Happiness At Work #86 ~ resilience: the amour-plated twin of happiness

Resilience is becoming one of the loudest clarion calls across our lives: no longer just an application restricted to times of extreme trauma or crisis or the specialist domain of the armed forces, resilience now is being heralded as the must-have capability for us all.  It has suddenly become the leading capability for our professional survival as much as it is for the ongoing survival of the organisations we work for.  It is being handed back to us as the new first and increasingly only response to any problems we might be facing in our relationships, our mental health and now, too, our physical health, spanning out across our lives into our how we are expected to make and upkeep our families, our careers, our communities, our cities and our societies.

I have real concerns about this.  I am a long and passionate advocate for self-centred learning and have long championed the principle that the more choices and possibilities for doing things differently that we can find for ourselves, the greater will be the reach, range and positive effects we will achieve.  And this principle lies at the heart of all that 21st century intelligence is giving us about how to build our happiness – and its armour-plated twin, resilience.

But I worry that resilience is quickly and too unquestioningly becoming the new panacea for our times, a polished pretender to a final solution and a caveat to deflect any serious challenge to policies and programmes, leadership and governance, that leave people unequally equipped to grow and progress beyond the limitations of their circumstances, and silenced by the new rhetoric that tells us that our own happiness – and our resilient ability to bounce back from any misfortunes we may encounter – is entirely within our own gift.

I know about the immense and literally life-changing power of resilience and its ignition switch, optimism, from the research and testimonials of dozens of people who have done just this, and even come through their torture, trauma, loss, imprisonment, disability, illness and pain somehow stronger and feeling finer than they thought themselves to have been before their ordeal.  And I know about this from watching people I love face up to and get beyond life-threatening illness, drawing real strength,  courage, presence, stamina and renewed life-force through their skilful and disciplined resilience and optimism.

And yet, and yet, and yet…

Perhaps we need to remember extra well that resilience, as an armour plating to help us to withstand the ‘slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’  does not stand in for, even less replace, the human being it protects.  Resilience, like armour, is what we suit up in to face hard, threatening and unusual circumstances.  It has to be made, fitted and worn in.  It has to be contoured to our special and particular selves and fit us well and comfortably enough to assist us to be our finest selves when we most need to be.  It must not, should not and cannot be our default, our everyday wear, our always on and in mode.  That would cripple us.

Happiness is an aspiration – a never-to-be-finally-arrived-at complex mix of ways of being and thinking and acting that we can constantly be leaning and lifting towards, and that replenishes as it polishes as it extends as it enriches and refuels us.  And happiness helps to forge and fit and finesse our resilience capabilities for when we might need them.

Resilience is for the tough times.  We will all face them, but for most of us these will be exceptional times.

Unless we start to allow ourselves to believe that resilience – especially in a narrowly defined ‘toughening up’ sense – is a universal everyday normal requirement, as much as is the requirement for most of us to have to work, to pay our taxes, to obey our laws and to bring no harm upon our neighbours.

So yes, let us all learn – and keep learning – new and better ways to become more resilient.  And let us all, too, look first to ourselves for what we might each do to expand our options and amplify our sense of control and influence over the circumstances and challenges we find ourselves facing.  But let us make sure we don’t stop there and assume that this is all that should be needed to make a good life, a good world.  Especially now for the times that are coming to us in consequence of the world we have made for ourselves.

On Happiness Inequality

Chris Dillow raises similar questions in this post in his blog, Stumbling and Mumbling

Do we need policies to reduce inequality, or should we simply allow economic growth to do so? This is the question posed by a recent paper by Andrew Clark and colleagues. They find that, in the UK and elsewhere, economic growth reduces inequality of happiness.

This isn’t simply because it reduces the amount of abject misery. Growth also reduces the number of people who say they are very happy. This might be because wealth increases our options and hence the opportunity cost of our preferred choice. For example, work isn’t too bad if it gets you out of a joyless slum, but it can be a misery if it keeps you off the golf course or guitar.

This finding is awkward for the left. If we believe that what matters most is people’s well-being, it suggests that the most important inequality should be addressed not by redistribution by simply by promoting growth.

So, what answers might the left have to this? I can think of three:

1. Policies to promote growth require redistribution, to the extent that wealth inequalities are an obstacle to growth. This is the thinking behind wageled growth and the asset redistribution ideas of Sam Bowles.

2. If people adapt their desires to their circumstances, or if other cognitives biases reconcile them to inequality, they might be content with injustice, but this would not necessarily legitimate the system: we would consider slavery wrong even if all slaves were content. As Amartya Sen said:

Consider a very deprived person who is poor, exploited, overworked, and ill, but who has been made satisfied with his lot by social conditioning (through, say, religion, or political propaganda, or cultural pressure).  Can we possibly believe that he is doing well just because he is happy and satisfied? (The Standard of Living lecture, 1785 (pdf), p12)

3. Inequality can matter for non-welfarist reasons – for example to the extent that it undermines equality of respect or the democratic system.

Personally, I think these are good answers. But Clark’s paper should force leftists to think more about why inequality matters.

Link to the original article

We know that inequality is one of the greatest destroyers of happiness.  We are also starting to realise better that it cuts away at trust between people, something which is becoming increasingly vital as more and more of us across the planet come together to live in cities.  And in a work context, too, perceived inequality is one of the fastest and most virulent ways that unhappiness and disengagement takes root, calcifies and becomes embedded.

We all need to know that my resilience is self-contained, where I can be resilient without any need for you to be resilient too.  Whereas my happiness is only possible if and when you are happy too, and anything I do to make you happier automatically makes me happier too.  Resilience draws from others but is mostly self-sufficient, whereas happiness depends upon a virtual reciprocity and co-creative interdependence.

So yes, let us all learn, and learn to help others to learn, to build the capabilities of resilience.  But let this be our back-up only, our ready-when-we-have-to get-out-of-trouble special clothes.  Much much more than this, let us keep learning and aspiring and stretching and wondering and imagining our own and each other’s greater happiness

For the rest of this post I have gathered an array of what seem to me to be genuinely helpful ideas and approaches for shaping and shining up our own and others around us resilience.

I hope you find something here you can use too.

Emotional resilience: it’s the armour you need for modern life

By 

The latest self-improvement technique is finding favour with everyone from anxious adolescents to stressed executives

First, there was mindfulness – a brain-training technique aimed at achieving mental clarity – which came to the fore in 2011. Fast-forward three years and it’s being taught at organisations as diverse as Google, AOL, Transport for London, Astra Zeneca and the Home Office, with high-profile users such as Bill Clinton extolling its benefits. Next, the great and good took up “transformational breathing”, a US craze that arrived on our shores last year to teach us how best to use our lungs.

But already there’s a new technique in town – and it’s fast-becoming the buzz word of 2014.

“Emotional resilience” is more hard-hitting than many of the other methods promising to keep us cool, calm and collected. Originally developed to help victims of natural disasters and massacres cope with catastrophe, it’s reached our shores and is slowly infiltrating offices, schools and communities.

Ten ways to build your emotional resilience

– See crises as challenges to overcome; not insurmountable problems

– Surround yourself with a supportive network of friends and family

– Accept that change is part of life, not a disaster

– Take control and be decisive in difficult situations

– Nurture a positive view of yourself – don’t talk yourself down or focus on flaws

– Look for opportunities to improve yourself: a new challenge, social situation or interest outside work. Set goals and plan ways to reach them

– Keep things in perspective: learn from your mistakes and think long-term

– Practise optimism and actively seek the good side of a bad situation

– Practise emotional awareness: can you identify what you are feeling and why?

– Look after yourself, through healthy eating, exercise, sleep and relaxation.

Link to read the full article

Is Happiness Up To Me? – Happiness & Its Causes 2013 Panel Discussion

– Where does happiness come from?
– How much impact do external factors such as work and relationships have on our wellbeing and happiness?
– How does the pace of life affect happiness?
– Are altruism and compassion the secret ingredients to a good life?
– How can we increase our overall wellbeing and happiness?

Panellists: Professor Ed Diener, Dr Helen Fisher, Carl Honoré and Jerril Rechter.
Moderator: Lynne Malcolm, Presenter All in the Mind, ABC Radio National

Ed Deiner

“Think about your hair colour – you inherited it but you can control it too.  Happiness is like this.” …

“Be more actively positive to others.  Express the gratitude you feel to them more often.  Express compliments to other people.  That makers them happier and it also makes you happier…”

Dr Helen Fisher

“Happiness evolved millions of years ago to help us to survive” …

“There is data now that giving compliments to others lowers your cholesterol, lowers your blood pressure, boosts your immune system, so it’s giving to others but it’s also giving to yourself.  But if I had to sum it up in four words: marry the right person…”

Carl Honore’

“Turn around that old John Lennon quote that ‘Life is what happens to us when we’re making other plans’ and into Happiness is what happens to us when we’re making the right plans” …

 “I just suggest that people stop and breathe.  Just a few deep breathes and you get an automatic quick fix…Another suggestion is the ‘speed audit’ – as you’re going through your day, every once in a while, just stop and ask yourself ‘am I going at the right speed?’… And I think we need to look at our schedules and do less.  We’re all chronically trying to do too much…having it all is just a recipe for hurrying it all…”

Jerril Rechter

“In oder for an individual to be happy we need to live in a happy society” …

“Get involved in the arts.  We know from research that there’s really strong connectors via the arts.  You can build really strong relationships and you can express yourself as well…”

Daily Self-Improvement Exercises that will take you 5-10 minutes

This is a great set of possibilities for growing greater resilience and happiness from Ann Smarty the serial guest blogger running My Blog Guest, and her own personal blog ManifestCon

Many experts recommend taking ten to fifteen minutes daily to improve yourself or your life. This could take on literally any form. But here are ten suggestions that you might find helpful, or may at least assist you in thinking up your own.

1. Meditation

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to just slow down and breath, which is essentially what meditation is: the chance to calm your mind, focus on your breathing, and find the quiet within yourself.

Any time you are feeling stressed, just take a few minutes and meditate. This can be a spiritual action, or not. The important thing is that you are moving past the tensions of the day.

Featured tool: If you want something guided, try Calm.com.

2. Mini Workouts

Did you know you can burn a couple hundred calories in just ten minutes? There are mini workouts all over the web that help you do it. But there are many more benefits to taking these active breaks.

They will help keep you healthy, boost your energy, assist in your sleeping cycle, relieve stress and tension, and improve your mood, all in just ten to fifteen minutes a day. Amazing, isn’t it?

Featured tools: Sparkpeople has plenty of these short exercise videos, both strength and cardio. So does Tiffany RothePopSugar and many others.

3. Learn Something New

Knowledge is power, but it is also fun. Learning something new every day is a great goal to have, and incredibly easy to keep up with. Newsletters, websites and groups are all over the web, just waiting to let you know something you didn’t before.Featured tools: Some great places to start are Reddit’s Today I LearnedHow Stuff Works many articles and podcasts, and the Now I Know newsletter. You can even use a site like DuoLingo to learn a new language.

4. Go For a Walk

Sometimes a bit of fresh air is all you really need to improve your day. Going for one every day, even a small one, can help habitually clear your mind and eliminate stress.It gives you a chance to organize your thoughts, or think through a problem. Plus, it is just an enjoyable pastime that doesn’t cause any strain on the body (for most). Try using one of your breaks at work for a short walk, and see the difference it makes.

5. Write Down What You Think

I don’t mean a professional article; that doesn’t improve yourself at all. But write something for yourself, whether it is shared or private. Speak about something you are passionate about, something you enjoy.

Write a letter you never intend to send, to go back and see later. Write a poem or some prose. Write about something that is bothering you, or that made you laugh. Just write.

Featured tool: OhLife is one of the journaling tools that will help you organize your writing by sending friendly email reminders and inviting to write on what happened that day.

