“The Happiness Project”: A RARE Approach

As promised, here’s more about Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project. I’m reposting and updating my 2010 posts about it each day this week to celebrate the release of her new book “Happier at Home: Kiss More, Jump More, Abandon a Project, Read Samuel Johnson, and My Other Experiments in the Practice of Everyday Life”.

Why I liked the “The Happiness Project”.

1. It was fun to read, had a nice flow to it, and was like listening to an interesting friend.

2. Gretchen had a great way of blending her skills as a researcher with her talents for storytelling.

3. I liked the approach she used to create the life she wanted, which I’m describing as “RARE”.

RARE: Gretchen did her Research, took Action, and time to Review her findings, while remaining Enthusiastic throughout the process. I like that, and think it is pretty RARE for someone to do that in their personal life.

Research

Gretchen conducted two types of informal research – internal and external.

Internal: Gretchen took time to figure out what she cared about – living a fuller life – and what she thought was missing – happiness, well, a deeper, richer happiness.

External: Then she spent time researching the topic – happiness – to find out if there were already answers to the question she was asking herself. Gretchen read everything she could get her hands on related to happiness from “Aristotle to Martin Seligman to Thoreau to Oprah”  (Martin Seligman is known as the “Father of Positive Psychology”. I’m a big fan and have blogged quite a bit about his research.)

Action

The research she did was her first action step; her second action step was organizing what she read and devising a series of “experiments” for herself – she tried all sorts of methods for increasing her happiness; her third step was creating charts to guide and track her progress.

Sounds like a lot of work, and it was, but she made it fun, and as simple as possible. Gretchen knew if she tried to change her life in a haphazard fashion, she wouldn’t see the results she wanted – so she planned, charted and even started a blog. Very cool.

Review

I love this part of her approach. Gretchen reviewed what worked and what didn’t work for her, and then made adjustments when needed instead of abandoning her efforts. She didn’t throw in the towel, or throw the baby out with the bath water. Instead, she reduced her self-incriminations and ramped-up the getting-back-on-the-horse and the back-into-the-ring approaches.

She never gave-up, she simply gave herself feedback and listened to it!

And, last but certainly not least, Gretchen remained . . .

Enthusiastic

She celebrated her successes – big or small – and rewarded  herself along the way. The celebrations and rewards kept her enthusiasm high, and allowed more time for positive results to develop, which improved her life and gave her the energy she needed to keep going.

I’m not saying she never felt disillusioned, she did and explained when and why in her book with humor and engaging humility, but she did not let those feelings stop her.

Gretchen put her time in, paid her dues, and committed to the process. She plotted and planned, which is a good strategy for any type of change. Plotting and planning almost always makes the process more valuable to us. The more effort we expend, the more we value the process and the more we tend to want to make it to the finish line.

Gretchen used a RARE, year-long approach to finding happiness, and it worked!

Ready to begin your own “happiness project”? Contact life coach Patrice Koerper to get started.

Happy is as happy does. 

Circle of strengths

Would you like to start your Monday morning with a surge of excitement and a bit of bliss? Would you like to feel energized and motivated, while improving your concentration and deepening your ability to relax?

No problem, begin the day by exercising your strengths.

Are you curious, creative, wise, kind? Do you love learning, have a deep appreciation for beauty, a rich capacity to love and be loved, to express gratitude and to forgive and offer mercy? Are you brave, honest, genuine and authentic? Do you persevere or have a deep sense of spirituality? Are you a leader, loyal, and fair? Do you proceed with caution and show great self-control? Are you playful and full of optimism and hope? Are you modest or do you have strong social intelligence?

The combination of positive psychology’s 24 character strengths are varied and personal. Each of us has our own set of strengths, and exercising them is one of the fastest ways to feel good about ourselves and the world. All of the strengths are equally valuable, and every combination offers something special, which makes each of us special, too.

Immersing ourselves in activities that use our strengths can create a sense of flow, which allows us to focus our abilities and can relax us by transporting us beyond ourselves and the world around us. Flow can lead to fulfillment, which will leave us feeling good about ourselves and the world around us. It’s the sweet little circle of strengths.

Exercising one of your strengths is a great way to start your day, a super way to create the life you want, and it’s free and doesn’t require breaking a sweat.

