As we exit Stress Awareness Month, I wanted to share a specific practice may allow you to have another perspective on stress. In the Mindfulness -Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) class we define stress as change, which is an inevitable part of life. We adopt the mindset that change can be helpful, allowing us to grow and experience things that otherwise might not have occurred (and perhaps see things through a silver-lining). We notice how stressful events or changes go through a cycle, having a beginning, middle and end to them– much like the changing nature of our breath or physical sensations. Much like our
thoughts and emotions as well. They all come and go. We practice many sitting meditations in MBSR focusing on the breath, body, thoughts and emotions, so this analogy fits nicely, as we sit and notice what arises and falls away.
We also talk about different kinds of stressors that propel opportunities for change; such as internal stressors, originating from our inner self- like a certain thought or belief, to external stressors originating from the outside world- like the demands of work. We also categorize the duration of stressful events from acute- lasting a short time-like recovering from the flu, to chronic stressors- like being a caregiver to an aging parent or a child with special needs. Finally, we talk about maladaptive responses to stress that are conditioned happening on autopilot, where we just react without thinking.
Opening up Your Awareness
Expand your awareness around stress this week by noticing how it shows up in your life and being curious by asking/answering certain questions. Are the stressors originating internally or externally? What might be the duration of the stressors? How often is it/are they occurring? Intermittently (acute) or constantly (chronic)? Do you have any control over the stressor? How do you normally react to the stressor? Is auto-pilot controlling the reaction, or do you have some control over your reaction? As we begin to open our awareness to stress, and become curious, we see stressors for what they are and how some fall away and pass, and for some we can choose a healthier response by bringing in mindfulness.
When we bring mindfulness to stressful events, we have a moment to pause and notice, and see the change for what it is rather than what we are (with our judging, striving, and impatient minds). Just by pausing, we break the auto-pilot cycle and have the freedom to intentionally choose a different response.
Looking for that Silver Lining
To cite an example of seeing stress differently and bringing mindfulness to the table, let’s consider an acute external stressor many people experience every day: traffic. Seeing traffic as negative– it’s stopping us from what we want to do– our initial auto-pilot reaction may be maladaptive; we may grip the steering wheel tighter, breathe shallowly, and intently stare at the red car lights glaring in front of us “willing” the situation to change- for the light to turn green or for the bottleneck traffic jam to break up. We may start to ruminate about how much traffic “stresses us out”, and begin mentally going to our to do lists (of what we need to do next and in less time now), or worst case scenarios about what may result from the traffic- being late, disappointing others, etc…Maybe you will be so late, you’ll miss what you are aiming for all together! Rumination can easily lead to over identifying with the situation.
By taking a “stress can be helpful” mindset, we might see traffic as a time to STOP:
- Take a breath
- Observe and
This breath allows the oxygen we take in to our bodies really nourish us. This breath has a calming effect, that engages the parasympathetic system of the autonomic nervous system (ANS). On a cellular level, this breath strengthens your well being by allowing your body to take in more, and affect telomeres that are responsible for the aging of cells. On a conscious level, you may then choose a healthy response, such as focusing on a positive memory from the day, or using gratitude to recall something that went well during the day, and for this moment to recall and savor it.
You may realize that this stressor or change will end soon, and that rumination won’t make the event pass faster, and may even get you more riled up. You realize that with each opportunity to literally pause, you are refueling yourself. If you adopt this suggestion you may find that you arrive at your event calmer and with greater perspective– taking in more around you.
Try It Yourself
I encourage you to try this breathing practice the next time you are in traffic, and notice what arises in you. Check in with your body. Are you gripping the wheel with tension, or breathing in and nourishing your body? Whichever behavior you choose, notice how it
feels IN your body. What do you notice directly? Check in with your mind: are you ruminating about the future or rehashing something in the past, or perhaps bringing gratitude and remembering something that went well today? Check in to how your thoughts influence the way you feel in both your heart and body. What do you notice?
