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Posts Tagged ‘happiness’

I know I didn’t write for a while, I had my reasons. But I read recently this book, “the curious incident of the dog in the night-time” by Mark Haddon and I wanted to quote a part of it- because it’s beautiful, simple and so logic. The narrator is an autistic 15 years old boy.

“In the bus on the way to school next morning we passed 4 red cars in a row, which meant that it was a Good Day, so I decided not to be sad about Wellington.

Mr. Jeavons, the psychologist at the school, once asked me why 4 red cars in a row made it a Good Day, and 3 red cars in a row made it a Quite Good Day, and 5 red cars in a row made it a Super Good Day, and why 4 yellow cars in a row made it a Black Day, which is a day when I don’t speak to anyone and sit on my own reading books and don’t eat my lunch and Take No Risks. He said that I was clearly a very logical person, so he was surprised that I should think like this because it wasn’t very logical.

I said I liked things being in a nice order. And one way of things being in a nice order was to be logical. Especially if those things were numbers or an argument. But there were other ways of putting things in a nice order. And that was why I had Good Days and Black Days. And I said that people who worked in an office came out of their house in the morning and saw that the sun was shining and it made them feel happy, or they saw that it was raining and it made them feel sad, but the only difference was the weather and if they worked in an office the weather didn’t have anything to do with whether they had a good day or a bad day.

I said that when Father got up in the morning he always put his trousers on before he put his socks on and it wasn’t logical but he always did it that way, because he liked things in a nice order, too. Also whenever he went upstairs he went up two at a time, always starting with his right foot. (…)”

I think most of us have some kind of “thing” or “ritual” that makes us think “well, this is going to be a very good day!” or just the contrary. And why not? Today I had one of these things happening (nice dream, then positive phone call) and maybe it will be obvious to all of you, but I just thought “maybe I have a Good Day and something special will happen to me”. This is just the proof of how apparently meaningless events can be meaningful to someone. We are to decide whether something has an importance to us or not. Then, this is up to us to try to make each day a Good Day and keep a positive attitude, even though I know that it can be extremely tough sometimes. So I will see how my Good Day continues 🙂 And I wish lots of Good Days to all of you!

My nephew, this was definietely a Good Day with a great smile!

My nephew, this was definitely a Good Day with a great smile!

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every element at the right place

every element at the right place

In his book about creativity and creative people (see book shelf) Csikszentmihalyi affirms that “(…) it is possible to single out seven major elements in the social milieu that help make creative contributions possible: training, expectations, resources, recognition, hope, opportunity, and reward. Some of these are direct responsibilities of the field, others depend on the broader social system. If our argument is correct, then creativity can be substantially increased by making sure that society provides these opportunities more widely.” (p.330)

It is impossible to disagree with this statement- these 7 elements seem in fact necessary to the development of creative people as such. But if you think about it, isn’t it what most of us need to be satisfied in our professional lives?

Would you be able to do your job if no one showed you how to do it, if you didn’t go to the appropriate school, university, attend the courses, etc.? Would you be so ambitious if you knew that no one expects anything from you? How do you feel when your boss never recognizes your good performance? If there wasn’t any reward (such as salary or bonuses), would you still go and work?

Most of us eventually find professions and employers who provide the 7 elements that allow us to feel satisfied, fulfilled and happy with what we do. But I believe that if people are so often unhappy, the reason is that more than one of this element is lacking. Of course, it is also a personal question of what is really important to us- one will put “recognition” as the most important factor, while another person can need in the first place “expectations” or “training”.

Seven elements that can make most of us happy at work. Seven simple elements. Why is it then so hard to find not a perfect, but at least a good job?