If you aren’t sure what your strengths are, an easy way to discover them is to take the Value In Action (VIA) Survey of Character Strengths (I think I mentioned all 24 above.), which you can find at www.viacharacter.org

If you would like to receive a copy of the Wishful Thinking Works one page Circle of Strengths, which will help you identify ways to apply your top six signature strengths, just complete the form below.

Knowing and using our signature strengths doesn’t guarantee a perfect or challenge-free life, but it can create a life filled with fun, flow and fulfillment, which may lead to accomplishments and can help us deepen our relationships with others. Oh, and did I mention it’s free, and it feels good?

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Flourish PERMAnently

Give me a P.  “P”   Give me an E.  “E” 

  Give me a R, M, A!   “R, M, A!”

What does it spell? PERMA! Louder. PERMA???

 

Now that I have your attention, I would like to tell you about Dr. Martin Seligman’s acronym for what we need to flourish in our lives – PERMA. My explanation comes from the pages of his newest book, Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, which I have mentioned several times in recent posts.

The book is 300+ pages of:

  • what’s working in positive psychology (lots)
  • stories about how positive psychology got to where it is today (It’s growing by leaps and bounds and finding its way into schools, businesses, and the United State Army – more on that later.)
  • a how-to manual for those interested in improving their lives (that’s us)
  • and a guide for where Seligman thinks positive psychology, we, and the world should direct our attention next.

Ambitious? Yes.  Interesting? Quite!  Insightful? Undeniably.  Helpful? Unbelievably.  Readable? Well, yes, but my guess is not everyone will find it the page-turner that I did. (I say this only because I have learned from the kind and well-meaning feedback of friends and family throughout the years that one woman’s non-fiction dream, can be another person’s sleeping potion.) So just incase you don’t pick-up the book, I will keep sharing what’s inside it.

Which brings me back to PERMA, and how to create the life your really want from Seligman’s five pillars of well-being.

P – POSITIVE EMOTION (happiness, fun, gratitude – a solid base)

E – ENGAGEMENT (flow – losing ourselves or becoming so absorbed in our work, our hobbies, the moment)

R – RELATIONSHIPS (those that touch our hearts, our souls and our minds)

M – MEANING or a sense of purpose and fulfillment in our lives

A – ACCOMPLISHMENT (learning and moving forward with our endeavors big and small; knowing and using your strengths)

Put them all together and what do you have? PERMA and folks, who are flourishing by living happy, interesting, fulfilling lives that they created, embrace, value and appreciate.

I’ll be posting more info about Seligman’s 5 factor approach for flourishing. PERMA is much more than a to-do-list. It’s about creating the life you really want, and can help you focus your attention and efforts on what’s ahead for you, not the past. There’s a big difference and that difference can help you flourish – PERMAnently!

PERMA is definitely one of those Wishful Thinking kind-of things that work!

WTW Dandelion

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Post-Traumatic Growth

Did you know that growth is the most common outcome from traumatic situations?

Martin P. Seligman, Ph.D., a leading researcher, author and professor in the field of positive psychology notes in his most recent book, Flourishing: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, that Post-Traumatic Growth occurs much more often than the onset of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder even in some of the worst situations.

“To our surprise, individuals who’d experienced one awful event had more intense strengths (and therefore higher well-being) than individuals who had none.”

Seligman’s research is in agreement with that of many psychologists, who have been studying Post-Traumatic Growth (PTG) for decades. And, they are not alone – ancient philosophers and theologians also believed that traumatic events could lead to transformation and growth.

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PSTD) is so well-known that many folks are beginning to think it’s inevitable, and it’s not. My goal is not to take anything away from those who suffer from this debilitating disorder. PSTD is real and serious. It’s been listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) since 1980. And, there is a huge body of research on how to treat PSTD and there’s great success in doing so.

My goal is to make sure that we know that Post-Traumatic Growth is possible and happens with greater frequency than PSTD. Not only do individuals, who face major trauma live happy and fulfilling lives after dealing with the trauma, many flourish and experience high-levels of personal growth as Seligman states in Flourishing:

“A substantial number of people also show intense depression and anxiety after extreme adversity, often to the level of PSTD, but then they grow. In the long in the long run, they arrive at a higher level of psychological functioning than before.”