Attempt this practice for one day or one week. Notice what you are feeling and thinking as a result. Chances are you’ll be a little more compassionate behind that wheel- starting with yourself and working outward. What we know about change and stress is that they happen, and if we bring mindfulness to our lives during this time we are creating
a more compassionate world, starting with one event and one person. If you choose to take on this challenge, email me with what you noticed. I would love to hear what you experienced and noticed from taking this new perspective
“When one door of happiness closes; another opens
but often we look so long at the closed door
that we do not see the one that has opened for us. “
How true does this quote ring for you? How many times have you said goodbye to a phase of your life longing to get it back, whether it be time, youth, or experiences that have ended? Are you clinging to the past and looking at the door that’s closed, not realizing there’s another one opening with experiences to be felt and growth to be realized?
This quote especially resonates with me, as I explain below. It’s that time of year when many people are transitioning from one thing to another- closing one door and crossing over to open another- be it graduating from school starting their summer, moving on to a new job or relationship, getting married, raising a family, saying goodbye to a loved one through divorce or death, or just saying goodbye period. We are all transitioning and living the cycle of life.
This year my oldest child is transitioning as she has graduated from high school. She has worked diligently during the last four years and is now preparing to open that next door leading to her college experience, and ultimately a professional career. Doors are opening and closing all the time. Even at such a young age, over the last four years many doors of happiness have closed for my daughter while other ones have opened. Thankfully, she chose to look to the new doors instead of dwelling on the old. One of the closed doors involved her passion for dance. During her freshman year she incurred a vertebrae fracture from overusing it in dance. As an avid competitive dancer, this was a huge blow as the doctor ordered her to rest for 6 months to allow her body to heal. Her dance door had definitely closed. When this happened my daughter looked to a new open door labeled “other creative avenues” and walked in. By taking the steps to cross over to that new experience, and not looking back with sadness, she rediscovered her passion for creative writing, photography, video production, and drawing.
She gave herself permission to express her creativity in a different way. Creativity is one of her strengths and this is what made all the difference… falling back on her strengths to get through this rough patch. In the end, the injury was a blessing in disguise for it allowed her to experiment and use her creativity to cope and flourish in new ways. In the end, my daughter healed and returned to dance with more vigor and commitment. We are very grateful for the talents and skills of the doctors, physical therapists, and her own resilience in helping her mend.
My daughter had many other doors close in high school, yet she chose not to dwell and look back, but look forward to the new doors that were opening. This is where she learned much of her life lessons—not in the rooms on the high school campus, but in the thresholds of life transitions.… transitioning through the known doorways and into the unknown. Using her strengths, she was able to cope with hard times and propel forward to create a new version of herself.
When she walks through that next doorway in life (college), she will bring those lessons with her– from both sides of the doors– for they have shaped her into whom she is today. . As she prepares to live life “on her own,” I have no worries that she will remember these lessons, remember to look towards the open door, and apply her strengths to embrace the experiences that await her. She will get through those experiences knowing that there are lessons to be learned, and that they will add layers of richness to the canvas of her life.
As I transition into my next doorway, saying goodbye to a long term marriage and walking toward a new version of me, I use my strengths—as I have learned from my daughter. Crossing the threshold I exercise gratitude. I look back at the old door not to dwell, but to be thankful for those experiences that have lead me to this new place. Some memories were happy, and others less so, but they were authentic experiences nonetheless that helped me become who I am today. I am mindful to recognize and accept this. And as I pause at that threshold, I apply a mindfulness teaching known as “STOP,” to really acknowledge and feel the moment for what it is. With this technique:
S is for stop. halt. pause.
T is for take a deep breath. One or even three.
O is for observe what I am thinking, feeling, and experiencing both inside, and in the world around me; and
P is for proceeding with openness, kindness, and curiosity.
By mindfully STOPping… I allow myself to feel the whole range of emotions (sadness, happiness, and gratitude) as I experience the closed door. I sit with who I am at that moment. I am grateful for who I am at that moment. I look to the open door and walk over the threshold with strength and humility, and a sense of curiosity at the new opportunities that lay ahead.
Another gratitude practice that helped me transition from the old door to the new was to:
- list 5 people who made a difference on the other side of the old door, and for whom I am grateful.
- list 5 things and or places for which I am grateful that I was exposed to by being on the other side of the closed door.
