Posts Tagged ‘Martin Seligman’

happiness - a journey not a destination

happiness – a journey not a destination

September 2, 2010  |  knowledge, life, main blog, motivation, philosophy  |  6 Comments

I’ve been in two minds about writing a blog on the complex subject of happiness – and couldn’t contain myself any longer. Happiness has become such an industry – over 300 million Google references, c0mplete sections in bookstores and a happiness or well-being conference accessible every couple of months. However, in the relentless pursuit of happiness, many people are making the mistake of treating it as a destination rather than a journey.

In this world of instant gratification, people want to find the answers. A bit like one of our children at high school…”Dad, I don’t want to know how to do the maths, I just want the answer”. The happiness answers can be complex and elusive. People suggest that the best starting point is picking the right parents. Possibly true – but unable to be altered.  It’s a state of mind, say some. Don’t worry – be happy! Some quotes on happiness that resonate with me include:

  • “A happy life consists not in the absence, but in the mastery of hardships.” — Helen Keller
  • “Being happy doesn’t mean everything is perfect. It means you have decided to look beyond the imperfections.” –Unknown
  • “We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.”– Frederick Keonig

The last quote causes me to reflect on a trend I see around me. My generalization is that beyond a threshold level of income to meet living requirements, there is an inverse correlation between happiness and further wealth accumulation. Why? I guess because people run out of things to have, buy, use and as their lives have been focused on doing just that, become lost and unfulfilled.

From all I have read, there seem to be two things that seem to appear on every list as precursors for happiness. They are connectedness and generosity. Connectedness – played out through family, friends, organisations, netball teams, men’s sheds and so on, that engenders a sense of belonging. Generosity – that taps into that basic human need to give and care for others. Of course love embraces both connectedness and generosity.

On the next rung of common happiness precursors we find – being active (walking, running, dancing and being vital); taking notice (being aware of the beautiful, curious and unusual and relishing every moment); learning (challenging yourself to gain knowledge and mentally stretch); and gratitude. Joseph Krutch said, with perspicacity, “Happiness is itself a kind of gratitude”.

The Positive Psychology movement, pioneered by the eminent Martin Seligman, has much to offer around happiness. The movement is changing the emphasis of the profession from pathology and mental illness to positive emotion, virtue and strength. If you haven’t already done so, pick up a copy of Seligman’s best seller “Authentic Happiness” Random House 2002. He argues that positive emotions generate strengths and that authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths. It’s a powerful, potentially life changing book, one that has caused many to take the next step and enroll in Seligman’s  Master of Applied Positive Psychology at the University of Pennsylvania.

An alternative, useful for amateurs like me, is to ponder the messages in Positive Psychology Daily News – a free on-line service full of applications for daily life. On the subject of applications, from a sea of happiness apps for i phone, there are two that stand above the pack. One is Live Happy ($1.19) and the other a free app called Gratitude Journal. Both worth down loading from i tunes.

Anyway, the subject is interesting and exploring it makes me happy!

 Finally, a marvellous quote from Nataniel Hawthorne, ““Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you”.

hope, optimism and high expectation

 Mates often give me grief about looking through rose coloured glasses. When you’re a “glass half full” person, it’s a challenge to strike the right levels of hope, optimism and expectation. Kevin Rudd’s recent demise led me to dust off my article from the 2020 Summit, which highlights the difference between having positive expectations about what we want (hope), and assigning a high probability to those outcomes (optimism). At the time, I wrote:

The spirit of optimism, hope and inspiration, in abundance at the 2020 Summit, reminded me of the mood that engulfed Sydney during the Olympic Games. Equality, respect, enthusiasm and pride in being Australian, transcended personal biases and partisan views.  This Summit was about starting a dialogue right around Australia that will continue. It has energised and enabled people to feel listened to, and relevant. Let’s hope that the infectious enthusiasm and debate generated by the Summit can continue throughout Australia as part of the fabric of our society. Let’s also hope that the culture of the weekend – where different views were offered and listened to, where there are no rights or wrongs, where opposing arguments can coalesce in consensus – transcends our lives and cuts through the dogma, parochialism and inflexibility that are all too common. 

Only 27 months later, the central figure giving stimulating the hope and optimism was removed from office. Why? Not because he offered hope, but because he failed to manage high expectation through effective delivery and relationship management. As a result, he dampened the hope and optimism of millions who believed in him. The danger in today’s world is that if hope rises and gets squashed too often, it struggles to rise again, giving oxygen to sceptics, shock jocks and conservatives preoccupied with precedent.  

High expectations, well managed (by parents, partners, or corporations) often lead to high performance and achievement. However, poor delivery and failure to bring people on the journey, mostly leads to spectacular falls. To make it even tougher, the bar is set high in this country as “tall poppy syndrome” and the media do their bit to foster “glass half empty”. That movement is also in full swing in the USA where the Murdoch media are doing a job on President Obama as he offers hope on ground breaking health reform.

 Markets love business leaders who “under promise and over deliver”. Effective sales men and women get rich on “under committing and over delivering”. They’ve learned to overcome that part of human nature that wants to promise what we think people want to hear. And yet we continue to fall into the trap. Setting unrealistic expectations can mean that an effort (like carbon pollution reduction) becomes the victim of its own promise. When we fail to deliver, excuses and denial become part of the landscape.

 Despite the constant negativity in parts of the Australian media and despite the natural resistance to change in every one of us, we need to encourage hope and optimism for a better world. Martin Seligman makes a strong link between “learned optimism” and happiness. Katie Couric explains the genetic programming of optimism and tells us that optimists live longer. Hope is a powerful motivator.

 Effective management of expectation is an enabler of legitimate hope and optimism, which can give people confidence, infectious energy and courage to become involved. We saw the start of that process at the 2020 Summit. Let’s hope that our political and community leaders, with the support of the powerful media, can embrace some issues that transcend politics and allow us to unite on some exciting journeys full of hope and optimism, against a background of realistic expectations. What are the most critical issues on that list?