I also like 750words

6. Read Something

Prefer to be on the reading end of words? Then take a few minutes in blocks to read something. Maybe it is half of a chapter of a book. Maybe it is an article or editorial. Maybe it is a couple of poems from your favorite poet. Just read something that enriches you.

Featured tools: There’s a quick review of Goodreads and how to find friends there. There are a lot of reading FireFox addons to choose from. Here are more quick reading hacks for short time.

7. Speak to a Friend/Relative

I don’t mean online. Too much of our communication has become reliant on such technology that hides us behind a computer screen. Take ten minutes instead to speak face to face, or on the phone.

Connect with your loved ones and make it a priority. Not only will you feel great by the end of it, but it will strengthen your relationship with that person.

8. Watch TED Talks

TED Talks are amazing, and you probably already know that. They encompass every industry, with leaders in those industries speaking about any topic at all.

They come in all different lengths, in multiple formats such as podcasts and videos. You will be sure to find truly inspiring and even life-changing lectures here.

9. Clean and Declutter

So many things can be improved by having a clean work or living space. Just ten minutes a day can make a lot of difference in a room, no matter what that room might be. Even if the area is a disaster, doing little bits will make an impact over the coming days. Plus, it will improve your mood to be somewhere tidy, as clutter can really mess with your thinking and emotions.

10. Do Something You Love

Ultimately, it comes down to this: do something you love. No matter what it might be, engaging in things you enjoy is perhaps the best path to self-improvement. Even if it is only ten to fifteen minutes a day.

Link to the original Lifehack article

Working With Mindfulness: Overcoming the Drive to Multitask

Jacqueline Carter writes…

There is a good chance that at some point while you are reading this post, you will be tempted to do something else at the same time. Don’t worry, I won’t take it personally. I won’t think badly of you and I won’t even be particularly surprised. Every work place I visit, there is a prevailing modus operandi – multitasking.

Yet there is a growing body of scientific evidence that multitasking makes us less efficient, less effective, more stressed and more likely to make mistakes…

An experiment conducted by Levy, Wobbrock, Kaszniak and Ostergren looked specifically at the effects of mindfulness training on multitasking behavior of knowledge workers in high stress environments. They found that when asked to do multiple tasks in a short amount of time, those who had been trained in mindfulness, compared to control groups, were able to maintain more focus on each task and had better memory for work details. They were also less negative about the experience and reported greater awareness and attention. In short, they were able to perform multiple tasks more mindfully.

If you are familiar with mindfulness practices, this makes sense. One of things developed in mindfulness training is to become more aware of your attention and increase your ability to choose your focus. If we can train ourselves to have more awareness and control over our attention, it makes sense that we would be better equipped to deal with a demanding work environment.

So when you have a lot to get done and you are tempted to try to do more than one thing at a time you have the mental discipline to choose. Do you continue trying to type the email and answer your colleague’s questions? Or do you let go of either the email or your colleague so you can do one or the other more efficiently and effectively? It’s your choice. But it only becomes a choice if you are mindful of your attention…

According to Gallop’s 2011-2012 study of employees, 70 percent of Americans are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their work. As noted in the report, there is significant evidence that disengaged workers are less productive, make more mistakes, and can be more costly to employers in terms of absenteeism and sick leave.

A study published in the Journal of Vocational Behavior demonstrates mindfulness training can help improve employee attitudes towards work and specifically increase engagement. Again, this makes sense. One of the basic methods of mindfulness training involves paying attention to your breath with alertness, relaxation, and a sense of curiosity. If you can train your mind to be comfortable and curious attending to your breath, it stands to reason that you could choose to apply that same orientation towards any task at hand.

Let’s say you are faced with a large pile of invoices to process. If your mind starts to look for more interesting things to do, it is going to take you longer and you will likely make mistakes. If you could look at this task with a calm, clear, present and engaged mind, you will be more efficient and effective and you might even find some enjoyment in the process.

So if you managed to read to the end of this post without doing other things — good for you! If on the other hand, you had to come back to it a couple of times, don’t feel bad. Maintaining focus and interest on one task at a time is not easy. Whether we work in highly-demanding environments or are doing tasks that aren’t particularly stimulating, we can all benefit from training ourselves to be more mindful about where and how we place our precious attention.

Link the original Huffington Post Blog

Why You Really Need To Quiet Your Mind (and how to do it)

Meditation is an under appreciated practice, especially in a high-stress workplace – but that’s where it’s needed the most. Stephanie Vozza offers these guidelines for how to quiet your racing thoughts from Victor Davich, author 8-Minute Meditation: Quiet Your Mind, Change Your Life.

“With technology, economic pressures, work, and family, it’s impossible to be on top of everything and it’s upsetting our natural balance.” says Victor Davich, and this overload and overwhelm often lead to anxiety, fear, and depression, and while you can’t check out of life and avoid responsibility, you can approach things in a gentler way.

“Meditation is one of the quickest tools for finding inner peace and quiet,” Davich says. “It’s an Eastern tool for Western results.”

Davich describes meditation as a state of mindfulness. “Being mindful doesn’t mean quieting your mind in the way most people expect,” he says. “The mind isn’t going to stop thinking. A zen master once told me the goal of mindfulness isn’t to suppress thinking, but to surpass it.”

The key is how you react to your thoughts. If you focus on your thinking, your mind is like an electric fan with thoughts blowing everywhere, says Davich. When you focus on your breathing or your body, however, thoughts can come and go like clouds across a sky. “You can look at them, realize they are just thoughts, and let them go,” he says. “You don’t have to have an emotional attachment to them.”

Being mindful means being present, explains Davich. “Once you are present and centered and here, your mind will naturally quiet down.”

Mindfulness isn’t another thing to put on the to-do list; it’s a daily commitment. Davich says an eight-minute meditation can have a profound affect on your wellbeing. An attorney, he says the practice helped him survive the stress of law school and boosted his GPA. He shares three simple steps you can take to quiet your mind:

1. Get into a good position

Take a deep breath and sigh it out. Sit comfortably and relax your body as much as you can. “We have these visions of needing to have a full lotus position,” Davich says. “It’s not necessary.”

2. Get in touch with your breathing

Close your eyes and find the place in your body where you feel your breath most prominently. Davich says it could be your abdomen, diaphragm, or under your nostrils. Start to focus your attention in a gentle way to your breathing–this will be your anchor point.

3. Detach from your thoughts

Within a few seconds, distractions like thoughts, body sensations, or images will start to bubble up. Realize that this is normal and gently return to the anchor point. Continue this for eight minutes. To keep track of the time and set the tone, you can use an app, such as Davich’s Simply8 or Buddhify or Headspace, a favourite of ours,

Davich says most people find morning to be a quiet and convenient time of day to meditate. Others do it before bed, to help them sleep. You could meditate during your lunch break or any other time that works for you.

There is just one rule: “Keep a daily consistent appointment with your mediation practice, just like brushing your teeth,” he says. “It’s a wonderful tool to help put space between you and the world’s distractions.”

How to Cope, Bounce Back and Thrive in Times of Change and Uncertainty

Some people seem to cope with change better than others, even though change is inevitable. Change is happening all the time. The ancient Chinese book of philosophy and guidance, The I Ching is known as ‘The Book of Change(s)’, recognizing that we are living in a state of potentiality. How we cope with change and how we bounce back is largely down to perception. Change can be a threat, an opportunity or a time for reflection.

Black and white categories and cognitive-economy

We make sense of the world, mainly through selective attention and simplification. We wouldn’t be able to cope if we had to process every bit of information that comes our way, so we run a sort of cognitive economy filter. One of the way we simplify is to carve the world up into black and white categories, just like those TV barristers who demand yes or no answers to their questions. These black and white categories are really a model of the world than an accurate representation of the world. …Seeing confidence as an ‘either-or’, ‘have-or-have-not’ state is not very useful. Often there is a lot to be gained by considering the grey area, the excluded middle. This is often where real-life is live and where we can find solutions.

In/tolerance of Uncertainty

…As with all aspects of psychology, the human experience inhabits a spectrum of difference. We all need structure to varying degrees, that same with our tolerance for ambiguity or uncertainty. Those who are more tolerant fare better in times of change. It’s tempting to use the ‘that’s just the way I am’ card, but it is possible to work our tolerances. We can adapt to change by changing our attitudes and perceptions.

Competing Needs: Novelty versus familiarity

If you’ve ever attended a training course, chances are you’ve encountered Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs pyramid. After our biological needs have been satisfied, one of the fundamental needs is our need for security. A key aspect of security is that things are familiar and predictable. However, just to mix things up, if you’ve ever observed a baby or a toddler you’ll know that they are drawn to new things. This doesn’t change as we age. Throughout our lives we balance novelty and familiarity. Often they are at odds with one another. We do a kind of mental accounting to assess whether we should play it safe and stick with what we know or take a chance.

The buffering effect of Psychological Hardiness

When I was writing and researching Unlock Your Confidence, I happened upon the concept of psychological hardiness (like resilience) and how it provides a buffering effect for health and well-being when dealing with stressful life changes and times of uncertainty. Much of the research was carried out with people in stressful jobs, such front-line services fire-fighters and people in the military. Three key attitudes were found that help some people cope with uncertainty and change better than others. These are the three Cs of:commitment, control and challenge.

  •  Commitment is the attitude of taking a genuine interest in other people and having curiosity about the world and getting involved with people and activities. The opposite of commitment is alienation, which involves cutting yourself off and distancing yourself from other people.
  • Control is the tendency to hold the attitude that control is something that comes from the inside and act as if you can influence the events taking place around you by your own efforts. It is The opposite of control is powerlessness which includes the perception that your life is controlled by external forces (fate, government) and that you do not have the means or capabilities to meet your goals. Our sense of control is often based on perception and not objective facts.
  • Challenge is the attitude that change is the norm, as opposed to stability and that change offers opportunities for personal development and not threats. The opposite of challenge is security, and the need for everything to stay the familiar and predictable, allowing you to stay in your comfort zone

Keeping a journal to cope with challenges and change

Journaling is a simple and effect technique of coping with challenges and change. When stressed our focus and thoughts narrow to survival options. This means that we overlook past experiences that could be the key with coping with a current situation. Journaling helps in two ways: (i) It helps you to organize your thoughts as you are going through the situation, (ii) It provides a permanent record of your personal coping strategies. Keeping a journal is also one of my top three tips for getting the most out of a self-help book.

Cognitive tricks for coping in times of uncertainty

It’s tempting to write off techniques as mental tricks. I’ve heard people claim that such methods are just fooling ourselves and are not authentic. I’d argue that the exact opposite is true. We use mental tricks all the time to make sense of the world. We actively filter things out. Taking control of our lives is in part about being aware of how we structure our experience. It’s also about being more aware of the range of our experience. One trick that I used when I moved home and found it difficult to settle into a new routine was to pretend I was on holiday. So I set myself a time limit of two to three weeks and I’d be as flexible as I have to be on holiday. …This change in attitude was all it took to help me to settle in. I’ve shared this idea with countless people (friends, family and clients) and it has worked for them too.

Another technique I use with clients is the personal experiment. When we agree a possible way forward or solution, I don’t ask clients to commit to it with every fibre of their being. It makes much more sense to treat it as an experiment and try it on for size. So we agree a time span and then after that we have a review and discuss how the experiment went. This removes an implicit sense of failure. At the end we are discussing the results as feedback, such as what didn’t work, what did work and what adjustments we can make.

Distraction is also a useful technique. When my parents moved house, my mother found it difficult to adjust. I’d tried for a few years trying to persuade her to do an evening course at college. They moved house in the middle of the summer and that year she decided to ‘take the plunge’ and sign up for a course in flowering arranging. It’s become her passion in life. Moving house became a blessing in disguise as it was her way to discover a passion and a new talent. Taking up a hobby is about choosing to do a newt hing. This sense of choice fits in with the psychological hardiness attitude of control.

