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Archive for May, 2009

Pleasures: i.e. sex without love, eat chocolate, watch your favorite TV show, take a hot bath on a cold day, spend money on new clothes, go to the hairdresser, see a football match, first gulp of a beer when you go out or the first gulp of your coffee in the morning, hung out with friends, etc.

Gratifications: i.e. reading a book, riding a horse, help people in need, spend time doing what’s your passion, to feel the “flow” when working on a new project, play tennis, to have a conversation that leads you to express your ideas and maybe have new ones, etc.

We live in a fast world, the mass consumer society offers us an enormous amount of fast pleasures- fast food, fast sex, fast everything… Is there real pleasure in those fast pleasures? They are immediate, effortless, meaningless. Still, it is pleasure and in some way it does contribute to our general happiness. “We don’t have the time for psychological romance” sings Korn, expressing this very idea of easily accessible pleasure. There is nothing bad in pleasure itself, but according to different psychological studies, it does not influence how happy or sad in life we are.

“These delights are immediate, come through the senses, and are momentary. They need little or no interpretation. The sense organs, for evolutionary reasons, are hooked quite directly to positive emotion; touching, tasting, smelling, moving the body, seeing, and hearing can directly evoke pleasure. (…) The higher pleasures have a lot in common with the bodily pleasures. Like the latter, they have positive “raw feels,” are momentary, melt easily, and habituate readily.”

There is nothing wrong with having fun, experiencing pleasant moments. The problem with them is that their effect is not long-lasting. In order to feel more fulfilled in life, satisfied and happy, we need to experience “gratifications”. I have mentioned some examples above- you know better what is fun for you and you know better what would be a gratification.

According to Martin E.P. Seligman (also quoted above) these are the components of the gratifications:

  • the task is challenging and requires skill
  • we concentrate
  • there are clear goals
  • we get immediate feedback
  • we have deep, effortless involvement
  • there is a sense of control
  • our sense of self vanishes
  • time stops

One does not feel positive emotion during an activity/gratification. “When what you are doing is seamlessly perfect, you don’t need [emotions].” Seligman quotes then Csikszentmihalyi: “pleasure is a powerful source of motivation, but it does not produce change; it is a conservative force that makes us want to satisfy existing needs, achieve comfort and relaxation… Enjoyment [gratification] on the other hand is not always pleasant, and it can be utterly stressful at times. A mountain climber may be close to freezing, utterly exhausted, in danger of falling into a bottomless crevasse, yet he wouldn’t want to be anywhere else. Sipping a cocktail under a palm tree at the edge of the turquoise ocean is nice, but it just doesn’t compare to the exhilaration he feels on that freezing ridge.”

To have passions, something you are loosing yourself in, enables you to have a happier life. The problem is that wealthy societies do not encourage the individuals to find their passions and experience the “flow” (an activity that makes the time stop). Why? Because it is not the way they will make you spend more money, they need you to consume goods, each day more, if possible. So the mass consumer society “delivers” you almost any imaginable pleasure, immediately, effortlessly.

The key to a happier life would be, according to this theory:

1. achieve consciousness concerning the bad effects of having a life with pleasure and without gratification

2. get the capacity of choosing an action that will bring gratification, therefore, challenge, difficulty, and the great feeling of achieving something (or failing!), instead of choosing an activity that does not even require thinking

The point is to find an equilibrium between the amount of “pleasure” activities and “gratifications.” It is so easy not to have anything that would belong to the second category and, unfortunately, many people spend their lives… fast. And then they don’t understand why there are not happy and what more would they need to make them happy. And they consume even more, possessions and easy pleasures being the only way they know to have a more satisfactory life.

I believe that even an adult can start to look for what his passion might be, if he didn’t have the opportunity to find any until now. It’s never too late, although Seligman points out that “to start the process of eschewing easy pleasures and engaging in more gratifications is hard. The gratifications produce flow, but they require skill and effort; even more deterring is the fact that because they meet challenges, they offer the possibility of failing.”

It’s hard to start, I know- mostly because I never had many gratifications in my life. But I start to see how powerful they are and just want more… The difficulty in searching gratifications might be in how to look for them, the “know how”- where to look, how to know that this is IT- it is a good thing to work on with a life coach. If you are lucky and know what produces “flow” in your life, be so kind an share with us. We are supposed to learn our whole life, aren’t we?

the flow (while bushwalking)

* All quotes come from “Authentic happiness” by Martin E.P. Seliman, Ph.D., Free Press, 2002

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Few years ago, I noticed that chronic pessimists prefer to call themselves “realists”, while optimists just admit being positive concerning the upcoming events and they don’t really care if you agree with them or not. Of course, they would never understand nor accept the negativity of the pessimist.

