Happiness At Work #70 ~ creativity and finding the happy space to play in

photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc

photo credit: orangeacid via photopin cc

This week’s Happiness At Work #70 headline theme considers the power and importance of creativity and play to our happiness and success.

What does playing mean in a work context?

What new ideas can we get about how to ‘play to our strengths’?

What are the benefits – for ourselves, for our organisations, for the people we play with and the people we play to – of making more time to be creative, for fun, and for finding a space in the middle of the circle?

And, if we are convinced of the worth of any of this, how might we go about trying out and extending and mastering any of these practices?

To help answer these questions, here are some of our favourite articles from this week’s collection…

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photo credit: Photosightfaces via photopin cc

Happiness Means Creativity: One Company’s Bet On Positive Psychology

BY MEG CARTER

Rather than just fix what’s ailing you, positive psychology looks to actively improve individual and organizational well-being. Here’s how Havas Worldwide is working to build a happier, more resilient–and ultimately more creative–workforce.

Cultivating a more positive outlook is a better way of boosting creativity than indulging a tortured genius, according to consultant psychologist and professor Neil Frude who has begun working with ad organization Havas Worldwide London to provide “positive psychology” training to the agency’s staff.

It’s all about creating a virtuous circle.

“There is a strong relationship between employee happiness and a workforce that is productive, creative, and flourishing,” he says, pointing to lab studies designed to test creativity after participants have been made more and less happy, which shows creative levels improve when people are happier.

Furthermore, the positive effect of creative satisfaction produces, in turn, a further emotional uplift that feeds what’s known as “contagion of emotion,” which benefits a group of people as a whole–be that an organization or simply a collection of friends and acquaintances…

“‘Positive psychology’ is about playing to strengths–enhancing positive emotions, rather than the old approach of using psychology to fix problems,” Frude explains.

“How we are using it is to demonstrate skills that help boost an individual’s sense of well-being–for example, ways of building resilience, or becoming more positive, or better managing your emotions in a positive direction by understanding what boosts or rewards you can give yourself to generate a positive emotional uplift.”

Build happiness and well-being among staff and an organization will benefit from a more emotionally intelligent workforce: people who not only understand their own and other people’s emotions but can more effectively manage their own and other people’s emotions, too.

photo credit: markchadwickart via photopin cc

photo credit: markchadwickart via photopin cc

Which is what inspired Russ Lidstone, CEO of creative agency Havas Worldwide London–whose clients include Credit Suisse, Santander, and Durex–to bring in Frude and his company, The Happiness Consultancy, to help boost levels of happiness, well-being, and resilience in his agency’s 240-strong workforce…

“The notion that 40% of your brain can be trained to adapt is an interesting one. Another selling point for me is that a liberated mind in a more confident and secure individual is more likely to feel free to express itself in different, innovative, and ultimately more creative ways.”

What all this means in practice is that, between now and the end of the year, every member of the 240-member staff based at Havas Worldwide’s offices in London and Manchester will undertake a four-week course in positive psychology run by Frude…

“This isn’t about ‘fixing’ a specific problem but making the organization work even better,” Professor Frude insists.

“It’s about empowering individuals to get more out of their lives and enabling managers to recognize the potential positive (and negative) impact that can come from putting people with a particular outlook into a team. And it’s about providing those involved in communications with sharper tools to understand and engage through the positive messages they create.”..

“My hope is for a wave of little interventions across the agency over time that will lead, in turn, to both a healthier outlook and better output for us all–as a business and also at a personal level–by getting the best out of ourselves and each other.”

Or to put it another way, Frude adds: “Learning to manage your emotional well-being is like teaching a person to fish–a skill that will keep you going for a lifetime.”

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: VinothChandar via photopin cc

One of the essential elements of positive psychology is Engagement – what Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has termed ‘flow‘ to describe the ecstatic state of being completely at-one with and absorbed in what we are doing. It is when we are stretched enough to feel challenged and stimulated but not so far beyond our confidence that we become over-stressed and anxious.

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photo credit: anoldent via photopin cc

It is worth knowing that Csikszentmihalyi began to develop his model from the question: “Where in ordinary people’s lives are they really happy?” He went and talked to a great many creative people and noticed how very happy they were when they talked about their work, and how ready they were to continue what they were doing for years and years despite having little hope of ever achieving any fame or fortune. Despite any hardships and difficulties their work brought them, these artists and scientists reported a very high level of happiness in the sense of meaning and purpose their work gave to their lives, and often described working as a kind of ‘ecstasy’. Ecstasy in the original Greek meant ‘to stand to the side of something’, but it has come to mean a ‘mental stepping into an alternative and heightened realty.’

Here is how one of the artists Csikszentmihalyi interviewed talked about his experience composing music:

You are in an ecstatic state to such a point that you feel as though you almost don’t exist. I have experienced this time and time again. My hand seems devoid of myself, and I have nothing to do with what is happening. I just sit there watching it in a state of awe and wonderment. And [the music] just flows out of itself.”

Often, when in this state of complete flow, our emotions are in fact neutral and in it is only afterwards that we will remember back and feel we have just been having a wonderful time. This is because our concentration and consciousness merges with what we are doing, we have no self-consciousness, and we lose all sense of time.

Csikszentmihalyi goes on to explain that there are a range of different states we can find ourselves in, made up of the mix between our level of skill and the level of the challenge in what we trying to do:

  • too little skill mixed with too high a challenge and we feel anxious
  • too little challenge mixed with a surfeit of skill and we feel bored
  • high challenge matched with high skill and we have the possibility of feeling in flow

flow diagram

There are two states that are most easy to lean ourselves into flow from:

  • pushing ourselves over the edge of control and we can fall into flow. This is the optimum condition for leaning out beyond our comfort
  • and adding the ignition of discipline – a technique or structure or rule – can optimise our state of arousal into a flow state. This explains why absolute freedom – or only going with your instincts – are not sufficient to optimum engagement.

The Psychology of Flow

Applications and Examples of Flow

While flow experiences can happen as part of everyday life, there are also important practical applications in various areas including education, sports and the workplace.

Examples of Flow in Education: Csíkszentmihályi has suggested that overlearning a skill or concept can help people experience flow. Another critical concept in his theory is the idea of slightly extending oneself beyond one’s current ability level. This slight stretching of one’s current skills can help the individual experience flow.

Examples of Flow in Sports: Just like in educational settings, engaging in a challenging athletic activity that is doable but presents a slight stretching of one’s abilities is a good way to achieve flow. Sometimes described by being “in the zone,” reaching this state of flow allows an athlete to experience a loss of self-consciousness and a sense of complete mastery of the performance.

Examples of Flow in the Workplace: Flow can also occur when workers are engaged in tasks where they are able to focus entirely on the project at hand. For example, a writer might experience this while working on a novel or a graphic designer might achieve flow while working on a website illustration.

photo credit: Emily Raw via photopin cc

photo credit: Emily Raw via photopin cc

The Benefits of Flow

In addition to making activities more enjoyable, flow also has a number of other benefits.

Flow can lead to improved performance. Researchers have found that flow can enhance performance in a wide variety of areas including teaching, learning, athletics and artistic creativity.

Flow can also lead to further learning and skill development. Because the act of achieving flow indicates a strong mastery of a certain skill, the individual must continually seek new challenges and information in order to maintain this state.

photo credit: Thundershead via photopin cc

photo credit: Thundershead via photopin cc

My favourite illustration of flow is improvisation, whether they be jazz musicians or actors or dancers playing together. Improvisation is a set of disciplines and techniques that can be learned and mastered to deliberately deployed to generate and sustain a state of collaborative creative flow.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Paul Z Jackson is the man who taught me the first skills of improvisation, and he has just launched a new training facility: The Improvisation Academy. In his new blog he writes:

Habits or Choices – A New Perspective From Improvisation

We are all creatures of habit, and one of the great benefits of improvisation is how it can call habits into question. We can make choices when we notice ourselves up against the automatic, the habitual or the scripted.

An improvised moment is one when we are asked for a new response. We are either facing something we’ve not experienced before or we are doing something different in the same old circumstance.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Many of the best improvisation activities create just such moments of choice. For example, the members of the group stand facing each other in a circle. The aim is to take the place of another person by calling their name and walking into their place in the circle. You can take their place only after they have moved away, but they cannot move away until a space is opening up for them. So there is a chain of name calling, which creates a strong – some might say irresistible – impulse to move before you are meant to.

The game puts your attention into that moment of choice: to move or to resist the urge. And by enjoying the game – in which mistakes have absolutely minimal consequences – we can build our skills of paying attention, interrupting habitual responses and making a mindful decision of when to take a first step.

There are clear overlaps here in the philosophy and practice of improvisation with the Alexander Technique and Mindfulness. So is it time for you to build some good new habits?

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: daystar297 via photopin cc

Improvisation is a skilled form of play and brings with it all the potential for abundant joy and delight that we get from play for both its players and its audience.

Play is something that most of us seem to unlearn as we get older, but there is a growing case for why this might be to our disadvantage…

Don’t Be All Work and No Play – Liven Up Your Workplace

by ANDREA DEVERS

Humans are designed for play and I think its important to incorporate elements of fun into your daily routine. First and foremost I think it allows others to get to know YOU as a real person and second I think it actually helps to improve productivity. You’ll need to help to shape and define what is appropriate in your environment and culture for your employees, but also help to provide some outlets for release and rejuvenation for your teams and employees.

In the past, whenever I heard “have fun at work,” my mind immediately went to “team building activities” — which often involve some kind of trust fall (which I always hate doing and then when I try to opt out I feel like not a being a team player) or some kind of “party” off-site. But let’s face it, off sites and trust falls take time and money which means that its not always feasible to do all the time. Even if you’re fortunate enough to do such an event once a quarter, I think it still “falls” a little short.

Those larger off site events are still important — if you’re doing them, don’t stop. However, I’d suggest finding some other smaller events and activities to help stave off the dullness… and it doesn’t have to cost an arm or a leg. The key is to be regular and consistent.

First get a good understanding of your team and what kind of activities they enjoy and how they like to be recognized and engaged. Consider taking a quick survey of ideas from your team’s “favorite things.” Keep them on file when you need ideas or as reminders about what individuals prefer. Another cool idea — and way to engage your team — start a “fun jar” where your team can put in ideas of things that they’d like to do as a group. You’ll just need to provide a jar and a short template of requirements (i.e. budget, length of time for the activity) for their suggestions and then some guidance on how and when to pull an idea from the jar…

Link to read the original article and Andrea’s 10 suggestions for making fun at work

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photo credit: pierofix via photopin cc

The Key To Happiness: A Taboo for Adults?

writes about the power of play for our creativity, engagement and happiness…

It’s a vision problem that no laser surgery can cure, a hyperopia that keeps us from seeing the central source of happiness right next to us. That problem is called adulthood. Those who are afflicted with this condition have trouble focusing on nearby objects of amusement and the realm that delivers the most enjoyment per square inch: play. Adults are oblivious to what they knew as kids — that play is where you live.

Grownups aren’t supposed to play. We have problems. We’re too busy. We have important things to do. It turns out, though, that there are few things more important to your happiness than frequent doses of play. As a study led by Princeton researcher Alan Krueger found, of all the things on the planet, we’re at our happiest when we’re involved in engaging leisure activities…

We live in a culture obsessed with wringing an external result from everything we do. Play doesn’t operate on that metric. It’s not about the end but the experience. This has made play one of the last remaining taboos, an irrational deviation from gainful obligation. What we don’t realize, though, is that it’s precisely the lack of a quantifiable result that allows play to tap a more meaningful place that satisfies core needs and reveals the authentic person behind the masks of job and society.

Anthropologist Gregory Bateson believed that the fixation on making everything productive and rational cuts us off from the world of the spontaneous that is home to real knowledge. Wisdom, Bateson believed, is to be found in the realms outside intentionality, in the inner reaches of art, expression and religion. “The whole culture is suffering from overconscious intentionality, overseriousness, overemphasis on productivity and work,” psychologist and cultural explorer Bradford Keeney told me. “We’ve forgotten that the whole picture requires a dance between leisure and work.”…

Studies show that play reflects more of who you are than your work. When you’re engaged in activities of “personal expressiveness,” ones that are self-chosen and that reflect intrinsic goals, you’re operating from the “true self,” says Alan Waterman of the College of New Jersey. This leads to optimal psychological functioning (i.e., happiness). We’re talking about something far from tangential to your existence. Play scholar John Neulinger called passionate play pursuits none other than the “central life interest.”