Seeking Professional Help: Coach or Counsellor?

If you feel you can’t make a break through on your own then it maybe time to consider engaging the help of a professional. Obviously with something like a bereavement then a few cognitive tricks may not cut it. When the issue or problem sparks strong overwhelming emotions it may help to [get some coaching or counselling]. Keeping a journal is also useful as when things get better you will have a record of how you got through it.

…The beauty of coaching is that it’s a totally tailor-made personal development course. It’s not an off-the-peg experience. You bring the agenda and the coach provides the tools and techniques in a way that’s meaningful to you.

Coaching is a way to help you discover more ways in which you cope, adapt, bounce back and thrive.

[But you can help yourself too by reviewing] your life and writing down some ways in which you have coped with change and uncertainty in the past that rely on your abilities, skills and strengths. These become your own personal toolbox in challenging and uncertain times.

Link to the full article

The Neuroscience of Good Coaching

By Marshall Moore

“If everything worked out ideally in your life, what would you be doing in 10 years?”

new research suggests that nurturing a mentee’s strengths, aspirations for the future, and goals for personal growth is more effective at helping people learn and change; for instance, it helps train business school students to be better managers, and it is more effective at getting patients to comply with doctors’ orders.

recent study indicates why this more positive approach gets better results, using brain scans to explore the effects of different coaching styles. Based on what’s happening in the brain, it seems, a more positive approach might help people visualize a better future for themselves—and provide the social-emotional tools to help them realize their vision.

…As the researchers predicted, the students indicated that the positive interviewer inspired them and fostered feelings of hope far more effectively than the negative interviewer. Perhaps the more intriguing results, though, concern the areas of the brain that were activated by the two different approaches.

During the encouraging interactions with the positive interviewer, students showed patterns of brain activity that prior research has associated with the following qualities:

  • Visual processing and perceptual imagery—these are the regions that kick into gear when we imagine some future event
  • Global processing—the ability to see the big picture before small details, a skill that has been linked to positive emotions and pleasurable engagement with the world
  • Feelings of empathy and emotional safety—like those experienced when someone feels secure enough to open up socially and emotionally
  • The motivation to pro-actively pursue lofty goals—rather than act defensively to avoid harm or loss.

These differences in brain activity led the researchers to conclude that positive coaching effectively activates important neural circuits and stress-reduction systems in the body by encouraging mentees to envision a desired future for themselves.

Although the authors acknowledge that much more research needs to be conducted on the topic, their results offer a first glimpse at the neurological basis of why people coached by positive, visioning-based approaches tend to be more open emotionally, more compassionate, more open to ideas for improvement, and more motivated to pro-actively make lasting behavior changes than are those coached in ways that highlight their weaknesses.

Link to the full article

9 Stress-Reducing Truths About Money

If we’re struggling with money problems, these ideas may not alleviate our worries as completely as Joshua Becker seems to believe they will, but they are sure to do us no harm and very likely to help…

According to a recent survey, 71% of Americans identify money as a significant cause of stress in their lives. Of course, America is not alone in this regard.

Looking inside the numbers, we get a glimpse as to why the percentage is so high: 76% of households live paycheck-to-paycheck and credit card debt continues to grow. No doubt, these statistics contribute to the problem…

If you struggle with financial-related stress, begin thinking different about money by adopting a few of these stress-reducing thoughts. They have each worked for me.

1. You need less than you think. Most of the things we think we can’t live without are considered luxuries to most of the world—or even our grandparents. Think: cell phones, microwaves, cars, matching shoes, larger closets, just to name a few. The commercialization of our society has worked hard to stir discontent in our hearts. They have won. They have caused us to redefine their factory-produced items as legitimate needs. And have caused great stress in our lives because of it. Meanwhile, there are wonderful benefits for those who choose to own less.

2. Money won’t make you happy. It is simply an illusion that money will bring you happiness— study after study confirms it, so does experience. Some of the most joyful people I know are far from wealthy and some of the wealthiest people I know are far from joy. Now, certainly, there is a measure of stability and security that arises from having our most basic financial needs met. But we need so much less than we think we need. And the sooner we stop assuming more money will make us happy tomorrow, the sooner we can start finding happiness today.

3. Money is not the greatest goal of your work. Financial compensation does not succeed as a long-term motivator and the association between salary and job satisfaction is routinely shown to be very weak. In other words, a larger paycheck will not improve your satisfaction at work. There is a significant amount of work-related stress that can be removed by simply deciding to be content with your pay (assuming it is fair). Don’t work for the paycheck alone. Work for the sake of contribution and benefit to others. This approach is idealistic, but it is also fulfilling and stress-reducing.

4. Wealth has its own troubles. There are troubles associated with poverty, few of us would debate that fact. But there are also troubles associated with wealth. Unfortunately, we give little thought to them. As a result, we think the presence of money is always good, always a blessing. And we desire it. But money brings troubles of its own: it clouds moral judgement, it distorts empathy, it promotes pride and arrogance, it can become an addictionFears of the wealthy include isolation, anxiety, and raising well-adjusted children. In other words, if you are thinking money will solve your troubles, you are mistaken. And once we change our thinking on this, we can stop searching for answers in the wrong places.

5. The desire for riches robs us of life. We have heard the love of money is the root of all evil. But often times, the mere desire for more of it robs us of life as well. The desire for money consumes our time, wastes our energy, compromises our values, and limits our potential. It is wise to remove its desire from our affections. This would reduce our stress. But even better, it would allow true life-giving pursuits to emerge.

6. Boundaries are life-giving. Orson Welles once said, “The enemy of art is the absence of limitations.” I agree. And the enemy of life is the absence of boundaries. Whether they be social, financial, or moral, boundaries provide structure and a framework for life. They promote discovery, invention, and ingenuity. Boundaries motivate us to discover happiness in our present circumstance. This is one reason a personal spending plan (budget) is such a helpful tool — the financial boundary forms a helpful framework for life. It allows us to recognize we don’t have to spend more money than we earn to be happy. There is no joy in living beyond your means — only stress. Live within the boundaries of your income. And find more life because of it.

7. There is joy in giving money away. Generosity has wonderful benefits. Generous people are happier, healthier, more admired, more satisfied with life, and have deeper relationships with others. Their lives are filled with less stress. It is important to change our thinking on this topic. One of the most stress-reducing things you can ever do with your money is give some of it away. And generosity is completely achievable today regardless of our current situation.

8. The security found in money/possessions is fleeting at best. Too many of us believe security can be adequately found in possessions. As a result, many of us pursue and collect large stockpiles of possessions in the name of security or happiness. We work long hours to purchase them. We build bigger houses to store them. We spend large amounts of energy maintaining them. The burden of accumulating and maintaining slowly becomes the main focus of our lives. Meanwhile, we lose community, freedom, happiness, and passion. We exchange some of the most basic elements of life for mere possessions. Our search for security and life and joy is essential to being human—we just need to start looking for it in the right places.

9. Money, at its core, is only a tool. At its heart, money is nothing more than a tool to expedite trade. It saves us from making our own clothes, tools, and furniture. Because of money, I spend my days doing what I love and am good at. In exchange, I receive money to trade with someone else who uses their giftedness to create something different than me. That’s it. That is its purpose. And if we have enough to meet our needs, we shouldn’t live in stress trying desperately to acquire more.

Stress has some terrible affects on our bodies. It results in irratability, fatigue, and nervousness. Unfortunately, money consistently ranks as one of the greatest causes of it. But that doesn’t need to be true of us.

Let’s change the way we think about it. And start to enjoy our lives a little more instead.

Link to the original article

How can I support my partner when they’re stressed with work?

by Jamie Lawrence, Editor, HRZone

Work stress can affect our personal lives and our relationships, particularly if both partners are under significant stress. But learning to support each other in productive ways can strengthen the relationship, reduce stress and improve mood.

Research suggests that couples who actively manage stress together improve their relationship durability over time.

  • Listen and support: Questioning, challenge and offering solutions are important, but listening and offering support are most valuable. Research from eHarmony suggested that people who are supportive when their partners share bad events maintain relationship satisfaction and contribute towards an environment with fewer arguments.
  • Recognise and respect different coping mechanisms: People cope very differently with stress. Some people like to talk everything out as soon as possible, while others need silent downtime. It’s important to recognise you and your partner might not cope in the same way, and there isn’t necessarily a “right” way. Try to accept differences and find ways to accommodate and facilitate your partner to cope in their own way.
  • Kill comparisons: There are two types of comparisons couples make that enhance stress. The first is to compare yourself or your partner to others, professionally, which is a poor form of attempted motivation. The second is to compare your own stress levels with those of your partner. You should learn to listen and offer help to your partner, even when dealing with your own. The key is to solicit help and empathy from your partner without minimising and invalidating their own feelings.

Link to the original HRZone Article

If resilience is the question, is music the answer

by Joanne Ruksenas, a PhD Candidate in Music and Public Health at Griffith University,

A growing body of research from a number of diverse fields point to the benefits gained by actively making music. The most obvious field is music therapy. A relatively new therapy with its formal origins in the years following the second world war, music therapy is a complex and diverse field.

Not surprisingly, music therapists use music to form their therapeutic relationship and provide group and individual interventions in diverse settings including schools, prisons and hospitals.

Research by US researchers published last month points to improved positive health outcomes using music therapy.

The research, conducted with adolescents and young adults undergoing high-risk stem-cell treatment for cancer, used music therapy to target their resilience.

Stem-cell therapy is risky, painful, and causes high levels of distress in patients. This distress can have a heavy impact on the treatment outcomes – which are affected by the patient’s ability to cope with the illness and treatment, and their relationships with other people.

As with many resilience interventions, this intervention was “strengths based”, aiming to build on known protective factors for resilience and minimise risk. They found the individuals in the active music therapy group were able to cope better with the treatment, and had better relationships with their family and others. The effects of the music therapy intervention were still obvious 100 days after the intervention.

Resilience is an important characteristic often referred to as an umbrella trait. It does not remove problems – but it provides shelter and protection while people make choices about how they will deal with what they are facing.

It does this by pitting protective factors of resilience against the risk factors. A person exhibiting more protective factors than risk factors is resilient. A person who exhibits more risk factors is “at risk”.

The protective and risk factors are flip sides of the same coin. The three most prominent factors – self-regulation, initiative and relationships with other people – are the factors targeted in the US study. That’s why the music therapy intervention, which strengthened all of these, was particularly effective.

…Would education be more effective if resilience was fostered and developed from the earliest years, and what role does music play?

Active engagement with music has a number of intrinsic properties that mirror and enhance the protective factors of self-regulation, initiative and relationships with others. Resilience supports learning in other areas in the same way that it supported better health outcomes in the music therapy study.

Whether these skills translate for normal children on a normal day is yet to be seen.

What is understood is that 60% of people are naturally resilient. Even children who suffer horrendous abuse generally sort their lives out by the time they are 40. How different would the life trajectories of “at risk” children be if they were given the tools of resilience from the earliest ages?

How different would our schools be if we built on children’s strengths and gave all children tools for self-regulation, initiative and building better relationships with other people from the start of their education rather than applying remediation and punishment once problems occur?

What if the solution is engaging with music?

Link to the full article

Schools urged to promote ‘character and resilience’

By Patrick Howse, BBC News, Education reporter

Britain’s schools must be “more than just exam factories”, a cross-party parliamentary group says.

Its report argues that more importance should be given to the development of “character and resilience”.

It says schools should make it part of their “core business” to nurture pupils’ self-belief, perseverance and ability to bounce back from set-backs.

It is supported by the CBI, senior politicians, and the government’s social mobility adviser.

The Character and Resilience Manifesto is the work of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on Social Mobility, and has been produced in collaboration with the CentreForum think-tank.

