you will find life meaningful to the extent that you have something that addresses each of these four needs. Conversely, people who fail to satisfy one or more of these needs are likely to find life less than adequately meaningful. Changes with regard to any of these needs should also affect how meaningful the person finds his or her life.
The first need is, indeed, for purpose. Frankl was right: without purpose, life lacks meaning. A purpose is a future event or state that lends structure to the present, thus linking different times into a single story. Purposes can be sorted into two broad categories. One might strive toward a particular goal (to win a championship, become vice president or raise healthy children) or toward a condition of fulfilment (happiness, spiritual salvation, financial security, wisdom).
Life goals come from three sources, so in a sense every human life has three basic sources of purpose. One is nature. It built you for a particular purpose, which is to sustain life by surviving and reproducing. Nature doesn’t care whether you’re happy, much as people wish to be happy. …It doesn’t care what you do on a Sunday afternoon as long as you manage to survive and, sooner or later, reproduce.
The second source of purpose is culture. Culture tells you what is valuable and important. Some cultures tell you exactly what you are supposed to do: they mark you out for a particular slot (farmer, soldier, mother etc). Others offer a much wider range of options and put less pressure on you to adopt a particular one, though they certainly reward some choices more than others.
That brings us to the third source of goals: your own choices. In modern Western countries in particular, society presents you with a broad range of paths and you decide which one to take. For whatever reason — inclination, talent, inertia, high pay, good benefits — you choose one set of goals for yourself (your occupation, for example). You create the meaning of your life, fleshing out the sketch that nature and culture provided. You can even choose to defy it: many people choose not to reproduce, and some even choose not to survive. Many others resist and rebel at what their culture has chosen for them.
The second need for meaning is value. This means having a basis for knowing what is right and wrong, good and bad. ‘Good’ and ‘bad’ are among the first words children learn. They are some of the earliest and most culturally universal concepts, and among the few words that house pets sometimes acquire. In terms of brain reactions, the feeling that something is good or bad comes very fast, almost immediately after you recognise what it is. Solitary creatures judge good and bad by how they feel upon encountering something (does it reward them or punish them?). Humans, as social beings, can understand good and bad in loftier ways, such as their moral quality.
In practice, when it comes to making life meaningful, people need to find values that cast their lives in positive ways, justifying who they are and what they do. Justification is ultimately subject to social, consensual judgment, so one needs to have explanations that will satisfy other people in the society (especially the people who enforce the laws). Again, nature makes some values, and culture adds a truckload of additional ones. It’s not clear whether people can invent their own values, but some do originate from inside the self and become elaborated. People have strong inner desires that shape their reactions.
The third need is for efficacy. It’s not very satisfying to have goals and values if you can’t do anything about them. People like to feel that they can make a difference. Their values have to find expression in their life and work. Or, to look at it the other way around, people have to be able steer events towards positive outcomes (by their lights) and away from negative ones.
The last need is for self-worth. People with meaningful lives typically have some basis for thinking that they are good people, maybe even a little better than certain other people. At a minimum, people want to believe that they are better than they might have been had they chosen or behaved or performed badly. They have earned some degree of respect.
The meaningful life, then, has four properties. It has purposes that guide actions from present and past into the future, lending it direction. It has values that enable us to judge what is good and bad; and, in particular, that allow us to justify our actions and strivings as good. It is marked by efficacy, in which our actions make a positive contribution towards realising our goals and values. And it provides a basis for regarding ourselves in a positive light, as good and worthy people.
People ask what is the meaning of life, as if there is a single answer. There is no one answer: there are thousands of different ones. A life will be meaningful if it finds responses to the four questions of purpose, value, efficacy, and self-worth. It is these questions, not the answers, that endure and unify.
MARK MANSON writes…
Happiness is the process of becoming your ideal self
Completing a marathon makes us happier than eating a chocolate cake. Raising a child makes us happier than beating a video game. Starting a small business with friends and struggling to make money makes us happier than buying a new computer.
And the funny thing is that all three of the activities above are exceedingly unpleasant and require setting high expectations and potentially failing to always meet them. Yet, they are some of the most meaningful moments and activities of our lives. They involve pain, struggle, even anger and despair, yet once we’ve done them we look back and get misty-eyed about them.
Because it’s these sort of activities which allow us to become our ideal selves. It’s the perpetual pursuit of fulfilling our ideal selves which grants us happiness, regardless of superficial pleasures or pain, regardless of positive or negative emotions. This is why some people are happy in war and others are sad at weddings. It’s why some are excited to work and others hate parties. The traits they’re inhabiting don’t align with their ideal selves.
It’s not the end results which define our ideal selves. It’s not finishing the marathon that makes us happy, it’s achieving a difficult long-term goal that does. It’s not having an awesome kid to show off that makes us happy, but knowing that you gave yourself up to the growth of another human being that is special. It’s not the prestige and money from the new business that makes you happy, it’s process of overcoming all odds with people you care about.
And this is the reason that trying to be happy inevitably will make you unhappy. Because to try to be happy implies that you are not already inhabiting your ideal self, you are not aligned with the qualities of who you wish to be. After all, if you were acting out your ideal self, then you wouldn’t feel the need to try to be happy.
Cue statements about “finding happiness within,” and “knowing that you’re enough.” It’s not that happiness itself is in you, it’s that happiness occurs when you decide to pursue what’s in you.
And this is why happiness is so fleeting. Anyone who has set out major life goals for themselves, only to achieve them and realize that they feel the same relative amounts of happiness/unhappiness, knows that happiness always feels like it’s around the corner just waiting for you to show up. No matter where you are in life, there will always be that one more thing you need to do to be extra-especially happy.