Play brings you back to life — your life. “Adults need to play because so much of our life is utilitarian, the University of South Alabama’s Catherine O’Keefe explained to me. “We need to reconnect with the things of our lives that ground us in who we really are and why we like our lives.”…

…the animating spark of play is the fast track to happiness. There is no quicker transport to the experiential realm and full engagement than through play, which brings together all the elements you want for the optimal moment.

  1. Play is 100-percent experience.
  2. It’s done for the intrinsic pleasure, for the participation.
  3. With no judgment or outcomes needed, play grounds you in the now.

Researchers say that the more absorbed we are in activities we like to do, the happier we are. Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi pinpointed the power of full involvement in the moment to produce optimal experiences. Maslow called optimal moments the time when we are most attuned, “more integrated and less split, more perfectly actualizing.” He argued that these instants of sublime activation had all the hallmarks of the religious or mystical but were triggered by intensely felt, secular experiences.

photo credit: Egui_ via photopin cc

photo credit: Egui_ via photopin cc

Contrary to stereotype, engaged play is the gateway not to time-wasting but to times that let you contact deeper realms. When you paint a canvas or play volleyball, you’re in a creative improvisation that calls on inner fortitude and commitment and that reflect your values through self-expression. Play satisfies core self-determination needs, such as autonomy and competence, as little else can, connecting you with your mandate to explore and challenge yourself. That’s the integration Maslow was talking about. You tap the true you, not the performance identity of the job or the presentation identity that we display to others. Play relieves you of the burden to be someone you’re not. There’s nothing on the line; it’s just play. Just you.

When it comes to beefing up your happiness, it’s hard to do better than engaged play. Not only does it align you with your deepest needs and deliver fun in the moment, but the social component of play is a huge predictor of increased daily well-being, the research shows. Participating in recreational activities has been connected to increased positive mood and experiencing pleasure. And play increases the odds that you’re going to have more fun in your life because it’s a huge stress buffer, reducing strain and burnout, boosting your immune system and pumping up vitality and energy.

When you’re stressed, the brain’s activated emotional hub, the amygdala, suppresses positive mood, fueling a self-perpetuating cycle of negativity. Play can break you out of that straitjacket. It also cut through stagnation at the office. Studies show that playfulness can increase performance on the job and stoke creativity by breaking up the mental set that keeps us stuck. It resets the brain.

This tonic we write off as trivial is a crucial engine of well-being. In its low-key, humble way, play yanks grownups out of their purposeful sleepwalk to reveal the animating spirit within. You are alive, and play will prove it to you.

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: kevin dooley via photopin cc

This passion and belief in the power of play is shared by Stuart Brown in this TEDTalk:

Stuart Brown: Play Is More Than Fun

“The opposite of play is not work. It’s depression…” Stuart Brown

photo credit: Felipe Morin via photopin cc

photo credit: Felipe Morin via photopin cc

I have been trying out the method surgeons use for washing their hands after seeing this – and the amount of germs we carry on our hands when we haven’t washed them thoroughly – on Dr Michael Mosley’s BBC Four programme: Pain, Pus and Poison: The Search for Modern Medicine. Apparently surgeons are taught to sing “Happy Birthday’ through twice to time a complete hand wash.

The surprising and quite unexpected result has been to find every time, in the very pleasurable relaxation of sinking in to the duration of the song twice through, is that all sorts of of creative ideas have fallen into my head at the same time.

And here is some of the science behind why this might be…

photo credit: Arlington County via photopin cc

photo credit: Arlington County via photopin cc

6 Purely Psychological Effects of Washing Your Hands

Wash your hands, wash your mind: recover optimism, feel less guilty, less doubtful and more…

Washing your hands doesn’t just keep you healthier; it has all sorts of subtle psychological effects as well.

Hand washing sends an unconscious metaphorical message to the mind: we don’t just cleanse ourselves of physical residues, we also cleanse ourselves of mental residues.

Here are six purely psychological effects of washing your hands…

1. Recover optimism

In a study by Kaspar (2012) participants who failed at a task, then washed their hands, felt more optimistic afterwards than those who didn’t.

Unfortunately washing their hands also seemed to reduce their motivation for trying the task again.

Still, hand washing can help boost optimism after a failure.

2. Feel less guilty

One study had participants think about some immoral behaviour from their past (Zhong & Liljenquist, 2006). One group were then told to use an antiseptic wipe, and another not.

Those who washed their hands after thinking about an immoral behaviour felt less guilty. The antiseptic wipe had literally wiped away their guilt.

3. Take the moral high ground

When people in one study washed their hands, they were more disgusted by the bad behaviour of others (Zhong, Strejcek & Sivanathan, 2010):

“…”clean” participants made harsher moral judgments on a wide range of issues, from abortion to drug use and masturbation. They also rated their own moral character more favorably in comparison with that of their fellow students.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)

So, when people feel clean themselves, they take the moral high ground and are harsher on the transgressive behaviour of others.

4. Remove doubt

Sometimes, after people make the wrong decision, they try to justify it by pretending it was the right decision.

It’s a result of cognitive dissonance, and it’s one way in which people lie to themselves.

However, hand washing may wipe away the need for self-justification in some circumstances, leaving you better able to evaluate your decision the way it really is (Lee & Schwarz, 2010).

5. Wash away bad luck

When participants in one study had some experimentally induced ‘bad luck’ while gambling, washing their hands seemed to mentally wash away their bad luck (Xu et al., 2012).

In comparison to those who didn’t wash their hands, hand washers carried on betting as if their bad luck was forgotten.

6. Guilt other people into washing their hands

A public health study flashed different messages onto the walls of public toilets as people entered, including “Water doesn’t kill germs, soap does,” and “Don’t be a dirty soap dodger.” (Judah et al., 2009)

The most effective overall message, though, was: “Is the person next to you washing with soap?”

So it seems when you wash your hands in a public toilet, you help guilt other people into washing theirs as well.

A clean slate

All these studies are demonstrating that when we wash our hands, we also wash our minds clean:

“…the notion of washing away one’s sins, entailed in the moral-purity metaphor, seems to have generalized to a broader conceptualization of wiping the slate clean, allowing people to metaphorically remove a potentially broad range of psychological residues.” (Lee & Schwarz, 2011)

Link to read the original article in full

5 Tips to Tap Into Your Creative Self

Psychiatrist Carrie and orthopaedic surgeon Alton Baron, authors of The Creativity Cure, believe passionately in the power of using our hands to unleash our creativity and allow our happiness to flow.

In THE CREATIVITY CURE: A Do-It-Yourself Prescription for Happiness, husband-and-wife physicians Carrie and Alton Barron draw upon the latest psychological research, a combined forty years of medical practice, and personal experience to reveal that creative action is integral to easing depression and anxiety and to fueling long-term happiness and wellbeing. The need to create – to produce something using our minds and hands – is fundamental. It connects us to our inner selves and to our environment and offers the deep satisfaction of accomplishment. But too often, in our technology driven, fast-paced society, we neglect this need. The Barrons show that creative processes facilitate insight and healing, connect our mental and physical selves, supply satisfaction and meaning and thereby yield life changing results.

The five steps of THE CREATIVITY CURE—Insight, Movement, Mind Rest, Using Your Own Two Hands, and Mind Shift—lead the way to a more meaningful, fulfilling life by simultaneously developing self-understanding and self-expression. With the Barrons’ detailed tools and strategies for cultivating creative outlets, overcoming unconscious fears and barriers to happiness, and linking internal thought to external action, readers will build the mindset and habits for happiness and positive change…

photo credit: J. Star via photopin cc

photo credit: J. Star via photopin cc

David B. Goldstein on creativity and playing to your personality strengths

We discovered David B. Goldstein this week and his ideas correlating the intelligence we can get from knowing our Myers-Briggs Personality Type and understanding the nature of our own individual creativity. This provides more detail about creativity we all have within us, and and the many different ways of being creative.

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photo credit: sgs_1019 via photopin cc

Everything You Thought You Knew About Creativity Is Wrong

We tend to think that creativity is innate — you’ve either got it or you don’t. Our “creative type” friends are artsy, full of wonder and always wanting to dig into something deeper. The rest? They’re investment bankers.

Contrary to popular belief, no one is born without a creative bone in his or her body, and not all creative types are starving artists. In other words, we’ve all got it, but our personalities play a role in the kind of creative we are, and how we best feed into it.

“Our creative process is how we see the world and how we make decisions,” David B. Goldstein, artist, researcher, management consultant and the co-author of “Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive” told The Huffington Post.

While we might typify creativity, Goldstein says this is limiting. “There’s more than one way to be creative — everyone is creative and can be creative in their own way.”

In his book, Goldstein reveals 16 different paths in which people can unearth their creativity, all of which depend on their psychological preferences. The author connects the personalities dictated by the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment, a test developed on the basis that we all have particular preferences in the way we translate our life experiences and values…

Goldstein also challenges Some of the myths we might hold about creativity:

Stepping “outside of your comfort zone” is the best way to elicit creativity.
“Creativity comes from finding our comfort zone and standing in it,” Goldstein says. “When we’re comfortable and acting in our preferences, we have the courage to take risks.” The artist explains that when you’re not comfortable, you’re less likely to take the risks that could lead to that bright idea.

Plus, some of our best ideas come in the most unexpected places – like in the car driving home — where we feel mighty comfortable. These physical locations aren’t new to us, but they give our minds the “OK” to wander…

Brainstorming sessions are the best ways to come up with brilliant ideas.
Some, namely extroverts, feel most alive when surrounded by a group of people. But this is not the case for all – especially the introverted types who experience a sense of draining when they’re around others for too long, Goldstein explains. The trick is to find what setting works best for you…

Being creative means being spontaneous.
Some of the most inspiring, creative works came with a set of plans. Painter Henri Matisse, for example, constructed all of his paintings before he began. He even wore a suit and tie while he created – not exactly the splattered, ragged overalls we associate with artsy folk…

Creative people must invent something new.
Only 30 percent of the population have the personality of the “intuitive types.” These are the Einsteins and the Edisons – big picture thinkers who create something out of nothing. (The lightbulb, for example, did not exist until Edison decided it should.) Goldstein says these kinds of thinkers are abstract and impractical – they contemplate the future and solve “future problems.”

And yet, the “sensers” – the majority of us – aren’t any less creative, just a different kind. Sensers create by combining existing ideas. Think of Henry Ford, who didn’t invent the car, but thought up many ways to improve it.

Of course, a person isn’t necessarily strictly a senser or an intuitive: “There’s an overlap,” Goldstein explains. “The intuitives can pay attention to detail and do think in the moments, and sensers can look into the future and see the bigger picture.”

Creativity means having a finished product.
You don’t need to create something worthy of display to be considered creative. Those with a “perceiver” personality type tend to never see things as entirely complete, because they’re always inspired to add more. “If you’re a perceiver, you prefer endlessly modifying, editing, repainting and revisiting since there is an unlimited and continuous flow of data to consider,” Goldstein writes in his book…

Link to read the original article in full

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

photo credit: Sam Ilić via photopin cc

Increase creativity at work and still have work life balance

Cindy Krischer Goodman writes:

Do you wish you were more creative? Creative people get ahead in business. They’re always coming up with a new way of doing things. For some of us, creativity flows easily. For others, we have those days where we struggle with it and it zaps our time and energy. Guest blogger David Goldstein is co-author of Creative You: Using Your Personality Type to Thrive. which addresses how personality types influence our creative abilities and how we can get better at it. David is an artist, entrepreneur, and researcher with a science and business background. He also writes a popular blog Courageously Creative.

…today, creativity isn’t just for people doing art or advertising – it’s for all of us and it’s about inventing better ways to do our jobs. Whether we realize it or not, we’re all naturally creative and by acting more creatively at work, we can be more engaged and happier.