Good to know? You bet! With all the negative news we hear daily, combined with the growing perception that experiencing major trauma automatically dooms people to a life filled with sadness, fear and possibly the inability to function effectively, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, depressed, or to give up hope.

I think it’s healthy and important to have all the info we can before we jump to any emotional or psychological conclusions. Post-Traumatic Growth is good news and worth sharing. Letting folks know that it is exists, is more prevalent than most of us could ever imagine, and there are ways to create and to develop PTG is a good thing. I’ll be sharing more on the research and the related recommendations in the near future.

In the meantime, do not give up, no matter what you have faced or have been facing ever since. There is a light at the end-of the tunnel, and my belief is, if we know that we will all be more likely to keep it lit.

A key to happiness

 

I’ve written about gratitude and why it matters a number of times, because gratitude really does matter.

Honestly. I’m not making it up! All kinds of studies reveal it, and lots of folks are writing books about it or including info about gratitude in their books.

I was reading, “Flourish” by best-selling author, professor, researcher and father of positive psychology, Martin P. Seligman, Ph.D., and discovered that Seligman has added a new twist to the gratitude writing process.

Seligman, like many other positive psychology researchers, is solidly behind the gratitude writing process and has included it in the Master Resiliency Training course he and his colleagues developed for the Army with the rationale “that people who habitually acknowledge and express gratitude see benefits in their health, sleep, and relationships, and they perform better.” (The feedback the developers have received is that the sergeants learning and teaching it are loving it. I’ll be sharing details this summer.)

I’ve added Seligman’s adaptation to Step 4 of my Wishful Thinking Works gratitude writing process below:

Wishful Thinking Works Gratitudes

1. Notice

Take time to note the things that make you feel good, smile or laugh throughout the day. Become more aware of the good stuff happening to and around you. Blue skies, raindrops on the window, sweet smiles, helpful moments, kind gestures all matter, and noticing and remembering them can change your life.

After your moment-worth-noticing occurs, make it a moment-worth-remembering by telling yourself, “This is a great thing to include in my gratitudes for today. I want to remember this and to write it down later.” (Just thinking that will increase the power of the moment for you.)

2. Write 3-a-day, everyday.

Use any type of journal or notebook; nothing fancy required, but do keep your gratitudes together in one place by using the same journal or notebook everyday.

Assign a time to write your gratitudes each day: first thing in the morning, at lunch or before bed. Choose whatever works for you. Try different times until you find the best one.

My Wishful Thinking Works starter tip: Only write what truly makes your heart sing. Don’t make things up just to have something to write. (That’s like the fake confession items I made-up as a kid – “I hit my brother three times.”  “I called my sister a name.” – Actually that second one did happen, a lot.)

And, please add your feelings whenever possible – don’t just list the event: “I felt so good when Mrs. Blank told me I had the promotion today.” vs “I got a promotion today.” Also, remember that the little things count just as much as the biggies: “I tried a new coffee, caramel cream, and I loved it.”  “The sky was so blue today, it made everything look so fresh and green. It made me feel brighter.”

3. Review and savor.

This step is key. Do not skip it!

After you write your gratitudes, review and savor them.

Take 30 seconds to review what happened and to remember how great each moment felt. Picture the smell and taste of that perfect cup of coffee, how the phone call brightened your day, how the drawing from your son or daughter made you smile, how the praise from your boss or colleague made you feel or how good it felt to find the open parking space or get the bargain.

Picture, hold and savor each thought. (Ahhh, there now you have it.)

4. Ask yourself why this memorable moment happened.

This is the latest adaptation Seligman shared and it offers a surprisingly powerful punch. It is a great way to remind yourself of the kindness and goodness of others and your qualities and actions that contribute to your happiness.

EXs:

Enjoying the new coffee.  Why?

“Because  I was willing to try something new.” Or, “I took Sue’s suggestion and gave it a try, Sue’s great about sharing the good things.” Or, “I was a good mood, I think it is because I’m sleeping better.”

I noticed the sky was so blue. Why?

“I think I noticed the sky today, because I wasn’t as rushed as I usually am, because  . . .”  (Did you notice I slid right by the bigger question: Why is the sky blue . . . )

I got the promotion! Why?