And that’s because our ideal self is always around that corner, our ideal self is always three steps ahead of us. We dream of being a musician and when we’re a musician we dream of writing a film score and when write a film score, we dream of writing a screenplay. And what matters isn’t that we achieve each of these plateaus of success, but that we’re consistently moving towards them, day after day, month after month, year after year. The plateaus will come and go, and we’ll continue following our ideal self down the path of our lives.
And with that, with regards to being happy, it seems the best advice is also the simplest: Imagine who you want to be and then step towards it. Dream big and then do something. Anything. The simple act of moving at all will change how you feel about the entire process and serve to inspire you further.
Let go of the imagined result; it’s not necessary. The fantasy and the dream are merely tools to get you off your ass. It doesn’t matter if they come true or not.
Live. Just live. Stop trying to be happy and just be.
MICHEL BAUWENS writes…
…One of the first tangible benefits of the New Age was to reintroduce the importance of consciousness to the western world and to recognize that spirituality was not just a matter of belief but of experience. New Age traditions contained a vast array of methods that could open up new vistas of perception. For many people, they created an opportunity to re-integrate these methods into their lives and experiment with different alternatives.
New Age thinking also provided a vehicle to overcome the separation of mind and body that was characteristic of western individualism prior to 1968. In many ways it represented what Freud called a “regression in service of the ego”, a return to repressed areas of bodily energy, instincts, emotions, mind and consciousness. Unfortunately, it frequently stayed in that regressive mode. New Age thinking was too anti-rational, too disdainful of the critical subjectivity that was one of the hard-won features of the West. But to paraphrase Lenin, it was probably a necessary “infantile” stage in the development of alternatives. It also offered avenues for people to work on themselves, a positive orientation in an otherwise dark period for social change.
In other ways, New Age thinking was an heir to utopian socialism. Given the difficulty of changing society in radical ways at the macro level, people began to change their own lives by abandoning blind trust in the mechanistic approaches to the human body that were espoused by Western medicine; and by leaving aside the knowledge-stuffing, rote-learning style of education they were fed in order to treat children as whole persons. These changes have made the world unrecognizable from thirty years ago.
Whatever the negative features of the neoliberal age, many institutions have become more humane, more egalitarian, more respectful, and more attuned to the whole individual. People have changed, institutions have evolved, and many small-scale communal experiments have yielded valuable learning experiences even if they have failed to change the bigger picture…
If both New Age thinking and anti-spirituality are exaggerated reactions to each other, the task now is to find a critical subjectivity that rejects the ‘dictatorship of the mind’ – the belief that societies already know the direction or end-point in which they are heading.
What would that consist of? For me, the key step is to reject the view that sees spirituality in terms of individual experience alone, and replace it with a spirituality that functions around relationships between different people.
In pre-modern times, people lived as members of communities with roles that were largely externally defined; in modern times they live as atomized but autonomous self-directing individuals who are bound together through social contracts and institutions. Post-modernity, seen as a critique of neoliberal capitalist structures, sees the individual as increasingly fragmented, and it has developed a strong critique of all the forces that have shown us that we are not nearly as autonomous as we think, including language and power. But this process has also left us stranded as fragmented individuals without much sense of a direction, forever deconstructing realities but rarely reconstructing them with much success. Therefore it is time for something new.
In an age of peer production, in which more and more individuals are socialized through the internet, a relational spirituality can be born among people who cooperate with each other in a wide variety of networks. As we become engaged in communities of our peers that produce collective value, the horizontal dimension of spirituality returns to center stage.
In this new context, the view of human beings as fragmented is no longer a reason for despair. On the contrary, our inner multitude of interests is what enables us to contribute to a range of different, peer-driven projects. The individual psyche can then be constructed through each person’s contributions to the life of the whole, and through the recognition they receive from the communities in which they take part.
Today, individuals are no longer defined only by their membership in traditional communities or rigid roles. In my world, for example, an increasing number of people see themselves as contributors to open-source software systems like Linux rather than employees of Microsoft or Google. In this context, the key to an integrated self is to construct a rich identity of contributions that stem from active participation in many different communities. No longer New Age or Old Age but building on elements of both, a relational spirituality could form a cornerstone of the contributive societies on which the twenty-first century will be built.
Lolly Daskal writes
If we look at what is happening around us today, it can feel that the world is spinning out of control.
Open any newspaper, turn on any TV, read the headlines online or even check your phone’s text alerts and you’re bombarded…and that’s without even taking into account personal and work issues.
For many of us it seems overwhelming, especially if we allow ourselves to care.
So, how do we remain sane in these insane times?
I believe the tools lie with our inner resources, as expressed in a series of relationships.
Relationship with self:
The relationship we have with ourselves starts with being wholly self-aware without being judgmental or self-effacing. Only then can we cultivate the capacity to sense our strong emotions without being defined by them. When we know ourselves we can be more open with ourselves – relating to ourselves not as we think we should be, but as who we truly are, and giving us a chance to be our best self. If we are aware of ourselves inwardly, we learn to stand strong outwardly.
Relationship with others:
Relationships with others also begin with self-awareness, the characteristic that allows us to relate to others in recognition of our common desire to feel safe, trusted, loved and nourished. We all desire for someone to listen to us, pay attention to us, even challenge us. We form much of ourselves within the framework of our relationships with others as we develop, grow and change within relationships. Our own self-awareness and our connection to others are the strongest forces in staying sane.