One simple way to do this is to know your creative style — and this can help you get unstuck when you get blocked. While there are so many different ways to be creative, there are just as many ways to feel blocked in expressing ourselves…

The first way to overcome a block is to relax and not let it get the better of you and realize that we can’t always be inspired. Next, knowing your personality type is like having jumper cables to give you the spark to get going again.

Knowing your personality type can help you find your own balance. It can also help you to unlock your creativity and lead to happiness at work — it’s just a matter of balancing the right amount of information we take in with the decisions we make.

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: © Salim Photography/ www.salimphoto.com via photopin cc

22 Tips To Better Care for Introverts and Extroverts

by Belle Beth Cooper

‘[We] should not strive to eliminate [our] complexes but to get into accord with them: they are legitimately what directs [our] conduct in the world.’ -Sigmund Freud

…If we go a bit further back, we find that the terms introvert and extrovert (originally spelled extravert) were popularized by Carl Jung in the early 20th century. Unfortunately, their meanings got confused between then and now, and we started thinking that everyone belongs to one camp or the other. But actually, Carl’s point was that these are the very extremes of a scale. Which means that most of us fall somewhere in the middle.

There is no such thing as a pure introvert or extrovert. Such a person would be in the lunatic asylum. – Carl G Jung

…introversion and extroversion actually relate to where we get our energy from.

Or in other words, how we recharge our brains.

Introverts (or those of us with introverted tendencies) tend to recharge by spending time alone. They lose energy from being around people for long periods of time, particularly large crowds.

Extroverts, on the other hand, gain energy from other people. Extroverts actually find their energy is sapped when they spend too much time alone. They recharge by being social.

Research has actually found that there is a difference in the brains of extroverted and introverted people in terms of how we process rewards and how our genetic makeup differs. For extroverts, their brains respond more strongly when a gamble pays off. Part of this is simply genetic, but it’s partly the difference of their dopamine systems as well…

The nucleus accumbens is part of the dopamine system, which affects how we learn, and is generally known for motivating us to search for rewards. The difference in the dopamine system in the extrovert’s brain tends to push them towards seeking out novelty, taking risks and enjoying unfamiliar or surprising situations more than others. The amygdala is responsible for processing emotional stimuli, which gives extroverts that rush of excitement when they try something highly stimulating which might overwhelm an introvert.

More research has actually shown that the difference comes from how introverts and extrovertsprocess stimuli. That is, the stimulation coming into our brains is processed differently depending on your personality. For extroverts, the pathway is much shorter. It runs through an area where taste, touch, visual and auditory sensory processing takes place. For introverts, stimuli runs through a long, complicated pathway in areas of the brain associated with remembering, planning and solving problems…

For introverts, to be alone with our thoughts is as restorative as sleeping, as nourishing as eating.

Introverted people are known for thinking things through before they speak, enjoying small, close groups of friends and one-on-one time, needing time alone to recharge and being upset by unexpected changes or last-minute surprises. Introverts are not necessarily shy, and may not even avoid social situations, but they will definitely need some time alone or just with close friends or family after spending time in a big crowd.

12 quick tips to better care for an introvert (graphic)

photo credit: dogrando via photopin cc

photo credit: dogrando via photopin cc

On the opposite side of the coin, extroverts are energized by people. They usually enjoy spending time with others, as this is how they recharge from time spent alone focusing or working hard.

10 quick tips to better care for an extrovert (graphic)

Ambiverts exhibit both extroverted and introverted tendencies. This means that they generally enjoy being around people, but after a long time this will start to drain them. Similarly, they enjoy solitude and quiet, but not for too long. Ambiverts recharge their energy levels with a mixture of social interaction and alone time.

Though ambiverts seem to be the more boring personality type, being in the middle of everyone else, this balance can actually be a good thing.A study by Adam Grant, author of *Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success found that ambiverts perform better in sales than either introverts or extroverts. Ambiverts actually closed 24% more sales…

Most of us will be one or the other, but writing with your right hand doesn’t render your left hand inert. Similarly, an extroverted person can still do things that aren’t typically associated with extroversion. Meanwhile, introverts can learn to adapt to more extroverted scenarios, even if it might not come as naturally.

“The absolute worst thing you can do with either type is use a single word to define your approach.” Understanding the tendencies of ourselves and others is just the beginning. Effective communication means we need to take into account each person’s personality as well…

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: jurvetson via photopin cc

Finding the X Factor – the neuroscience of presence

Jan Hills writes

You will have experienced the feeling of a person, maybe a leader, shop assistant or friend who is completely focused on you and your needs. Their level of connection is palatable. For me it is best summed up in the words of a West African greeting, ‘Sawa bona,’ which translates to ‘I see you.’

The traditional response is ‘I am here’.

This exchange denotes that until you are ‘seen’ you do not exist and when you are seen you are brought into existence. This is the skill of deeply connecting to another and giving them attention. Many believe this speaks to a basic human need to be seen or validated. For many of us it is the X factor in business; people who can be present also connect deeply with others. It is an invaluable skill whether you are an HR leader, business partner or in shared services.

Everyone is capable of this level of connection. When we achieve it we understand more of what is going on in the business, are more influential, and increase engagement and ultimately productivity within the team.

Presence is a feeling state and one of the characteristics is that the experience feels spontaneous. There is no power play, posturing or self-consciousness and past experience is not interfering with the interaction. There is also an element of energy.

Energy

Research by the Institute of HeartMath shows that the heart, like the brain, generates an electromagnetic field. Director of Research Rollin McCraty says that: “The electrical field as measured in an electrocardiogram is about 60 times greater in amplitude than the brainwaves recorded in an electroencephalogram.” One of their significant findings is if people intentionally generate positive emotions by changing their state the electromagnetic heart information also changes.

According to the US National Institutes of Health in the USA the study of bioenergy is receiving increasing scientific attention. This research looks at the effect of electromagnetic heart fields that result in levels of heart-rate synchronization. It has been established that mothers synchronize with their baby’s heart rate.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

What stops presence

The ability to connect therefore should be a learnable skill. But what gets in the way of achieving presence? In our discussions with clients we find these are the main issues:

  • Distractions: This covers a fairly broad area including people checking their mobile phones.

  • Internal dialogue: There is a lot of noise in most peoples’ heads. This ranges from self-conscious worry to planning what to say next, through to wondering what the other person thinks of us.

  • Threat response: Being emotionally comfortable is important to staying present. You may start being engaged with the person but lose it when you feel “threatened.” The CORE model helps here both to manage and to diagnose triggers.

  • Judgment: This often separates us from others. It blocks our ability to listen, closes down curiosity and reduces empathy. We judge all the time. The issue is hanging onto judgements; letting them interrupt the connection and break the presence.

  • Habit: It’s my theory that we can get into the habit of not fully connecting, and only through practice will this habit be overcome.

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

The research

Psychology has for many years emphasised the importance of not just the words but also the body language and tone of voice that goes with communication. People watch and make judgements on what is real, what is important and what is for show. This is intuitive but research from Sandy Pentland at MIT is able to verify and even put numbers on these factors. He has found that we act on and are influenced by the ‘honest signals’ people send. That is, the unconscious and non-verbal language including tone and energy. His team have developed a means of measuring these signals using an electronic badge.

Pentland says honest signals impact the success of individuals and teams and can account for as much as 50% of the performance of a group. …He found that a particular type of person is most effective in teams. He calls these people ‘charismatic connectors’ and they have many of the characteristics we associate with presence. They talk to everybody and drive the conversation around a team. They mainly work to connect people and information. The other interesting discovery Pentland made is that people can be trained to modify their honest signals to put in more energy or to communicate more effectively with their non-verbal signals. Making these changes improves the productivity and success of the team potentially by as much as an extra 8% in productivity improvements in call centre teams. You can see Pentland talking about his work here

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

photo credit: Lieven SOETE via photopin cc

Presence requires practice

I believe these are the elements that create the ability to be present.

  • Personal Awareness: Being aware of ‘What do I do, how do I do it and why do I do it?’ You can’t be present to others if you are not self-aware. Because presence depends on your emotional state at any given time, increasing your ability to change your emotional state is also critical. Mindfulness can help here and practice noticing your state and naming it.
  • You speak through your body and as Pentland found people pick up on this and respond both consciously and unconsciously. Everyone needs the Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you are saying,” somewhere close to hand. Like in our exercise, going into an interaction in the right state with the right degree of energy and relaxation in the body helps to achieve presence.
  • Emotional control: Read my HRZone article on emotional control and success for more about this. Presence requires a willingness to be honest with yourself about what is going on in the moment. The most skilled are able to step outside the immediate interaction and sense that is working and what is not and make minute adjustments. Being curious is a great aid. It is nearly impossible to disconnect, judge or listen to your own internal dialogue if you are deeply curious about the other person. This is especially hard but crucial in conflict, which is when you need it most.

Further evidence that adopting the right attitude and body language works comes from research by Amy Cuddy. When people adopt new postures such as appearing more powerful or more interested in others, the brain also starts to change and the adopted approach can be integrated into everyday behaviour. This is useful evidence for any development programme suggesting that we can help people to change their style and their presence, not just what they do. You can watch her excellent video on her research here which investigates how people perceive and categorize others. Warmth and competence, she finds, are the two critical variables. They account for about 80% of our overall evaluations of people (i.e., Do you feel good or bad about this person?), and shape our emotions and behaviors toward them. Her warmth/competence analysis illuminates why we hire Kurt instead of Kyra, how students choose study partners, who gets targeted for sexual harassment etc.

My message is, presence takes practice and intention. Monitor your own impact; when you are present with someone versus when you are distracted. Note the difference in results on your influence and understanding. This will motivate you to identify the triggers, adapt and practice ‘seeing’ the other person..

Link to read the original article

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photo credit: { pranav } via photopin cc

Patsy Rodenberg – The Second Circle

One of our great voice expert heroes is Patsy Rodenberg, author of several great books including Presence: How To Use Positive Energy For Success In Every Situation. Presence for her lies in the middle of three circles:

  1. In First Circle we are closed in on ourselves and failing to communicate out beyond our spheres. This is the withheld personna.

  2. In Second Circle we are in a dynamic state of balance between enough sureness about ourselves and what we have to bring and a concentrated alert attention and responsive to the people around us, constantly and minutely adapting to connect with what we receive. This is presence.

  3. In Third Circle we are pushing ourselves out into the world with such a force that have not attention or energy left over to receive anything back from from it. This is the overly presented personna.

A Working LIfe: The Voice Coach

writes in The Guardian

From actors to execs, Patsy Rodenburg’s mantra of psychology and Shakespeare helps them to master the power of speech

…After the lesson, she leads me to a tiny office. As she sits in a white rocking chair, it becomes clear that for her, training the voice is a complex business, involving not just breathing exercises, but a fair amount of psychology and lashings of Shakespeare.

“The voice encompasses so many things,” she says. “Everyone comes on to the planet with a fantastic voice, but people lose it. The voice is about communicating, engaging, how you show yourself, how you speak, how you listen.”

photo credit: MrAnathema via photopin cc

photo credit: MrAnathema via photopin cc

She gives a quick overview of her concept of “the three circles of energy”. The first is where a person withdraws into the self. The opposite is the third circle, the loud and boorish. The second circle is the ideal state, where a person’s energy is focused.

“It moves out towards the object of your attention, touches it then receives energy back from it,” she explains in her book, Presence. “You are living a two-way street – you reach out and touch an energy outside your own, then receive energy back.” …

She emphasises the importance of breathing from the lower abdomen, saying that a person’s voice should come from that part of the body: “The body houses the voice and the breath energises it.” …

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: josef.stuefer via photopin cc

Are audiences killing art and culture?

If the most important thing about art is its newsworthiness, says Sarah Kent, how do we engage with it on any other level?

…This is one of the questions to be addressed in BBC Radio 3‘s Free Thinking festival at the Sage Gateshead on Sunday in a panel debate: Are audiences killing culture?

Art is often promoted as a leisure pursuit, something fun to see on a wet Sunday afternoon. And it is achingly fashionable. On the first Thursday of each month, galleries in east London stay open late – hundreds descend on Vyner Street in Bethnal Green, sparking a street party complete with food, beer and sound systems; the event is so cool that even school kids hang out there…

Nowadays, artists are caught between a rock and a hard place. Market domination stifles creativity by seducing artists into producing glitzy commodities that shriek: “Buy me! Buy me!”…

Since an important part of their remit is to attract large audiences, museums and galleries unwittingly create a trap of a different kind – encouraging artists to woo the public with accessible art. Often the result is bland mediocrity; mirrored maizes are my bête noire. Occasionally, though, an artist responds with something both playful and profound.