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experience life

experience life

I am reading now a book written by M. Csikszentmihalyi, a psychologist and professor of an impressive reputation, the author of “Flow” and “Creativity (…)”. The book is not as much about the creativity itself, although the author looks for patterns that lead some of the people (that I would qualify of genius or at least extremely talented) to be creative and therefore able of great achievements. He had the opportunity to interview individuals whose work is world wildly recognized and rewarded by prizes like Nobel’s or Pulitzer. There are researchers, mathematicians, physicists, writers, etc.

This is a very interesting and useful lecture that I am also reading with pleasure, but I can’t agree with one particular statement of the author. “(…) the reigning stereotype of the tortured genius is to large extent a myth created by Romantic ideology and supported by evidence from isolated and- one hopes- atypical historical periods. In other words, if Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy showed more than their share of pathology it was due less to the requirements of their creative work than to the personal sufferings caused by the unhealthful conditions of a Russian society nearing collapse. (…)” (p.19)

Therefore, according to these words, Dostoyevsky and Tolstoy would have been equally genius even if they wouldn’t suffer because of what was happening in Russia. I am not so sure if they would have been so creative and wrote those remarkable novels if it wasn’t for suffering, if it wasn’t for the difficulties they were encountering, for knowing how pain feels, for wanting to understand human behavior and looking for answers. They would still become writers, probably, but would their work be so fascinating? I guess we don’t have and won’t have the answer.

My point here is that I strongly believe that what is called today a “wealthy” society does more damage than good on a creative level. Each day more and more people chose TV instead of a book, we live easy, we live fast, we want what is effortless and often superficial.

Therefore, a child growing in a wealthy society who is developing his perception of the world and his unique thoughts about it, is less likely to be curious, less stimulated on an intellectual level, less likely to want to explore it because he explores it by watching DVD’s and maybe, if lucky, Discovery Channel instead of brainwashing tv shows. If his family is more or less a “normal” one, where he isn’t exposed to any difficulty like a parent’s alcoholism, someone’s health problems, he will just live in this pink, false and easy world of the future to be “normal”, ordinary person. He will not know the taste of pain, he will not grow as strong as he could. Schools, especially the public ones, do not encourage creativity so much because it means more work for them, for the teachers, the adults. Wealthy societies are a place which is everything but creativity and curiosity stimulating.

I believe that one has to experience life- its beauty and ugliness- to contribute on a greatest level to it. There are lots of factors that are necessary so a person can achieve something extraordinary and Csikszentmihalyi explains them all. My point, nevertheless, is that beside some exceptions (and there will be less and less exceptions as we allow children to become stupid because of their parents and teachers laziness) a wealthy society and a healthy family is not so much able to give birth to a new Dostoyevsky.

There is no good way to approach this subject. Stupid people will have more or less stupid kids or children even more stupid than their parents. Just as will the lazy or too busy to be good parents ones. Experiencing life, again, its beauty and ugliness, is the way to stimulate a mind. Politicians, parents, teachers could also take more care of their kids- less tv and more books, less indoor activities and more outdoor excursions, etc. Teachers who do teach in a passionate and remarkable way should get some recognition. A society can be wealthy but does it has to mean that it produces brainless people? Then what kind of future will this “great” society have? Why do best novelist write inspiring novels only if they are able to live and experience life 100%? How would they be able to describe a country if they had never seen it or at least read about it? How can they talk about colours, smells, feelings that they never experienced? One thing is sure, our kids won’t find out the taste of life while watching Big Brother.

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I am well aware of the consequences of writing a post which is meant to make people thinking by criticising all (or almost) that the wealthy and hedonistic societies represent.

I have been confronted this week with the death of my beloved aunt, a 92 years old lady whose life was full of pain, disappointment and difficulties. She was the strongest person I knew.  The generation of my grand-parents, people who participated in the World War II, who fought for their countries, for the freedom for the upcoming generations- these are the strongest, most brave, courageous and kind people I have seen. I tend to think about them as the “lost” generation. They sacrificed their lives, their youth, all they had for what they believed in and for us. If you ask most of them whether they feel like they are a “lost” generation, they wouldn’t understand. You ask them if they can say that they were happy and most of them will answer “yes”. Do they think of themselves as martyrs? Neither.