Relationship with stress:
Stress is a double-edge sword — it can be a wake-up call or it can cause our demise. Stress can make us sick, but it can also stimulate us to make changes and learn new things. When we differentiate between the bad stress that causes us to feel overwhelmed and the good stress that causes us to keep us fit and purposeful, we can forge ahead without feeling overwhelmed by circumstances.
Relationship with our stories
We live in relationship with our own stories — the ones we believe, the ones we edit as we grow and we change, the ones that come from our beliefs. Many of us have stories that begin I am never going to be… I can’t handle… I don’t… I can’t…. When we realize what we are saying, we can work on changing the narrative. Instead of defining ourselves, we can adjust ourselves. Learning how to revise our own stories gives us the power to navigate sanely through chaos and confusion.
It’s never going to be easy to remain sane when we’re surrounded by insanity, but it is worth trying.
These inner resources — our relationships with ourselves, with others, with stress and with our stories — are the cornerstone to our sanity. They give us choices in how we react to what is happening around us, and the capacity to live with what we deal with on a daily basis…
Phil Vernon writes…
Resilience is a wonderful metaphor. It somehow conveys in a single word the qualities of bending without breaking, of healing after an injury, of tensile rather than brittle strength.
Oak and palm trees are resilient to the power of strong winds, before which they bend and then straighten again. Resilient people pick themselves up after being knocked down, draw on their reserves of ideas and strength to deal with difficult challenges, or hunker down until the gale has blown itself away. Resilient economies bounce back, and resilient ecosystems restore themselves after the fire or the flood has passed.
Resilience is not necessarily a good thing, of course. Patrimonialism and corruption can be resilient to change, as can power dynamics which sanction the marginalisation and harm of women, children or vulnerable people.
American academic Andrew Nathan writes of the Chinese Communist Party’s “authoritarian resilience”, i.e. its ability to adapt and continue to thrive despite its authoritarian, undemocratic approach to power. But most often resilience is used to describe positive and useful features of society.
International Alert is a peacebuilding organisation. We say peace is when people anticipate, manage and resolve the inevitable conflicts which arise in and between societies, and do so without violence; and we describe communities and societies as resilient when they do so.
Their resilience in the face of stress is largely due to the nature of relationships and institutions, which provide them with tensile, rather than brittle strength. Freedom and equality of opportunity are key indicators of relationships and institutions conducive to peace…
Nassim Nicolas Taleb , in his book Anti-fragility – things that gain from disorder, published last year by Random House, explains that resilience is demonstrated best in decentralised and organic societies which can flex and respond locally to stress, and least in over-centralised and rigid societies where individual and local initiatives are discouraged. This is no doubt one reason why, as Andrew Nathan recently wrote, “the resilience of the authoritarian regime in China is nearing its limits”.
So, resilience is not merely a useful metaphor, but one which expresses a powerful idea which we would do well to try and understand. If societies resilient to stress are less vulnerable to disaster and violent conflict, and if critical factors in their resilience include freedom and equality, then building resilience to stress must presumably be an ambition worthy of us all…
But if “resilience” is indeed headed for another period of hibernation, I suspect there is a deeper reason why. It is a very powerful conceptual approach and analytical tool, allowing a broad, comprehensive analysis of the extent to which households, communities, regions, countries, societies or states are able or unable to deal with, survive and bounce back from natural or man-made stress.
For those with patience, the concept lends itself to participatory approaches to identify factors which increase or limit resilience (or, for those who prefer the glass half-empty approach, factors which increase or reduce fragility and brittleness). So far, so good.
SHORT-TERM PROJECT PROBLEM
The problem is, those seeking levers through which to make significant changes which can be measured in terms of the typical lifespan of development projects, are unlikely to find them easily in a resilience analysis. Resilience is – almost by definition – not something that can easily be “built”, and certainly not built to order.
The clue is in the word itself – resilience is something to be found in the nature of societies, hence a quality which grows organically. As Nassim Nicholas Taleb explains, it is the effect of finely woven networks.
Resilience comes from education, and especially the kind of education which helps young people develop their curiosity and ability to adapt and continue to learn. It is to be found in networks of diverse reciprocal relationships between individuals and groups, on which they can draw to get ideas, help, resources in time of need. It is to be found in the freedom of men and women to make their own informed choices, and to participate in politics.
It is to be found in competent and accountable governance, in a free, functioning press, in fair-systems of justice, and so on, and from the interwoven combination of all of the above.
Unfortunately, those in power in more fragile, less resilient societies often see these kinds of features as good in theory, but unwelcome in practice. Rather like St Augustine who prayed for chastity – “but not yet, O Lord” – they’d often prefer to enjoy the spoils of power for now.
Meanwhile those in international development organisations who support these kinds of features in principle, are unable to promote them because they simply do not lend themselves sufficiently to logframes, short-term projects, and the like.
Our development institutions and organisations may not be adequate to the task of promoting resilience in fragile societies. And so ‘resilience’ may be destined to pass back into hibernation. That would be a shame. Because ironically, it describes the problem of underdevelopment, human insecurity and inadequate governance too accurately to be useful.
By Mike Henry
“The problems that exist in the world today can’t be solved by the level of thinking that created them.”
Sometimes I’m tempted to think my win must cause someone else to lose. Put another way, I often am tempted to believe that if someone does what I’m doing, they’ll limit my freedom or my market or my opportunities to experience success. We view the world as a particular size and we must carve it up in a way that everyone gets a little. When things like money get scarce, we think we have to hang on to what we have, and if we give someone too much there won’t be enough left for ourselves.
Back in the 1970′s and 1980′s, that was the prevailing mindset. A market could only be “so big” and each company had to get their share. We had to climb our way to the top and often to get ahead, we had to get ahead of someone else.