When Olafur Eliasson projected a yellow disc onto the far wall of Tate Modern’s Turbine Hall in 2003, hundreds came to bask in the light of the artificial sun. The Weather Project tapped into the collective psyche by encouraging people to dream, which is what good art can do – visitors wore swimsuits, brought picnics and lay on towels as if they were on a beach in midsummer. The work demonstrated the power of illusion and people’s willingness to play.

If you visit Derry-Londonderry over the next few months you can earn a couple of quid discussing the market economy with some locals. Not down the pub, but at the Turner Prize exhibition where Tino Sehgal is staging This is Exchange…

If Seghal wins the Turner Prize it won’t be because his performers argued well or told moving tales, but because he provokes questions about the nature and value of art and the institutions that house it. Audience participation may be crucial, but pleasing the crowd is not; you may enjoy it, but his work is not about having a good time.

Antony Gormley‘s invitation in 2010 for people to take their place on the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square was similarly memorable not because someone struck a fine pose or told a good joke; it was not Britian’s Got Talent. Fundamentally it was a conceptual piece that held up a mirror to our lust for celebrity, our desire to be in the frame. And it highlighted the fact that no-one has the faintest idea any more what public monuments and public art are for. What or who is worth commemorating?

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: Pensiero via photopin cc

New thinking and ideas about the relationship and potential collaboration between artists and their audiences is part of this interview, too:

Arts Head: Henry Little, Chief Executive, Orchestras Live

Interview by

…it’s interesting to think for a moment about what we consider a “concert” to be. The notion of a concert is quite a formal construct that makes people (and not just young people) immediately think that it might not be for them. Orchestras talk about “concerts” because that’s what they mostly do.

We talk about activity and events and sometimes they take the form of a traditional concert, but more often than not, they don’t. For example, we are working with young people in Cumbria on an event that could well see an orchestra performing in the local cattle market!

Our starting point is always the audience. We see programming as a two-way process involving both promoters and orchestras. We work with a wide range of British symphony and chamber orchestras, from early music ensembles to contemporary music groups, and we gather a complete picture of their plans to discover programmes that suit our partners’ needs. This can cover the full spectrum, from a traditional concert setting right through to a community performance involving hundreds of participants….

There’s a perception that teenagers and orchestral music don’t mix or that when they do, it’s a bit like oil and water. Many in our business lament the fact that audiences for classical music are getting older and that young people appear not to be interested in attending concerts. However, the fact is that they are and they do, so long as you involve them by allowing them to choose what music is played, how it is presented and when and where it takes place.

We also recognise the research that tells us that exposure to music from an early age is key to lifelong engagement and for us, enabling very young children to experience live orchestral music remains a priority. For me, it comes down to the question of with, rather than by and for. I think there’s too much of the latter when it comes to British orchestras’ approach to work with young people…

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: Denis Collette…!!! via photopin cc

How To Slow A Racing Mind

An agitated mind leads to stress and a whole host of health problems, such as high blood pressure and heart disease. It even disrupts our relationships and sleep.

Fortunately, there’s a simple solution to this problem. No matter how fast your mind is racing, you can learn how to cultivate a calm and serene mind, and the good news is that it’s a lot easier than you might think…

There are four main sources of mental agitation: 1) Too many commitments, 2) background noise, 3) painful memories, and 4) worrying. There are short-term solutions for dealing with too many commitments and background noise. Painful memories and worrying will take more time to overcome, but they will resolve themselves through a regular meditation practice.

1. Too many commitments

…With many of our commitments, we have no choice in the short-run. We can’t quit our jobs or abandon our families, but we can consider more carefully what we truly need to survive and be happy. For example, do all our material possessions really make our family happier, or do they take us away from our loved ones? With mindfulness, we can determine the real sources of happiness and strive to incorporate them into our lives.

2. Background Noise

…There’s nothing inherently wrong with watching TV or listening to the radio. The problem arises when we simply use them as background noise. Of course, we should also use some discretion concerning what we watch or listen to. Remember, whichever seeds in your mind you water, those will be the ones that grow.

I would suggest turning off the radio or television (or any other entertainment device) when you’re doing something else. This will help you concentrate on what you’re doing. Try it for a week. I think you’ll be surprised at how much of a difference it makes…

3. The Calming Power of Mindful Breathing

Mindful breathing is a simple tool for keeping your mind from racing out of control. Practicing mindful breathing is very easy and doesn’t take long, and it will interrupt the acceleration of your mind. This will enable you to think with greater clarity, since you’ll have less mental agitation.

All you have to do is stop occasionally and take three to five mindful breaths. You don’t have to strain to concentrate on your breathing, but rather just pay attention to it…

4. Mindful Walking

Practicing mindful walking is also very easy. Most of us do a great deal of walking through our daily activities: at home, work, school, or when tending to our family’s needs. These are all wonderful opportunities to practice mindfulness, instead of allowing ourselves to get lost in our thoughts, many of which are either worrying or simply rehashing the same thoughts repeatedly.

When doing mindful walking, we generally walk more slowly than usual. Make your walking a smooth and continuous movement, while being mindful of each step. This can have a tremendous calming effect because it forces your mind to slow down.

As with mindful breathing, simply pay attention to your walking. With each mindful step, observe the sensation on your feet, the contraction of the muscles in your legs, or even the sensations of your clothes against your skin. Not only will this calm your mind, but it will also help you return to the present moment…

Link to read the original article in full

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photo credit: katiecooperx via photopin cc

A Classroom In The Now

IN THE EARLY 1990s, scientist, writer, and world-renowned mindfulness expert Jon Kabat-Zinnencountered Cherry Hamrick, a teacher in the small town of South Jordan, Utah, who wanted to bring mindfulness—the act of paying attention on purpose in the present moment—into her elementary school….

Cherry Hamrick taught mindfulness through techniques such as ringing a bell and having the students slowly raise their hands when they could no longer hear the sound of it; having them carefully eat a small portion of a candy bar and notice the way sugar sparked their taste buds; and setting aside time for “mindful walking,” in which they strolled around the school yard in silence and simply noticed each step. Gaining self-awareness through these types of exercises, Kabat-Zinn pointed out, is crucial to managing stress and finding success both inside and outside the classroom in a world where children are constantly bombarded with technological stimuli such as texts, e-mail, and Facebook.

“Self-distraction is at absolutely epidemic proportions—and it’s not the iPhone, it’s the thought of, ‘I wonder if anybody texted me,’” he said. “There’s always this digital domain—this virtual reality—and kids are even more challenged [to pay attention] than we were when we were young.”

The founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulnessin Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, Kabat-Zinn has been a strong supporter of groups like Mindful Schools that use mindfulness to teach children how to focus, manage their emotions, handle their stress, and resolve conflicts. Instead of simply telling children to pay attention, for example, Kabat-Zinn said that adults should show children how to pay attention through direct experience, because that allows them to make wiser decisions in the heat of the moment, rather than only in retrospect. “Mindfulness is like a muscle, and without exercise it will lose its strength,” he said. “Our world is so much about doing that the being gets lost.”

With stress in children in the United States at high levels, incorporating mindfulness into school curriculums is imperative, he asserted, adding that students can tap into “their profound capacity” for awareness if they are taught to do so.

Although Kabat-Zinn pointed out that mindfulness is becoming more mainstream—displaying a chart that showed the number of publications and studies on the subject rising drastically in the last 10 years—he said he hopes it will gain even more steam and become a part of every school curriculum. “Many kids come to school and they haven’t had breakfast, or they’ve seen acts of violence, and [yet] they are expected to learn optimally,” he said. “If you are going to be in an environment like a classroom, why not help [students] actually get into an alignment, calmness, clarity, and emotional regulation where they can be open to what is available for them? Then you create a community of learning.”

Link to read the original article

Happiness At Work Edition #70

You will find all of these stories – and more – in this week’s new Happiness At Work collection…

I hope you find things to enjoy and use to carve out at least a little more space in the middle – to play, to think, to connect, to create, to be happy…

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Happiness At Work #62 ~ considering the disciplines, habits and practice of self-mastery

photo credit: Nasser Nouri via photopin cc

photo credit: Nasser Nouri via photopin cc

Self-mastery: the ability to take control of your life without being blown off course by feelings, urges, circumstances etc (Collins English Dictionary)

I take self-mastery to be the dynamic and shifting balance between knowing and playing to our strengths – doing the things that come ‘naturally’ to us in the ways that feel right and easy for us – in combination with practising and honing those things that are not our preferred way of working, but which extend our range, reach and influence and so are vital to both our professionalism as much as to our success.  Over time, and with enough practice, these less easy skills become so automatic and honed that they grow into what we can call our second nature responses.

Peter Senge includes Personal Mastery as their first of five essential disciplines for constantly adaptive and evolving Learning Organisations – the other four being Mental Modelling, Shared Vision, Team Learning and the all important 5th Discipline, Systems Thinking.

And I tend to think that all learning starts and centres around self-awareness and expanding our repertoire of different things we can deliberately choose to do and things we can deliberately choose to do differently.

And so it follows that any consideration of how we might become happier, or more resilient, or more creative, or more successful, must also begin and centre around ways to expand, practise and ultimately master new ways of thinking, doing and being.  And this calls upon our discipline – by which I mean all of these connotations (taken from Collins English Dictionary):

  1. training or conditions imposed for the improvement of physical powers, self-control, etc
  2. systematic training in obedience to regulations and authority
  3. the state of improved behaviour, etc, resulting from such training or conditions
  4. a system of rules for behaviour, methods of practice, etc
  5. a branch of learning or instruction
  6. (vb.) to improve or attempt to improve the behaviour, orderliness, etc, of by training, conditions, or rules

Discipline is foundation stone of self-mastery just as practise is the foundation stone of discipline.

The following articles from this this week’s new Happiness At Work collection #62 are all related to this theme of self-mastery:

  • what motivates and drives us to want to learn more?
  • what are some of the elements and aspects of disciplined practice?
  • and how can we get a better balance between playing to our strengths and preferred ways of acting and developing new less easy ways of doing things?
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photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Abraham Maslow and the pyramid that beguiled business

The psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation is 70 years old but continues to have a strong influence on the world of business. William Kremer and Claudia Hammond ask: what is it, and is it right?

In 1943, the US psychologist Abraham Maslow published a paper called A Theory of Human Motivation, in which he said that people had five sets of needs, which come in a particular order. As each level of needs is satisfied, the desire to fulfil the next set kicks in.First, we have the basic needs for bodily functioning – fulfilled by eating, drinking and going to the toilet. Maslow also included sexual needs in this group.Then there is the desire to be safe, and secure in the knowledge that those basic needs will be fulfilled in the future too. After that comes our need for love, friendship and company. At this stage, Maslow writes, the individual “may even forget that once, when he was hungry, he sneered at love”.  The next stage is all about social recognition, status and respect.

And the final stage, represented in the graphic as the topmost tip of the triangle, Maslow labelled with the psychologists’ term “self-actualisation”.

It’s about fulfilment – doing the thing that you were put on the planet to do. “A musician must make music, an artist must paint, a poet must write, if he is to be ultimately happy,” wrote Maslow. “What a man can be, he must be.”

While there were no pyramids or triangles in the original paper, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is now usually illustrated with the symbol. And although the paper was written as pure psychology it has found its main application in management theory.

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photo credit: pshegubj via photopin cc

…In the second half of the 20th Century, bosses began to realise that employees’ hopes, feelings and needs had an impact on performance. In 1960, Douglas McGregor published The Human Side of Enterprise, which contrasted traditional managerial styles with a people-centred approach inspired by Maslow. It became a best-seller.

Some managers began to move away from a purely “transactional” contract with a company’s staff, in which they received money in exchange for doing a job, to a complex “relational” one, where a company offered opportunities for an individual to feel fulfilled, but expected more in return.

…But critics point to dozens of counter-examples. What about the famished poet? Or the person who withdraws from society to become a hermit? Or the mountaineer who disregards safety in his determination to reach the summit?

