There’s one common interest shared by all mankind, despise religion, country of origin, age or political view: the pursuit of happiness.
Positive Psychology coach Dr. Colleen Georges fell in love with this field “because unlike traditional psychology, which aims to take us from dysfunctioning to mere functioning, positive psychology endeavors to bring us the steps beyond to thriving, flourishing, and happiness. The field offers numerous research-backed tools for doing just this”.
She now shares seven of her favorite habits to more fulfilling relationships with family and friends, greater purpose and satisfaction in life overall:
Focus on Strengths: Too often we think, “What’s wrong with me and how can I fix it?” instead of “What’s right with me and how can I use it?” Even organizations make this error, drawing attention to ways the company and its employees are underperforming rather than maximizing how they’re excelling. However, countless studies have demonstrated we are at our best when engaging our strengths. Father of positive psychology Dr. Martin Seligman and his colleagues found that when we use our strengths in new and different ways regularly, we experience higher levels of happiness and lower levels of depression. Furthermore, the VIA Institute on Character, in partnership with MAPP graduate Michelle McQuaid, conducted the VIA Strengths at Work Survey and discovered that 70 percent of professionals who use their strengths at work each day report feeling engaged, influential, and that they’re flourishing in their workplaces.
Express Gratitude: Rather than yearning for what we don’t have, we do more good for our health and happiness by expressing gratitude for all we do have. Whether thanking a higher power, friends, family, colleagues, or strangers, gratitude has lasting positive impacts. Studies by leading gratitude researcher Dr. Robert Emmons have found that those who practice gratitude experience greater joy, pleasure, happiness, and optimism. Moreover, a gratitude survey by The John Templeton Foundation discovered that 88 percent of professionals indicated expressing gratitude to their work colleagues makes them feel happier. Saying “thank you” to others, counting your daily blessings, writing a gratitude letter, and recognizing a colleague’s contributions can have critical impacts on happiness.
Forgive Yourself and Others: Sometimes we become engrossed in anger at others, situations, or ourselves for misdeeds, misfortunes, and mistakes, taking a toll on our physical and emotional health. Leading forgiveness researcher Dr. Fred Luskin suggests we must fully acknowledge and allow ourselves to process hurt before we can move forward. Dr. Jack Kornfield, renowned Buddhist psychology educator, says that forgiveness is not just about the other, it’s about not inflicting pain on ourselves. He shares, “It’s not worth it to live day after day with hatred. Because for one thing, that person who betrayed you could be in Hawaii right now having a nice vacation — and you’re here hating them! Who’s suffering then?” We must also forgive ourselves for perceived flaws. In The Gifts of Imperfection, Dr. Bréné Brown wisely suggests giving up who we think we’re supposed to be to embrace who we really are.
Be Kind and Generous: Occasionally, we can get caught up in being busy and forget to take time for kindness. In Give and Take, Dr. Adam Grant shares research on how giving to others has a significant impact on our personal and career success and happiness. Grant suggests such things as seeking opportunities to do a favor for someone, practicing random acts of kindness, volunteering in your community, and helping colleagues craft their jobs to their strengths. Simple kindnesses matter too, like smiling at a stranger, paying a compliment, or holding the door for someone.
Reframe Thinking Towards Optimism: It’s easy to catastrophize when we experience a personal or work adversity. However, we have immense control over how we perceive situations. In The Resilience Factor, Dr. Karen Reivich and Dr. Andrew Shatté discuss how we can boost resilience by thinking more optimistically about adversities. David Mezzapelle, author of Contagious Optimism and 10 Habits of Truly Optimistic People, refers to this approach as positive forward thinking and says, “Positive forward thinking means finding the silver lining in the difficulties of yesterday and today, and going forward with the confidence that tomorrow will be better.” Thinking optimistically is correlated with greater happiness with life and work.