“Exceptional insight, productivity and generosity make markets bigger and more efficient.
This situation leads to more opportunities and ultimately a payoff for everyone involved.” Seth Godin, Linchpin.
I wonder how much of our current leadership model needs a mental overhaul.
Why do we have leaders who seem committed to “if you win, I must lose” thinking? Do we see any problems, or situations where we use what Stephen Covey called two-alternative thinking? Two-alternative thinking is based on “if you win, I must lose” thinking. His great book, The 3rd Alternative was a great reminder that synergy is the answer to two-alternative thinking. Synergy is when everyone agrees to find a win-win solution. Compromise means everyone gets less than they hoped. Synergy means everyone gets more.
…to what degree do my own actions and old-world thinking create the problems we experience today?
What can I do to introduce a level of thinking that rises above the problems and works together for a synergistic solution?
What’s it going to take?
Greg Moran writes…
…A recent Pew study found that 56% of working mothers and 50% of working fathers find balance their work with their family life is either somewhat or very challenging. Similarly, 40% of working mothers and 34% of working fathers always feel rushed. …More than half the workforce is feeling the squeeze when it comes to time and flexibility.
But working parents may be more passive about their need for a positive work-life balance than those from Gen Y. Unlike their predecessors, Millennials are explicitly demanding flexibility. In fact, 69% believe that regular office attendance is unnecessary, according to a Cisco study. What’s more, according to findings from Bentley University’s Center for Women and Business, 75% of Millennials are unwilling to compromise on their family or personal values. As a result, young top performers are choosing work environments in which the benefits are less about pay and more about creativity, personal meaning and adaptability…
Firms that adapt to the changing wants and needs of the workforce are naturally going to improve their employer brand, or their reputation among prospective employees. In time, this will not only increase candidates’ attraction to the firm, but it will attract those individuals with the best culture fit. What’s more, the sourcing process will be less complex, reducing both time to hire and cost to hire. While all of this takes time to develop, it’s a win-win for candidates and employers alike.
Experiencing this upward spiral of hiring benefits isn’t difficult, but it does require change. In essence, the essential components to this entire process are (1) acknowledging a problem faced by the parents and millennials in the workforce that is causing a noticeable shift in work culture demands and (2) accepting short-term costs for significant long-term gains…
…The global financial crisis and the rapid pace of globalisation are radically changing the definition of what makes a good business leader. Traditional heroic models and charismatic styles of leadership are under attack, largely because corporate scandals have destroyed trust in the integrity of many of those in power…
A new post-heroic approach to leadership is needed, where executives empower, inspire and strengthen the leadership of others. This will enable the executives of the future to build strong sustainable organisations that are held in trust for future generations – in sharp contrast to a conventional command and control leadership style focused on reducing costs and creating profit.
The steward leader – a model for next generation executives
Leaders should rededicate themselves to care and the principles of stewardship – a form of leadership that focuses on others, the community and society at large.
Stewardship advocates service over self-interest and provides a road-map for developing the next generation leader. Steward leaders have both the desire and the skills to develop organisations which are sustainable in every sense of the word.
What does a steward leader look like?
Steward leaders are those who are motivated by justice and dignity and who can see the bigger picture. Their emphasis is on delivering results with others – and they are skilled in bringing networks and resources together in pursuit of a common aim…
Can stewardship be developed?
In our new book ‘Steward Leadership’, we identify the nine essential dimensions of stewardship and debate what they are and how they can be developed.
Development of a stewardship mindset cannot, however, be ‘taught’ by a teacher or facilitator – it requires the individual to have some kind of internal impetus to evolve in this way and a willingness to move away from conventional approaches. Our research suggests that non-rational resources, such as dreams, insights, creative and spiritual experiences and emotions, are important in developing sustainable leaders. People who are prepared to step outside of the ‘norm’ and draw on these resources have less to fear from being authentic and wearing their heart on their sleeve.
What does this mean for organisations in terms of talent management and leadership development processes?
…Managers least likely to succeed are those who place high value on ‘conforming’ to the expectations of others. They may think the right thoughts and want to make the ethical decisions, but find the accepted social environment of the organisation difficult to break away from.
In practical terms, organisations who want to develop steward leaders need to shift their approach to development and place higher priority on providing immersive, experiential learning which impacts leaders on an emotional level and motivates and inspires them to embed sustainability in the business. Witnessing the effects of climate change or deforestation first hand, for example, can be a transformative experience.
The following five points are key to helping organisations achieve real shifts in mindsets and develop new sustainable behaviours:
- Experiential learning is crucial. Getting a first- hand experience of what today’s global and societal challenges are all about is what makes a rationally understood idea at the back of the mind come alive and makes someone want to act on it.
- You can’t just give people a random experience; you have to help them work out its business relevance. The best mechanism is a project-based business challenge, where participants have to develop some kind of project with business value based on their experience.
- Clear sponsorship and involvement from the CEO and other senior leadership is vital. This is one area is where walking the talk really counts. The stories those at the top tell must be true, consistent and authentic if people are to believe and follow.
- Unconventional approaches to development may be met by scepticism within the business at first – but it’s important to allow potential leaders to explore their spirituality, work on psychological issues (i.e. Perfectionism, fear of failure) which may be impeding their progress and to support them in their attempts to embrace a wide spectrum of thoughts and feelings.
- Provide active support when individuals return to the organisation after an experiential development experience. This helps convert a shift in mind-set to a habitual new behaviour. Consider things like giving people enhanced job roles, encouraging line managers to be supportive, having a dedicated co-ordinator to provide on-going encouragement recognising and rewarding positive new behaviours.
