FIGuring Life Out – A roadmap for happiness and well being: Part 3 – Relationships

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Photo by Elizabeth Messina

I have been on hiatus dealing with a family situation of the knucklehead teenager persuasion – though stressful, the experience brought into bold focus the importance in my life of the people I love. Friends, family, my partner. These relationships are defining for me.  I have had some amazing, fulfilling relationships in my life and I have had some one-sided, not-so-good ones. I have worked with many people in therapy who struggled in terms of their interpersonal connections. Relationships can be hard, but they are essential. As Seligman points out, “very little that is positive is solitary.” (Flourish, p.20). Most joy, laughter, and positive experiences happen with other people. Our relationships contribute directly to well-being and are worth the effort. Positively connecting and being kind to others is a guaranteed remedy for whatever is ailing you.

Here is my recipe for growth promoting positive relationships:

Step 1: Find people who are good for you and get close to them. Obviously, it is essential to make good choices about who you develop friendships and romantic partnerships with (I know that is bad english, but with whom just sounded too stuffy). Trust your gut and connect with people who bring out the parts in you that you like the best and who make you feel good.

Step 2: Once you have cultivated connection with these folks, be the finest you in your relationship. Relationships work best when both parties are more worried about the other person than themselves. What I mean by this is that if my focus is to take first-rate care of my friend and my friend’s focus is to take the first-rate care of me – both of our needs will be met and then some. This is true in healthy romantic relationships as well. One way that relationships get out of whack is when people get so focused on themselves they don’t consider the other person.  I have been on the receiving end of much generosity and selflessness in the past week and I can tell you that it had a profound impact on me and I will pay it forward when the opportunity arises.

Step 3: Find ways to integrate more tenderness in your daily life. In his research, Seligman found that doing just a single act of kindness had a profound impact on mood.

Kindness in words creates confidence. Kindness in thinking creates profoundness. Kindness in giving creates love.

Lao Tzu

So, what are three kind things you could do in the next week?

  • Smile at a stranger in the grocery store (not flirty smile, friendly smile)
  • Offer to carry someone’s bags off the elevator
  • Leave your partner a note in the fridge listing your 5 favorite things about them
  • Call your mom and tell her thank you for all she did for you when you were a knucklehead teenager yourself
  • Think of something else nice and do it for just no reason…

50 Favorite Words – #4 – Grit

Grit
grit noun \ˈgrit\
: mental toughness and courage
: firmness of character
: indomitable spirit

I absolutely love Grit.  Grit is the scrappy persistence that can triumph over a whole host of limitations.  Grit is badass.

It is my birthday today, so I find myself reflecting on the things I like about who I have grown into and the ways I hope to continue to evolve and improve.  One thing that has always been true about me is that I am fairly tenacious – turns out this is a good thing. Grit means the fact that I have always been persistent to the point of annoyance and some may say “strong-willed” is a strength!

Exhibit A: Circa 1974IMG_2528

 

Now, I am not the only one who likes this word – a quick google search will show you it is all the rage right now, and with very good reason. It turns out that the key to success is, you guessed it, Grit.

According to Forbes, there are 5 characteristics of Grit:

  1. Courage
  2. Conscientiousness
  3. Endurance (follow-through-it-ive-ness – that is a made up word but you get the point)
  4. Resilience
  5. Striving for excellence (vs. perfection)

Fear not if you read the above list and don’t see yourself in it.  Grit is still attainable.  All of the above characteristics can be cultivated if they aren’t currently strengths for you. What if today, you decided to build your courage?  Courage is simply about managing your fear. What would you do if you weren’t afraid to fail?  Give it a try, and if it doesn’t go well, dust yourself off and try again….

 

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

Thomas A. Edison

FIGuring Life Out – A roadmap for happiness and well being: Part 2 – Engagement

I thought I was all ready to write my next post on “engagement” which is one of Seligman’s keys to Flourishing and then I couldn’t quite do it. The irony was not lost on me that engagement is about being so engrossed in an activity that you lose yourself in it and yet I was the opposite of engrossed.  In fact, I have been having a glorious case of writer’s block.  I have cleaned my closet, attempted to teach the world’s cutest puppy a host of new tricks, read countless posts on procrastination, re-watched most of Parks and Rec,  I even gave myself food poisoning (in truth, the food poisoning was an accident) all instead of focusing in on writing.

Then, I went to yoga this morning (taught by the amazing Bee Bosnak).  It was a wonderful class that was just the right amount of challenging.  I had no choice but to pay complete attention and then it happened…(cue the angels singing)…I experienced flow: time seemed to stand still, I lost myself in what I was doing, and I was fully and intensely in the present.  It was a beautiful thing. When I walked out of class I felt an incredible sense of well-being and it has stayed with me for hours…

Flow.  What is it and how do we achieve it?  Flow is that state that we experience when we are fully engaged and engrossed in an activity.  We know from Seligman and other Positive Psychologists that engaging in this way is one key component to well-being.

Here is a rundown of what it entails (Nakamura and Csíkszentmihályi, 2002):

  1. You have intense and focused concentration on the present moment
  2. “Merging of action and awareness.”  What this means is that all of your awareness is engaged in what you are doing. Your aren’t thinking about other things or distracted by things going on around you.
  3. “A loss of reflective self-consciousness.”  This simply means you are so engrossed in what you are doing, you don’t have that voice going on in your head making a commentary on what or how you are doing.
  4. A sense of personal control or agency over the situation or activity.  You feel in charge and competent.
  5. “A distortion of temporal experience, one’s subjective experience of time is altered” (this is just a fancy way to say you lose track of time – like in some amazing movie and when it is over you can’t believe 2 hours have passed).
  6. Experience of the activity as intrinsically rewarding – it feels good in and of itself.

So, here is what I figured out.  Even though I would like to have writing be a glorious, transformative experience, that isn’t usually what it is for me.  It is more of an unpleasant means-to-an-end (I write because I want to find and trust my voice and I hope to share information that may be helpful to others).  So rather than being delightful, writing is actually slow and labored for me.  However, for me, yoga is a joyous, seamless way to mainline mindfulness.  So, I couldn’t find flow by trying to force it, rather, when I engaged fully in something that I love, flow found me.

What most sparks your interest? What activities can you get lost in?

Maybe its…

  • Cooking an elaborate recipe
  • Working with your hands
  • Taking a run
  • Being out in nature
  • Perhaps you are a gifted writer and the process is smooth for you
  • Or you love puzzles and can lose yourself in the Sunday NYT

It doesn’t matter what it is, what matters is that you cultivate it. You make proactive choices to fan your inner sparks. For me, when I can’t write (and every other day), I shall get me to the yoga studio.

What is it for you?

Trust yourself. Create the kind of self that you will be happy to live with all your life.  Make the most of yourself by fanning the time, inner sparks of possibility into flames of achievement.

Golda Meir