Set Regular Goals: We have many things we want to accomplish in a day, week, month, or year. Setting short- and long-terms goals for our personal and professional life is critical for productivity and happiness. MAPP graduate Caroline Adams-Miller discusses the positive psychology of goal-setting in Creating Your Best Life. She suggests creating goals that are challenging, specific, measurable, value-driven, intrinsically motivated, and that engage flow. This helps us build self-efficacy, utilize potential, connect goals to our values, feel engaged, and gain motivation and reinforcement from within rather than externally.
Connect With Others: Consider the happiest times of your life. Were you alone during those times? It’s unlikely. Nearly without fail, when people share their happiest moments, they were spent connecting with others. In Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, Dr. Matthew Lieberman illustrates how vital our social connections are to our happiness. He shares, “becoming more socially connected is essential to our survival. In a sense, evolution has made bets at each step that the best way to make us more successful is to make us more social.” Call your parents, go on a date with your partner, go to dinner with a friend, go to lunch with colleagues, spend un-plugged time with your child, talk to the person behind you in line at the supermarket — create connection to create happiness.
This post is based on the version of “Mother of Mindfulness” Ellen Langer’s idea of mindfulness, which she has been researching for over 30 years. She was the inspiration for the TV series “The Young Ones,” where she took a pile of really old people (back then), placed them in house decorated as if it was 20 years earlier, had TV/radio programs from that era — she reproduced a time 20 years earlier and had them Think and speak as if they were 20 years younger, and guess what?
All their physiological parameters changed as if they were actually younger! And this was only after one week of living like that!
Which reinforces the impact of one of my favorite themes — how you feel about yourself really matters — what you think and say to yourself really matters.
So why do I focus on helping people be mindful?
Because almost every experiment conducted shows that mindfulness improves everything! This is all explained in detail and the research outlined in her book “Counterclockwise.”
Here is some of her work outlining the potential for mindfulness to affect — well — pretty much everything! LOL!
And I also focus on it because being mindful is “waking up” — about becoming more conscious — and living more consciously — another two of my core themes.
Most of us are allowing habits and patterns of thinking from our past to subconsciously program our present. Think driving a car. How mindful were you in your first few lessons? These days, how often do you arrive home and you don’t even know how you got there — yet you were driving the car!
This is a common theme with anything we learn — we are mindful in the beginning and then we become mindless as the pattern is stored away in our subconscious! Our mind is in one space while our body is in another. This applies at work and home.
So… how to be more mindful?
Many people think that meditation is the answer to mindfulness but I agree with Ellen — it’s a slower road to mindfulness than what she teaches; which is…
From now on, be very conscious of things that are different. Actively observe things about a person while you are listening. Their voice tones, facial expressions, surroundings, their feelings wrapped in the words. If you are in nature, notice the small things and sounds we often gloss over. Keep noticing — there is always so much to notice.
Once you have noticed all you can outside — notice what is going on inside you! What are you saying to yourself when you are on your own (but not while you are with another person or you can’t be noticing stuff about them!) Is it helpful? Positive? Does it make you feel good about yourself? If not — who can change it? Do you WANT to change it? What are you willing to do to change it?
Question rather than assume or judge!
Most of us assume we know what we are thinking! And what others are thinking. And more often than not, we have no idea about either!
There are so many “loops” of language and judgement caught up in our unconscious minds — often comments from other people somewhere in our past — that keep on running in the background, constantly influencing how we feel about and judge ourselves — and others. Constantly driving our behaviors — all these limiting beliefs ruling our lives!
We keep doing the same old things with the same old results — all because we are mindless! Unconscious of our patterns of thinking, programs and mindsets. So ask others and question our own thoughts.
Things constantly change and we need to be constant re-learners! Instead of accepting what you have learned in the past as still the best or only way — question it! Ask if there is a better way — based on new information you may have learned. Think about your interactions with others.
You have a “difficult” person at work — they are most often not “difficult” but different from you! Their mindset or thinking makes their behavior perfectly reasonable in their eyes — they probably think you are the difficult one! Ellen talks about how “labelling” someone or a situation limits us. We place a label on it — i.e., judge it or them — which instantly makes you mindless — because we don’t see reality or what is truly in front of us — we see what we expect to see. (Another favorite theme of mine!)