Now, for me, today’s teenagers and people in their twenties seem like the “lost” generation. No values, thoughtless, interested in getting easy pleasures and fast, we (and this is a generalisation, because I still believe some of us are not “lost” at all) are weak and have what  our grand-parents might have called a meaningless lives. We have no purpose and we don’t look for it. We are less aware of what is and what is not important in life, what we really want, why and what will make us happy. Because we often don’t even know what happiness means.

Our grand-parents gave us safety, comfortable lives, a better world (in the wealthy countries). And still, here we are, wasting all their sacrifices, unable to be happy, even though we have the tools to feel so.

Some of the wealthy societies and life style lead us to:

Low Frustration Tolerance:

Basically, it means that we can’t tolerate, we can’t stand when things don’t go the way we expect them to go, when life doesn’t run smoothly, when we have to do hard instead of easy. This is something that children feel very often and in the process of growing up they are supposed to learn that they just can’t have all they want or that they have to put some effort in order to achieve what they want. Children don’t learn that anymore and, in consequence, when they become adults, they experience the Low Frustration Tolerance.
In practice, it means that whatever obstacle we encounter, we just don’t know how to find a solution and keep in mind the goal we want to achieve. We get angry, anxious, and experience all kind of feelings that impede us to feel good and to concentrate on really important things.

Low Frustration Tolerance often creates procrastination and self- defeating behaviours. We are frustrated with our jobs, with our relationships, with our lives in general and still, we do nothing to overcome LFT. We prefer to stay in what is called the comfort zone. Someone unhappy in his marriage doesn’t do anything to change his or her situation because this would mean stepping out of the comfort zone. This person is used to feel unhappy and what seems worse to him or her is to confront himself with the fear of being alone, of never meeting a true love, of making a huge mistake, etc. Another person can successfully procrastinate any attempt to get fit- just because the idea of exercise is something he can’t stand, makes him feel frustrated. So even though he commits to exercise, he never sticks to his own commitment “because I will fail anyway, because I hate sports”.

A world where superficial actions and immediate pleasures are more valuable than a meaningful life:

People stopped reading true literature. Most of us didn’t have a classic literature book in our hands for years. Instead, we just pick an easy bestseller and call the author a genius. Kids watch on DVDs the adaptations of the books they are supposed to read. All this assuming some of us read more than 2 books per year. All that’s easier, faster and seems like more pleasure is what we prefer.

We use computers all the time, so many of us are forgetting handwriting. If the computer crashes, it seems like the end of the world- we can’t work, we don’t know our agenda, we can’t function properly.

We eat junk food and fool ourselves that we’re cooking. Because we don’t care that the sauce we use for the spaghetti is all ready and has more of E-something inside than natural products. We “bake” cakes and cookies- from a box: just mix everything together, add some milk and one egg, put it in the oven and you “baked” a delicious cake! But does it really has the taste of your grandma’s cake? Is it even close to the taste from your childhood???

We “go green” in so many hypocritical ways- separating some plastic from paper from time to time, using special bags instead of the plastic ones, turning off the light, etc. All of this would be great if in countries such as USA, Canada and Australia it would be possible to live without a car. Not only because of the big distances, but also because of the costs of public transport, its availability (come on, Warsaw’s suburbs have better public transport availability than Sydney’s suburbs!) and the fact that everybody has to have a car. And not just A car, but a big one which polluates 10 times more than most of cars that people buy in Europe. Please, call yourself an ecologist.

Healthy life style? When? How? Going by car to work, from work, to pick the kids from the school and, of course, the shopping centre.