The main focus of the report is a need to avoid concentrating solely on academic measures of success as children move through the education system and into the workplace…

It also wants the standards watchdog Ofsted to build “character and resilience” measures into its inspection framework, and for teacher training and career development programmes to “explicitly focus” on the area…

‘Soft skills’

The report argues that a belief in one’s ability to succeed, the perseverance to stick to a task and the ability to bounce back from life’s set-backs are qualities that have a major impact on life chances, both during education and, later, in the labour market.

Speaking on behalf of the parliamentary group, Baroness Claire Tyler said they had seen “clear evidence that what are often misleadingly called ‘soft skills’ actually lead to hard results”.

“However many GCSEs you have, where you are on the character scale will have a big impact on what you achieve in life,” she said.

Damian Hinds, the chairman of the APPG on Social Mobility said self-belief, drive and perseverance were “key to achievement at school and at work”.

“But they are not just inherent traits,” he added, “they can be developed in young people.

Wide support

The Confederation of British Industry has been promoting a similar agenda for some time.

The CBI’s director-general, John Cridland warned that schools were in danger of becoming “exam factories, churning out people who are not sufficiently prepared for life outside the school gates”.

Shadow education secretary Tristram Hunt said the report “tackles one of the most pressing questions currently facing our education system: how do we educate resilient young people that have a sense of moral purpose and character, as well as being passionate, reflective learners?”

Link to the full article

Teaching – and Learning – Resilience through Reflection

By Kevin D. Washburn, executive director of Clerestory Learning, and author of “The Architecture of Learning: Designing Instruction for the Learning Brain”

Written as a guide for teachers, this article contains wisdom that we all can take and grow our resilience from…

In addition to imagination, fostering [our] reflection abilities helps develop resilience. We can become more equipped to think our way out of defeat and into healthy mind states where learning — deep learning, in fact — can happen.

Reflection

Reflection comprises the ability to monitor one’s own thinking — metacognition — and to engage strategies — self-direct — that make positive adjustments. It involves three phases.

Phase 1: What am I thinking now?

This seems basic, and yet this first step may be the most elusive. To redirect thinking, which precedes renewed effort, an individual must first recognise her or his current state of mind. …Self-awareness is not the mind’s default state.

A study conducted a few years back illustrates this. Researchers theorized that young people diagnosed with ADHD might be able to redirect their attention if they are made aware of their distraction. To test this, researchers set up mirrors near the work areas of several students. When a student became distracted and looked up from his work, the first thing he saw was his distracted self in the mirror. Once they recognized this, most students were able to redirect their attention and complete the assigned task.

This unawareness of one’s current mental state is not limited to individuals with ADHD. Research suggests most of us have blind spots where a mirror — literal or figurative — could help. Daniel Goleman explains, “…those who focus best are relatively immune to emotional turbulence, more able to stay unflappable in a crisis and to keep on an even keel despite life’s emotional waves.” Keeping on an even keel requires recognizing when the boat is being rocked. Awareness precedes course correction…

Phase 2: What can I tell myself to redirect my energy?

Self-talk is one of the most powerful cognitive tools available. As Jim Afremow explains, “thoughts determine feelings,” and “feelings influence performance.” Using self-talk effectively is an act of control. When [we] take control of our mental messages, we are on our way to redirecting our efforts and increasing our learning.

In the famous “marshmallow test,” researchers asked the children who resisted eating the marshmallow right away what they did to withstand the temptation. Several indicated that they talked to themselves. They told themselves messages like, “You can do this. Try to wait for one more minute.” and, “Make this fun. Imagine what else that thing could be besides a marshmallow.” What an example of using self-talk to distract oneself! “The mind guides action,” explains Antonis Hatzigeorgiadis. “If we can succeed in regulating our thoughts, then this will help our behavior.”

Instructive self-talk, the act of “talking” through the details of how to do something successfully, is more effective than self-esteem boosting messages (e.g., “I’m the best!), in part because the brain has difficulty accepting a compliment that doesn’t have an associated accomplishment. But also because instructive self-talk increases the mindfulness with which a student approaches a challenge…

Phase 3: What went wrong?

[Working] through the process of self-awareness and redirecting [our] mental energies creates a powerful learning opportunity. When our brains do not achieve an expected outcome from our efforts, be they cognitive or physical or a combination, we experience a feeling of disappointment. That feeling indicates that at that moment we are primed for learning, but — and this is critical — only if we are willing to attend to and examine our errors.

That means that when [we] make errors, when we struggle, we have a great opportunity to spark deep learning, but only if we respond to [our] mistakes effectively and [reflect on what went wrong and analyse what we can learn from this].

Link to the full article with  Kevin Strategies for working with students

Professor Toni Noble ‘Build self-respect, not self-esteem’ at YoungMinds 2013

Highly recommended to update your thinking about what matters more in growing our resilience and success and helping the people around us to do the same.

Despite the unfortunate audio noise from Toni Noble’s earring against the mic, and even though it is directed at teachers and students, this is a richly-packed talk that challenges many of the assumptions a lot of us still carry about the primary importance of self-esteem that will reward the time and attention you give to its hearing.

 – What is the difference between self respect and self esteem?
– Has an emphasis on self-esteem at home and school been detrimental to our children’s wellbeing?
– What strategies can we use to build young people’s self respect?

Professor Toni Noble, leading educator and educational psychologist with expertise in student wellbeing and positive school communities; Adjunct Professor, School of Educational Leadership, Australian Catholic University

Resilience: An HR Manager’s Guide

Building resilience in your workforce takes just five ‘Rs’, according to Cranfield School of Management and Airmic, the association for risk management. They are: risk radar; resources; relationships; rapid response; and review and adapt — and it is not enough to have just one, employers need to adopt them all to truly achieve resilience…

“Resilience isn’t just about avoiding risk or being risk averse; it’s about actively taking it on, learning from it and understanding the business gain,” he says. “It’s a task for all our leaders, from the chief executive to our frontline supervisors, to provide a transparent and open culture in which people feel confident and able to flag when things don’t go well.”  John Scott chief risk officer at Zurich Global Corporate.

Link to read the full article

Sound of success: finding perfect acoustics for a productive office

Sound in a space affects us profoundly, claims acoustics expert Julian Treasure. He offers his tips on creating positive soundscapes

Overlooking sound can cause a lot of difficulties. An otherwise well-designed collaborative space can get scuppered by poor sound management. Julian Treasure, author of Sound Business and chairman of The Sound Agency comes across the problem often.

“We experience every space in five senses so it’s strange that architects design just for the eyes,” he says. “Sound in a space affects us profoundly. It changes our heart rate, breathing, hormone secretion, brain waves, it affects our emotions and our cognition.” His research suggests that trying to perform knowledge-based tasks in a space in which other people’s conversations are clearly audible is difficult. “Productivity can be degraded by up to two thirds,” he says.

This isn’t just a case of unfocused workers. If someone is talking right next to someone else, it’s instinctive for the passive listener to process their words. The issue is that, according to Treasure, people have the bandwidth to process 1.6 conversations at any one time. So if they’re already processing one happening just next to them, they have limited capacity for their actual task.

“There is also a lot of research to demonstrate that noise in offices changes people’s behaviour – it makes them less helpful, more frustrated, absenteeism goes up and so does the rate of sickness.”

So we need to work in silent offices, right? Actually that’s a no-no, too. “People often mistake our mission at The Sound Agency for a crusade for silence, but actually silence is in many ways just as bad as too much noise,” says Treasure.

He was visiting a client recently and the environment was completely silent and it was positively oppressive. “In a room full of 60 to 70 people which is open plan and absolutely quiet, it’s very intimidating to make a phone call. And if you do so, you’re upsetting about 15 to 20 people because they’re put off by your phone call.”

The answer is to have the right level of ambient noise – referred to as a masking sound. “It needs to be there in order to mask those conversations so that you can get on with some work without your concentration being degraded by other conversations,” he explains. Too much of this noise and the stress levels increase. Most offices work best at around 50 to 60 decibels, he explains. “So if you were to introduce some masking sound that doesn’t require cognition – nature sounds, bird song, rainfall or some very slow-paced soundscapes played by a computer – you release the productivity.” This masking sound can be played through earphones just as easily if it’s difficult to negotiate among a group.

However, raw noise is only one thing to analyse when you’re evaluating your workspace. Acoustics are also very important – few employers and managers will be aware of the reverb rate of their meeting room, but if the sound comes back to you in, say, one second it’s going to be annoying to work there. If two people are in there talking, they can become frustrated and end up with what’s known as the Lombard Effect, where it all escalates. Think about shopping centres, where there’s an echo and people have to shout to be heard while having a coffee, even when they’re sitting opposite each other.

The issue can be cumulative, as in the Lombard Effect, or just a combination of things. The first step to take is just to listen to the office and what’s going on in it. Walk around. Treasure sometimes advises people to get someone to walk them around with a blindfold or at least to close their eyes, and just ask whether the sounds are the most conducive to getting tasks done.

The results can be surprising. People don’t always go and listen to the fridge, the printer, the air conditioning unit or any number of other things – they can all be masked with acoustic absorbers. There may be a need for a sound system to create masking sounds. Treasure advises considering the communal areas and their objectives – people go to the café space to converse but find they can’t because the music is too loud and there’s too much chatter.

Treasure says: “I was at a workplace the other day where they had commercial radio in the canteen so you had the DJ’s chatter, you had advertising and you had loud music.”

Above all, ask people what they think. Noisy environments are among the biggest complaints people have in workspaces – and many bosses are in sound-insulated offices and unaware there’s a problem. Don’t forget to revisit the issue as well. Hearing changes over time and if you’ve employed someone for a long period their hearing and ability to process sound won’t be the same at 45 as it was when they were in their late 20s.

It’s not just hearing that changes, explains Treasure: “The difficulty of extracting signal from noise does get worse as you get older,” he says. “If you’re trying to listen to one person in an office and the background noise is very loud, it becomes harder and harder. It’s a listening thing, the brain is having a struggle.”

In an era in which we have an ageing demographic, this isn’t an issue that’s going to go away. And yet in office design, sound comes into consideration a poor second – if it comes in at all.

“We need architects to start designing offices that are fit for the ears as well as the eyes,” says Treasure. “We really need to start designing for all the senses and end up with offices that are truly fit for purpose.”

Link to the original article

Radical Wellbeing: Where We Need To Get To (Part 2)

by Deepak Chopra & Rudolph E. Hanzi

Radical well being jettisons the model of body as machine for something closer to reality: a model that is living, dynamic, fluid, and adaptive. This new model leads to a state of higher health controlled and monitored by each person. The reason that directing your own health is so powerful can be summarized in a few insights that have taken decades to develop. As we emphasized in our book “Super Brain”:

• Every thought, feeling, and sensation in the mind sends a message to every cell in the body.
• Cells operate through feedback loops that mesh with the feedback loops of tissues, organs, and the body itself.
• Disease begins with subtle imbalances in these feedback loops.
• The brain’s ability to consciously direct a person’s life depends on intelligence embedded in every cell.
• Behaviour today has consequences for our genes, altering their expression in profound ways.

Which leads to the conclusion that each person must decide to take advantage of the new model. The things that health-conscious people already do aren’t negated. It remains of primary importance not to smoke, avoid excess weight, and minimize use alcohol (with perhaps an exemption for drinking a glass of wine a day, at most). If you already have taken these steps, the new model also supports other familiar advice: exercise moderately, eat a good, balanced diet, and avoid environmental toxins. But these steps bring us only to the very edge of radical well being.

The really fascinating area to explore is known as “self-directed biological transformation,” which has enormous implications for your present health and everyone’s future evolution. Change is inevitable, and transformation is taking place in your body many thousands of times a second. For the most part, each of us has played a passive role in our own transformation, allowing biological processes, governed by our genes, to run automatically. The problem is that, as miraculous as the body’s feedback loops are, they deteriorate over time and are susceptible to imbalances that aren’t self-correcting. The result is unhealthy aging and disease. Short of that, the level of well being you experience is vulnerable to degradation biologically, much of which can be avoided.

