Monday 23 April 2012

The Science of Human Happiness

Martin Seligman is an American psychologist who has spent much of his career looking at human happiness, and here's your nutshell taster of his latest and greatest version. It's a simplification, but it's good enough for a taster.

Firstly, he isolates "happiness" in the narrow sense (think chocolate or champagne - lovely but short-lives and one dimensional) from what he calls "flourishing" - the deeper, richer, life-long sense of living a good life. To bring that point home, imagine looking back over your life from your death bed. If your enduring memory is "boy, I drank a lot of champagne", then you're unlikely to think of your life as well-spent. Flourishing, is what happens when you're living a life which, looked back on, will make you proud.

He's coined an acronym - PERMA - and here's what it means.

- stands for pleasures. Things like chocolate and champagne. These are important, but they last as long as the experience does, and they dull with rapid repeated use. There's only so much chocolate you can eat in a day. So find your pleasures and enjoy them greatly, but a life on the sofa eating chocolate is unlikely to make you flourish alone.

- stands for engagement. Think of two extremes. If you're slumped in a chair with no interest in the people or events around you, your engagement is very low (are you ay work by any chance??). If you're falling from an aircraft with no parachute, however, you're likely to be fully involved with the process. That's the spectrum of engagement, and the message is to find things which you find engaging. Find environments and activities which interest or inspire you to a very great extent.

- stands for relationships. Human being are social animals. Those who say they're not are actually struggling with something which is suppressing or concealing our natural attraction to living with, and enjoying the company of other human beings.

- stands for meaning and it's a big one. Let's go back to your deathbed (in a chirpy kind of way!). If you look back and see countless years of pointless work in the service of a rat race you grew to loathe, then, it means you saw little meaning in what you spent your time doing, and most of us would see that as a bad thing. If, on the other hand, you saw three wonderful happy children who grew up to raise eight beautiful grandchildren, and you saw a marriage which was a wonderful journey, and big contributions in your career, and wonderful painting holidays, and all your efforts to live a green life, then you might meet you maker with more of a smile on your face. Meaning is that stuff - the things which give us the sense that our lives have purpose; that we contributed and lived in ways and in areas which will persist when we're gone. What's meaningful depends on who you are, but without a sense of meaning, we don't flourish.
- stands for accomplishment. The sense that we have value to the world and to ourselves. That we can do things worth doing. Again, that's a movable feast and each of us will have different ideas about what makes a worthy accomplishment.
There is cross-over in each of these areas, so don't get too hung up on whether your taxidermy is about meaning or accomplishment - just recognise that it's a positive contribution.

So What Now?

Well, this is the best humankind knows about why people are happy, and it's straightforward enough for almost anyone to understand. It may even seem kind of obvious to you. But this PERMA framework can be used as an excellent scaffold upon which to build your flourishing life.

Why not assess yourself High/Medium/Low on each area? Take each in turn, and look at what's in it. Where are my pleasures? What do I love to indulge? Is my pleasure pot full or empty? What else do I want to put into it? Do the same for the others. If you spend even five minutes doing that, you'll probably come up with some powerful insights, and if you follow through and turn those insights into actions, you'll improve your happiness quite considerably.

Have fun with your PERMAing!

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Monday 16 April 2012

Blocked by Perfectionism?

I am blocked by a long standing belief that if I can't be the best, then what's the point in trying hard for pretty good. I can see this is a daft thing to believe but can't seem to dig deep enough to pull it out by the roots.

Hello Frances,
The problem you describe is one I can identify with personally.

For me, in youth, it was either top-of-the-line perfection or it wasn't worth having. I don't know where I got this from - we were poor, and my mum knew far better than I did in this regard, but I wasn't open to learning from her.

My response to our rusting fridge was to loathe it and my life which had such an object in it. Her response was to wallpaper the fridge.

In fact, the family used to joke that you'd better not stand still too long in her house or you might find yourself enclosed in a fine red flock.

Knowing intellectually, as you do, that this isn't too smart, bizarrely doesn't help as much as you'd think it ought to. It does help though.

Another ingredient to shifting the block is to "try on" how life would be if you got the "none best" improvements you're resisting in your life, and recognise that they're better than what you have now.

Another is to ask, more broadly, who you'd be today if you didn't have this block - do you prefer that person and that life? This one is worthy of repeated reflection over weeks and months.

Lastly, I would say look for the fear. We dress it up, but usually fear underlies these blocks. What would it mean to go for non-perfect? Would it mean, for example, that you'd have more opportunities? I'm guessing far more imperfect opportunities come along than perfect ones, so perhaps this block is about avoiding what might be scary things.

If you don't try, you can't fail, right?

This is the land of coaching.

I hope you can find a way forward, Frances, but these things are fiendishly difficult to do alone (here's why), and so if find you want some help, please feel free to give me a call.

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Tuesday 10 April 2012

Wishing your Life Away?

Hello Melanie,

I noticed your comment about wishing your life away and enjoying it instead. That's a lovely wish and I help lots of people like you in this way.

I can give you some pointers, but experience has taught me that people find this work almost impossible to do on their own. There's an article explaining why that is, here - but in summary, we can't see our own lives clearly because we're too close to them, and too emotionally tied up in them.

But here's a pointer anyway, which I hope you'll find helpful.

Try to get really specific about what it is that you want from your life. If you had a magic wand (or a really good life coach!) - what would you wish for? Get really specific - with dates, monetary amounts, locations, times, durations, names, locations, and so on.

Of course, pessimism will be snapping at your heels throughout - you may not be able to take yourself seriously. It may even make you feel worse because you'll see more clearly how far you are from your dream life. But - if you're not clear on what you're trying to get, then you're very unlikely to do the things which will bring it to you, so this is an essential first step.

What comes next is the "outer game" - the analytical things you'd need to do to get those things you want, but really, this outer game is a "false floor". You'll see what needs doing, and then you'll find ways to avoid doing them. Why? Well, things like fear, excuse making, saboutaging, and so on. Entirely naturally and totaly destructive. That's the work of the "inner game" - the floor under the floor. It's where the real work gets done, and it's where I earn my living as a life coach.

Working with you on gaining belief, maintaining focus, finding courage and commitment in the face of a world that's almost certainly not going to roll over and play dead for you, is what makes the difference between living to dream and living the dream - or at least living a life somewhat closer to the dream than it was before.

But you know what?

In practice, most of my clients don't blossom into a brave new world like that. More often, with my support, they limp through phase one in a state of semi-dis-belief - reluctantly, sceptically, doing the stuff, grudging the effort, and fending off life's blows to get across the line. But then - when they get a measure of success, they're transformed. Now they know that change is possible. They realise how small their game was before, and how big it could be in future if they stopped blocking themselves, and they're ready for more change making. Fear of the unknown is much reduced.

If you think it might be worth investing £10 to see if you can make radical positive changes in your life, then please book an initial coaching consultation.

So - over to you. If it's time for a change, then here's an opportunity for you.

Best Wishes,

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