I have a great example of this optimists- pessimists- realists “war” at home. My dad is an optimist- even on a cloudy, grey day, when wind was bringing snow to our faces (it was a skiing holiday) he would, freezing, sit down on the ski lift and look at the sky for some sun. Then (still in the air on the lift), he would say that this mini-millimeter of brightness behind the clouds we could see is the sign that sun, within maximum 1 hour, will come and we will have a marvellous day of skiing. At the very same moment, my mom- a declared realist- was at home, resting and having fun in her own way.

The morning I am talking about, the very first thing she did was looking at the window. “The time is awful, it’s cold, there are huge clouds everywhere and it won’t go away, there is no and there will be no sun today, you will see. Do what you want, I prefer to stay at home”.

Back in our ski lift, Lucas (my husband), my dad and I (the two of us looking a little sceptically for this brightness he would be so excited about), started to debate on the difference between a pessimist and a realist. Is my mom the first or the second one? (maybe I should mention here that when you are on a ski lift with other people, you are there, not really being able to move, for around 30 minutes that can be only used for a conversation). Lucas, based on his academical background, would come with a theory: my mom certainly went through difficult experiences in the past and those experiences generated some kind of memory that doesn’t allow her to enjoy the beautiful day we were having, freezing in our ski lift. His theory included some more stuff that I can’t remember right now, but it sounded convincingly, although a little out of the subject. Pessimist or realist, then?

I am telling you this story because while reading about seeking happiness, I found an interesting presentation of the very same debate- but this one based on researches and studies.

Various  researches have shown that “depressed people are sadder but wiser than happy people (the author was using “depressed” as synonym of “pessimist”)”. Depressive realism makes people better judges of how much skill they have than other judge them to be. Does it mean that most of us, if we are not pessimist, overestimate our skills?

“Happy people remember more events than actually happened, and they forget more of the bad events. Depressed people, in contrast, are accurate about both. Happy people are lopsided in their beliefs about success and failure: if it was a success, they did it, it’s going to last and they’re good at everything; if it was a failure, you did it to them, it’s going away quickly, and it was just this one little thing. Depressed people, in contrast, are evenhanded in assessing success and failure. (…) This does indeed make happy people look empty-headed.”

To resume: pessimists are realists, therefore accurate about their judgments, while optimists see what they want to see and they live happy. They probably also live longer. And even if they don’t, they estimate their lives in positive terms, remembering the good things that happened to them. Pessimists probably live shorter, more often get sick and when they die, they still remember what bad things happened to them in 1973…

Lucas with my dad, the true optimist

Lucas with my dad, the true optimist

The quotes come from the book “Authentic Happiness” by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph.D., 2002, Free Press, p. 37-38

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There has been a big misunderstanding, judging to your reactions, due to my last post. As I found out, many of you assumed that since I am a life coach, since I have a nice smile on my photo and I write about happiness, fulfillment and other things of this kind, I am myself a happy and fulfilled person- at work and in life.

Well, the shoemaker’s children are ill-shod, meaning I want to give happiness to people, allow them to reach their dreams, feel satisfaction in life, etc. but I have little of all these things. In fact, I am not happy at all at the present moment (exception: precious moments in my personal life when my husband’s smile makes me smile and feel better than ever).

I am seeking happiness just as other people do. I am well aware that this kind of sincerity can discredit me as a coach. Just check other coaches’ websites- they all seem so happy, fulfilled in life, radiant smiles on their faces (maybe this is really how they feel?), they seem to have everything we are looking for (I’d better talk only for myself- what I am looking for), to have the secret key to this door to Happiness that remains for me more or less closed.

Next question: “how can you tell people that they can be happy and achieve their dreams if you’re not happy and you didn’t achieve your dreams (yet)?”. The answer is quite simple, if I’m still out there, willing to help people, willing to learn more about helping them, reading about it, interested in the positive psychology, etc. it’s because I still believe in coaching and it’s power to give us back our power and strength to change.

I also think that if one can’t have an understanding of sadness, difficulties, of what struggling with life is, this person can’t be a good coach (it’s the moment- just crucify me…). And even though I’m far away from perfection, I find it much easier to help others, be effective in this process, than to actually make myself happy (this might be why coaching works- because it comes from others and not just us, we are not on our own anymore, which makes the process of change much easier).

So here I am, smiling on my photo, grasping every piece of joy I can find (and I do find it sometimes), seeking my personal satisfaction and other things that hopefully will make me a happy person.

Now, if you think you wouldn’t want a coach like me- it’s ok. But if you look for sincerity, objectivity, a professional approach to the client combined with sensitivity and simply… humanity, just email me…

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