Intervening in the body’s feedback loops comes down to a simple principle: The more positive the input your body receives, the more positive its output. Your body, down to the genetic level, is altered by the events of everyday life. (It’s already known that positive lifestyle changes directed at preventing and healing heart disease alter as many as 500 genes.) The time is right for proving just how much overall control we have over this enormous potential in the mind-body connection. One can foresee the future as self-directed biological transformation.

The platform for self-directed transformation is available to everyone. It includes yoga and meditation, exercise for strength, agility, endurance and play, a balanced farm-to-table and Mediterranean diet, good sleep, and stress reduction. These are well-established ways to improve bodily function. But there’s more to explore, given another basic principle: Every experience in consciousness has a physical correlate. A mystic experiencing deep inner silence, a Buddhist monk meditating on compassion, or a saint having a vision of angels isn’t exempted from this principle, because the label of “spiritual” doesn’t diminish the mind-body connection – that connection is actually amplified.

Whatever activity you undertake is a step in self-directed biological transformation. Knowing this, how should you choose to live? Certainly a higher priority should be given to those things that make you more conscious, with the aim of being more centered, free of psychological deficits, capable of experiencing love, bonding with others, and pursuing happiness with the dedication we show in pursuing success.

Link to the full article

15 Quotes To Help You Smash Your Negative Thinking

by Aidan Tan, Pick the Brain 

Here are 9 of these quotes to help you smash negative thinking

1) “Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses.”   ― Alphonse Karr, A Tour Round My Garden

2) “You can, you should, and if you’re brave enough to start, you will.”   ― Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

3) “Stop letting people who do so little for you control so much of your mind, feelings and emotions” – Will Smith

4) “Always think extra hard before crossing over to a bad side, if you were weak enough to cross over, you may not be strong enough to cross back!”   ― Victoria Addino

5) “If you are positive, you’ll see opportunities instead of obstacles.”   ― Widad Akrawi

6) “If we are not currently experiencing the danger of war, the loneliness of imprisonment, the agony of torture, the pangs of starvation, we are ahead of some 500 million people in the world.” -Unknown

7) “Whether you think you can or you think you can’t either way you are right!”   ― Henry Ford

12) “Take a walk outside – it will serve you far more than pacing around in your mind.”  ― Rasheed Ogunlaru

13) “Start thinking positively. You will notice a difference. Instead of “I think I’m a loser,” try “I definitely am a loser.” Stop being wishy-washy about things! How much more of a loser can you be if you don’t even know you are one? Either you are a loser or you are not. Which is it, stupid?”  ― Ellen DeGeneres, The Funny Thing Is…

Link to read the full set of 15 in the original article

Happiness At Work Edition #86

All of these stories are included in this new collection of articles about happiness and resilience at work and in our lives.

Link to the Happiness At Work Edition #86

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

by Mark Trezona

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Upon Westminster Bridge

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

All this powerful presence.

All this history and all this yet to be.

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

This is London, my home.

Yeeeeeehaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa!!!!!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You can be.

Just that.

All that.

And yet, and yet…

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

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

…an absence of being…a negative force…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Because the city contains small beauties, zones of possibility…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just Listen…

 

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

 

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

7.30pm Wednesday 5th June, 2013 

 

Jessica Pryce-Jones on the Science of Happiness At Work

Opener Institute CEO Jessica Pryce-Jones interviewed by CNBC South Africa

Notes from

Happiness at Work: Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success
Jessica Pryce-Jones

Wiley-Blackwall, United Kingdom, 2010

Why Happiness at Work Matters

If you’re not concerned about happiness at work, you should be…

If you’re happy at work you:
• Get promoted faster
• Earn more
• Get more support
• Generate better and more creative ideas
• Achieve your goals faster
• Interact better with colleagues and bosses
• Receive superior reviews
• Learn more
• Achieve greater success
• Are healthier.

The higher your happiness levels, the stronger your immune system. You’ll be less affected by stress hormones, develop 50% more antibodies to flu vaccines, be less likely to get heart disease, diabetes or have lung problems…

Our research found…that if you’re really happy, you:
• Are 180% more energised
• Are 180% happier with life
• Are 155% happier in your job
• Are 108% more engaged in your work
• Love your job 79% more
• Are 50% more motivated
• Have 40% more confidence
• Achieve your goals 30% more
• Contribute 25% more.

Happiness leads to all these positive outcomes, not the other way round.

Happiness at Work: A Definition

Here’s what we think it is:
Happiness at work is a mindset which allows you to maximise performance and achieve your potential. You do this by being mindful of the highs and lows when working alone or with others.

The first key to happiness at work is your approach and being aware of it. Being mindful allows you to have a perspective on a situation, which means you’ll manage it better.

Secondly, our definition of happiness focuses not only on the individual but also on their role within the group because that’s where most work takes place.

Thirdly, it’s important to recognise the “yin and yang” effect. Growth of any sort involves accepting that discomfort and difficulty are part of the process. Happiness at work doesn’t mean that you have to feel good 100% of the time. Or that you shouldn’t feel the usual negative emotions you do at work. Like anger, frustration, disappointment, failure, jealousy or shock. Just like the times when you feel so stretched that you aren’t sure how you will cope. Those are the moments that help you achieve your potential. The times that you look back at with a sense of accomplishment and achievement.

If you continue to put up with what you’ve always had, that’s what you’ll always get. And if we all do that, nothing will change.

We need to make a fundamental shift to work that brings together some of the key recent findings in organisational research, neurology, psychology, behavioural economics, psycholinguistics, and anthropology. To create new models, new practices, and a new approach…regardless of sector, nationality, product, service, role or status. The only way to do this is to galvanise people around something that is practical, that’s compelling for individuals as well as organisations, and that produces real results, results of real and lasting value.

Three Myths

Myth 1: Financial Capital is all that counts
Organisations do better when people feel good about themselves and the colleagues they work with.

Myth 2: Happiness is Job Satisfaction or Engagement in another guise
Happiness is a bigger concept than either Job Satisfaction or Engagement. Happiness encompasses both and is more consistently and progressively inked to productivity. Like financial capital, this takes time, effort and energy to build. Unlike financial capital it endures much better when institutions and markets crash and burn.

Myth 3: You’re born happy or sad and there is nothing you can do
We have a happiness range rather than a set point. Simply by changing behaviour and doing things differently you can have a big effect on how happy you are and push yourself up to the top of your range. Increasing your level of happiness at work is just about analysing then applying the right strategy for you

Psychological capital …
encompasses the mental resources that you build when things go well and draw on when things go badly, including:
• resilience,
• motivation,
• hope,
• optimism,
• self-belief,
• confidence,
• self-worth, and
• energy.
All of which are key elements of happiness in a working context.

If you don’t have a high level of psychological capital because you aren’t happy at work, you’ll only be going through the motions.

  • Happiness at work happens best from the ground up, working with individuals who know what they need to be more productive, which means it is easier, cheaper and more flexible for organisations to implement.
  • The happier you are the more productive you are.

The 5Cs Approach

Contribution – is about the effort you make and your perception of it:

Inside-Out

  • Achieving Your Goals
  • Having Clear Objectives
  • Raising Issues Important To You
  • Feeling Secure In Your Job

Outside-In

  • Being Listened To (the 2nd most important statistic)
  • Getting Positive Feedback
  • Being Respected By Your Boss
  • Being Appreciated At Work

Conviction – is about the motivation you have whatever your circumstances:

  • Being Motivated At Work
  • Believing You Are Effective & Efficient
  • Feeling Resilient When Times Are Tough
  • Perceiving Your Work Has a Positive Impact On The World

Culture – is about how well you feel you fit at work; where your preferences for how you like to work are matched – a fixed-fluid continuum of:

  • Relishing Your Job – having the right systematic vs. organic mix
  • Liking Your Colleagues – indicating strong social support
  • Appreciating the Values Your Workplace Stands For – something you can use to increase persistence
  • Having A Fair Ethos At Work – really important for psychological well-being
  • Being In Control of Your Daily Activities – you probably have more control and influence than you realise.

Language reflects Culture: if you don’t like what you hear change your terminology

Commitment – is about the extent to which you are engaged with your work, a virtuous circle of “head and heart” feelings and beliefs which all interact and reinforce each other:

  • Believing You Are Doing Something Worthwhile:
    1. i. Finding meaningful work, and
    2. ii. Identifying your overall purpose

Fundamental to this is making a difference to yourself and others.

  • Feelings of Interest In Your Job – more likely if you have a calling, leading to s sense of vital engagement.

Job crafting (changing your job to make it more meaningful to you by expanding, reducing, doing differently, or changing how you see it) will help take you there if you are not in the one third of people who are likely to be working in their calling.

  • Connection To The Vision Of Your Organisation – affected by a strong vision statement and leaders who can communicate it effectively.

All of these are boosted by:

  • Strong Bursts of Positive Emotion – tells you you are on the tight track, and helps you access positive emotions when the going gets tough.

Commitment is much higher when you are happy.

Confidence – is about the sense of belief you have in yourself and your job, and the C on which all the others depend:

  • Getting Things Done – influenced by self-control, understanding procrastination, and using mind tools that work for you such as understanding your beliefs, using self-talk, and working with imagery.
  • Having High Levels of Self-Belief – happens when you:
    1. Experience success,
    2. Observe others like you succeed,
    3. Are persuaded to take on challenges, and
    4. Correctly interpret your mental and physical state.
  • Understanding Your Role Backwards and Forwards – made up of:
    1. Knowing your job fits your initial expectations,
    2. Seeing how it meshes with your overall career plan,
    3. Wanting to stay, and
    4. Recommending your organisation to a friend. This acts as a proxy question for how happy someone is at work.

Too much or too little Confidence lead to the same: lack of performance.

These three are so closely linked with happiness that we found that are also proxies for assessing it.

Pride – an internal positive connection with what you’re doing and its overall value to you here and now, and comes from:

  • Identifying with your organisation
  • Understanding your level of Contribution
  • Knowing who your work affects, and
  • Being aware of its wider impact

Trust – the faith you currently have in your organisation, your workplace and its leaders. And vice versa. It comes from:

  • Your colleagues, and
  • Your senior leaders.

Pride and Trust work similarly – if you have one you’ll have the other too.

Recognition – having the effort you make noted and expressed by people you respect, and comes from:

  • Who you are
  • What you do
  • How you work, and
  • How dedicated you are.

It has nothing to do with money and lots to do with being recognised in the way you most prefer.

And lying at the heart of all this is
Achieving Your Potential – if you think you are you will be happy at work, strongly associated with:

  • Feeling energised – pay attention to what energises you because it is a good internal marker of your happiness. (Doing long hours may mean you don’t have enough recovery time, and it looks like a 48hour week is the maximum you can work before productivity starts to rapidly fall off.
  • Using your strengths and skills – work to your strengths but don’t lose sight of weakness – successful people are aware of both, and spend time boosting and refining their skills too. Remember the fastest way to develop your potential is to learn.
  • Overcoming challenges – like most people you wont like being given challenges but overcoming them, and it is normal to experience less happiness when you start tackling a difficult project and more as you work your way through it.

Happiness is complex because people and the organisations they work for are complicated. So a simplistic answer was never going to fit the bill. But it is worth remembering that work has had and continues to have a bad press; even when people are miserable in their jobs they still estimate that they enjoy 30% of their day.

Now recession has of course affected everyone and has decreased happiness levels at work. That is hardly a big surprise. The consequences are that people tend to stay longer in their jobs, take less time off sick, and are working longer hours. That might be good news for employers, but here’s the flipside: energy and productivity have decreased significantly across the board, so you might feel that you are doing more but you’ll be feeling worse and delivering less. And as a result you may feel you want out as soon as economic upturn comes along. Yet the fact is that you don’t have to quit to change: you can make your working day better and your job more personally sustainable, and there are lots of simple things that you can do to help yourself.