- list 5 aspects about myself that I’ve gained from that experience; i.e. strengths I’ve observed within. I take this last list with me as I cross the new threshold– these are some of my strengths that will keep me in motion, and moving forward.
What door has closed for you on which you keep staring back? Have you accepted the closure of the old door? What door has opened that you have yet to acknowledge and explore? What strengths can you call upon to help you through that next doorway, in a healthy way? What do you look forward to as you cross the threshold and move through the new door way? What strengths can you cultivate by walking through that new door? Where will this new door take you? How much will you grow?
I end this post with this quote:
“The measure of who we are is what we do with what we have.”
Using our strengths, we can get through any obstacle and transition from one door to the next. Know that transitions allow us a time to reflect, pause and dream. They can weave richness into the fabric of our lives. Look for the good in closure and the hope of a new beginning. Gratefully reflect on the closed doors for what they are, and how they have served you. With an open curious mind, dream of the possibilities that lay ahead. Search inside yourself for your strengths and apply them to the closed door, open door, or both. Be mindful of your transitions, and grateful that they give you time to pause. Share what works for you with transitioning with your friends and family. Use your transitions to “Be the change you want to see in the world.” Start with yourself. And you will find you are happier.
To uncover and understand your strengths check out VIA Character Strengths. Looks like they have an online course on how to manage transitions. Perfect timing!
To learn more about gratitude, check out:
To learn more about mindfulness, check out:
It’s “the most wonderful time of the year” again, when emphasis is placed on giving gifts to our loved ones to acknowledge our relationships and to keep the connections going. This holiday, my gift to my readers is sharing tips on how to give gifts of happiness with all, as recommended by the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley. These folks know what they are talking about as they study what makes a meaningful life. Great suggestions to put into practice… your social connections are sure to be strengthened by them… Enjoy and be sure to make yours merry!
Five Ways to Get the Gift Right! by the Greater Good Science Center!
photo creds: http://www.flower-arrangement-advisor.com/
In June of 2012, The United Nations declared March 20th the International Day of Happiness. They proclaimed that the pursuit of happiness is a fundamental human goal, and invited the world to observe the day AND become involved in education and awareness-raising activities.
So, this site/blog post is one my of awareness-raising activities (not just for one day, but for all days). Because I teach and study The Science of Happiness and am a Well-being Coach, this day means a lot to me. Globally, it invites us all to INTENTIONALLY put goodness out there into the world. And science shows that goodness has a ripple effect on other people. What vibe will our planet give off that day when we spread the word and kindness to everyone we know, globally?
On another note, my sixteen year old daughter asked, “Why can’t every day be Happiness Day?” Good question Bailey. Why indeed cannot every day be Happiness Day? Well, every day can be a day we choose happiness. But what does that mean? What is happiness, after all? It’s a right and something we can pursue, as noted by our forefathers in the Declaration of Independence. But, as Will Smith’s character Chris Gardner in the movie, The Pursuit of Happyness asks, “Can we ever attain happiness?”
Another question to ask is what does happiness mean to you? (Pharrell Williams gives us some suggestions– which you may want to clap along with;))
Humans have been trying to answer this question for more than 2,000 years. From the Greek philosophers (Epicurus and Aristotle respectively), two definitions surfaced. The first is Hedonic Happiness which focuses on maximizing pleasure and feeling good. Many people still see happiness this way today, as always laughing, smiling, being joyful and in search of pleasure. This view of happiness is sometimes seen as self-centered, but it is a part of the self that needs to attended to, for everyone wants to feel good. And when we feel good, we do good. And that goodness is contagious. Which brings us to a second view of Happiness.
A second definition is Eudemonic Happiness, which emphasizes living by virtues and functioning well in areas that are not tied to physical or personal pleasures. Living well by doing good, and contributing something back to the greater good– to an entity bigger than ourselves.
In The Happiness Journey, we learn that scientist Corey Keyes took these two ideas and blended it with a third to define a new kind of happy, called “flourishing,” which is defined as feeling good and functioning well both socially and personally. This view on happiness really looks at the holistic beings that we all are, and considers our mental and physical health and our connections to each other and to the world at large.