No matter what happens to you — choose to frame it in a positive way. This of course is possible when you are mindful or conscious of what is going on — both in others, in the environment and in yourself! Think of something your partner does that annoys you. Like “controlling” — a very common complaint because we never like anyone else telling us what to do or compromising. Instead of choosing to see this behavior as “controlling” (a label/judgement) would you choose to see it as a way they are trying to make themselves feel safe?
If you see it in that way, if you are mindful of their mood, feelings or language, you have more information to remind yourself that they are trying to feel safe and perhaps do something that would make them feel safer in that moment. Which would then change everything in the relationship!
You may think your partner is “fussy” — in other words they pay attention to all the details, all the time! They are probably just operating completely unconsciously being controlled by a program from one of their parents. To change they too have to become mindful of the unconscious thinking patterns that are running their lives! Almost everything “negative” that happens can be reframed! NAWOL helps you become present, to reframe and become more mindful!
Notice any discomfort inside you
Accept it — and
Be Willing to allow it to be there
Open your heart (stop judging, seek wisdom) and observe
In the continent, the Fourth Industrial Revolution lies on the brains of young women
I love mathematics. Which explains my academic and professional forays in finance and economics. The Fourth Industrial Revolution today presents unprecedented opportunities to accelerate progress in addressing Africa’s growth and development challenges. Unlike the previous industrial revolutions, this one is embedded in intelligence rather than brute mechanical strength. For a region that is blessed with an abundance of youthful talent – and yet still lacks many trappings of earlier revolutions, such as well-developed road or rail networks – this should be seen as an opportunity. Unfortunately, Africa trails behind the rest of the world in terms of talent – not enough researchers, not enough patents, not enough tech businesses. Overcoming this is eminently achievable, if a stiff challenge, but only if we get better at connecting more Africans – and women and girls in particular – to technology.
The overarching theme of the forthcoming World Economic Forum on Africa that will be held in Kigali, Rwanda in May 2016 is Connecting Africa’s Resources through Digital Transformation. It’s an ambitious theme that we hope will in one stroke build on the narrative generated at our Annual Meeting in Davos this year on the Fourth Industrial Revolution by providing some much sought after African context. At the same time, we hope it will help refocus Africa’s growth agenda around its most valuable resource of all: its people.
For this to happen, three critical areas for digital transformation must be considered: digital access, literacy and entrepreneurship.
In terms of access, about 4 billion people globally are not connected to the internet. Under the Forum’s Global Challenge on the Future of the Internet, we are seeking to expand internet access, with a particular interest in connecting the last billion rather than the next billion. This initiative calls for new business models that can help us connect rural and marginalized communities, while addressing challenges related to infrastructure, affordability, local content and skills development.
At the forthcoming meeting in Africa, we’ll focus on bringing to life digital solutions and address the opportunities to scale in three main areas.
One, in the area of access, an innovative initiative to launch non-commercial satellites into space with the help of school girls is being pioneered by MEDO in Cape Town, South Africa. This inspiring initiative and others like it will go a long way towards renewing interest in STEM training among teenage school girls: literally helping them understand that the sky is the limit. It is estimated that only one in six African graduates across the continent are in STEM and that the continent has a gap of about 1,000,000 researchers based on international best practice.
Two, in the area of literacy there is remarkable progress in the development of cashless societies beyond m-pesa from Kenya. Take for example Somalia, where the goal is safety, or Rwanda, where the goal is convenience, or Tanzania, where the goal is banking the unbanked. Whatever the original purpose, preliminary evidence shows that ditching cash for mobile money boosts sales for informal traders and empowers women.
