Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Bliss vs the American Dream

There’s a great piece in Psychology Today raising serious questions about the American pursuit of happiness and the American dream. No news there. But consider this.

Only in America,

…does family time largely exclude non-family members.
…do we turn down social invitations in order to spend quality time with our kids.
…do parents not have a social life that excludes their kids.
…do we expect that having children is going to bring us a lifetime of bliss.
…do we expect that working more, so we can have the perfect house, in the perfect neighborhood, will make our family perfect and happy.

Well guess what? All of that doesn’t seem to make us happier. Suggestions, anyone?


…you can have dinner with your kids and an adult friend.
… you can attend the theater instead of the 9-year-old’s party.
… you can socialize with your colleagues or girl/guy friends.
… you can bliss with your kids, and yes, you must also find your bliss elsewhere.
… you can be happy with just what you need, without having to work endlessly to get the best.

Expecting that all bliss will come from this one pursuit--2.3 children, house, white picket fence, Spot, Puff--is a losing battle. Seeking your bliss from many sources--work, family, friends, hobbies--is more likely to yield happiness and will be a heck of a lot more fun.
American Pie, Don McLean

Monday, March 21, 2011

Will You Turn Up Today with Emotional Intelligence?

Whether at work or at home, EI, emotional intelligence (not to be confused with AI, IQ or ET), may determine how you turn up today.

Will you be present or absent? Empathetic or insensitive? Authentic or phony? Centered or reactive? Empowering or disempowering? Resilient or fragile?

EI is a set of skills that defines how effectively an individual perceives, understands, uses and manages their emotions and the emotions of others. It includes abilities in the areas of self-management and self-awareness, social awareness and relationship management.

Calming down when upset, understanding what you feel (and by extension, what others feel), expressing that emotion to others (verbally or nonverbally) and dealing effectively (with empathy and humor) with conflict in relationships are all byproducts of EI skills.

If this sounds a lot like being mindful and communicating nonviolently, you’re right. To those skills add some tools for managing emotions and stress, managing tasks and choosing goals in alignment with your values, and you’re well on the road to turning up with lots of EI.

Just for fun, take an EI test here. And listen to Emotional Rescue, Rolling Stones (with an incredibly young Mick Jagger).

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Ask the Questions of Great Art

In a Psychology Today interview (not on line yet), the playwright Annie Baker said, of her purpose in writing:

I believe that great art investigates the human condition, and tries to explain through images and behavior what the hell we’re doing here on this planet. And of course the answer to that question can’t be articulated in worlds. We can only catch tiny glimpses through music, painting, books, drama.

When my clients or friends are depressed, I often hear them asking questions like what’s the purpose of it all, why am I here. Of course, these are terribly difficult questions to answer. Why is it that when we’re feeling down we are compelled to have the answers? We have trouble answering them when we’re feeling pretty great.

A good journaling exercise for the good times is to try to come up with some answers. That way, when you’re down, you have your ideas and can refer back to them. You don’t have to be an artist, writer, coach or psychologist to come up with answers. Possible questions:

What’s my purpose on the planet?
What will I accomplish?
How will my epitaph read?
What will my legacy be?
If my life were a blank canvas, what would I paint on it?

Don’t wait until you’re down to ask these questions. Try it now. Just for fun. If you are a creative soul and haven’t been pursuing your art, maybe now’s the time for it.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

It’s Kind of a Funny Story. Positive Psychology in Action

It’s not a great film, but It's Kind of a Funny Story is endearing, palatable for the teen crowd (Zach Galifanakis helps here) and filled with great messages.

Cliff notes version: teen contemplates suicide, enters psych ward, meets interesting people and has his Dorothy moment in which he sees that he has everything he needs in his own backyard.


Be grateful for what you have and take the time to notice it

Help others before self

People matter and connecting matters

Have real conversations about real stuff

Find your passion, not to be confused with what others think your passion should be

And there were a few messages for parents. Parents, don’t confuse what you want with what’s good for your kids. Kids have to figure out their own passions and make their own choices. Be supportive. Don’t pressure. Notice what’s going on with your kids.

Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young, Teach your children well.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Easy Does it with Self-Compassion

Only you can shape the movie that you make.

Going easy on yourself is the subject of recent research generating some talk. For example, if you don’t stick to your diet perfectly, maybe beating yourself up is counterproductive. I don’t mean not setting goals, not having expectations and not trying your best. I mean showing a little self-compassion if you don’t get the 20 new clients this month, don’t finish your to-do list today, or feel tired and sleep an extra hour.

Not surprisingly, those with more self-compassion are happier, less anxious, less angry and do better with goal attainment. Why, you ask? You know, it takes a lot of time and energy to engage your inner critic. Guilt and negativity are also energy zappers. On the other hand, taking a day off to play is replenishing and invigorating. In this way, going easy on yourself can allow you to face your challenges with renewed energy.

How about going easy on yourself? Think about these:

*Where can you be more tolerant of your own failings or limitations? Can you cut yourself some slack and accept your limits or figure out how you can address your limits productively?

*Do you tend to keep your pain inside and hide it from others, maybe even from yourself? Who could you share your troubles with and how would it make you feel to do so?

*How much time do you spend at the pity party? What can you do, instead, to restore sanity, balance and energy?

So don’t bother to run that last mile, eat the ice cream and leave work early this week…just kidding. But seriously, you may not always want to run the last mile you planned because you didn’t get enough rest last night. It’s okay. Tomorrow is a great day for that extra mile.

And if you know who you are, you are your own superstar.
Easy Does It. Supertramp.