Muddying things slightly, Maslow said that for some people, needs may appear in a different order or be absent altogether. Moreover, people felt a mix of needs from different levels at any one time, but they varied in degree.

…after Maslow’s death in 1970, researchers did undertake a more detailed investigation, with attitude-based surveys and field studies testing out the Hierarchy of Needs.  “When you analyse them, the five needs just don’t drop out,” says Hodgkinson. “The actual structure of motivation doesn’t fit the theory. And that led to a lot of discussion and debate, and new theories evolved as a consequence.”

In 1972, Clayton Alderfer whittled Maslow’s five groups of needs down to three, labelled Existence, Relatedness and Growth. Although elements of a hierarchy remain, “ERG theory” held that human beings need to be satisfied in all three areas – if that’s not possible then their energies are redoubled in a lower category. So for example, if it is impossible to get a promotion, an employee might talk more to colleagues and get more out of the social side of work.

More sophisticated theories followed. Maslow’s triangle was chopped up, flipped on its head and pulled apart into flow diagrams. Hodgkinson says that one business textbook has just been published which doesn’t mention Maslow, and there is a campaign afoot to have him removed from the next editions of others.

The absence of solid evidence has tarnished Maslow’s status within psychology too. But as a result, Lachman says, people miss seeing that he was responsible for a major shift of focus within the discipline.

“He really was ground-breaking in his thinking,” Lachman says. “He was saying that you weren’t acting on the basis of these uncontrollable, unconscious desires. Your behaviour was not just influenced by external rewards and reinforcement, but there were these internal needs and motivations.”

Unlike the psychoanalysts and behaviourists who preceded him, Maslow was not that interested in mental illness – instead of finding out what went wrong with people, he wanted to find out what could go right with them. This opened the door for later movements such as humanistic psychology and positive psychology, and the “happiness agenda” that preoccupies the current UK government.

Maslow’s friend, management guru Warren Bennis, believes the quality underlying all Maslow’s thinking was his striking optimism about human nature and society…

Link to read this original BBC World Service article in full

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photo credit: familymwr via photopin cc

5 Leadership Tips for Introverts

Thinking about ways for Introverts to play more to their strengths in a highly extravert-favoured world, Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leader, explains how to turn solitary tendencies into business strengths:

Most of the time, the business world is no place for shy folk. As Jennifer Kahnweiler, author of The Introverted Leaderexplains on LeanIn.org, “Many organizational cultures support those who talk about their accomplishments, who spend more time out and about networking instead of alone deep in thought, and who make sure they are the first to get their ideas heard.”

…you can learn to make your love of solitude and keen observational skills work for you. Kahnweiler offered some helpful tips on how introverts can use their unique strengths to excel.

1. Spend Solo Time Thinking About Strategy

Your desire for time away from people can useful, if you can use the space … to deeply consider where others are coming from, what their secret motivations are, and how you can influence them or help them achieve their goals…

2. Use the Power of One-on-One Conversations

Big meetings, which can be intimidating for introverts, aren’t the only place to get things done. … Consider placing an emphasis on smaller conversations, which can be a powerful force…

3. Notice Who the Other ‘Quiet Influencers’ Are

When people are constantly talking or at the center of the conversation, it’s easy to miss the quiet influencers lingering on the edges. … Use your highly developed observational skills to find those who may not speak the loudest, but who … may have some of the most interesting, well-developed opinions and ideas….

4. Identify What You Want to Change

…One of Kahnweiler’s clients realized that she needed to change how others were perceiving her, so she incorporated techniques from actors. “She slowed her breath down, raised her voice a level and increased her eye contact with others throughout the day,” writes Kahnweiler, which helped people see her as “a highly competent and strong contributor.”…

5. Make the Most of Social Networking

…Introverts may take more naturally to social media, where “others can get to know as much about you as you care to share. Developing a robust online presence “also helps you to achieve visibility that might be difficult to gain in person,” Kahnweiler concludes. …

Here is the link to read this article in full

photo credit: Zarko Drincic via photopin cc

photo credit: Zarko Drincic via photopin cc

Happiness In Meditation: how does it happen

by Tina Ranieri

…People usually come to meditation and or prayer long after they have found their own life and mind out of control, being blown here and there and unable to find happiness. People know they want happiness but they may not know if it is inner peace or outer peace they seek. People are so used to filling up the space in their lives with “stuff” that to meditate and make space, to be able to create clarity and to make room for spirit in their lives is a whole different ballgame.

When meditation doesn’t seem to be going well

In the beginning when meditation seems pointless and going nowhere you should remember that by applying effort to train in meditation you are creating the mental karma to experience inner peace in the future. If you train in meditation your mind becomes more and more peaceful, and you shall experience a purer form of happiness. Eventually you are able to stay happy all of the time, even in the most difficult situations.

Gradually you develop mental equilibrium

Meditation is like having the space to create a garden. What you do with that space is what will grow there. If you leave it unattended, anything can grow there and becomes wild and out of control. Taking the time to plant the correct seed and tending to your mind’s space which leads to spirit’s space, is the source of all happiness and just how important meditation is…

At first the mind is so very busy

Even as you begin to train in meditation and find the calmer aspects of life you will find those around you will still try to suck you into their dramas, wishing for you to go on the roller coaster ride of madness with them like you always did before. It is easy to get caught up in the old cycles, but you will come to realize these are not areas you wish to wander any more. … There will always be people with their distractions and turbulence, with their minds all aflutter demanding you come into that “twitch” too.

Experiencing the calm that comes with meditation and the knowing of the answers to your questions in life, gross distractions disappear, you feel naturally warm and well disposed toward all people, you are of a lighter heart and mind, and your relationships will improve.

Things like being detached and not clinging are things that happen as you meditate. It is so much not a need to practice non-attachment as it just becomes a part of your life naturally. Things begin to fall away from you as you learn to see through different eyes. Through meditation what is necessary to focus on and give your attention to comes to the forefront and is no longer unclear to your minds eye.

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

photo credit: marfis75 via photopin cc

Susan Pearse & Techniques For A Clear And Happy Mind

by Susan Pearse an acclaimed leadership expert and co-author with Martina Sheehan of Wired for Life. She also co-founded with Martina Mind Gardener.

…On an average day we have around 50,000 thoughts and 12,000 internal conversations. A busy mind can be detrimental to your happiness. It leads to clutter, mistakes being made and opportunities being lost, not to mention stressed individuals with a work/life balance out of whack.

The good news is that you can train your mind to slow down and declutter and the result will be a boost in your happiness. Here are three exercises that you can do to tame your busy mind and get some clarity and focus in busy times …

The power of the pause 
…The pause is a simple mental pause where you rest your attention on one of your senses. Stop what you are doing, sit down close your eyes and take three long breaths, focusing on nothing but your inhalation and exhalation. The pause is usually only a few seconds but can change your day. Pausing often throughout the day is a way of ‘clearing the slate’ so you can focus. Here are some ways of doing it:

Pause at the end of each task just before you start another task.
When the phone rings while you are working on another task, pause and listen to the phone ring for a few seconds before picking it up. Alternately, touch the receiver before answering.
Pause whenever you are interrupted in the middle of a task by feeling the feet on the floor for a few seconds before you turn your attention to the person interrupting you.

The magic of mindful listening
…Mindful listening is listening with full attention. This means that we listen without comment, distraction or anticipation of what will be said. Here are some ways you can do it:

In a discussion that seems to drag on simply bring your attention to the sound of the speaker’s voice without judgement or comment.
When you are talking on the phone stop doing all other tasks and focus attention on the sense of hearing.
When interacting with people whom you have formed strong ideas and opinions about, put these aside by directing attention away from your thoughts about that person and onto what they are saying.

The charm of connecting with your senses
…Your five senses are your gateway to the present because they are always in the ‘here and now’. Connect to your senses throughout the day to keep your mind fully in the present and attend to the activity or task you are doing. Here are some ways you can try this:

Use the sense of touch to bring your attention to a project you are working on – be aware of the pen in your hand or your finger tips touching the keyboard.
When you are eating, connect your mind to the sense of taste.
Whenever you are doing anything – cleaning, washing up, gardening – stay present with the sense that you are using most at the time.
When you are driving, feel your hands on the steering wheel and focus on being fully present through sight.

All of these exercises train your mind to be clear and present focused. Before long you will notice that you are taming your busy mind and your happiness will greatly benefit!

Link to read this article in full

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

Body language affects how others see us, but it may also change how we see ourselves. Social psychologist Amy Cuddy shows how “power posing” — standing in a posture of confidence, even when we don’t feel confident — can affect testosterone and cortisol levels in the brain, and might even have an impact on our chances for success.

photo credit: TheJCB via photopin cc

photo credit: TheJCB via photopin cc

6 Amazing Neuroscience Discoveries That’ll Help You Work Better

by Joel Willans

Neuroscience isn’t just the domain of hard working biologists in labs: it’s a multi-disciplinary field that embraces philosophy and psychology as well as chemistry and mathematics. What’s more, the scientists’ discoveries have repercussions well beyond laboratories and textbooks. The workplace can also benefit from the revelations of neuroscience. After all, where do we often really put our brains to the test? Why, at work, of course! So we’re fascinated by how neuroscience can be applied to our work-lives to make us better, smarter and more productive.

1.  Feed your intellect

…Experts reckon our brains use up about 20% of our body’s energy. Most of this energy goes to the prefrontal cortex—the bit of your brain that’s responsible for conscious thought. So when you’re thinking particularly hard and making tough decisions, you’re depleting your limited supply of blood glucose…  Eating well and having regular and, most important, healthy snacks while you’re working is a good way to do this, and the easiest way to know what does the job? …

2. Finishing things and crossing them off our checklist

We humans love to finish a task: whether that’s reading right to the end of that door-stopper by Tolstoy, getting the final letters in a crossword or wrapping up a huge management project at work. If we leave loose ends, we get a nasty niggling feeling: our minds won’t let it go and we burn more precious energy worrying about it. Close that cognitive loop by finishing the task, though, and not only are we more relaxed, but we’re also free to redirect that energy towards a new project…

3.  Your “towards” and “away” head

If you’re feeling gloomy, anxious, and altogether not in the right state of mind to think creatively, consider this: scientists say that the brain has two basic mental states—’toward’ and ‘away’. ‘Toward’ is what they call it when you’re feeling open and engaged, and ‘away’ is what they call the opposite: feeling negative, withdrawn and defensive. If you’re feeling stressed, your ability to think well will be compromised. And sometimes you’ll be stuck in the middle of this slump when your working life really needs you to be in the ‘towards’ state. The solution? Keep track of how you feel on a given day and figure out how what you’re doing is affecting your state of mind. Then apply this knowledge to switch things around when you need to feel better and work smarter.

4.  The Goldilocks Brain

There are definite times where you feel on top of the world, productivity-wise: when everything slots into place and you’re metaphorically on fire. Dr David Rock calls it the ‘Goldilocks Brain.’ If you want to trigger this ‘just right’ condition and achieve peak performance, then there are two things you need: a positive state of mind (see ‘towards’, above!) and the stimulation factor of a potential reward or threat. This motivational approach gives you that extra nudge to transform your positivity and openness into action and success.

5. Problem solving machine  

Neuroscience says: don’t over-think! That prefrontal cortex we met earlier only takes up a tiny part of our brains; the bulk of the work is actually whirring along in your subconscious. So coming up with the grand solution … isn’t just a matter of thinking very, very hard: you have to relax, to let it go, and allow the background machinery of your brain to get problem-solving. The parks of your working day that are set aside for breaks and less intellectually taxing tasks are hugely important, because it’s at these times that your brain’s energy levels recover and all the nifty subconscious labour gets done.

6. High on multitasking

Finally, to multitask or not to multitask? Getting busy on several jobs at once might make us look tremendously productive, and we certainly get a little dopamine kick as our brain thanks us for answering yet another email or tweet, but the downside is that we’re not actually getting more done than if we did the tasks sequentially, and, in fact, we’re probably under-performing, as none of these tasks get done as well as they would do if we tackled them one at a time.  Neuroscience tells us that we’re sequential creatures.