Three, in the area of entrepreneurship, the United Nations International Trade Centre has paved the way in developing national ecosystems for ecommerce, starting with Morocco.Made in Africa holds immense economic opportunities for Africa’s youth and could help monetize creative talent, building on the ongoing success of the fashionomics industry globally. Platforms like these that help African creatives, artists and entrepreneurs scale up their businesses will be essential in building capacity to allow for sustainable, inclusive growth that helps women as well as men.
For all the opportunities offered by this new digital economy, it is sad to see that women and girls are already lagging behind. According to recent research, women consume more technology than men, yet more men than women design technology. At our forthcoming meeting, we will pay special attention to identifying how the world is failing to connect women and girls to technology, and explore opportunities to turn this around.
We know it’s possible: initiatives like the Girl Effect have illustrated that we can galvanize teenage girls to engage with multimedia. How much more can we achieve by enshrining the internet as a basic constitutional right?
Last year at our World Economic Forum on Africa, the Cape Town International Convention Centre rocked to the tune of Strong Girls, a hit song performed by four remarkable artists from across Africa as part of ONE’s Poverty is Sexist campaign. In 2016, it is time to tell the world that Africa’s future is digital. The #Smartgirl era has arrived.
Brené Brown’s new book provides readers with a pathway out of shame and toward more self-compassion.
According to Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, the internal feeling of not being good enough when we face criticism, along with some waves of wounded pride is a human response to the pain and fear of shame. Too often, we learn shame-based messages in childhood and they follow us around, coloring the way we see the world. Our desire to push shame away can make us want to run and hide or blame others for our bad feelings—a kind of fight or flight response to the “danger” we feel from difficult emotions. Her new book, Rising Strong, is meant to provide a pathway away from shame and toward more compassionate, wise ways to respond to our pain.
According to Brené Brown, a researcher at the University of Houston’s Graduate College of Social Work, this is a common, human response to the pain and fear of shame. Too often, we learn shame-based messages in childhood and they follow us around, coloring the way we see the world. Our desire to push shame away can make us want to run and hide or blame others for our bad feelings—a kind of fight or flight response to the “danger” we feel from difficult emotions. Her new book, Rising Strong, is meant to provide a pathway away from shame and toward more compassionate, wise ways to respond to our pain.
Brown’s two previous books—The Gifts of Imperfection and Daring Greatly—seemed to hit a cultural nerve, as did her incredibly popular TED talk on shame and vulnerability. In her books and public appearances, she’s encouraged people to be their true, imperfect selves and not be afraid to take risks. Her newest book adds to the discussion, focusing more on how we can use attention and curiosity to help us understand when we are acting from a place of shame and on how to pick up the pieces when we have emotional setbacks.
Brown calls herself a researcher/storyteller, in part to emphasize the neuroscience that shows all humans are storytellers—because our brains are constantly working to put together narratives that explain our experiences. Her research, involving countless hours conducting interviews with people sharing stories about shame, has helped her develop her own compelling narrative of how people deal emotionally, cognitively, and behaviorally with shame and other difficult emotions. Though the book may lack in research details—which, personally, I would have liked to see—it makes up for in inspired storytelling.
Brown’s says there are three basic steps to handling emotional setbacks:
Reckoning: recognizing when you are having an emotional reaction and getting curious about it so that you can explore it more fully.
Rumbling: paying closer attention to the stories you tell yourself to explain your difficult emotions—stories like, someone else is to blame for how I feel, or I’m unworthy, etc.—and learning to separate truth from fiction so you can own your stories and speak truth to others.
Revolution: taking what you’ve learned about yourself to change how you engage with others, so you can hopefully help transform your work and life to have more connection, creativity, and safety to be your authentic self.
Brown spends most of the book providing examples of common emotionally-charged experiences—like feeling disconnected from one’s spouse or failing at a work project—and exploring the types of emotions and stories these experiences stimulate within us. By sharing honest accounts of her own struggles, as well as those of others she’s interviewed, she demonstrates how self-awareness and compassion for ourselves can help us respond to situations with honesty and insight rather than fear. The alternative, she argues, is to ignore what’s happening inside of us, denying ourselves an important part of the human experience.