The easiest place to start is by being more mindful and aware of your situation. All that involves is stepping back to recognise how you feel in any given moment – and why. Doing this is one of the easiest ways to build your psychological capital and to protect it too. But that psychological capital is not going to be banked in a vacuum; other people have an effect on how you feel and you’ll have an effect on them to. Being mindful of that is the first step towards understanding that although work can’t “make” you happy, you can make yourself happier at work.

See also Jessica Pryce-Jones website including their iOpener People and Performance Questionnaire (ippq) at www.iopener.com

Happiness At Work ~ edition one

Happiness At Work – edition one

Welcome to our very first online paper.


Here is our guide to this edition.  Every week we will curate a selection of the best stories, videos, sounds, pictures, reviews, tools and techniques from across the web that we hope will bring you ideas and fresh thinking to top up, invigorate and replenish your own  potential to flourish and thrive – at work and in your larger lives.

The paper.li app we are using to make this is an exciting way to curate a collection of web-based stories around a theme, in our case, our passionate quest to help build a world of happier people, who thrive on change and inspire the people around them.   It does not however give us any editorial control over how these stories are arranged and exhibited – its machine technology has chosen the section headings and what to group in them.   So here is our index for this week’s edition, using the section headings we would like to be able to provide.

We hope this gives you a better map to find your way to the ideas you are most interested in.

Here are some highlights in this week’s collection . . .

Understanding and Thinking About Happiness and Wellbeing

~ I have attempted to pull together a deliberately contradictory and competing weave of ideas about happiness in The I of (Un)Happiness – is our increasing knowledge making us happier?  See what you think…

~ Thinking about his work with startup founders, Joel Gasgoine points to the affect altruism has to our happiness in his blog Want To Be Happy and Successful?  Bring Happiness To Others

For today’s working women this is not such a winning formula.

~ Sheryl Sandberg eloquently raises more difficult issues about belonging and having a place at the table in her TedTalk Why We Have Too Few Women Leaders.  This presentation is part of the conversation about the barriers to flourishing that women continue to face that has recently been very alive in the states from Marie Slaughter’s article Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,  and in the UK around the debate asking Why is theatre so male, white and middle class?

Tools & Techniques

~ An introduction to the highly recommended Happiness At Work Survey, newly-launched last month by Tony Hsieh of Zappos & Nic Marks of the new economic foundation.  You can also see an earlier video of Nic Marks’ The Happy Planet Index TedTalk in videos.

~ Do Something You Love Every Day is the first of Susan Heathfield’s Top Ten Ways To Be Happy At Work;

~ You can hear and/or read Ben Waber recommendations for moving coffee stations and increase diversity as two of the Concrete Steps for Creating A Happier Office;

~ Team Building with Future Boards offers a creative approach to support collaborative strategy and work planning

~ For anyone feeling stuck in the wrong job, Amy Gallo offers six possibilities for becoming happier at work in her Harvard Business review article: Don’t Like Your Job – Change It (without quitting)

Ideas for Leaders

This week’s edition concentrates on motivation…

~ In How To Keep Your Employees Motivated Guy Farmer recommends:

1 – Praise your employees

2 – Create a workplace where people celebrate each other

3 – Give people meaningful work

4 – Value people equally, and

5 – Have a plan to keep people motivated.

Not earth shattering in its new thinking but we wonder how many leaders have these five things on their habitual range of management approaches?

~ RSA Animate – Drive: the surprising truth about what motivates us is exactly what it says it is says. Enjoy.

~ Sheena Iyengar has some powerful new ideas about our new 21st century problem of having far too many choices in How To Make Choosing Easier

~ And Petra Kuenkal argues we need both balance and mindfulness to create and keep sustainability in our lives as much as in our leadership in her article Sustainability Leadership: how can we combine flatland and wonderland?

Learning and Self-Mastery  

We’ve pulled together a series of stories connected to the need for us to try and find balance, usually meaning making moments to slow down, even stop, and get some new air in our lungs and brains …

~ a simple introduction in Ed Halliwell’s School of Life blog On a Mindful Manifesto;

~ more detailed and very practical techniques in Melanie Greenberg’s Nine Essential Qualities of Mindfulness;

~ The Logic of Insomnia talks about how a racing brain prevents a good night’s sleep, emphasising the need for us to learn how to control our thinking that is key to a great deal of happiness and well-being approaches, including mindfulness;

~ and I have pulled together a clutch of further ideas linked to this theme in my performancemarks blog How To Be A Happy Freelancer – Tips for Getting A Good Work-Life Balance that has helpful tips for people working in organisations too, including how to get free of The Busy Trap

~ the importance of continually learning is highlighted in Moodscope’s blog, You, The Sponge;

~ James Levine advice for us To Stay On Schedule, Take A Break – ideally every fifteen minutes in fact.  We’d love to hear from anyone who works from a computer who actually comes close to achieving this!

This Week’s Books

Our number one book pick this week

Our favourite reference for understanding Happiness At Work we know: Jessica Pryce-Jones practical, intelligent and helpful book of research and practical ideas: Happiness At Work – Maximising Psychological Capital for Success.  Hear her talking about its main ideas in this Happiness At Work clip. You can take the online Science of Happiness iOpener People & Performance Survey that accompanies these ideas to get your own free report about your happiness at work.

~ Richard Wiseman brings some of the ideas from his book Rip It Up in his guardian article Self-Help – Forget Positive Thinking, Try Positive Action;

Brain Pickings ~ Maria Popova

Maria Popova’s Brain Pickings is so good that we’ve made it the first automatic feed into our Happiness At Work.  Here are highlights we’ve posted in this week’s edition…

~ Popova reviews the headline stealing latest addition in the UK to the happiness literature, Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote in Against Positive Thinking – Uncertainty as the Secret of Happiness.

~ Hear some of Burkeman’s ideas from his book in his RSA – The Antidote talk;

~ Prompted by Burkeman’s book, Popova provides a great précis of Learned Optimism: Martin Seligman on Happiness, Depression and the Meaningful Life.  Seligman is one of the most important thinkers in Positive Psychology, and we still think his model for what he emphatically calls Flourishing is one of the best frameworks on offer – a combination of Positive Emotion + Engagement + Great Relationships + Meaning from what we do + a sense of Accomplishment.  If we want to increase our happiness one of the best places to start is by considering which of these five might me undernourished, and try to do something to improve it.

~ We have also included Maria Popova’s 7 Must-Read Books in the Art & Science of Happiness – five of these are on our favourites list, two we haven’t read yet.

~ “Good music can act as a guide to living.” This quote from John Cage begins Popova’s review of his new biography Where the Heart Beat: John Cage, Zen Buddhism and the Inner Life of Artsists.

This Week’s Video and Music

One of the most inspiring things we’ve seen for some time was the Nicola Benedetti Southbank Show talking about her music and her involvement with Sistema Scotland, the most extraordinary and wonderful experiment in using music to help people to flourish.  There is so much here for us to pay attention to and learn from… Enjoy her music playing Bruch’s Violin Concerto – Nicola Benedetti and the Scottish Symphony Orchestra

~ Bobby McFerrin’s Demonstrating the Power of the Petonic Scale is 3minutes of pure delight.

~ Charles Hazelwood’s much longer TedTalk Trusting the Ensemble is really worth watching all the way through to enjoy his inspiring and quirky illustrations to his central message, that “where there is trust, there is music and, by extension, life. Where there is no trust music withers away.”

~ In Shilo Shiv Suleman’s Using technology to enable dreaming TedTalk of animated iPad wizardry, she makes us think about how to use our technology to step further inside our experiences, rather than pulling ourselves away and outside them.

~ Michael Norton tells us how we should be spending in his TedTalk How To Buy Happiness

~ More sheer enjoyment and delight in Abigail Washburn’s Building US-China relations… by banjo

~ And quite possibly the happiest band on the planet Pink Martini’s Hang On Little Tomato – no pictures in this video, just the music to enjoy.

We really hope there is something in this collection that you will find both helpful and enjoyable.  

Do please visit us at BridgeBuilders STG on Facebook and let us know what you think, add your own stories and ideas about Happiness At Work, and tell us anything you would really like to get in future editions Happiness At Work paper.li  


The “I” of (Un)Happiness ~ is our increasing knowledge making us happier?

What do the Happiness Experts tell us? 

And is their knowledge helping us to become happier?

 ~ a weave of thoughts & writings ~

made and then re-made as a keynote presentation for

Critical Incident, Brighton

17th June 2012

We can be happy

We will be happy

We should be happy

We have the right to be happy

But how to capture this happiness is a problem that continues to elude us.

Has any one us managed to find the perfect formula yet, I wonder?

There are no shortage of candidates who want to tell us that they have. But staying happy seems to stay beyond our reach despite the barrage of answers now available to us from philosophers, religious leaders, scientists, psychologists, therapists, neuroscientists, economists, politicians, our own circle of family and friends and, of course, the advertisers.

Here is one of the more robust formulae out there:

Happiness = S (50%) + C (8%) + V (42%)

S is the Set Point that geneticists are now telling us we inherit in our genes.  Research now says that we each have a default level of happiness that, despite what happens to us or what we do, we will return to.  In a now famous study, a group of people who won the lottery were studied alongside another group of people who lost the use of their legs in a road accident, and within a year every one of them, new millionaires and new paraplegics, had returned to the same level of happiness that they had before their event.

So 50% of our happiness is already set by our genetic makeup and there is nothing we can do to affect it.  Add to this the ONLY 8% that comes from our current Circumstances – our wealth, health, and freedom from physical or psychological suffering.

This leaves a further 42% of our happiness that is down to our own free Voluntary individual choices.

And so, as it seems that this very large part of our happiness is in our own hands, the question for each us is:

what exactly should I be doing and paying attention to?

If we want to think seriously about happiness, it is helpful to consider the enormous knowledge we inherit from the past thinkers – vital clues into the ways we pursue happiness today …

Rewind all the way back to the 5th century BC …

In ‘The History,’ the very first written history of Western civilization, Herodotus tells us the story of King Croesus, the richest man alive, who wants to know if he is also the happiest man in the land.  Solon, the wisest and most travelled man around, tells him “no, he cannot possibly be,” because he, like any of us who is still alive, is at constant risk of whatever ill fortune the gods may throw. And in fact soon after this Croesus’ son is killed in a freak accident, his kingdom is destroyed by the invading Persian armies, and he only barely avoids death by execution. 

The message is clear:

Happiness is what happens to us, and over that we have no control.”  

From this point on much and great thinking goes into trying to lift us from this unacceptable position – to grab back our individual free will over our happiness despite whatever fortune may make for us

Socrates, refusing to accept that our happiness is down to luck, gives us our very first formula: happiness will be found at the top of his 5-Step Ladder, “climbing from the love of one person to the love of two; from two to love of all physical beauty; from physical beauty to beauty in human behaviour; to arrive finally to understand what pure beauty is… That, if ever, is the moment when life is worth living.”

Plato extends these ideas and tells us that through self-control the lover of wisdom can ensure the “better elements of the mind” and so ensure a life lived in “happiness and harmony.”

Then comes Aristotle, who advises us that to find true happiness we must temper our behaviour between extremes, seeking always the middle way and cultivating virtuous habits such as “moderation, gentleness, modesty and friendliness,” controlling our desires through rational restraint.  Our highest happiness, he tells us, can only come through a life of pure contemplation.

By 300 BC we have the two giant philosophies from the Epicureans and the Stoics, both determined that fortune and fate are ours to control and that happiness can be made for ourselves even when we have nothing else, if we realise that the person who “is not satisfied with a little is satisfied with nothing.”