“I’ve really been working hard.” “I did a great job on that project and really stepped up to the plate. I am glad I did.” “Because I asked for the promotion, I am so excited I did. that was pretty brave of me.”

The “Whys?” of the gratitude process can lead you down a very happy path, which makes for a much sweeter journey than the one we usually let our minds take. For most of us, it is easier to notice the negatives in our lives and let them drive us to distraction than it is to jump-start our brains in a positive direction.

Noticing the good things can change how and what you think about, which may change how you perceive yourself, the world and the people around you. It will definitely change you because each time you notice something that makes your heart sing or brings you even the slightest bit of pleasure, your brain reacts by releasing chemicals and hormones that work to increase your sense of well-being and connect more pathways and neurons along the way. 

Your brain is hard-wired to make you happier, all you have to do is turn the key – and gratitudes are a free and easy way to do just that.

 WTW Dandelion

Penning happiness

 

 

Would you like to make someone you care about happy and increase your happiness in the process? If so, write a gratitude letter to someone special in your life. The effect can leave you and the recipient feeling happier for weeks, even months. 

 

Last year I wrote and shared a gratitude letter with my Dad, who is now 91 and in and out of the hospital weekly. Am I glad I did it, YES!  Was it the easiest thing I ever did? NO! Was it one of the most rewarding, YES!

I’ve been writing retrospective thank you notes for years. I’ve written lots of cards to my aunts and to family friends of my parents for their special acts of kindness to me as a child. One of my younger brother’s god-mothers always brought a few of us close to his age (there are 9 kids in our family) treats on the holidays when she brought him a gift. One of my aunts hosted weekly gatherings at her and my uncle’s rural “resort” each Sunday in the summer; my siblings and I were able to swim, dive, jump, ride, row, fish and enjoy all sorts of other summer fun because my aunt and uncle were willing to put-up with an ongoing stream of guests. Those Sundays were magic to me as a kid, and I wanted her to know. More sweet memories – my godmother and her grown daughter took me shopping and to lunch during the holiday season and let me, within a specific price range, select my gift. I loved those trips.

Those letters and the memories they evoked were wonderful, but a gratitude letter is even a better way to say thank you. Here’s why:

  • It’s longer – shoot for 300 words.
  • It’s read in-person to its intended, making it more of a gratitude visit with the letter as a hostess gift of sorts. The true magic of the visit comes from sharing your letter out loud and face-to-face with its recipient.

Tips for making it work:

  • Write to someone, who did something nice or kind for you, but is someone you’ve never thanked.
  • Be detailed. Write specifically what you are thankful for. Include the whats, the whens, the hows and the whys.
  • Let your recipient know you are up to something good! Dr. Martin P. Seligman, the father of Positive Psychology and one of the first and strongest proponents of gratitude visits notes the ritual is powerful,  ”Everyone cries when you do a gratitude visit,” he says. ”It’s very moving for both people.” A funny thing happened when I read my letter to my Dad. When I finished, he made a timid joke about how I must have the wrong “Dad”, and then he told me he thought I was going to share something about what he’d done wrong – not right. I was nervous about sharing my letter, and he interpreted that as seriousness or sadness. Then when I began reading from a sheet of paper he was sure there was bad news ahead. We laughed about that, but to prevent any confusion, letting your host or hostess know the visit is well-intentioned is probably a good idea.
  • Leave a copy of your letter with your recipient. Don’t worry about making it too fancy, but using special paper or laminating can’t hurt. A frame might seem a bit much – go with your guts. Just don’t make the visit too much about what happens next with the letter; leave that up to your receiver.

Happiness is contagious.

Another interesting facet of this simple and effective gesture is that it tends to grow and reproduce on its own.  Recipients often end-up writing and sharing letters with folks they want to thank, and writers tend to write more letters to share with others. Sometime soon, I will share with you one of the most touching responses I received from a friend with whom I shared a gratitude visit. Just thinking about it makes me happy, and it happened almost a year ago!

Increased happiness for you and someone you care about is just a few pen strokes. Don’t let this free,  foolproof opportunity for joy pass you by – get started on a gratitude letter today!

WTW Dandelion

The 3 F’s of Happiness

  

Would you like a formula for happiness? Here is my favorite, and it’s scientifically accepted.