“We own our stories so we don’t spend our lives being defined by them or denying them,” she writes. “And while the journey is long and difficult at times, it is the path to living a more whole-hearted life.”
Of course, most of us aren’t consciously dishonest with ourselves—these defensive reactions largely happen below our awareness. According to Brown, we disconnect from difficult emotions because we’ve been trained to discount them or because they are too painful to confront. But, the down side of ignoring our emotions and the stories they generate is not learning from them. And, that can make you stuck in maladaptive patterns of behavior, like lashing out at others, blaming them for your pain.
“Blame…is simply a quick, broad-brush way to off-load anger, fear, shame, or discomfort,” writes Brown. “We think we’ll feel better after pointing a finger at someone or something, but nothing changes.”
To pay attention and “rumble” with our stories, Brown suggests things like mindfulness meditation, for increasing awareness and nonjudgmental attitudes toward your thoughts and emotions, or free writing/journaling, to help you get in touch with your experience. By learning to be curious about our uncensored selves, she argues, we can stop from acting out in ways that are hurtful to others or just plain counterproductive. She writes:
The goal of the rumble is to get honest about the stories we’re making up about our struggles, to revisit, challenge, and reality-check these narratives as we dig into topics such as boundaries, shame, blame, resentment, heartbreak, generosity, and forgiveness. Rumbling with these topics and moving from our first responses to a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors gives birth to key learnings about who we are and how we engage with others.
This becomes even more important when we feel we are in a “one down” position—i.e. with bosses—because too often we end up paying difficult emotions forward by shaming someone else whom we have power over, such as a child or employee. It’s important to catch ourselves so we can avoid creating cycles of shame that keep getting passed along.
Still, that doesn’t mean stuffing down emotions by ignoring them or drowning them in alcohol or drugs. Instead, Brown suggests, we need to bravely face them in order to understand the way they work in our lives. Emotions are an important indicator of our internal reality, she writes, and we can’t discount the negative ones without also wiping out the positive ones.
“We are wired to be emotional beings,” she writes, “When that part of us is shut down, we’re not whole.”
But what do you do when someone really is hurting you? Brown suggests that knowing yourself is still the best defense, and that boundaries are helpful for preventing someone walking all over you. Still, we need to understand that most people are doing the best they can…even if what they’re doing seems harmful to themselves or others. Too often, our instincts are to lash out or run away, and we end up missing that important part of the equation.
“When we combine the courage to make clear what works for us and what doesn’t with the compassion to assume people are doing their best, our lives change,” writes Brown.
Of course, that doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. The heartbreak from loss of love and the resulting grief is particularly challenging, writes Brown, because it can feel deep and impenetrable. But, she chides against people wanting “easy and quick answers to complex struggles.” It takes courage to feel your pain, recognize what it is, reach out to others, and be vulnerable; but, if you practice doing this incrementally, it can really make a difference in how you engage with others in the long run.
“The process may be a series of incremental changes, but when the process becomes a practice—a way of engaging with the world—there’s no doubt that it ignites revolutionary change,” she writes.
In fact, if we all confessed our concerns about our perceived flaws and took the risk of being vulnerable with others, it would probably increase the sense of our shared humanity and lead to more connection, a sense of safety, the freedom to be creative, and more harmonious relationships in our homes, our workplaces, and our communities. That really would be a revolution.
New studies highlight the potential of movies and other media to spread goodness on a wide scale
Deadpool is the highest-grossing film in the United States so far this year—and one of the most controversial. Though the film has scored points with critics and audiences for its irreverent take on the superhero genre, its extreme gore has raised some familiar questions and objections about the role of violence in films.
But look at the highest-grossing film of 2016 internationally, and you’ll find a different type of movie: Zootopia, a family-friendly animated film that has been praised for its positive messages about the harm of stereotypes and prejudice.
How does consuming these different types of films impact us as individuals and as a society?