- Steward leadership is a more empowering form of transformational leadership. These developmental activities help leaders adopt the qualities of ‘stewards’ earlier in people’s careers, and earlier in their lifetimes, to help create a new, more sustainable, future.
Mary Jo Asmus offers some practical advice about how to lead in ways that nourish people…
…Many managers get so caught up in the day to day work of keeping themselves and others on task and working toward achieving the bottom line that they forget about the people who are making it all happen.
A leader creates, sustains and repairs relationships. They care about the people who are getting the work done.
What have you done lately to show your leadership?
How are you demonstrating to your employees that you care about them?
Start today to:
Get to know them. It’s not that hard, it just takes some intention and time. Walk around. Greet people. Pick up the phone and call those who work remotely. Ask them how they are doing. Ask them about their life outside of work (family, hobbies, etc.). Ask them what you can do to make things easier.
Delight in their individuality. People don’t come to your organization as clones. Everyone is different and each deserves to be treated as a unique individual who is full of potential. Get to know what they do well, what they enjoy doing, and give them the freedom to do it their way. Enjoy and celebrate their uniqueness.
Support them. When things get tough, be there to support them. When things are going well make sure they know that you’ve noticed. Remove the barriers to their ability to achieve their full potential by guiding, giving feedback, and coaching them.
Stretch them. One of the highest compliments you can give an employee is to provide an opportunity for them to stretch; it shows that you care enough to see them achieve something more. Watch for those who are ready, and encourage them to stretch in assignments that will help them to grow and develop.
Demonstrate your gratitude. A quick thank you on the run to your next meeting is not always enough. Reach into your heart and express your gratitude for the things they do that have meaning to you and the organization. Look them in the eye and let them know what they did and explain how their actions touched you and others around you.
Show them that you care. Reach into your heart to repeat the above over and over again.
By LISA KANTOR
Today (10th October 2013 ) is World Mental Health Day. Today, I take a moment to reflect on the many challenges faced by those living with mental illness, especially those who are unable to access treatment.
Today is the perfect day to urge others to support mental health prevention, mental health education, and improved access to mental health treatment. Today is our chance to restart the conversation about mental health, to speak openly about uncertainties and misconceptions surrounding mental illnesses, and to move toward eliminating the damaging and unnecessary stigma that lingers around mental illness…
Promoted by the World Health Organization, World Mental Health Day is dedicated to increasing awareness of the mental health issues that affect the lives of millions of Americans. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), one in four adults experience mental illness in a given year. These millions of people are our acquaintances, friends, loved ones, co-workers — ourselves.
How can we become more attentive and compassionate to those who suffer with mental illness? In addition to education, early intervention, and increased resources – I believe in the power of mindfulness, taking good care of yourself (self-care), and being able to reach out for help when you need it. Although often regarded as self-indulgent, self-care is such an important piece of mental health and wellness. Jennifer Louden expresses this concept so gracefully:
Self-care is essential for our survival; it is essential as the basis for healthy, authentic relationships; it is essential if we honestly want to nurture the people we care about. Self-care is not selfish or self-indulgent. We cannot nurture others from a dry well. We need to take care of our needs first, then we can give from our surplus, our abundance. When we nurture others from a place of fullness, we feel renewed instead of taken advantage of. And they feel renewed too, instead of guilty. We have something precious to give others when we have been comforting and caring for ourselves and building up self-love.
These are several simple but meaningful ways you can practice self-care, even when that’s the last thing you want to – or can – do.
Your Holy Trinity
Borchard suggested starting with three basics: sleep, diet and exercise. She referred to these as her “holy trinity.” She goes to bed at the same time every night and sleeps for the same amount of hours. (She needs eight hours.) “Diets full of protein and omega-3 fatty acids promote mental health,” she said. So her diet includes salmon, dark green vegetables and whole grains. “Exercise has antidepressant capabilities, plus you are essentially telling yourself that you intend to get better. I think sometimes we have to lead with the body, and the mind will follow.”
Feed Your Senses
Whenever Serani feels her “depression looming within,” she focuses on nourishing her senses. “Coming to Our Senses: Healing Ourselves and the World Through Mindfulness” by J. Karat is packed with studies showing how feeding your sense of sight, smell, sounds, taste and touch produces dopamine, serotonin, melatonin and oxytocin – feel-good neurochemistry that helps heal depression.”
There are many ways you can supply your senses. Serani suggested opening up the windows to let sunshine soothe you; sipping a warm cup of tea or coffee; wrapping yourself in a blanket; listening to soft music; and lighting a candle.
Self-care requires preparation, Serani said. That’s why it’s important to keep the things that soothe you by your side and in your home. It makes moving into self-care mode much easier, she said. “Stock up on comfort foods, teas and coffees, store scented candles or incense nearby, pre-program radio stations to soothing music you like, drape a velvety blanket on a couch or chair.”
Practice Self-Care Daily
Self-care also requires regular practice, Serani said. She encouraged readers to avoid waiting until you’re drained or depleted to attempt self-care. “Use [the above] sense-oriented techniques often so there’s an ease that comes from their use.”
Self-care is critical for healing depression. As Borchard said, “You get well faster and stay well longer.” But some days, self-care will feel especially far away. On those days, “Be easy with yourself.” Beating yourself up only makes you feel worse and stops you from getting better, she said. “Consider yourself a good friend, and speak to yourself as such.”