Link to read this article

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Amy Poehler on Taking Advice From Your Future Self

Amy Poehler … says she used to get so worked up over things that, in hindsight, didn’t matter. And now when she feels in crisis, she asks older-her for a future perspective.

Sometimes when I feel in crisis or down, I try to give myself advice that the older me would give, I try to think about what a 90, 80-year-old version of myself would say. [I’d say], “You’re beautiful, you’re great, it’s fine.” Right? It would always be “you’re fine, you’re fine, look at you, you’re walking, everything is fine…” 

[Older people] just aren’t that interested in feeling sad. When you’re in your twenties you can spend the whole f***ing day feeling bad about yourself… But when you’re old, you just don’t have the time.

Listen to the rest of the (hilarious but R-rated) podcast here.

photo credit: Through Painted Eyes via photopin cc

photo credit: Through Painted Eyes via photopin cc

 

Amy McGonigal: How To Make Stress Your Friend

Stress. It makes your heart pound, your breathing quicken and your forehead sweat. But while stress has been made into a public health enemy, new research suggests that stress may only be bad for you if you believe that to be the case. Psychologist Kelly McGonigal urges us to see stress as a positive, and introduces us to an unsung mechanism for stress reduction: reaching out to others.  She tells us that believing that stress is bad for us makes it bad for us, but believing that stress is good for us actually makes us healthier.

 

Debunked: ‘Right-Brain’ and ‘Left-Brain’ Personalities

 

Evidence from over 1,000 fMRI brain scans finds no evidence people are ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’.

There’s a popular assumption that ‘right-brained’ people are more creative, while ‘left-brained’ people are more analytical and logical.

The idea behind this is that these two distinct types of personalities are a result of one half of the brain being more active than the other.

The evidence for this has always been very weak but now researchers have done much to debunk this idea…  this doesn’t mean that some people aren’t more creative, while others more analytical and logical, just that it’s not accurate to say that creative people are more ‘right-brained’. It’s not their over-active right-brain that’s making them more creative; it’s their whole brain.

This finding also does not contradict the idea that some of the brain’s functions are biased towards the left- or right-hand-side.  For example, language processing is biased more towards the left-hand-side of the brain (in right-handed people), while attention is biased towards the right…

Despite having no solid basis in science, the expressions ‘left-brained’ and ‘right-brained’ will probably survive because it’s an easy way to talk about two aspects of personality.  But be aware that the expression is flawed: it’s far better to talk about people’s creativity or their analytical skills separately, rather than in opposition—especially since many people have plenty of both.

 

photo credit: vaXzine via photopin cc

photo credit: vaXzine via photopin cc

 

Using Character Strengths in Sports and Performance

 

We have become fans of the 24 VIA Character Strengths, which match to the 6 Virtues of Courage, Humanity, Justice, Temperance, Transcendence, and Wisdom

The more we know about what our natural strengths are, the more we can play to these, and in this will come a large amount of our happiness and success.  But it is also valuable to know which of these qualities we less inclined to use and to practice these to grow and extend our range of capabilities and influence.

In this post Todd Dilbeck shares some ways that he uses these character strengths to help sports players and performers to become masters of their play:

…As a Sport and Performance Coach, I have found that working with clients from a position of strengths is a fundamental part of growth.  This has been an underlying tenet of sport psychology for a long time.  We take many of the innate cognitive and behavioral things people do and modify them with a “positive” twist.

Innate cognitive skills such as visualization, internal dialogue, and goal setting can be honed skills that lead to high levels of achievement.  For example, the mental ability to visualize becomes guided imagery, internal dialogue becomes positive self-talk, even goal setting is broken into manageable scaffolding segments that help athletes and performers maintain focus and motivation as they measure progress.  Dancers can be taught to use imagery to successfully incorporate new and difficult steps into their routines.  Students can shift from self-defeating statements after receiving a disappointing grade to positive reflection about effort and improvement, and anticipating making more progress on the next assignment.  Athletes can learn to overcome disappointing games by setting high performance goals of personal growth that encourage them to train hard for the next opportunity.

These skills enhance performance in all sorts of arenas from sport competition, to the arts, to academics.  And the focus on growth and challenge is also why I often incorporate Character Strengths into my work with clients…

In recent work with a collegiate soccer team, such character strengths training became an important factor in our work together…

At the start of our work, each player completed the VIA Survey and were then asked to spend a week reflecting on moments when they were aware of their strengths being utilized during games and practices (an application of the “What Went Well” exercise).

Once individual players were familiar with their own strengths, the team incorporated a process of sharing and recognizing one another’s strengths.  This began with players spending time sharing their personal reflections during team meetings. Players were also encouraged to share observations of their peers when they felt something was noteworthy.

This activity promoted a sense of confidence and cohesion among them that the use of strengths contributed to individual and team play, as well as built a common language about Character Strengths among them.

here is a link to read Todd Dilbeck’s article in full

and this link will take your to VIA Me website where you can complete their free online survey to discover your own top character strengths

photo credit: Jesus de Blas via photopin cc

photo credit: Jesus de Blas via photopin cc

Predicting Wellbeing

Jenny Chanfreau, Cheryl Lloyd, Christos Byron, Caireen Roberts, Rachel Craig, Danielle De Feo, Sally McManus

Prepared for the Department of Health

This is an important report and so we have highlighted some of its key findings and their implications:

Some of the Key Findings

Subjective wellbeing analysis is sensitive to the measures used. Validated measures of wellbeing have only recently been included in surveys, so the opportunity to carry out longitudinal analysis is just beginning. This report contributes to an emerging evidence base on what predicts wellbeing.

  • Levels of wellbeing vary across the life course, dipping in the mid teenage years, at midlife, and again among the oldest old. Older women emerge as a priority group due to their very low levels of wellbeing. Differences in life circumstances explain much of this life course variation in wellbeing.
  • Social relationships are key. This is evident in two ways. Firstly, people with higher wellbeing have more positive relationships: with less shouting and bullying, and more eating together and feeling supported. Secondly, people with higher wellbeing tend to have parents, partners, and children who also have higher wellbeing.
  • Different aspects of environment play a role. Higher wellbeing is linked with positive neighbourhood social capital, living in a more affluent area, and having a well-maintained home. With relevance for the fuel poverty agenda; cold homes were strongly linked with lower wellbeing.  An over-demanding job and a disruptive school environment both predicted lower wellbeing.
  • Wellbeing is part of the public health agenda. Good self-reported health is one of the strongest predictors of high wellbeing, and health behaviours matter to general health. Some health behaviours are also directly associated with wellbeing. For example, substance use and excessive gaming predict lower wellbeing among children. Adults with higher wellbeing eat more fruit and vegetables, and are less likely to smoke.
  • Untangling cause and effect. Many of these associations between predictive factors – like relationships, environment, and health – and subjective wellbeing will be better understood when more longitudinal data on this topic is available for analysis. 

Summary

Which groups in our society are flourishing?

Are there inequalities, and if so, what are they and when in the life course do they emerge?

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Wellbeing matters

For a long time social research and policy have been focused on counting negative outcomes and deficits, rather than measuring and developing positive assets. Not only is a high level of wellbeing a positive end in itself, it has also been found to predict living longer and living without disability.

Making change happen

This report focuses on factors that are amenable to policy intervention. We know that genes and very early childhood experiences are critical to wellbeing in later life. However, policy makers need to know what factors to prioritise now, to help people function well and feel good throughout their lives.

Young children: family and neighbourhood

…Primary school context and friendships emerge as important, but the data suggests that homelife and relationships with family are even more so. Seven-year-old children were happiest where they got on well with siblings, reported fun together with family at weekends, and had parents who did not shout or smack them.

…Enjoyment in being together and engaging in a variety of activities in moderation were positive indicators. But young children’s assessments of their own wellbeing were also clearly and strongly associated with the wider neighbourhood in which they lived. After controlling for other factors, children as young as seven were more likely to feel unhappy and worried if they live in a deprived area. These findings support the continuation of public health policy focused not only on the family, but also on the wider neighbourhood.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Young people: school and teenage years

As young people go through their secondary school years, child wellbeing progressively declined. This is a critical stage in the life course, when there are many physical, emotional and social adjustments to be made. Between age 11 and age 15, the proportion of young people with low levels of subjective wellbeing almost doubles. It would be easy to dismiss this as the inevitable consequence of hormones and physical change. However, when controlling for social and environmental factors, associations between wellbeing and age are no longer significant. This suggests that the very real dip in wellbeing in the teenage years, that is strongly evident in unadjusted analyses, is the result of social context and therefore responsive to changes in circumstance.

Substance use and excessive computer gaming become more common as children grow into young people, and both of these activities were also associated with lower levels of wellbeing. Disruptive behaviour at school continued to be linked to low subjective wellbeing. This was the case both for the young people who were being disruptive, and for those who witness the disruption. A secure environment at school – free from bullying and classroom disruption – remains important to this age group.

Home dynamics also continue to be critical to positive wellbeing. …What mattered were things such as feeling supported and sharing meals together as a family. In recent years there has been increasing focus on the early years, with the establishment of Sure Start and Children’s Centres across the country. There is also a clear rationale for support to address needs throughout childhood, including through the difficult teenage years as children increasingly start to feel low.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Ups and downs – across the life course

Data from young people pinpointed the middle teenage years as a risk point where wellbeing declines. Understanding Society data from adults supports the widely held view that wellbeing again reaches a low point in midlife; from around the mid-thirties to the mid-fifties. The Health Survey for England (HSE) also finds a third and final stage of age-related decline in wellbeing: a tailing off of wellbeing among the oldest old. This decline being a much more pronounced problem for women than for men.

While a U-curve in wellbeing is evident among working-age adults, a life course perspective reveals a journey with even more ups and downs. When considering what it is about midlife that might place wellbeing at this stage at risk, it is important to note that this dip remains even after controlling for the wide range of significant social, environmental and economic factors included in the final model presented here.

Jobs, homes, friends

The school years continue to be felt into adulthood, with higher wellbeing found to be associated with higher levels of educational qualification in data from adults taking part in Understanding Society. Public Health England (PHE) has identified it’s priority areas as jobs, homes and friendships because these are important social determinants of health. They are also predictors of subjective wellbeing. It is startling how – even after controlling for other factors – so many aspects of people’s lives were found to be linked with their level of wellbeing. This includes employment, deprivation (especially fuel poverty) and the condition of the home, and the relationships people have with those around them.

Not just having a job: having a good job

Being in a stressful job – where employees don’t feel able to cope with the demands made on them – is very strongly associated with low levels of wellbeing among both men and women. Other aspects of income and work had resonance for wellbeing among one sex, but not the other. For example, while employment status strongly predicts wellbeing in men, household income was a stronger predictor of wellbeing among women. Other characteristics also behaved differently for men and women.  For example, after controlling for other factors being Muslim was associated with higher wellbeing in men, but not in women.

The physical condition of where people live matters

Those who said that they could not afford to maintain their property in a decent state of repair had lower levels of wellbeing. This is likely to affect wellbeing through many mechanisms. A home in poor state of repair may indicate financial insecurity and contribute to residents’ feelings of stigma and shame. A reluctance to invite others into the home has been found to contribute to possible social isolation. The fact that being able to keep one’s home warm is so strongly predictive of wellbeing provides support for schemes aimed at reducing fuel poverty.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

At every age – social relationships are key

…relationships with family members inside and outside the home and with local friends and neighbours …have emerged as key predictors of wellbeing in adults. Just as spending time with parents and siblings was so important to child wellbeing, so is spending time with children – whether young children living at home or adult children living elsewhere – also associated with higher wellbeing among adults. Different aspects of social interaction with neighbours are also significant. There is evidence to support investment in neighbourhood renewal schemes that focus on building up both bonding social capital (the links between people who are similar to each other) and bridging social capital (linking those who are different).

The quality of people’s relationship with their partner, and the subjective wellbeing of that partner, also affected wellbeing for better and for worse. Likewise, children’s wellbeing was affected by their parent’s level of wellbeing. While adults in happy and harmonious relationships unsurprisingly had higher wellbeing, it is also apparent that those in an unhappy relationship report lower wellbeing than those not in a relationship at all. Availability and affordability of relationship counselling services such as Relate may, therefore, also have a role to play in improving national wellbeing.