Moving beyond bullet theory
For a long time, media researchers focused almost entirely on the harmful effects of media, including the effects of media violence on aggression, the media’s role in increasing racial and gender stereotypes, and its potential to shape people’s perception of the world as a dangerous place. Indeed, since the dawn of talking movies in the 1930s, debates have raged about the potential anti-social effects of media.
For example, a 2012 study by one of the seminal scholars in the field, Mary Beth Oliver of Penn State University, identified the power of films that elicit “elevation,” the warm, uplifting feeling we get when we watch someone perform deeply moral acts, such as acts of gratitude, generosity, or loyalty.
In this study, Oliver and her colleagues asked 483 students to recall either a particularly meaningful or a particularly pleasurable movie they watched recently and to indicate the degree to which they felt joyful or elevated from watching it. When the researchers analyzed the content of these movies, they found that, sure enough, the meaningful movies depicted altruistic values, such as social justice and care for the weak, significantly more often than the pleasurable movies did.
They also found that the meaningful movies elicited greater feelings of elevation among respondents, which was expressed in a distinct set of emotional and physical sensations: feeling happy and sad at the same time, a lump in one’s throat, tearing up, a rising or opening of the chest, and chills.
What’s more, these feelings of elevation, in turn, were associated with a greater motivation to become a better person and do good things for others; the pleasurable movies, by contrast, motivated people to enjoy themselves and seek popularity.
Research also suggests that movies can influence not only our desire to do good but also the way we perceive the world as a whole. This research builds on earlier findings that the amount of TV people watch correlates with the degree to which they will see the world as a dangerous place, also known as “mean-world syndrome.” Research on inspiring media, by contrast, suggests that exposure to elevating media may have the potential to shift our perception of the world toward a “kind-world syndrome.”
For example, a 2011 study led by Karl Aquino of the University of British Columbia found that people who experienced elevation from reading a story about uncommon goodness became more likely to believe that there is good in the world. The more people experienced elevation, the more they perceived the world to be full of generosity and kindness. And research suggests there might be concrete benefits to this mental shift: Studies indicate that holding a cynical worldview—to only expect the worst of people—is actually bad for your health; however, seeing humanity’s positive potential can make us feel good (we experience positive emotions), which, in turn, can lead to an upward spiral of well-being.
Research that my colleagues and I have conducted points to social benefits of meaningful films as well. We asked 266 students to identify films that are meaningful to them; their responses generated a long list of movies, with the most popular ones being Remember the Titans, Forrest Gump, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.
We found that these films are more likely than pleasurable films to depict values of love, kindness, and connectedness, and to elicit elevation. In addition, experiencing elevation from such movies made the participants feel more connected to dear friends and family, as well as to the transcendent, spiritual aspects of life—which, in turn, inspired a host of prosocial motivations. Specifically, watching a movie such as A Walk To Remember or The Blindside made them feel a general sense of compassionate love for people, made them want to help people less fortunate than themselves, and generally made them want to be kind and good to fellow human beings, even strangers.
Our findings highlight that elevation not only makes us feel more connected toward people we know but also makes us feel compassionate toward people we don’t—even to the point that we’re motivated to make sacrifices for strangers. The study suggests that the elevation we get from films can help us transcend our egocentric bias and forge more compassionate connections to others.
Of course, making these positive changes stick is not something that happens overnight. Nor is it enough to see portrayals of moral beauty, kindness, and generosity only every once in a while. For positive media to have strong, lasting effects on us individually or collectively, I believe we need to consume it consistently, over time, just as eating right only once a week does not make us healthier.
But it is encouraging to see that these effects are possible, and that our media consumption patterns can be a force for good in the world, not just a way to make media companies rich.
The research on positive media is still evolving (and I will be covering more of it in future Greater Good articles). But so far, it suggests that when we select inspiring content on TV, in films, or through social media, we’re not just making ourselves feel good in the moment. We’re nurturing our instincts for compassion and kindness.