How many times have you found yourself going from zero to 180 over a comment, perceived slight or challenging event only to discover later that the situation was not even close to what you had initially perceived? The truth is that most of us have done so. In retrospect our reaction is embarrassing – if only to ourselves. The real question is how often we allow ourselves to go to this no good, very bad place and do we want to do something about it?
In my last blog I talked about the research done by Dr. Martin Seligman regarding learned optimism. His findings are powerful and deserve greater elaboration. When we are faced with a perceived slight at work or home we may jump to the conclusion that the other person doesn’t like us or questions our viewpoint or skill. If we would just take a deep breath and consider the possibility that the other person 1) did not understand 2) is preoccupied with something in their own life 3) is tired or even ill 4) may simply be on a different wave length, it would go a long way in helping us be happier more optimistic people. When we jump to personalizing a perceived slight without giving the other person the benefit of the doubt everyone loses. Actually, when we really get down to it, rarely is it about us. Even if the slight was intended it says much more about the other person’s sense of inadequacy or frustration than about us. Taking the slight on as truth automatically starts a chain reaction of negative thinking and we are better than that!
If a slight actually does occur it’s important to keep it in perspective. Some people automatically go to the next level and begin to generalize the slight as yet another example of others (the world) continuing to dump on them. They crave sympathy and can go through all kinds of gyrations to get it. If this happens it’s important to remember that empathy is a good thing but sympathy is not – in fact it is downright debilitating. If we are the ones to jump to generalizing after a slight we can become so good at it that within seconds we create a signed, sealed and delivered opinion about ourselves that further erodes our own self worth.
How do we know if there really is an issue about our behavior or attitude that would benefit from a change? The answer is quite simple really. Do we experience repeated examples of comments and behaviors from others that appear the same? If so, is it something that is standing in the way of our own well being? If we discern such a pattern we could ask someone we trust for their honest opinion and then truly listen, without interruption or justification, to what they have to say. Self improvement is a wonderful thing. It says to the world that we are still growing and becoming all we can be.
We can choose one of two paths. The pessimist who reacts defensively to an isolated incident, depletes our energy and expects the world to make him happy or the optimistic who is full of energy and ideas, chooses to look for the pony in the pile, and sees any challenge before him as an opportunity for growth. The choice is ours. The good news is that optimism really can be learned.
Have a great few days!
Given the amount of human interaction involved during the holiday season it may be helpful to visit the topic of happiness in an effort to better understand ourself and others. A little knowledge is a powerful thing. It can help us remain calm, cool and collected and avoid judging others when they do not react as we would hope for or expect. Martin Seligman, known as the father of positive psychology has contributed much to the field. From his research he has discovered three highly distinctive types of happiness. The differences are real and identifying them empowers us to be our better self during this holiday season.
The first type of happiness Seligman called the ‘pleasant life’ in which a person strives to surround themselves with as many pleasures as possible. Folks in this category are in a constant state of accumulating stuff such as the latest technology, clothes, furniture, cars – the list goes on and on. They are driven toward making themselves happy first and foremost. Happiness to them is showing the world what they have achieved by having newer, better or more. As you might guess, the research shows that since this type of happiness is determined by accumulating things it does not result in lasting fulfillment or happiness. Thus, the cycle continues – as they decide to purchase the next thing to make themselves happy. The sad part is that there must always be – the next thing – for them.
The second type of happiness comes from ‘engagement.’ People in this category find happiness from deep involvement with their family, friends, or their jobs or career. They want to be engaged with others and find great personal reward by doing so. In fact, they receive such positive feelings from their connections that they can become totally absorbed in a life that revolves around others as their source of happiness.
Seligman found a third type of happiness results when we live a ‘meaningful life.’ Once we discover our personal strengths we find ultimate happiness and satisfaction by applying these strengths in service to a cause bigger than ourselves. A meaningful life is more than simply accumulating things or maintaining our connections with others. This type of happiness is achieved from making a difference – a contribution – in a field or to society in general. George Bernard Shaw wrote ‘A Splendid Torch’ which explains this particular view or orientation to happiness quite well.
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish, little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community, and as long as I live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no ‘brief candle’ for me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.”
The reality is that each of us has our own take on what we need to be happy. Our challenge then is to learn to accept others and their own unique perspectives when they don’t match our own. Acceptance through greater understanding is key.
Have a great few days!