Still, other religious experts have contributed more meanings for happiness. Buddha notes that Happiness is moving away from suffering. The Dalai Lama states that happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from our own actions, and if we want others to be happy, we need to practice compassion. In addition, if we want to be happy, we need to practice compassion. Another well-known spiritual teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, notes that true happiness is based on peace.
All religions have their view on happiness. But which view of happiness will you celebrate March 20th? You can follow Epicurus’ words along with Thich Nhat Hanh, and do something for yourself that brings you peace and positive emotion. You can follow Aristotle and the Dalai Lama, and do something with integrity for the goodness of yourself AND others. You can follow Keyes’ definition and do all of the above and more.
Whatever you do, just do something INTENTIONALLY… acknowledge something good in life, in your life, and in the world. Be grateful that you have the ability to choose, and YOUR choice can influence your own and other’s happiness greatly!
Be sure to check back on March 20th for some suggestions on how you can increase your happiness– and it won’t cost you a thing!
(If you are interested in knowing more about Flourishing, consider taking The Happiness Journey).
Ah, November has finally arrived with all her feelings and reminders of gratitude! After all, tis’ the season of giving and being grateful! Gratitude is one powerful: positive emotion, virtue, character strength, state of being and activity all in one. That is why it packs such an enormous punch and brings benefits in all areas of our lives, if we allow it. And that is the key… allowing it…to recognize, cultivate and practice gratitude. Some people do not know how to recognize gratitude when they see it, or ask why they should be grateful, and/or not realize the realm of different activities in which they can participate on so many levels to reap rewards themselves.
Recognizing moments for gratitude is not all that easy. Especially when we are “wired for negativity” from the start– as our brains help us survive, not thrive (I touch on this a lot in the Hapacus course I teach online and in person). And when people are going through tough times, it’s very easy to get sucked into the negativity of what is NOT going well– sending us and those around us into a downward spiral. It’s actually during those hard times that gratitude can benefit us the most.
Studies on gratitude show positive effects of recognizing the good in the past, present and future, and how gratitude transforms people. Researcher Robert Emmons, PhD., of University of California at Davis, has studied this topic for many years and has offered some interesting insights & findings:
- gratitude allows for celebrating the present-> it magnifies goodness (we look for it) and delays adaptation (taking it for granted),
- gratitude blocks toxic emotions (for example envy, regret, and anxiety and can reduce episodes and duration of depression),
- gratitude makes us more resilient; allowing us to recover from stress and symptoms of trauma faster, and
- gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth, as it reminds us that someone else is looking out for us, or that others have helped us get to where we are today.
There are so many more reasons why we need to practice gratitude… all relate to health and relationships. And there are SO MANY WAYS we can cultivate and practice gratitude in our everyday lives; most of them cost NOTHING— just our ability to look for the good in things. There are many more intentional activities I can share, but I won’t give them all away here. If you are curious in knowing more, email me or attend one of my “Get Your Gratitude On” workshops (11/8 & 15 (6:30-8:30p) and 11/9 & 16 (10am-12pm)). This is an invitation only event in San Diego, so email me if you’d like to attend. Or you can sign up for The Happiness Journey class that I teach through Hapacus.com. I can schedule a class online or in person during hours that meet your needs. There are two classes listed currently, but these times are adjustable.
Lastly, one more thing you can do to satisfy your curiosity and learn more about how great Gratitude is, is to follow this blog– as I will be planting more seeds throughout the month on gratitude and how you can improve your life, just by being grateful! To close, I’d like to offer one activity for you to try on… which will cost you to pay only with your attention.
Grateful Journal Activity
This activity is explained in The Happiness Journey, and Oprah and a host of others including researcher Sonya Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. of University of California at Riverside, have brought awareness to this activity where you write down 3-5 things that you are grateful for each day. Set aside time, the same time each day if possible, to reflect through the day’s events noting at least 5 things that inspired gratitude in you. Include an explanation as to why you think these events happened, and your role in the event. By doing so, you will begin to see the connection between positive events and those people in your life who are “looking out for you” or cultivating happiness, and you will see how you have a hand in making gratitude happen. Try not to repeat the same entries every night. Look for new aspects for which to reflect/be grateful. Keep writing in the journal for a few weeks, and notice the changes in yourself and those around you. If you feel it’s more stressful having to remember or find 3-5 things everyday, reduce the number of days you are writing to 1-3. But do try to write, as writing can help our brains make sense of what we’ve experienced–and have a bigger impact about how we think about ourselves and our world.