Epicures assures us that we will have happiness by following our natural instincts to “minimise bodily pain and mental anguish for ourselves and others,Rather than fight against nature in the search for happiness on high, we should accede to its power… our own nature will lead us to our destination.

But “no no” say Zeno and the Stoics, our happiness depends upon bringing our individual natures into harmony with nature as a whole, by living a virtuous life and ordering our lives in keeping with the order of the world.  All secondary goods – riches, honour, status and beauty – are irrelevant.  “The happy person is content with their present lot, no matter what that is.”

And here we are caught, like Hercules at the Crossroads, facing the need to choose between the seductive path of pleasure, or the more difficult path of living virtuously.

“Do I find happiness better by following the appetites of my nature and listening to my heart, or does my happiness better depend upon studying and following the directives of the Happiness Experts and keeping to a more careful deliberate plan of living?”  

Will we follow the guidance of the experts and live a virtuous life with its promise of bringing us fuller, longer lasting happiness, when this means sacrificing the more immediate experiential pleasures of happiness that our human bodies are pre-programmed to want?

Fast forward now through all the centuries when the different religions maintained that happiness in this life was not even an option, and that the best we could hope for was to live a completely virtuous life that would get us our ticket to perpetual happiness after death in Paradise.

Fast forward to the 18th Century and the Age of Enlightenment when science arrives to renew our guarantee that we can have happiness in this life.  That, in fact, it is our birthright – as the American Declaration of Independence has enshrined and ever more of us lay claim to, our undeniable Rights to

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness…  

And so to today, where we now believe that it is not only the right of every single one of us to be happy, but that if we are not happy there is something seriously wrong – with the system, with the government, with the world, with society, with the people around us or – maybe most likely of all these days – with ourselves.  

Despite all of the knowledge and wisdom we have accumulated through our history and in exponential abundance as we progress ourselves through this new century, and

Despite the fact that, in the western world, we now enjoy unprecedented levels of security, wealth, disposable income, health, long life expectancy …

              we are no happier today than we were in the 1950’s

              and

              depression is set to become the second highest illness on the planet after heart disease.

These days it seems there are not just the two different paths Hercules faced, but hundreds we have to choose from.  Some of the finest minds alive today are working to try and persuade us with their formula for perfect happiness, and in all the noise they are making, just which expert advice should we really be listening to and following?

Here is just a very small sample of what contemporary writers want us to hear >>>

The purpose of life is happiness.

Happiness is determined more by a state of one’s own mind than by one’s external conditions, circumstances or events – at least once one’s basic survival needs are met. Happiness can be achieved through the systematic training of our hearts and minds, through reshaping our attitudes and outlook.

The key to happiness is in our own hands. [i]

Philosophers, commentators and religious leaders have been arguing for millennia about what happiness actually is.  Is it an end in itself or a by-product of what you do?  Does it disappear if you focus on it?  Is it a part of who you are, what you do, or where you find yourself in life? 

Is about the journey and the goal, as Aristotle says, or the high points on the way, as Epicureans argue?  Or perhaps it’s using reasoning to overcome negative emotions like the Stoics believed?  Maybe it’s the more Buddhist way of detaching and getting over it? 

There is one thing that happiness at work absolutely isn’t.  It isn’t about always smiling and being in a permanently sunny mood… And it’s not something you do on your own, you need others to help you achieve it. [ii]  

How do I determine whether I am happy or not?  At what point do I become happy?  Is there some universal standard of happiness, and, if there is, how do I identify it?  Does it depend on my own happiness relative to others, and, if it does, how do I gauge how happy other people are? 

There is no reliable way to answer these questions, and even if there were, I would not be happier for it. [iii]

Five Ways to Personal Wellbeing:

Connect…

Be Active…

Take Notice…

Keep Learning…

Give… [iv]

You want something because you think it will make you happy, and maybe it does, briefly.  But then the new thing loses its shine, and you revert to your earlier less happy state.  This is the ‘Hedonic Treadmill’ and we all seem to be trapped on it. [v]

True happiness, lasting happiness, can be achieved through a process known as Self-Actualisation. 

This is a natural state and within the reach of all human beings… Peak experiences, in Maslow’s words, are “Feelings of limitless horizons opening up to the vision, the feeling of being simultaneously more powerful and also more helpless than one ever was before, the feeling of ecstasy and wonder, and awe, the loss of placement in time and space with, finally, the conviction that something extremely important and valuable has happened … the sense of self dissolves into an awareness of one’s greater unity…. [vi]

Happiness shapes what coheres as a world. 

In describing happiness as a form of world making I am indebted to the work of black, feminist and queer scholars who have shown in different ways how happiness is used to justify oppression. Feminist critiques of the figure of “the happy housewife,” black critiques of the myth of “the happy slave,” and the queer critiques of the sentimentalisation of heterosexuality as “domestic bliss” have taught me most about happiness and the very terms of its appeal.  [vii]

Rule 1 – Stop feeling sorry for yourself

Rule 2 – Be grateful

Rule 3 – Say Yes more

Rule 4 – Follow your bliss

Rule 5 – Learn to   Let Go

Rule 6 – Do random acts of kindness [viii]

Polls over the years have shown that 82% of us have “experienced the beauty of nature in a deeply moving way”…

This is a surprising number, given that we’re generally held, ever since the industrial revolution, to be rushed off our feet and out of touch with our emotions.  Wilderness experiences seem to slice though all of that…  Elemental landscapes drive home how tiny we are, and how powerless.  On the other hand, any encounter with nature, even a two-mile stroll, requires self-reliance and demands that you take responsibility for what you control…

Sometimes it’s helpful to be jolted into remembering that most things we worry about seem absurd a few weeks later.  There’s a sort of serenity, too, in realising that even the greatest calamities wont mean much in 100 years time. [ix]

Lesson Number 7 –

It is a mistake to think that happiness is the destination. [x]

Work can make you sick and work can make you happy.  Which one depends on who you are, what you do and how you are treated at work. 

Work that is rewarding, involving good relationships with colleagues and opportunities to feel a sense of achievement on a regular basis is a key factor in psychological wellbeing. 

Dull and monotonous work, difficult relationships with others and work that is impossibly demanding or lacks meaning damages resilience, psychological wellbeing and physical health. [xi]

I have been part of a tectonic upheaval in psychology called positive psychology, a scientific and professional movement.  I have urged psychology to supplement its venerable goal of relieving misery with a new goal: exploring what makes life worth living and building the enabling conditions of a life worth living…

Positive psychology makes people happier.  Teaching positive psychology, researching positive psychology, using positive psychology in practice as a coach or therapist, parenting little kids with positive psychology, meeting with other positive psychologists, and just reading about positive psychology all make people happier.  The people who work in positive psychology are the people with the highest wellbeing I have ever known. [xii]

Subjective wellbeing is expressed in the following formula:

Satisfaction with Life

+ Positive Emotion

– Negative Emotion [xiii]

It has been said that a single butterfly flapping its wings can create a hurricane halfway round the world…  Each one of us is like that butterfly.  And each tiny move toward a more positive mindset can send ripples of positivity through our organisations, our families and our communities… By making changes within ourselves, we can actually bring the benefit of the Happiness Advantage to our teams, our organisations and everyone around us. [xiv]  

We have seen how the coaches and gurus dismiss real-world problems as “excuses” for failure and how positive psychologists have tended to minimise the “C” for Circumstances in their happiness equation.  It’s true that subjective factors like determination are critical to survival and that individuals sometimes triumph over nightmarish levels of adversity.  But mind does not automatically prevail over matter, and to ignore the role of difficult circumstances – or worse, attribute them to our own thoughts – is to slide toward a kind of depraved smugness… 

That happiness is not the inevitable outcome of happy circumstances does not mean that we can find it by journeying inward to revise our thoughts and feelings.  The threats we face are real and can be vanquished only by shaking off self-absorption and taking action in the world. [xv]  

The 6th Fact about positivity is that, through their own efforts, people can raise their positivity ratios and tip themselves up from languishing to flourishing. 

You have more control over this than you realise. [xvi]

The central idea of our movement is the personal commitment by its members to create more happiness in the world and less misery.  This applies to how they lead their lives at home, at work, as citizens.  The key idea is that, for society to be happy, individuals must derive much of their happiness from helping others… 

Now more than ever, people are asking: Do we want a society that relies so heavily on self-interest rather than on commitment to the welfare of others? 

Social trends are not always unidirectional, and this could be a turning point.  We can surely hope that in tomorrow’s world we shall do better at liberating and satisfying our better selves. [xvii]

Misguided hopes for future happiness still play a central role in fanning many of the most debilitating practices of violence and fraud and exploitation world-wide – not only happiness that might come from boundless wealth and power, but also that of serving a patriotic or religious cause…  Such death-dealing conceptions of happiness shed unexpected light on ordinarily benign injunctions such as “Follow your bliss.”  In this harsher light, Jonathan Swift’s caustic definition takes on new meaning: “Happiness [he said] is the Possession of being Ill Deceived; the Serene Peaceful State of being a Fool among Knaves.” [xviii]

The focus on extreme individualism has not in the main made for happier individuals. 

And millions of unhappy individuals make for an unhappy nation, and unhappy nations make for an unhappy world. [xix]

Happiness requires changing yourself and changing your world. 

It requires pursuing your own goals and fitting in with others… 

Each culture develops expertise in some aspects of human existence, but no culture can be expert in all aspects…  Liberals are experts in thinking about issues of victimisation, equality, autonomy, and the rights of individuals, particularly those of minorities and nonconformists.  Conservatives, on the other hand, are experts in thinking about loyalty to the group, respect for authority and tradition and sacredness…

A good place to start looking for wisdom is where you least expect to find it: in the minds of your opponents… 

By drawing on wisdom that is balanced – ancient and new, Eastern and Western, even liberal and conservative – we can choose directions in life that will lead to satisfaction, happiness, and a sense of meaning. 

We can’t simply select a destination and walk there directly…  But by drawing on humanity’s greatest ideas and best science, we can know our possibilities as well as our limits, and live wisely. [xx]  

How can we know whether we are happy?  Who sets the norm?  Why do we have to be happy, why does this recommendation take the form of an imperative?  And what shall we reply to those who pathetically reply “I can’t.”

In short, this privilege quickly becomes a burden: seeing ourselves as solely responsible for our dreams and our successes, we find that the happiness we desire so much recedes before us as we pursue it… we experience its promise not as a blessing but as a debt owed to a faceless divinity whom we will never be able to repay…

We now have every right except the right not to be blissful. [xxi]  

In societies that value happiness in all things, will we really decree that others must be “victims” of the fate of their genes?  Given the present cultural mood, this seems unlikely. 

But when, and if, human beings decide to take the fateful step of actually manipulating our genes in the quest to live as gods, they should know that in doing so, they will be leaving a piece of their humanity behind…

There are certain things that human beings will never know – certain riddles they will never answer – if they are to remain mere mortals.  The holy grail of perfect happiness is one of those things, and like that precious mythic relic, it, too, may exist only in our minds, a deliverance cup and a chalice to hold our pain.  To take that cup – to answer the riddle, to break the spell – would be to sacrifice something of ourselves.  We may discover that the knights who dare to do so are less like the brave crusaders or lore than like Cervantes’ knight of sad countenance, Quixote, who learns at the end of his journey that the road is better than the arrival. [xxii]

The crisis in happiness works primarily as a narrative of disappointment: the accumulation of wealth has not meant the accumulation of happiness.  What makes this crisis “a crisis” in the first place is of course the regulatory effect of a social belief: that more wealth “should” make people happier. [xxiii]  

We can always be happier; no person experiences perfect bliss at all times and has nothing more to which they can aspire. 

Therefore, rather than asking myself whether I am happy or not, a more helpful question is, “How can I become happier?”  This question acknowledges the nature of happiness and the fact that its pursuit is an ongoing process best represented by an infinite continuum, not by a finite point. 