Healthier tends to mean happier

We know that healthy behaviours matter to wellbeing later in the life course, and we can hypothesis that this is because its outcome – being healthier – is the key driver of feeling good and functioning well. The data on children from MCS and Understanding Society indicate that we should not expect healthy behaviours in and of themselves to have a significant and direct impact on wellbeing during childhood. Few health behaviours were found to be directly associated with subjective wellbeing among children and young people. The rationale for promoting healthy behaviours in childhood may need to focus on the benefits for general health in childhood – as well as both general health and subjective mental wellbeing in adulthood.

Perceptions of general health remains one of the strongest predictors of subjective wellbeing in adults. Several aspects of health behaviour were also found to be key for wellbeing among adults. For example, people with high wellbeing, after controlling for other factors, ate more fruit and vegetables and were less likely to smoke. The health-related factors that are relevant to wellbeing are not all the same for men and for women. While hypertension was identified as a specific health condition significantly associated in these analyses with lower wellbeing among men, digestive system problems were associated with lower wellbeing among women.

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Two other important issues emerged in this review, and influence the structure of this report:

  • There are strong life-course influences on wellbeing: levels of wellbeing change according to life stage and the predictors of wellbeing also change as people age.
  • Men and women may experience wellbeing differently, both in terms of what predicts wellbeing and in terms of the nature of wellbeing.

 

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #62

For all of these stories plus many more see our latest collection of stories in this week’s new Happiness At Work #62

Happiness At Work #60 ~ some of this week’s highlight articles

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

Here are our favourite stories in this week’s new Happiness At Work Edition #60  which we hope you will enjoy too…

Creativity is the Secret Sauce in STEM

Ainissa Ramirez Science Evangelist writes:

Creativity is the secret sauce to science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It is a STEM virtue. While most scientists and engineers might be reluctant to admit that, and to accept the concept of STEAM (where A is for Art), I’ve witnessed that the best of the best are the most creative.

So how do we make our children more creative?

Researchers have found that play is important for productive thought. Playing with ideas also increases learning…

Creativity is really the art of metaphor.

Metaphors create a linkage between two dissimilar ideas and are useful in the sciences because they allow information to be attained by connecting the unknown with the known.  And this is the key element to scientific creativity. Metaphors are important because they create a means of seeking answers, and sometimes they free us from the common thinking and enable scientific breakthroughs…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: nosha via photopin cc

photo credit: nosha via photopin cc

Can Artists Make The World A Better Place? (The Forum, BBC World Service)

This 44minute podcast is one of the best conversations I have yet heard about the importance and value and worth of the arts and arts education for our world.  Highly recommended:

When you think about people trying to change the world for the better, should artists be near the top of the list? Bridget Kendall explores this question at the Aspen Festival of Ideas in Colorado, in front of a lively festival audience.

She is joined by: Damian Woetzel, former Principal Dancer at the New York City Ballet and the man behind an eye-catching initiative in inner-city schools called Arts Strike; ground-breaking designer Fred Dust, who says good design should be much more than simply creating beautiful objects; and art collector and philanthropist Dennis Scholl, who likes creating ‘happy surprises’ in the shape of Random Acts of Culture.

Link to listen to this podcast

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

photo credit: woodleywonderworks via photopin cc

Don’t Just Learn, Overlearn!

By Annie Murphy Paul

Decades of research have shown that superior performance requires practicing beyond the point of mastery.

 “Why do I have to keep practicing? I know it already!”

That’s the familiar wail of a child seated at the piano or in front of the multiplication table (or, for that matter, of an adult taking a tennis lesson). Cognitive science has a persuasive retort: We don’t just need to learn a task in order to perform it well; we need to overlearn it. Decades of research have shown that superior performance requires practicing beyond the point of mastery. The perfect execution of a piano sonata or a tennis serve doesn’t mark the end of practice; it signals that the crucial part of the session is just getting underway.

Whenever we learn to make a new movement, Ahmed explains, we form and then update an internal model—a “sensorimotor map”—which our nervous system uses to predict our muscles’ motions and the resistance they will encounter. As that internal model is refined over time, we’re able to cut down on unnecessary movements and eliminate wasted energy…

While Ahmed’s paper didn’t address the application of overlearning to the classroom or the workplace, other studies have demonstrated that for a wide range of academic and professional activities, overlearning reduces the amount of mental effort required, leading to better performance—especially under high-stakes conditions. In fact, research on the “audience effect” shows that once we’ve overlearned a complex task, we actually perform it better when other people are watching. When we haven’t achieved the reduction of mental effort that comes with overlearning, however, the additional stress of an audience makes stumbles more likely.

“The message from this study is that in order to perform with less effort, keep on practicing, even after it seems the task has been learned,” says Ahmed. “We have shown there is an advantage to continued practice beyond any visible changes in performance.” In other words: You’re getting better and better, even when you can’t tell you’re improving—a thought to keep you going through those long hours of practice…

Link to read this article in full

We Feel, Therefore We Learn

By 

According to Dr Dan Siegel, one important point to bear in mind is that every experience we have causes our neurons to fire. Another is that when neurons fire, they wire together to create associations that are reinforced through repetition. Moreover, this involves the production of myelin or our brain’s white matter. “If you lay down myelin, you are 3000 times as effective as if you were a circuit without myelin,” says Siegel.

But that’s not all. The brain, or as Siegel describes it, “the social organ of the body” which has evolved over millions of years “has allowed us to survive because we have relationships with each other. We don’t have big claws, we don’t have big fangs, we’re not that strong. So how did we survive? Because we could look at another human being and figure out what was going on with them. This is why in terms of the science of learning, learning is a profoundly social experience.”

Lin k to read the rest of this article

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photo credit: schaaflicht via photopin cc

Human Brains Are Hard-Wired For Empathy, Friendship, Study Shows

Perhaps one of the most defining features of humanity is our capacity for empathy – the ability to put ourselves in others’ shoes. A new University of Virginia study strongly suggests that we are hardwired to empathize because we closely associate people who are close to us – friends, spouses, lovers – with our very selves.

“With familiarity, other people become part of ourselves,” said James Coan, a psychology professor in U.Va.’s College of Arts & Sciences who used functional magnetic resonance imaging brain scans to find that people closely correlate people to whom they are attached to themselves…

The researchers found, as they expected, that regions of the brain responsible for threat response – the anterior insula, putamen and supramarginal gyrus – became active under threat of shock to the self. In the case of threat of shock to a stranger, the brain in those regions displayed little activity. However when the threat of shock was to a friend, the brain activity of the participant became essentially identical to the activity displayed under threat to the self.

“The correlation between self and friend was remarkably similar,” Coan said. “The finding shows the brain’s remarkable capacity to model self to others; that people close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat. But not so when a stranger is under threat.”

Link to read this article in full

See also:

When Empathy Hurts, Compassion Can Heal

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

photo credit: h.koppdelaney via photopin cc

Empathy can be painful.

Or so suggests a growing body of neuroscientific research. When we witness suffering and distress in others, our natural tendency to empathize can bring us vicarious pain.

Is there a better way of approaching distress in other people? A recent study, published in the journal Cerebral Cortex, suggests that we can better cope with others’ negative emotions by strengthening our own compassion skills, which the researchers define as “feeling concern for another’s suffering and desiring to enhance that individual’s welfare.”

“Empathy is really important for understanding others’ emotions very deeply, but there is a downside of empathy when it comes to the suffering of others,” says Olga Klimecki, a researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Sciences in Germany and the lead author of the study. “When we share the suffering of others too much, our negative emotions increase. It carries the danger of an emotional burnout.”

…“Through compassion training, we can increase our resilience and approach stressful situations with more positive affect,” says Klimecki.

The positive emotional approach was accompanied by a change in brain activation pattern: Before the training, participants showed activity in an “empathic” network associated with pain perception and unpleasantness; after the training, activity shifted to a “compassionate” network that has been associated with love and affiliation.

Their new brain-activation patterns more closely resembled those of an “expert” who had meditated every day on compassion for more than 35 years, whose brain was scanned by the researchers to provide a point of comparison. This result suggests that the training brought about fundamental changes in the ways their brains processed distressing scenes, strengthening the parts that try to alleviate suffering—an example of neuroplasticity, when the brain physically evolves in response to experience.

Negative emotions did not disappear after the loving-kindness training; it’s just that the participants were less likely to feel distressed themselves. According to Klimecki and her colleagues, this suggests that the training allowed participants to stay in touch with the negative emotion from a calmer mindset. “Compassion is a good antidote,” says Klimecki. “It allows us to connect to others’ suffering, without being too distressed.”

Link to read the rest of this article

To Buy Happiness, Spend Money On Other People

In a new video, Michael Norton shows that spending money on others yields more happiness than spending it on yourself.

photo credit: tedeytan via photopin cc

photo credit: tedeytan via photopin cc

The Essential Link Between Happiness & Gratitude

By 

…consultant and founder of HappierHuman Amit Amin has assembled 26 separate academic articles and studies around the world that show the benefits of saying “Thank You.” Here are some highlights from those findings:

  • Expressions of gratitude reinforce pro-social and moral behavior.
  • Frequent opportunity to express gratitude leads to increased well-being, better health, better exercise habits, higher life satisfaction and increased optimism.
  • Grateful people get more sleep.
  • A one-time act of thoughtful gratitude produces an immediate 10% increase in happiness and 35% reduction in depressive symptoms that lasts for months.
  • Writing down one’s gratitude produces a cumulative effect that increases month over month.
  • Gratitude (which focuses us on others) and materialism (which focuses us on ourselves) are inversely related.
  • Those who are more grateful not only perceive the environment to be more benevolent, but actually make it so by helping others more frequently and accumulating social capital.

Link to the read this article in full

Happiness Increases From Giving When There’s A Social Connection, Study Shows

Giving makes us feel happy, and giving to someone we actually know makes us even happier, a new study suggests.

New research published in the Journal of Happiness and Development shows that social giving — where you’re giving to a person who you know, or your giving leads to a social connection — seems to foster more emotional benefits than giving without the social aspect…

Link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Lori Greig via photopin cc

photo credit: Lori Greig via photopin cc

10 Ways Happy People Prioritise Their To-Do Lists

Marc Chernoff offers some advice for making time work for us by keeping our happiness in the centre of our lives and the way we organise and plan ourselves…

In the seven years of this blog’s existence, Angel and I have had the pleasure of meeting, coaching and interacting with hundreds of truly inspiring, happy, prolific people.  And the more we have interacted with people like this, the more we realize the similarities in how they prioritize their lives, and how their priorities align with our own.

What becomes evident is that, to sustain happiness, we must focus our attention on the right things, in the right ways.  Every growing human being (that means all of us) has resource constraints: limited time and energy.  It is critical that we spend our resources effectively.

Here are 10 ways to prioritize your life and your to-do lists for increased happiness and fulfillment:

1.  One thing at a time, with full presence.

In other words, make the thing you have chosen to do the number one priority while you’re doing it.  Focus with your full attention.  See the value in where you are, while you’re there.  Enjoy what’s happening, while it’s happening…

2.  Family and close friends are at the top.

Nurture your important relationships in such a way that when you tell the people you care about that you care about them, you’re simply reinforcing what theyalready know based on how you have prioritised them into your life

3.  Focus on importance, not urgency.

As Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Things which matter most must never be at the mercy of things which matter least.”

Truthfully, the most important thing in life is knowing what the most important things in life are, and prioritizing them accordingly.  Sadly, most of us spend too much time on urgent things and not enough time on important things…

4.  Keep your efforts aligned with your purpose.

Getting anything worthwhile done is a matter of connecting with why you have chosen to do this thing in the first place.

Don’t allow others to confuse you.  Don’t let them convince your heart what is right for you.  Your heart already knows.  Listen to it.  Don’t let anyone else dilute the power of your inner voice.  You’ve got to stand up for something specific, on your own two legs, or you will achieve nothing worthwhile in your own mind’s eye…

5.  Play to your strengths and delegate when it makes sense.

When it comes to tackling big projects, you can try to do everything yourself, or you can reach out and find the right people to help you.  The first choice will raise your stress and blood pressure; the second choice will raise your consciousness and effectiveness…

6.  Socialize and share with peers.

Regardless of what you’re trying to accomplish, it’s always easier if you have a group of people who understand what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, and what challenges you’re facing.  Staying in touch with these people and sharing ideas with them will accelerate your effectiveness and happiness.  Best selling author, Seth Godin, refers to these people as your tribe members.

