Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author

The language of morality, character and virtue is back!

And gratitude is one of the most popular concepts to be given wholehearted support by Martin Seligman and positive psychologists.

Write a gratitude diary daily (or at least weekly), we feel a positive mood more often, we detect more easily positive events in the noise of negativity, and we fell more energetic and hopeful.

Tipping our hat to the positive, not matter how bad the negative, is fun and gives us the energy to cope with whatever the world throws at us.

But this is motherhood and apple pie, as Americans would say.  What of the opposite?

The test of morality is the desirability of immorality

Positive psychologists don’t like talking about the opposite of morality, character and virtue because many of them are clinical psychologists, and they are, well, sick of that stuff.

But what will the absence of gratitude, or ingratitude, do to you?

Here is a Twi proverb, courtesy of @africanproverbs.

Ingratitude is sooner or later fatal to its author.

Maths of chaos theory

Chaos theory will predict just so.  Initial conditions predict final conditions.  In mathematical language, x at time 2 is equal to x at time 1 plus/minus or times/divide something.

When we start out ungrateful, we will continue ungrateful until something changes.  We may simply make our lives so unpleasant that we decide to mend our fences and start to say thank you.

Phase states

Sadly, chaos theory also predicts that when we are in a sufficiently sour mood, we change states from one where we can recover, and will recover, to one where we move into a narrow space that is hard to get out of.   Ultimately we might reach a third state which is a dark cell of solitary confinement of our own design.

Simply put, we cannot expect ourselves to be infinitely resilient.  Shit happens, but sufficient shit overpowers our ability to cope.  The moral of this observation is not to make life harder for ourselves.  It is hard enough already.

Kindness is not self-indulgence

There is no point in beating ourselves up, though, for being ungrateful.  Sometimes we are. We know we shouldn’t be careless or resentful but when we are irritated for some reason, we may find our generous spirit has left us.

Then the gratitude diary comes into play again. It is quite surprising what good things are happening around us while we are taken up with inconvenient, churlish and distasteful aspects of our lives.

And sadly, when a gratitude diary is not a discipline that we do whether we feel like it or not, we might go days without writing it, our mood lowering and the rubbish in our lives slowly displacing the good.

When we have got it bad, then, as poet David Whyte says, “The truth is found in a walk around the lake.”  It is time to gain perspective and we do that from getting back in touch with nature and the good in our lives.

The discipline to respect the positive in the world is an important discipline.  We cannot, and do not function without it.

Mandelbrot

And apparently off the point but not, TED has posted Mandelbrot talking about his career.  Gratitude is in the same class of phenomena as cauliflowers (yes it is!).  To get an inkling of the maths, watch the video.  To get a sense of what mathematicians do for a living, watch the video.  To get a sense of enormous gratitude and humility in a career that could have been frustrating other than for attitude, watch the video!

And then watch the second on African fractals!  Mandelbrot worked on fractals and they are seen all over Africa in design of buildings, artwork and . . . democracy.  Go on . . . watch it!

Ron Eglash

Don’t spend a day without having noticed a miraculous moment when the universe converges and you were there

Positive psychology in poetry

When it comes to understanding positive psychology, there really is no competition between prose and poetry.

Today, Paulo Coelho quoted a passage from his book By The River Piedra I sat Down and Wept, the first in the triology about a week in the life of someone ordinary to whom something extraordinary happens.  You must read it for yourself.

Positive psychology in prose

In prose, which is no substitute, this is what he said.

Every day there is a moment when a miracle is possible.  It doesn’t announce itself.  It is easily missed.  And it is likely to present itself in the most unlikeliest ways.  In a humdrum guise, or as to lowly that it is not worth earthly notice.

When we look back on our day or our year or our life, we want to look back on those miraculous moments when we were fully attentive and our understanding changed in a flash and our lives changed too.

Because these moments are easy to miss, it is very easy to spend a whole day attending only to what we know.  To make sure we never miss those glancing moments, we have to pay attention, expectantly to everything around us.

So we slow down and live a less cluttered life.  To be sure, the more we pack in, the more we are likely not pay attention to anything.

And even when life is slow, when our company is dull, when we yearn to be elsewhere, we can still pay attention to the moment, and look out for a miracle.  It may not come in that hour.   There are no promises.  But it might.

Be mindful

Don’t miss it.

Don’t spend a day without having noticed a miraculous moment when the universe converges and you were there.

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A positive psychology prayer

Pottery Jar, Acoma Pueblo, taken at Field Museum
Image via Wikipedia

Hold On…

A Pueblo Indian Prayer

Hold on to what is good,

even if it’s a handful of earth.

Hold on to what you believe,

even if it’s a tree that stands by itself.

Hold on to what you must do,

even if it’s a long way from here.

Hold on to your life,

even if it’s easier to let go.

Hold on to my hand,

even if I’ve gone away from you.

Found on Inspiration Peak

[Use this when the day has made you too gloomy to fill out a gratitude diary.  Remember what is good, what you believe in, what you must do and who is important to you.]

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5 Little Understood Ways to be Resilient in Hard Times

I am 99% persuaded by positive psychology, largely because I thought like a positive psychologist long before it was invented.  I never took to clinical psychology so I had nothing to discard, so to speak.

But it is the darker side of life where I think positive psychology has its limits.  Maybe the typical positive psychologist does not feel that because they have the skills to deal with people who are deeply unhappy.

My reservations come at many levels.   As a practitioner, though, I want to know what to do when we are in a dark place.

What does it mean to be resilient when times are terrible?  What are the critical processes that we are trying to leverage?

If I succeed at exercising leadership when times are miserable, if I show resilience and help others to be resilient, what might these processes be?