   Fun  + Flow + Fulfillment =  Happiness

These are 3 “F” words worth repeating. They were gathered together by Martin Seligman, Ph.D., the father of positive psychology. Seligman is a world-renown psychologist, professor and author at the University of Pennsylvania. As president of the American Psychological Association in 1998, he encouraged researchers to focus their work on the field of positive psychology, which motivated thousands of scientists to research the following key questions:

  • What works?
  • How and why does it work?
  • How can we create more of it in our lives and organizations?

Of particular interest to positive psychologists is the topic of happiness, which brings us back to Seligman and the 3 F’s. Seligman’s work revealed that happiness is a result of the 3 F’s.

Fun, Flow and Fulfillment

1. Fun

This one is easy to describe. Fun is:

  • The stuff that makes us laugh and smile or jump for joy
  • The stuff we spent lots of time doing as kids, and considered to be a normal part of our day
  • The stuff we now watch our kids, and sometimes other folks enjoying

I think that physical fun, is an important part of the mix. Dancing like Elaine on “Seinfeld“, running like Phoebe on “Friends“, playing games or rough-housing with the kids or grand kids, hitting a ball over the net, across the field, or in the hole without caring too much about how it gets there are great ways to relax and to have fun. Sports are a great stress reliever, and can be fun, but if we approach them too seriously, they may end-up being not be as much fun. Make sure what you are calling fun, really is!

2. Flow

For this concept I need to give a shout out to Dr. Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, (MEE-hy CHEEK-sent-mə-HY-ee). Mihály is a Hungarian psychology professor, researcher and author and is a leader in the field of completely focused motivation, i.e. flow. Flow is that suspension-of-time feeling we have when we are deeply, maybe even blissfully, engrossed in what we are doing. For flow to occur the following must be in place:

  1. A clear set of goals
  2. A good balance between the challenge and skill. We have to believe we can do it.
  3. Immediate feedback. Feedback can be external or internal (Ex: That voice in our head saying “Okay maybe if I move it a little more to the right, no, back to the left, okay that’s good.” ) 

My favorite flow experiences are writing, public speaking, reading non-fiction, cleaning closets, and cooking. Flow can be felt when you are completely focused on a major grant, working on a case, making a diagnosis, cleaning a drain, scrubbing the tub, washing the car, playing cards or golfing. It’s the stuff that makes us forget all the other stuff.

When I decide to cook or make something to eat, I have a clear goal – I ‘m going to cook or make something to eat! I know I can do it, since I’ve had lots of successful experience, and I enjoy the challenge of rooting through the refrigerator and cupboards to see what’s available and then figuring out how to transform it into something delicious. During the process, I give myself lots of feedback, “Oh, we don’t have this, but we do have that”, “I wonder if that will mix well with this or should I try something else?”  My favorite internal and external feedback when cooking is always, “Mmm, that tastes good.”

Although flow activities are personal; flow experiences are universal. People of all cultures experience flow and describe it in a similar way including: losing track of time, feeling in the zone, and thinking only about task at hand.

3. Fulfillment

This is the warm and fuzzy or deep, rich, job-well-done feeling we get when we’ve accomplished something we are proud of or that matters to us. The “something” varies from person to person, month to month and task to task, and may include getting a college degree or cleaning that tub – the 3 F’s are  in the heart and mind of the beholder.

So now that we understand what we need, all we have to do is find ways to bring all three – fun, flow and fulfillment – into our lives. Remember, having one or two of the 3 F’s can enrich our lives, but being happy is dependent on having all three. (Did you notice that none of the 3 F’s mentioned money, health, prestige? More on the myths of happiness in  future posts.)

In April we will explore happiness in depth. Until then, you can get started by looking at your life to see if the 3 F’s are present, and if so, jot down when, where and how they occur. Paying attention to your experiences will help you create a foundation for the future, and help you recognize what actually makes you happy. Many adults don’t know what makes their hearts sing or their brains light up.

Writing this blog is a flow experience for me. I also find it fulfilling and to top off those 2 F’s with some fun, I’m going to head out the door for a walk with a few hops, skips and jumps thrown in. 

What one thing are you willing to do today to bring more happiness into your life? Start with something fun – just for fun, and we’ll work on the rest later.

WTW Dandelion

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