I am happier today than I was five years ago, and I hope to be happier five years from now than I am today. 

Rather than feeling despondent because we have not yet reached the point of perfect happiness, rather than squandering our energies trying to gauge how happy we are, we need to recognise that happiness is an unlimited resource and then focus on ways in which we can attain more of it. 

Becoming happier is a lifelong pursuit. [xxiv]

When we imagine future circumstances, we fill in details that won’t really come to pass and leave out details that will.  When we imagine future feelings, we find it impossible to ignore what we are feeling now and impossible to recognise how we will think about things that happen later… 

There is no simple formula for finding happiness. 

But if our great big brains do not allow us to go sure-footedly into our futures, they at least allow us to understand what makes us stumble. [xxv]

Can we be happy?

Will we be happy?

Should we be happy?

Have we the right to be happy?

 

Our quest continues…

     

References:


[i]  His Holiness the Dalai Lama: The Art of Happiness At Work
[ii] Jessica Pryce-Jones: Happiness At Work Maximising Your Psychological Capital for Success
[iii] Tal Ben-Shahar: Happier: Can You Learn To Be Happy?
[iv] Nic Marks: The Happiness Manifesto
[v] Oliver Burkeman: Help How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done
[vi] David Tuffey: Being Happy
[vii] Sara Ahmed: The Promise of Happiness
[viii] Karl Moore: The 18 Rules of Happiness
[ix] Oliver Burkeman: Help How to Become Slightly Happier and Get a Bit More Done
[x] Francois Lelord: Hector and the Search for Happiness
[xi] Cary Cooper & Ivan Robertson: Well-Being Productivity & Happiness At Work
[xii] Martin Seligman: Flourish A New Understanding of Happiness and Wellbeing and How To Achieve Them
[xiii] Bridget Grenville-Cleave: Positive Psychology- Introducing a Practical Guide
[xiv] Shawn Achor: The Happiness Advantage The Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance At Work
[xv] Barbara Ehrenreich: Smile Or Die How Positive Thinking Fooled America and the World
[xvi] Barbara Fredrickson: Positivity Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive
[xvii] Richard Layard: Happiness Lessons From A New Science
[xviii] Sissela Bok: Exploring Happiness From Aristotle to Brain Science
[xix] Alistair Campbell: The Happy Depressive
[xx] Jonathan Haidt: Putting Ancient Wisdom and Philosophy to the Test of Modern Science
[xxi] Pascal Bruckner: Perpetual Euphoria On the Duty to be Happy
[xxii] Darrin McMahon: The Pursuit of Happiness A History from the Greeks to the Present
[xxiii] Sara Ahmed: The Promise of Happiness
[xxiv] Tal Ben-Shahar: Happier: Can You Learn To Be Happy?
[xxv] Daniel Gilbert: Stumbling on Happiness

Money & happiness – what is their link?

Plane Over Broxholm Road Sky

The debate about how important money is to our happiness is likely to continue for some time yet.

It is being waged at the extremes between those, like the free trade/free society Institute of Economic Affairs, who say money is absolutely essential to our basic happiness no matter how rich we get,  and those who insist that it has little to do with our real happiness (like Manoj Singh in the film ‘Happy‘  beaming out his happiness from the centre of his family in the slum he lives after his 12-14 hours pulling a rickshaw around Calcutta).  Still others continue to tell us that the desire for money actually makes us unhappy, repeated through the many variations of the ‘Money Grabber Ends In Misery’ story we have told each other since ancient times, like in this 1953 cartoon of the Greek myth, King Midas and the Golden Touch.

Meanwhile what can the rest of us understand about money and its importance to our happiness?

The belief that Happiness Doesn’t Increase With Growing Wealth of Nations has been gaining authority since 1974 when Richard Easterlin devised his Paradox that says although people in richer countries tend to be happier on average, as a country gets richer its inhabitants don’t necessarily become happier.  The just published UN World Happiness Report, 2012 endorses the Easterlin Paradox, concluding that money plays an decreasingly part in our happiness as nations become wealthier, but this is in no way straightforward.  One of the many virtues of this report (it really is worth the hefty read it asks for) is that its writers embrace and integrate the complexity and inconsistencies in this question and presents us with a money<->happiness interrelationship, rather than dogmatic one directional causality of money does/doesn’t lead to happiness:

Both external and personal features determine well-being.   Some of the important external factors include income, work, community and governance, and values and religion.  More “personal” factors include mental and physical health, family experience, education, gender, and age.  Many of these factors have a two-way interaction with happiness – physical health may improve happiness, while happiness improves physical health.  An analysis of all these factors strikingly shows that while absolute income is important in poor countries, in richer countries comparative income is probably the most important.  Many other variables have a more powerful effect on happiness, including social trust, quality of work, and freedom of choice and political participation. 

So in all likelihood the relationship between money and happiness is too complex and particular to different people at different times to be ever finally, completely or universally pinned down. But some consensus seems to be forming that says yes, a certain amount of money is necessary to our basic well-being and money can make a huge difference to our happiness when we have enough of it to not have to worry about it.  But after a certain level it seems that more money brings us very little if any extra happiness.  Daniel Kahneman’s US study suggests £50k is supposed to be the optimum amount we need to be happy: The Price of Happiness? £50,000.   “More money does not necessarily buy more happiness,” Kahneman says. “But less money is associated with emotional pain.”

For those of us who have not yet reached this magic £50k income level (and that is at least 90% of us in Britain) , there is the problem that chasing after money tends to drain our happiness and makes it harder for us to notice and appreciate and enjoy the non-material parts of our lives that can make us happy:  our relationships, work and activities we love doing, time enjoying being alive and in the world, and giving to other people or to something we believe in.

And, then, much of our happiness depends upon what we use money for: spending it on ‘things’ has been shown to bring us very little lasting happiness (the so called hedonic treadmill that means we quickly adapt to what we have and no longer derive the same enjoyment from it, so the more we have the more we want.)  And we derive little real happiness from getting things we need rather than want, even when we only think we need them; the happiness they bring is gone as fast as they have satisfied the need for them.  Spending on experiences and other people brings us much greater and more lasting happiness.
I dare to hope there is increasing unease about the rampant and unceasing consumerism that makes us want More And More Stuff to feed the engine of our global economies from our own credit card spending compulsions.  The New Economics Foundation are amongst a growing movement that challenges our need and wants for more, more, more… proposing instead an economy that is based in local businesses, sustainably resourced, community oriented, and championing people and the planet instead of profit.  This new economics is questioning everything we have been doing, how we have been doing it, and, crucially, why.  A new film, The Economics of Happiness,. brings these ideas are brought together in a chorus of voices across six continents.
At a more individual level, the various happiness and wellbeing research consistently points us towards investing in our social capital to increase our happiness – building close relationships, personal growth and giving – rather than working harder, faster, longer, and louder to increase our financial capital.  This Chicago Tribune article,  Why Seeking Money Hurts Happiness, helpfully pulls many of the arguments together: ‘There are many nuances in the findings. But for the most part, it seems that people driven by the intrinsic goals of “personal growth and self-knowledge, connections and social intimacy with other people, and wanting to help the human community for altruistic reasons” are significantly happier than those motivated by the extrinsic goals of “money, luxury, appearance, attractiveness, status, popularity, looks, and power.” 
What is much more certain is that, in the West we have all been enjoying greater and greater levels of wealth, along with security, health, leisure time and longer lives, but we are not registering any higher levels of overall happiness than we did in the 1950s.  And most of us say that we are not as happy as we would like to be.  Or indeed,  as we believe we should be, now that we all believe we have the same undeniable right to happiness as any American citizens.

The problem with our chase after money and expecting it to bring us happiness is that it is not an end in itself:  it surely cannot be the vision of happily sitting in our counting house fingering our gold that drives us out of bed again and on, on, on in the frantic scramble to make our way our way in the world.  ‘A personal goal that has little genuine and lasting value in and of itself, like striving for more money, praise, or rewards, can cause problems, as Jessica Pryce-Jones says in Happiness At Work: Maximising Your Psychological Capital For Success.  ‘The big issue with this type of goal is working out when enough is enough because they are not ends in and of themselves.  What’s worse is that most of these goals depend on other people and what they choose to give you, and so they are much harder to control or influence.  Maybe the main problem with the ‘> money = > happiness’ equation is that it is to a very large degree outside our scope of influence, especially those 90%+ of us who failed to get ourselves into banking when we were young and possible enough.

Pryce-Jones and her researchers looked specifically at the links between money and happiness at work and found that it makes even less of a contribution to our happiness at work than it does in the rest of our lives:

We wanted to investigate money, it’s effects on work and motivation.  Our aim was to find out that if, as popular psychology dictates, money doesn’t matter, why do so many people behave as though it does?  And why do so many organisations seem to believe it too?

Our findings showed that pay is not associated with the essential Happiness At Work elements of motivation, interest in your work, having an impact on the world, achieving your potential, or recognition.  In fact it’s negatively associated with it, meaning you actively don’t want money as a reward for being motivated or for being interested in your work.  Nor, according to our statistics, is it linked to any important outcomes like productivity, time off sick, energy, or intention to quit.

Money doesn’t make you happier at work because work isn’t where you get to spend it – or enjoy its effects.  Outside work money starts to matter more because that’s where you’re starting to use it.  And that’s backed up by our research, which shows that your overall happiness with life is significantly associated with money.  Not having enough money is an enormous pressure, while having it enables you to make greater choices in what you do.

To sum up the money question, it does matter – but not at work.

What do you think?

A more optimistic view of our future

So here is a new Ted Talk that offers an alternative set of stories from the customary diet of bad news, doom and imminent disaster that we are used to.  

The early warning system in our frontal brains, the amygdala, keeps us predisposed towards attending to danger and potential disaster, and we spend much more time and energy worrying and discussing problems than we ever do recognising and enjoying what is good and working well. ( In any group we work with we are far more likely to need to activate Appreciative Inquiry; problem discussions tend to happen freely and spontaneously.) This is what makes us such resourceful and sometimes ruthless survivors.

But this bias for looking for trouble means that we make ourselves a sense of the world that is permanently and increasingly fraught and foreboding, especially in our information saturated world.  And, even though we might recognise  that every generation throughout our history has believed that we are surely going to hell in a hay cart and willfully incapable of pulling out of the descent towards our own certain destruction, we assume that our time now has got to be vastly worse than any previous time because we are destroying the world faster and better than ever before.  Everywhere we look it seems there is evidence to prove this so.

Look in other places and we can see evidence that tells a completely different story of escalating abundance, freedom, health, education and opportunity.

And this is the perspective shift Diamandis is urging us to make, to pull up from our collective anxious fretting and notice the array of contrasting signs that show, not only are we making a better and better world for more and more of us, the exponential upward swing of our advancements are now poised to speed our improvements dramatically.  

Because I believe that we will tend to find what we go looking for, and then what we find gets the most of our energy, attention and resources, I am strongly inclined towards Diamandis argument for more optimism.  It might not be our whole story but it sounds convincingly like a good part of our story.  And a part that just might overtake our gloomier outlook if he is right and more and more of us are starting to put more of our interest, energy and attention into making what he calls ‘A Life of Possibility’.

And if we started to believe in an increasingly abundant future would this bring us greater happiness i wonder?

Might we yet be capable of creating a paradise on earth for us all?

Peter Diamandis: Abundance is our future

Onstage at TED2012, Peter Diamandis makes a case for optimism — that we’ll invent, innovate and create ways to solve the challenges that loom over us. “I’m not saying we don’t have our set of problems; we surely do. But ultimately, we knock them down.”

Man is fond of counting his troubles, but he does not count his joys.  If he counted them up as he ought to, he would see that every lot has enough happiness provided for it. 
~Fyodor Dostoevsky