This article is written as a guide to increasing happiness in schools, but Elena Aguilar‘s suggestions offer great value too for increasing our happiness at work, so I couldn’t resist a little tweaking to adapt them into a more adult-friendly set of guidelines…
1. Slow Down
When we slow down, we notice more, we appreciate more, we take stock of relationships, learning, and goals. Everyone can benefit from slowing down… There’s a direct correlation between our levels of contentment and the pace at which we live our lives…
2. Get Outside
Being outside, even for just a few minutes a day, can heighten our state of well-being. We breathe fresh air, feel the elements on our skin – the warmth of the sun, the sting of wind, the moisture of rain – which connects us to the natural world. Even when it’s cold out, or when it’s warm and glorious, we can [get] outside for a quick (5 minute) walk, or we can do silent reading outside and our feelings of happiness might increase.
Furthermore, when the weather is comfortable, why can’t we have some of the many meetings we all have to sit in outside? Last year I took my instructional coaches to the forest for one of our professional development days. In addition to hiking, we read, talked, learned, and wrote — all of the activities we usually do in our office.
3. Move Your Body
We all know this already, but I’m going to remind you anyway: Moving our bodies increases our happiness. Even if you can’t [get] outside, you can incorporate stretching breaks into [your] days… Moments of movement are great and our brains start producing the endorphins that make us happy right away.
4. Blast Good Music
Music in a fast tempo and in a major key can make us feel happy and it has a measurable positive impact on our bodies – it can even boost our immune system, decrease blood pressure, and lower anxiety. Playing music as [people enter a room] can be welcoming and can create a positive atmosphere. Those of us who facilitate learning for adults can also do this. Imagine coming into an early morning staff meeting to the sounds of salsa or to Johnny Nash singing, “I Can See Clearly Now.” You probably feel happier just thinking about this.
Now sing along with those tunes, or sing in your car or in the shower — and see how you feel. Singing requires us to breathe deeply, which makes us happier. Singing along to some of our favorite music makes our brain release endorphins…
Even if you’re not a smiley person, try smiling more often – aim for authentic, genuine smiles, but if you can’t produce one, go ahead and fake it. Yes, even fake smiles can move you along towards a more content state of being. And more than that, they can have an affect on those looking at you. … just see what happens if you smile more often at the people you interact with on a daily basis.
7. Incorporate Quiet Time
My new email pen pal in Bhutan, a teacher in a school for boys aged 6-18, describes how all students in Bhutan practice meditation. Of course, this makes sense given that this is a Buddhist nation. He describes this as a primary way in which his country works to build a happy populace. There’s an abundance of evidence about how meditation causes changes in our brain chemistry that produces feelings of calm and wellbeing. In our country, some schools are incorporating mindfulness meditation, but I also think we could work towards similar ends by simply incorporating more quiet time into our daily routines.
The above suggestions are matched and extended in this list, offered in The Mind Unleashed…
I would love to be happier, as I’m sure most people would, so I thought it would be interesting to find some ways to become a happier person that are actually backed up by science. Here are ten of the best ones I found.
1. Exercise more – 7 minutes might be enough
You might have seen some talk recently about the scientific 7 minute workout mentioned in The New York Times. So if you thought exercise was something you didn’t have time for, maybe you can fit it in after all.
Exercise has such a profound effect on our happiness and well-being that it’s actually been proven to be an effective strategy for overcoming depression…
You don’t have to be depressed to gain benefit from exercise, though. It can help you to relax, increase your brain power and even improve your body image, even if you don’t lose any weight…
2. Sleep more – you’ll be less sensitive to negative emotions
We know that sleep helps our bodies to recover from the day and repair themselves, and that it helps us focus and be more productive. It turns out, it’s also important for our happiness. In NutureShock, Po Bronson and Ashley Merryman explain how sleep affects our positivity:
Negative stimuli get processed by the amygdala; positive or neutral memories gets processed by the hippocampus. Sleep deprivation hits the hippocampus harder than the amygdala. The result is that sleep-deprived people fail to recall pleasant memories, yet recall gloomy memories just fine.
In one experiment by Walker, sleep-deprived college students tried to memorize a list of words. They could remember 81% of the words with a negative connotation, like “cancer.” But they could remember only 31% of the words with a positive or neutral connotation, like “sunshine” or “basket.”
The BPS Research Digest explores another study that proves sleep affects our sensitivity to negative emotions. Using a facial recognition task over the course of a day, the researchers studied how sensitive participants were to positive and negative emotions. Those who worked through the afternoon without taking a nap became more sensitive late in the day to negative emotions like fear and anger…
Another study tested how employees’ moods when they started work in the morning affected their work day.
Researchers found that employees’ moods when they clocked in tended to affect how they felt the rest of the day. Early mood was linked to their perceptions of customers and to how they reacted to customers’ moods.
And most importantly to managers, employee mood had a clear impact on performance, including both how much work employees did and how well they did it. …
3. Move closer to work – a short commute is worth more than a big house
Our commute to the office can have a surprisingly powerful impact on our happiness. The fact that we tend to do this twice a day, five days a week, makes it unsurprising that its effect would build up over time and make us less and less happy…
4. Spend time with friends and family – don’t regret it on your deathbed
Staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying. If you want more evidence that it’s beneficial for you, I’ve found some research that proves it can make you happier right now.