I will start my list for today right here:
- I am thankful for being able to write a blog post about the importance of gratitude. This event happened because the topic is important to me and my well-being, and I want to share the information with others so they can increase their well-being.
- I am thankful that my computer and internet connection are working well, so that I may post this information. I recognize there were many people who are able to make this happen, from the computer manufacturers to the internet providers, from the hosting provider to my husband and myself who keep our technology up and running in the house.
- I am thankful for readers who take in the information I share in this blog, and do something with it. Using it with their family or friends or in their work-setting. This is important for, like that old adage reads, “a fallen tree does not make a sound in the forest unless there are ears to hear it.” I am writing this blog to help be the change I want to see in the world; one that is flourishing with well-beings.
THANK YOU for reading and visiting my blog. May you use the information contained within for your benefit… and may you feel safe, healthy, happy and live with ease.
Time for a post as I finish up teaching a couple of courses of The Happiness Journey, through Hapacus, and continue on with the class that I am taking which I wrote about previously, Love 2.0 with Barbara Fredrickson. It has been a juggling act, teaching, coaching, learning and living life with all the conditions I’ve built into it (family, kids, responsibilities, etc…). On the bright side, I am managing a fairly stressful load by CHOOSING to build positive emotions into my daily diet. As I teach the Happiness Journey, I remind my students and myself that happiness is only one emotion they can choose. There are a host of other positive emotions they can access if they need a lift out of a blue mood, which could be more conducive to actually lifting them up. And these positive emotions can lead to others as well, leading to an upward spiral.
So what are the other positive emotions from which we can choose?
There are at least ten positive emotions that you can call on and cultivate at any time. There are many more, but ten show up in many positive psychology studies. In another one of Barbara Fredrickson’s books, Positivity, she calls them out in order from the most often occurring:
- Joy (happiness)
and as suggested by another researcher, Kristen Neff,
I included this last positive emotion out after reading quite a bit on the subject as well. I would definitely add it to the top of my list… from which to cultivate at any time… especially for a busy working mom in this day and age. One of my favorites, besides love (and kindness), is gratitude which I hope to really savor and talk about more in November.
Can we really CHOOSE to feel positive emotion? And why are positive emotions important?
The homework for the Love 2.0 class involves revisiting Positivity fully. This book has reminded me of the key concepts about positive emotions in general, and YES, how choosing them intentionally can produce great benefits psychologically, physically and socially. This is one reason why they are so important. Here are some other key concepts worth knowing about:
- You can choose positive emotions by noting HOW you interpret events and ideas AS they unfold (and AFTER they unfold as well).
- We need 3 positive emotions/encounters for every 1 negative emotion felt– to enable us to flourish. (some are challenging this ratio right now– but considering many people have a ratio of 0 to 1 or 1 to 1, 3 to 1 can make a dramatic difference in life satisfaction levels, on a whole).
- Letting positive emotion linger will bring more health benefits.
- Positive emotions encourage positive spirals all around you, i.e., one positive emotion can lead to the others.
- Those who WITNESS positive emotions will feel more inspired and uplifted and are more likely to engage in positive emotion themselves.
- Positive emotions can help you broaden your physical and psychological outlook and build your life with more possibilities in a real physiological way.
- People who have a high positivity ratio live on the average 10 years longer than those who don’t. They also get sick less often and are able to bounce back from health and psychological setbacks more effectively and at a faster rate.
- Positivity is contagious.
This last point is pretty big. Your good mood influences how you interact with those around you, who adjust how they interact with those around them, and so on and so forth. This is a stellar example of how you can really “Be the Change You want to See in the World,” as Gandhi quoted years ago.
How can I choose and cultivate positive emotion?
There are many ways to cultivate positive emotion. As noted above, you can choose positive emotions by noting HOW you interpret events and ideas (and the meaning you assign them– The Happiness Journey addresses this concept through explanatory styles).