Here are 5 processes underlying resilience

I would be interested in your thoughts.

Active listening

The key to listening to angry people, among which I include people who are deeply insulted, humiliated, frightened, defeated and generally gibbering wrecks, is to acknowledge their emotion.  We don’t have to agree with their emotion.  We don’t have to copy their emotion.  We don’t have to make any comment about the circumstances.

We simply have to acknowledge the emotion, and show, through our acknowledgement, that we still respect the person, in spite their emotional display, and in spite the circumstances that led to these humiliating circumstances.

Generally, that leads to slight embarrassment on their part but that is a much more comfortable emotion than the anger and hurt.

Developing a group

We are often angry and humiliated when we have lost status and losing status usually means losing status in a group or being ejected from a group. Referring to a group to which we are both a part helps restore status.

Additionally, when people have been humiliated in front of their nearest and dearest, particularly the partners, children and parents, we should restore their status in their eyes too.

Identify small actions

Anger comes from loss of status and be implication, loss of control. When we look for small things we can do now, and we do them, we feel better.

Be grateful ourselves for having the opportunity to help

While we are doing all three above, we are active. We take the initiative. We are in control. We belong.

Be grateful, and allow our gratitude to show to the other person.  They will be grateful in turn.

Gratitude is a great mood-lifter.

Enjoy the results

As the other person lifts from utter dejection to a willingness to try, enjoy.  And be grateful again.  That way we share the ‘positive feedback’ with the other.   Let them share the way our mood has improved.

And watch the entire group become more buoyant

If we have done our job well, collective efficacy and trust should have risen.  And we all know that collective efficacy – our belief that our colleagues are competent – is the most powerful factor in raising school quality.  It is bound to have the same impact in other circumstances.

Trust also creates upward positive feedback spirals.  Though, we may need a lot when we start from a dark place.

What do you think?

  • Are these the effective mechanisms for regaining resilience in desperate places?
  • Are these effective mechanisms for encouraging people who really have few ways forward and little to push off from?
  • Would these questions even help you in the day-to-day dispiriting trials of the western world – like getting stranded in an overcrowded airport?
  • Are you able to try them out in the less-than-terrible conditions so that one day you can use them when life is truly terrible?

To recap:

L – Listen

G – Group

A – Act

G – Gratitude

E – Enjoy

A day of awe

Do you remember this day?

Inauguration Day

Isn’t it quite astonishing that we welcome a politician with such excitement and anticipation?  I would so love to see pictures and videos of what you are are doing as you watch Obama take the oath of office and make his first speech as President.

Today, I chatted online with another “non-American” who added the usual “touch wood” caveat that I mentioned yesterday.  None of us want to be too excited “just in case”.  And to work through our anxieties seems  ill-timed.

Good leadership is about us

The level of our excitement teaches us an important lesson about leadership.  Good leadership is not about the man or woman walking in the leader’s shoes.  It is about us.  It is about our expectations of ourselves and of the people around us.

Do Americans trust themselves?

How much do we believe in Americans, and how much do they believe in us?   How much do Americans believe in each other, and how much are they willing to reach out to each other to show that commitment?

A day of belonging for many

Today is the day of those who have worked long and hard for this moment, and who lived their lives believing that this day would never come.  Today is the first day they believe they fully belong.  This day is theirs to celebrate and to cherish.

A day of reflected joy and marvel for us

Today is the day we get to bask in their reflected joy and to marvel at their resilience, determination, loyalty and generosity.  There are not many moments like this in a lifetime when we stand in awe of people who have accomplished so much.  It is a day of gratitude when we are happy for no reason than the world has taken us gently by surprise.

A day when we quietly wonder whether we are much better than we though we were

It is a moment in which we ask  – are we not a little better than we thought?

Designing and building positive business processes

Positively, please

Martin Seligman wants to spread the positive movement throughout society. I hope so, starting with customer relations in big businesses.

HSBC: May I compliment your staff?

Today, I rang my bank and had to hang on for several minutes while they stepped me through a tedious set of steps that we all know and love to hate.

Finally, I was given an opportunity to make or follow up a complaint. It really jarred. Irritation followed by the opportunity to complain but never an opportunity to say thank you.

Does anyone know of a business that allows you to thank its staff members?

Of course, HSBC are not the only offender. I once thought of trying to thank someone at my nearest railway station (20 miles away).   The rail company also has a “complaints only” policy.

Gratitude site

I’ve been thinking for some time that we need website where we can send messages of thanks. Today I found another site, PlaceShout, that would work as a template. Placeshout works for San Francisco only – so San Franciscans, you can try this out.

I want to build a PlaceShout for the UK. The idea would be that when and where you get great service, you SMS the website with the business and message. Logging into the website would allow you to add new businesses.

Microblogging developers

And anyone else, if you are interested in this project, could you tweet me at @jobucks?

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Vocabulary of positive psychology

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Image by foghornleg90 via Flickr

A good article here on savoring and a list of actions and the corresponding emotion we feel.

  1. What did we take the time to marvel at today and did we feel awe?
  2. What did we stop to give thanks for and did we feel gratitude?
  3. Did we have five minutes to bask in a task well done, or a compliment, and feel pride?
  4. Did we luxuriate in the bath, or the park, or some where else and feel pleasure?

It would be good to extend the list. I’ve just started a little public wiki for anyone who wants to join in.

The Sun, David Whyte

how I want to know
that sun,
and how I want to flower
and how I want to claim
my happiness
and how I want to walk
through life
amazed and inarticulate
with thanks.”

David Whyte in a collection about the Hero’s Journey.

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