Social time is highly valuable when it comes to improving our happiness, even for introverts. Several studies have found that time spent with friends and family makes a big difference to how happy we feel, generally…
5. Go outside – happiness is maximized at 13.9°C
In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor recommends spending time in the fresh air to improve your happiness:
Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory…
6. Help others – 100 hours a year is the magical number
One of the most counterintuitive pieces of advice I found is that to make yourself feel happier, you should help others. In fact, 100 hours per year (or two hours per week) is the optimal time we should dedicate to helping others in order to enrich our lives…
In his book Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being, University of Pennsylvania professor Martin Seligman explains that helping others can improve our own lives:
…we scientists have found that doing a kindness produces the single most reliable momentary increase in well-being of any exercise we have tested…
7. Practice smiling – it can alleviate pain
Smiling itself can make us feel better, but it’s more effective when we back it up with positive thoughts, according to this study:
A new study led by a Michigan State University business scholar suggests customer-service workers who fake smile throughout the day worsen their mood and withdraw from work, affecting productivity. But workers who smile as a result of cultivating positive thoughts – such as a tropical vacation or a child’s recital – improve their mood and withdraw less.
Smiling makes us feel good which also increases our attentional flexibility and our ability to think holistically. When this idea was tested by Johnson et al. (2010), the results showed that participants who smiled performed better on attentional tasks which required seeing the whole forest rather than just the trees…
8. Plan a trip – but don’t take one
As opposed to actually taking a holiday, it seems that planning a vacation or just a break from work can improve our happiness. A study published in the journal, Applied Research in Quality of Lifeshowed that the highest spike in happiness came during the planning stage of a vacation as employees enjoyed the sense of anticipation:
In the study, the effect of vacation anticipation boosted happiness for eight weeks.
After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.
Shawn Achor has some info for us on this point, as well:
One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.
If you can’t take the time for a vacation right now, or even a night out with friends, put something on the calendar—even if it’s a month or a year down the road. Then whenever you need a boost of happiness, remind yourself about it.
9. Meditate – rewire your brain for happiness
Meditation is often touted as an important habit for improving focus, clarity and attention span, as well as helping to keep you calm. It turns out it’s also useful for improving your happiness:
In one study, a research team from Massachusetts General Hospital looked at the brain scans of 16 people before and after they participated in an eight-week course in mindfulness meditation. The study, published in the January issue of Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, concluded that after completing the course, parts of the participants’ brains associated with compassion and self-awareness grew, and parts associated with stress shrank.
Meditation literally clears your mind and calms you down, it’s been often proven to be the single most effective way to live a happier live…
10. Practice gratitude – increase both happiness and life satisfaction
This is a seemingly simple strategy, but I’ve personally found it to make a huge difference to my outlook. There are lots of ways to practice gratitude, from keeping a journal of things you’re grateful for, sharing three good things that happen each day with a friend or your partner, and going out of your way to show gratitude when others help you…
Quick last fact: Getting older will make yourself happier
As a final point, it’s interesting to note that as we get older, particularly past middle age, we tend to grow happier naturally. There’s still some debate over why this happens, but scientists have got a few ideas:
Researchers, including the authors, have found that older people shown pictures of faces or situations tend to focus on and remember the happier ones more and the negative ones less.
Other studies have discovered that as people age, they seek out situations that will lift their moods — for instance, pruning social circles of friends or acquaintances who might bring them down. Still other work finds that older adults learn to let go of loss and disappointment over unachieved goals, and hew their goals toward greater wellbeing.
So if you thought being old would make you miserable, rest assured that it’s likely you’ll develop a more positive outlook than you probably have now.
What happens when people learn the habits of happiness and practice them every day?
Do you know how to be happy?
Erin Michelle Threlfall is a theatre artist, activist and educator whose passion is making the world a better place via theater, the arts, her infectious exuberance and the classroom. Originally from the US, she’s taught at schools in Ghana, South Korea, Togo, and Bali. She focuses on nurturing global citizenship, happiness, and social activism within her students and leads dynamic workshops on inquiry-based learning and integrating the arts into the classroom.
Jillian Steinhauer reports
A new study has found that narcissistic people are more likely to consider themselves creative and do creative things than their non-narcissistic counterparts. Um … we needed a study to tell us that?…
In the end, people with narcissistic tendencies were not only more likely to say they were creative; they also were more likely to do creative things. The personality traits of extraversion and openness also corresponded to increased creative activity, which is telling about what this study really shows: that self-confidence goes a long way.
If you believe you’re good enough at something, chances are you’ll do it, even if it’s unstable or difficult, as so many creative pursuits are. And chances are you’ll continue trying to do it even in the face of rejection, which is also required in creative fields like art and writing.
Sue Roberts, a very wise and wonderful trainer and occupational psychologist we sometimes get the joy of working with, says that our strengths can be problematic in two ways:
- on the one hand, the stronger we are in any particular quality, the further away we are from its opposite (which is why the opposite of our strengths are weaknesses if we haven’t learned to practise them up into our skill set);
- less well-known, our strengths can become liabilities if we deploy them inappropriately in situations that call for quite different qualities and behaviours.
This idea is picked up and discussed by Michelle McQuaid – a positive psychology researcher, author and workplace trainer – who writes…
Do your strengths ever get you into trouble? You know those moments when the things you like doing and are good at, go just that little bit too far. For example, when your strength of humour has you making one joke too many. Or your strength of creativity has you take one idea a bit too far. Or your strength of kindness has you give and give to everyone else until there’s nothing left for yourself. We’ve all been there at some point, haven’t we?
For me it was my strength of zest. As a senior leader for many years in large organisations, my abundant energy and vitality made it possible to drive and deliver solutions that literally left people’s heads spinning. It was great from a task achievement perspective, but probably burnt through more relationships with my colleagues than I’d care to count. You see other people simply struggled to keep up.