You can also choose intentional activities like:
- Connecting with nature (through sounds, sights, smells, touch)– by being outdoors or with animals/creature. Nature can inspire you, remind you that you’re part of a bigger picture (humble/awe you), and in return you may display gratitude and love for allowing this connection.
- Connecting with others– by showing interest, being curious, being kind or helping, When you help someone, you externalize your positivity and it moves between you and another person like a dance… adding more possibilities for goodness in the world.
- Opening your mind — by focusing on the present moment and finding the positive meaning in the situation. At any time, ask yourself in any given moment, “What is right here? What can I celebrate?” Or on a different note, dream about the future… anticipate an event in which you can plan and savor, and replay in your mind at a later date.
- Opening your heart– by savoring goodness, counting your blessings and following your passion. For any of the emotions or methods above, ask yourself, “When was the last time I felt this feeling? Can I think of other triggers that can produce these feelings? What can I do now to cultivate these feelings?”
There are many other methods you can employ to cultivate and choose positive emotions. If you would like to grow your repertoire/library, and learning about new tools that can help you increase your positive emotion, please email/contact me at any time.
What We Focus on Grows
Now that you know what positive emotions are, how they can benefit us and how we can choose them, what positive emotion will you CHOOSE to focus on today? Do it for today, tomorrow and if you can– everyday– and your heart, your mind and your body will thank you in years to come!
Finding a lot of interesting and relevant sites and resources on happiness, flourishing and everything promoting optimal living. Thought I’d try out a new feature I have not used; to share an article on my blog– directly from the article’s page. Hope this works.
Businesses are starting to look at the “happiness” and flourishing factors at work, to help build healthy teams and get the most out of their human resources… pretty smart. Here’s an article that talks directly to that. This is a good read not only for business owners and managers, but also for parents and teachers. After all, those children are pretty much like our employees (in a very twisted way)! Enjoy the read by Paula Davis-Laack, JD and MAPP graduate:
So, I’ve started a tele-course through MentorCoach with a leader in the field of Positive Emotion– Dr. Barbara Fredrickson. She teaches/conducts research out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in the Positive Emotions and PsychoPhysiology lab. Her previous book, Positivity, is one of my favorites and her new book, Love 2.0, is closing in on that rank quickly. I won’t give much away regarding the book and course, but I will say that it’s mind-boggling how important this stuff is and the effect it can have on our bodies and lives. In the class and in the book, Love 2.0 is a new look on the biggest hitting positive emotion- and tweaking the definition to have three conditions: a connection over a shared positive emotion; a synchrony of biochemistry and behaviors between those involved, and reflected motive to invest in each other’s well-being that brings mutual care. Dr. Fredrickson is a “psychological scientist looking at love from biological measures.”
Broaden and Build
In a nutshell, her past research has looked at how positive emotions (The book Positivity lists the top 10) can help broaden our thought-action choices and build our resources from psychological to physical to cognitive/intellectual to emotional. This is known as the Broaden and Build theory of Emotion. Where as negative emotions send us into a “fight or flight” mode, mostly to escape danger or a perceived threat — and support us in focusing attention to take immediate action (which allowed our ancestors to survive), positive emotions open us up – physically and intellectually– allow us to see more options for actions, and think creatively about how to use the resources around us. Love is one of many positive emotions she looks at in Positivity. In her new book, love is the only emotion she explores for its importance to social relations, personal functioning and overall well-being is great.
Need for Positive Emotions in our Daily Diet
In both of her books, Dr. Fredrickson states that we need a steady diet of positive emotions to help us build these resources over time. She likens it to a heathy nutritional diet. Eating one piece of broccoli at one sitting will not be as life saving as eating broccoli weekly for a longer period of time. This is the same with positive emotions. They do help you feel good in the moment (and that moment can be short), but trying to increase your intake of positive emotion daily can help you build a resilience muscle that you can flex and use during times of hardship or discomfort. It is during these hard times that the effects of positivity come to the forefront…. and allow us to cope… with a healthier mindset. Here’s an excerpt from Love 2.0 that describes the effect of positive emotions: “science documents that positive emotions can set off upward spirals in your life, self-sustaining trajectories of growth that lift you up to become a better version of yourself.” Who doesn’t want to become a better version of themselves? Well, you can start now, by choosing more positive emotions in your life (which also reminds me of the Hapacus course I will start teaching next month…. sharing strategies and more).