Our superficiality is also reflected in our relationships. When we have problems in our marriage, we can consult some specialist, we are taught to communicate and, still, more than 50% of marriages finish with a divorce. We just give up so easily when the problems that any normal couple experience show up. We don’t know how to deal with difficulties, with misunderstandings, we don’t think about what our values are and don’t know the values of our partner. I am not saying that we don’t try. But are we really trying hard enough?

We don’t recognise happiness:

We want things. Our society is a materialistic one, so it’s natural that we want this or that and that we automatically associate having something with being happy. And then comes the disappointment, because what we dreamed of is not enough. So we want more and more and more… Without ever feeling truly happy for more than a week or two. Our grand-parents couldn’t have all those things. They were more preoccupied about a good health care, getting enough food and a good education for their children. They were more satisfied than we are. Why? Because often our lives, sadly, totally lack of meaning and deeper purpose.

We are not grateful:

We don’t think about being grateful for the things we have. We often don’t even know what we could be grateful for. Those things can be so simple, but we don’t pay attention; the sun is shining for the first time this year, someone unexpectedly smiled to us, the morning coffee we shared with the one we love…

I could keep going on and on… I am not saying that my life is not superficial, that it’s not easy for me to be grateful for what I have, I do have LFT but will try to do something about it. This post is not to point others with my finger, while I think I am different. These are just some reflections that you can agree with or not. And the generalisation is huge, I know.

My questions is: how proud of us would our grand-parents be if they could see what we are doing and how, the poor choices we make and all the great things we have or could have and that we don’t even notice?

recognise happiness

recognise happiness

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Take care of yourself. If you don’t take care of yourself, no one will do it for you. Or maybe someone will try, will do some things, but eventually he will get tired and it will get pretty obvious that the person who should be taking care of you is you.

More than a week ago I discovered (yes, I did discover it only now) that I have never taken care of myself just for me. I have almost always been doing everything to please others. And even if it seemed like I am pleasing myself, I wasn’t. An example? Buying some clothes, so I can be sexy and beautiful. You could think that this is one of the obvious pleasures we do for ourselves. In my case it’s never been like this. I want others to appreciate me, I want others to love me, and I want others to think good things about me. Even when I write, which is one of my hobbies, I do think about getting the appreciation of other people, not of my own pleasure of writing something valuable. When I post stuff on my blog, I wonder if someone will like it, if I will get any comments. When I do other activities, I think about getting clients for my practice so I can earn my life and my family and friends stop to think about me as a kind of looser.

Of course I know that it’s not reasonable, but it has never so clearly occurred to me that from time to time, without exaggeration, I should be doing something just for myself. It can be small things, like having a manicure or buying a pair of beautiful shoes (you know what I think when I buy new shoes? Is he going to like them? Is this colour the one he likes on me? And what’s worse, it’s not even his fault and I have never been given any kind of instructions concerning my shopping). You can do something different, like going to movies by yourself or spending a weekend in a spa, go to the beach in the morning and meditate. Whatever it is that you are silently dreaming about.

Maybe it will be not fair to say that men do take care of themselves better while women more often neglect their own needs and desires. The other thing I discovered recently is that concentrate on loving others INSTEAD of loving others AS WELL AS loving yourself, does not mean that they will love you back or that they will appreciate the “sacrifice” or that they will not hurt you. My conclusion: I have nothing “mine” (at least 1h per week with my favourite TV show!) and people would still do what they will decide to do- go away, never appreciate me, stop loving me, or just take care of themselves without caring much about me.

It seems that loving ourselves is so hard for many people. This is often the reason of eating disorders, addictions, or other things that people do because they hate who they are. Why do they hate themselves in the first place? I would ask them this question if I were their coach. Maybe they don’t hate, but just think that they are less important than other people. Or worthless. “Why?” I would ask again.

So why not start with some small steps, why not make yourself a pleasure, spend an evening on caring about your mind and body or doing whatever you’d love? Yes, for some people it is extremely hard and I understand. But let’s try to celebrate ourselves.

me loving me during bushwalking

me loving me during bushwalking

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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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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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