Of course this was pointed out to me more than once during my performance reviews, but “going too fast” was always presented to me as a weakness that needed improvement. Can you imagine how that sounded? Here I was thinking what a great job I was doing, feeling really engaged, energised and enjoying my work and delivering results. Only to hear later that others felt my efforts were completely misfiring.
I walked away from those meetings feeling confused, disillusioned and completely burnt out…
Can a strength really derail your work? A growing body of evidence suggests using your strengths makes you more likely to achieve your goals, to feel less stressed and to have a greater level of well-being. Outcomes most of us are longing for.
However, researchers are also discovering that to use your strengths optimally you need the right strength, in the right amount, in the right way and at the right time. You need to find the ‘golden mean’ – where you’re neither underplaying, nor over overplaying what you do best.
How can you avoid overplaying a strength? Sometimes our strengths are overplayed because the context has changed. For me this would happen when I was busy storming through a project and our business needs would suddenly shift meaning we should slow down for a bit. Learning to read the signs about when my zest was needed – and when it wasn’t – was one way I started to turn around my negative feedback.
The biggest shift came though when I finally became aware that I had the choice to dial up – or dial down – my strength of zest. Turns out I didn’t have to run through life with my foot flat to the floor all the time just to do what I did best. Perhaps I’d just been going too fast, for too long, to see I had the choice!
By learning how to manage my strengths, I became more aware of how my zest could be intimidating for my team who feared they’d never be able to keep up. I learnt to value the need to give others time to get on board before I took off. And I began to appreciate the power off being willing and able to slow down – at least some of the time. As a result, my professional and personal life soared.
HARVEY SCHACHTER reports…
Too much noise can knock you off balance.
That’s the warning from Shawn Achor, San Antonio, Tex.-based author of the bestselling book The Happiness Advantage and the recently published Before Happiness. But Mr. Achor is not talking about the noise of a neighbour’s stereo blasting away or drilling at a construction site across from your office. For him, external noise is the flood of information, often negatively tinged, that washes over you each day. And the internal noise, usually negative, that invades our thoughts throughout the day.
Our ancestors looked to external noise for clues to threats. In a sense, we are doing that as we scan e-mails, newspapers and other information each day. At a basic level, noise distorts our reality – Las Vegas casinos overload our brains with sounds and lights to distract us from the reality that we’re losing money. He says that the noise from the information we receive, so much of it negative, pushes us into a “negative reality,” in which our equanimity is tipped, our stress heightened, and our potential limited.
“If you can decrease the noise, it can have a huge impact on happiness. If we can find some balance – turn away from constant messages – the brain can scan the present for things you are grateful for,” the positive-psychology lecturer said in an interview.
He points to a Fortune 100 company where he recently worked with the management team. They have a policy to use no technology on Sundays – to shut down. The result, they found, was greater productivity during the week owing to that day of rest. The policy, it’s worth noting, applied only to the top team, not others who work for them, which he found ironic.
He distinguishes between signals and noise. A signal is information that is true and reliable, alerting us to the opportunities, possibilities and resources that will help us attain our true potential. Noise is everything else – information that is false, or unnecessary, or prevents us from seeing a world where success is possible.
He lays out four criteria for identifying noise:
Unusable: Your behaviour won’t be altered by the information. “Once you start applying this mental algorithm, you’ll realize that, sadly, most of the information that floods your brain on a daily or even an hourly basis fits into this category,” he writes in his latest book. An earthquake or coup in a country across the globe may be tragic, but it’s essentially extraneous to your life, so don’t let it jolt you into a negative space.
Untimely: You are not going to use the information imminently, and it could change by the time you use it. If you intend to hold stocks for the long run, why check the stock market each day?
Hypothetical: It is based on what someone believes “could be” instead of “what is.” Economic and weather forecasts head the list. “What if you could have back all the minutes of your life you’ve spent listening to predictions – 90 per cent of which have been wrong?” he asks in the book.
Distracting: It distracts you from your goals. Much of the e-mail you received today, let alone your surfing of websites, took you no further toward your big goals.
He urges people to start distinguishing between the signals and noise that come at you, and reduce your brain overload by stopping the addiction to noise. Eliminate the things that are hypothetical, and the reports about car accidents in foreign countries. “Don’t turn a blind eye to the world, but focus on the things that are meaningful,” he said in the interview. “The more we focus on noise, the less we hear the important signals.”
At companies he works with, he asks people to experiment by decreasing their information intake by 5 per cent – specifically information that qualifies as noise. Set boundaries as well, looking at your e-mail only periodically. When you head to a website, scan only for information that matters to you. “Five per cent is a small number, so people feel it’s possible. It turns down the volume a bit,” he said. Perhaps that 5 per cent is spread through the week, or only a chunk of weekend time when you grab a respite. You’ll find reducing the noise, even slightly, increases your social connection with others, which he says is the greatest predictor of happiness.
He has noise-cancelling headphones for flights so he can isolate himself from the din around him. Similarly, you want to reduce the noise from internal doubt, fear of the future, and self-criticism. Studies show that if an employee or child is fearful, they will often fail on the next project or math test. Your noise-cancelling headphones allow you to think of positive moments that counteract those fears, such as three successes you had in similar situations.
He offers three principles to live by:
I will keep my worry in proportion to the likelihood of the event.
I will not ruin 10,000 days to be right on a handful. “Some people worry for 10,000 days about various things to get past one bad day. They give themselves 10,000 bad days to have one good day,” he says.
I will not equate worrying with being loving or responsible.
In short, be conscious of the noise coming at you – external and internal – and reduce the incidence of the noise to increase your balance and happiness.
All of these stories, and more, are part of this week’s new Happiness At Work collection, which I hope you enjoy…