Start Today, Start with You
Wondering how to increase your positive emotion in general? Look for opportunities where you can connect with others. Try starting with three people today. Think about how you can contribute to the health of your interactions by giving a person your 100% attention (instead of multi-tasking like the world tells us to do). Turn toward that person physically and take a moment to really HEAR what they are saying. Give them feedback to show you hear them (smiling & eye contact) and give them kind words back. And then check out Barb Fredrickson’s websites– www.positivityratio.com and www.positivityresonance.com. And call/email me and I’ll be happy to chat with you on the topic– and help collaborate your plans to start gaining more positive emotion today!
The topic of strengths, specifically character strengths, is getting a lot of airplay these days especially in the fields of Positive Psychology, Positive Education and Business as well. Positive Psychology identifies character strengths as the 24 traits (derived from 6 common core) seen in human beings across cultures and time– that are universal to the human experience. These traits or strengths are values you embody that help make you who you are- they reside inside and are pretty stable over time. Researchers, educators, employers and now the general public are starting to realize that focusing and building on such strengths, rather than weaknesses, can make for a happier, meaningful life in which you are engage and living more optimally. Also, using strengths in times of adversity or conflict can also help us cope better with the situation and progress on to a resolution.
The VIA (Values in Action) Institute studies and assists people in identifying and using strengths– doing so for over a decade now. They offer online assessment tools — some are free– for individuals to discover their strengths so that they may use them in all aspects of their lives, from working and learning, to interacting and existing. Here are a few reported research findings taken directly from the VIA Website:
- Using one’s signature strengths in a new way increased happiness and decreased depression for 6 months (Gander, Proyer, Ruch, & Wyss, 2012).
- The use of signature strengths elevates individuals’ harmonious passion (i.e., doing activities that are freely chosen without constraints, are highly important, and part of the individual’s identity). This then leads to higher well-being (Forest et al., 2012).
- Among youth, the use of signature strengths in novel ways along with personally meaningful goal-setting led to increases in student engagement and hope (Madden, Green, & Grant, 2011).
- A qualitative study examined the use of VIA strengths by women in the workplace and found that in all cases, strengths led to a “virtuous circle” in which the strengths use helped them overcome obstacles that had impeded strengths use. All subjects derived unique value from using character strengths at work (Elson & Boniwell, 2011).
- Employees who used four or more of their signature strengths had more positive work experiences and work-as-a-calling than those who expressed less than four (Harzer & Ruch, 2012a).
If you’re interested in identifying your strengths and taking the assessment tool, go to VIA Me. The test is 120 questions– and may take 10 or so minutes. They also have a free assessment tool for kids, to understand their strengths for the same reason; build them up to make life more happy and get through challenges more successfully. Both are free tools, with reports that follow that call out your top 5 strengths and introduce you to ways you can use them to get more from life.
I took the VIA Me test– 2 times this year. My findings did not change between those times, and they did not surprise me. My signature or top 5 strengths include love of learning, creativity, curiosity, appreciating beauty and excellence, and gratitude. What did surprise me was the suggestion to use those strengths in novel ways, and to use them to get through difficult times. It works… when met with some recent obstacles, I reflected back on my strength to figure out solutions. Especially the strength of creativity. I would ask myself is there a creative solution here? When I started to lose interest in something that has interested me in the past (like exercise routines), I used my strengths in new ways, and my interest returned (this relates to a term in positive psychology called hedonic adaptation… something we all do whether we want to or not–i.e. lose interest after a while).
I also had two of my children take the test (the 3rd will do so soon), and the results surprised me a bit. Knowing their strengths has helped me relate to them better; for I call out a strength when I see it and celebrate it. This kind of exercise not only helps me with being grateful that they possess such strengths, but it also helps them too… realize the strength and feel good about having that quality as a part of themselves– which increases self-esteem and happiness in general.
So, now that you know (in a nutshell) what strengths are, are you willing to give it a shot and check out yours? I’m telling ya, you’ll be glad you did!
If you’d like some help with this process or would like to talk more about it, just email firstname.lastname@example.org.