A tribe is a group of people connected to one another via an idea, movement or common goal.  For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another.  Godin says, “A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.”…

7.  Give what you can, as you seek what you desire.

In many ways, life is a circle – what you put in to it comes back around.  When you make a positive impact in the world, the world will have a positive impact on you.

If you want to be rich, be generous.  If you want to make friends, be friendly.  If you want to be heard, listen.  If you want to be understood by others, take the time to truly understand them.  If you want to live an interesting life, be interested in the happenings around you…

8.  Leave the past behind as you plan ahead.

Let old problems remain where they belong – in the past.  No matter how many times you revisit the past, there’s nothing new to see.  Don’t let what once happened get in the way of what is happening.  Just because you’ve made mistakes doesn’t mean your mistakes get to make you.  If something important didn’t work yesterday, figure out what changes can be made today…

9.  Commit to self-respect, regardless of the issue at hand.

Whenever you catch yourself in a rambling bout of negative self-talk, stop and ask yourself, “If I had a friend who spoke to me in the same way that I sometimes speak to myself, how long would I allow this person to be my friend?”…

10.  Leave room to breathe.

Things don’t always go as planned.  Good things can’t always be planned.  Be flexible and open to life’s twists and turns.

Organize, but don’t agonize.  Keep your space and time ordered, but your schedule underbooked.  Create a foundation with a soft place to land, a wide margin of error, and room to think and breathe…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

photo credit: SalFalko via photopin cc

Shorter Workday Isn’t The Key To Happiness, Says Bummer Of A Study

Workaholics of the world, rejoice? We’ll all be just as unhappy with a shorter work week.

When it comes to working hours, less apparently is not more. Proponents of the six-hour workday will be saddened to hear that, as delightful as shorter days sound, decreasing work hours might not make anyone any happier.

At least that’s what new research in the Journal of Happiness Studies suggests. The 10-year longitudinal study examined the impact of the reform South Korea instituted in 2004 reducing working hours on Korean workers’ happiness. While people’s satisfaction with their working hours increased, there wasn’t a significant effect on overall life or job satisfaction…

Link to read the rest of this article

photo credit: Haags Uitburo via photopin cc

photo credit: Haags Uitburo via photopin cc

Your Boss Is Less Stressed Than You

By 

Several studies have now shown that autonomy – a sense of control over what we do and how we do it – is an essential aspect of our happiness at work.  This article reports on a new study that shows the higher up the pecking order you get at work, the less stressed you are likely to be, but then goes on to look at other studies that show that there are several other important apescts that help or hinder our happiness at work.

So who is better off at work, you or your boss? A Harvard study suggests that it’s your boss because your boss is less stressed. And why is your boss less stressed? It turns out that it is because your boss has control…

Results showed that leaders had statistically significant lower levels of cortisol and lower anxiety than nonleaders. The study was repeated on a second group with similar results.

The researchers then dug into what led to this lower level of stress in leaders and concluded that a sense of control, specifically to do with being in authority, was the main contributing factor…

Less stress may not mean more happiness, though.

Another Harvard Researcher, Professor Rosabeth Kanter, clearly thinks that stress is just one factor among several in overall workplace happiness. She describes the primary sources of motivation (in innovative companies) as ‘mastery, membership and meaning’ with ‘money’ a distant fourth. Mastery certainly fits with control, suggesting that the boss is indeed likely to be happier, but the other important factors do also come into play. Membership – meaning being part of a team, belonging to something bigger than you personally, can work just as well for you as your boss, perhaps even better since the manager role inevitably removes your boss from being part of the team to some extent. This also fits with the majority of people finding the people they work with as being most important.

Lastly there is valuing your work. Some of that comes from you – if you know you do a good job and are confident enough to value the work you do and its quality for yourself then you are probably in a good place. The rest comes from other people – one of whom is undoubtedly your boss.

A study in the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, reported in Science Daily, that looked at common factors in 223 different workplace studies over a 30 year period suggests that happiness at work is most strongly linked to underlying happiness and attitude. Essentially if you are happy in your life and are generally a happy person you will be happy at work…

Link to read this  article in full

photo credit: kyeniz via photopin cc

photo credit: kyeniz via photopin cc

The 7 Deadly Sins of Happiness

By Dr. Mercola

Are You Guilty of These 7 Sins of Happiness?

…identifying the seven ‘sins of happiness,’ which author Trent Hand compiled for Lifehack.  That is, the seven habits or attitudes that make happiness very hard to come by. Hand explained:

These “sins” are so deadly that we often don’t notice we are falling into their trap until we wake up one day and wonder why we are glaring at ourselves in the mirror.”

1. Comparing Yourself to Others

This will either make you feel guilty for living more comfortably than others who are struggling, or make you feel inadequate compared to those who have more. As Mark Twain said:  “Comparison is the death of joy.”

2. Talking About Your Dreams Instead of Going to Work on Them

Talking about your dreams is great, but only if you eventually follow through with them. Make a point to set short-term action steps that will help you achieve your long-term goals – and act on them.

3. Listening to People With Nothing Positive to Say

Spending time around consistently negative people will drain your energy and bring down your mood. It’s generally nearly impossible to cheer a negative person up, you’re better off avoiding them as much as possible and surrounding yourself with positive people instead.

4. Focusing on the News

Watching the news is virtually guaranteed to bring you down and create feelings of helplessness and a lack of hope, as there’s not much you can do to improve the problems you’re seeing. Instead, focus on positive steps you can make in your local community, such as mentoring a child or delivering meals to the elderly.

5. Deciding Someone Else Needs to Change

Finding fault in others, and letting them know what they’re doing wrong, is easy. Much more difficult is looking inward to see how you can improve yourself instead. The latter will pay off by leading to a better you, while trying to fix others will likely be futile and interfere with your relationships.

6. Thinking “Happiness” is a Destination You Can Reach

If you think you’ll be happy once you accomplish a certain goal (like getting married or paying off your house), this is a myth. You must learn to find happiness during the journey, on a daily basis, rather than waiting to somehow find happiness at the end.

7. Forgetting to Say “Thank You”

It’s easy to take for granted all that you have to be thankful for – friends, family, loved ones, your health, your job … By focusing on all that you have to be grateful for (jot down whatever comes to mind on a notepad, for starters), you’ll instantly feel happier.

Living in the Moment: Another Key to Being Happy

Groucho Marx may not be the first person who comes to mind for a philosophy by which to live your life, but his words come with a definite air of wisdom:

“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I’m going to be happy in it.”

How often your mind wanders is frequently a predictor of how happy you are. One study found, in fact, that the more often you take yourself out of the present moment, the less happy you are.  The researchers concluded:

“ … people are thinking about what is not happening almost as often as they are thinking about what is and … doing so typically makes them unhappy.”

So … allow yourself to be immersed in whatever it is you’re doing right now, and take time to really be in the present moment. Practice mindfulness and avoid replaying past negative events in your head or worrying about the future; just savor what’s going on in your life now.

Link to the full original version of this article

photo credit: drl. via photopin cc

photo credit: drl. via photopin cc

Positive psychology is mainly for rich white people

James Coyne PhD picks up Barbara Ehrenreich’s retitled book and mounts a hefty critique of positive psychology his understanding of the messages it is selling.  There are important points here, despite how badly we believe these writers misrepresent positive psychology and the mission of the new economics and Gross National Happiness indexing.  See what you think…

When Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided: How the Relentless Promotion of Positive Thinking  Has Undermined America was published outside of the United States, the book was retitled Smile or Die. The publisher was concerned that non-native English speakers might not understand the play on words in the original title. I think the retitling is actually more apt in capturing the message of positive psychology: buy our advice, buy our books, attend our workshops or die…

…Undoubtedly, rich white persons in the suburbs are more likely to score high on these measures. Positive psychology is applied ideology, not science, in encouraging them to congratulate themselves on the personal achievement the high score represents.  And if they are still unhappy or in ill health, the problem lies with the personal characteristics and their modifiable attitudes.

As for the poor and disadvantaged, the physically ill, they have only themselves to blame. As a wealthy positive psychology entrepreneur recently declared “Your attitude is the reason you are poor.” He went on to cite Barbara Frederickson:

In an article in the Journal of Business Venturing, leading positive psychology researcher Barbara Fredrickson found positive emotions help build essential resources for entrepreneurs. Among those resources, the top three she found were social capital, resilience, and big picture thinking.

“It’s not just one of those things that’s going to matter more than the others,” Fredrickson said. “All three are part of a larger web that creates an upward spiral.”

So what is the solution to poverty and social inequality?  Poor people have to think positive, start smiling and expressing gratitude. What a program for individual and social change– or a shameful fraud. As Barbara Ehrenrich has pointed out in Bright-Sided (or Smile or Die), the downside of this ideology is personal self-blame and national denial. Reviewing Bright-SidedThomas Frank remarked:

“We’re always being told that looking on the bright side is good for us, but now we see that it’s a great way to brush off poverty, disease, and unemployment, to rationalise an order where all the rewards go to those on top. The people who are sick or jobless—why, they just aren’t thinking positively. They have no one to blame but themselves.”

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

photo credit: Pörrö via photopin cc

Cycling across America: lessons in sustainability and happiness

Rob Greenfield’s 4,700-mile ride on a bamboo bicycle towing solar panels taught him the power of living a simple life

…I learned the power of a bicycle. It is a relatively simple machine but it can take us great distances both figuratively and literally. Life is good when you are on a bike. Good for yourself, good for the earth, and good for the people around you.

I recognised that people do genuinely want to help and to be a part of something greater than themselves but they just need that extra little push and they need to see someone else do it first. I learned that positivity tends to create more positivity, as does goodness.

Lastly, if you live simply, you can live free. The less complicated you make your life, the more time you have to spend doing what you love and what’s good for you.

Change begins with the actions of individuals. A big action that anyone can take is to become a conscious consumer and support businesses that are doing their part to protect the environment.

Businesses will sell what we will buy so we decide through our actions what is on the market. If as an individual you want to change the way business is done, then start buying from businesses that are using it as a means of positive change in the world…

For me business is a tool to create a happier, healthier planet as well as support myself and my employees. I just hope other companies can also come to recognise this.

Link to read Rob Greenfield’s full Guardian article

photo credit: Todo-Juanjo via photopin cc

photo credit: Todo-Juanjo via photopin cc

Happiness and Gumballs

The Happy Show offers visitors the experience of walking into the designer’s mind as he attempts to increase his happiness via meditation, cognitive therapy and mood-altering pharmaceuticals. “I am usually rather bored with definitions,” Sagmeister says. “Happiness, however, is just such a big subject that it might be worth a try to pin it down.” Centered around the designer’s ten-year exploration of happiness, this exhibition presents typographic investigations of a series of maxims, or rules to live by, originally culled from Sagmeister’s diary, manifested in a variety of imaginative and interactive forms.  – from the city of Chicago website.

The exhibit was fantastic, and we spent over an hour enjoying the unique infographics and interactive displays, all relating the concept of happiness.

The most provocative art piece was Sagmeister’s attempt to show a graphical representation  of the happiness of the visitors to the show.  He did this based on the amount of gumballs that were taken from a row of ten old-fashioned gumball machines standing against the wall, numbered from 1-10, each machine signifying one higher level of individual happiness.

I thought about my level of personal happiness before I approached the gumball machines. I decided that I was relatively happy.  Even with some bumps in the proverbial road, I had my health, good friends, my hair, and I wasn’t bored yet with my existence.  I took a gumball from machine #7.  That put me in the top 25% of happiness…

Link to the rest of this story

The Happy Show by Stefan Sagmeister

Susan Schneider

Link to Susan Schneider’s post about her experience of this show

Happiness At Work Edition #60

See this week’s new collection for these – and many more – stories about happiness and wellbeing, creativity & artistry, resilience and learning, mindfulness and self-mastery, leadership and changing the world…

Link to Happiness At Work Edition #60

We hope you find things here to enjoy and incorporate in your own work, life and continuous learning.

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…