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5 pack of slides on complexity theory, leadership, management and psychology

I prepared these slides to help students revise and consolidate what they know about complex adaptive systems, psychology, management, leadership, organizational design, supply networks, and yes, happiness.

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If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Eureka by Ben+Sam via FlickrMake yourself lucky, be happy, BS?

If you hang out with management theorists, you will know by now the essence of the prevailing zeitgeist.  Whether Richard Wiseman is talking about luck; whether Martin Seligman is talking about happiness; or John Seeley Brown is talking about edge, we have a common formula that is applied over, and over.

Following are some notes I made reading a paper by Keith Grint of Warwick Business School on leadership in local government.  He begins with a great question 🙂

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

Keith Grint of Warwick Business School asks:

If Big Society is the answer, what is the question?

The questions (I think) are

  • How do we do local?
  • Why is doing local better than doing central?
  • And, does ‘doing local’ work better than doing central?  After all, surely the whole idea of politics is to seize the commanding position and dictate terms?

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local

To answer the how, why, what and whether of local, at least to answer the how, why, what and whether of local using theory, we need to begin with the theory.   Let’s check our assumptions first.   At the same time, we’ll see that we are assuming, rather than proposing in scientific sense, that local is the “dog not the tail”.  (If anyone knows a non-dog metaphor that will work as well, please let me know!)

Once we’ve grasped, the idea that we are dog, and political change is the tail, then we want to know “how”.  And the task of popular writers is to explain the “how” well enough to stop people disappearing into the bottomless pit of despair and victimhood that is part of the self-story when we think of ourselves as the tail.  That Brits love the victim story is a different post.

Today, I’ll try only to explain how we start change at a local level which is what I think Keith Grint was talking about and what management scholars and their ilk can tell you a lot about.

The theory of act local

The theory of “act local: begins with some beliefs about leadership.  If you have differing ideas about leadership, nothing else I write will make any sense at all.  So, try these on for fit.  If they don’t fit, all else will be a logical exercise. If they do meld with your beliefs, you might find a sense of relief in the account of “lead local” that follows.

Two basic beliefs about leadership

Leadership is not air; it is the wind.  When leadership is there, it is there. We might be able to see it coming.  We might in odd circumstances be able to build a wind tunnel.  But for the most part it is ephemeral, situational and transitory.  Nonetheless we know it when we feel it and we know it when we see its effects.

Leadership is not a map; it is a place.  When you are there, you are there.  When you are not, you are not.  You are not a leader-in-waiting.  You aren’t leadership-material.  You are either leading right now in this place with these people.  Or, you are not.

One basic proposition about national leadership

UK’s future is not made in Whitehall.

It is made by us. Because leadership is like place and wind, the UK is made and led through our local squabbles and the place-by-place, moment-by-moment decisions we make where we are, where ever we are and whomever we are with.

So, how do we set about making UK’s future at local level?

So far so good – if we believe that leadership, of necessity, of its very essence, is a local, situational and transitory phenomenon with nonetheless real consequences, how do we act as a local politician?

One basic assumption about politics

Politics is about defining space.  Politics is about defining who gets to be here and who get to talk.

One basic proposition about leading the politics of radical change.

Cynically, party politics is a device for keeping us apart.  Defining history is about connecting with people we don’t normally talk to.

I’ll repeat that.  The politics of change, the politics of defining history, is about connecting, not with people like us, but with people we don’t normally talk to.

The nexus of leadership and politics

So, to pull together ideas about leadership and politics – we believe leadership is in its very essence local but nonetheless we have political structures which determine who is in and who is out – or in plain terms, who gets to be part of the conversation.

To set off radical change, we have to change who talks to whom.  Or natural instinct is to huddle with people with ‘common interests’.  Actually, we must do something else. We must expand the conversation to a ‘complete world’ of everyone who has an interest.

To take a stark example, if I were campaigning to reduce immigration (which I am not), the intelligent political approach would be to include the immigrants (and their employers).  That the campaigners don’t shows us that they aren’t really serious and that they will always be somewhat surprised by the results of their political initiatives.  They simply haven’t done the work of connecting people who have an interest.

Changing the future of our country, then, is changing who we speak to!

The “how to” of modern politics

And now to the “how to” because after all, the reason why I am writing this at all is because people think they are not able to affect the future of their country (preferring to whinge but that’s another post.)

Is politics viral?

Sometimes it seems that politics can be viral.

Take Egypt.  Wael Ghonim puts up a Facebook page at just the right moment.

But, was the page just timing or relevance?  Without being a historian of Egypt, I think the page became a lever on a fulcrum of wide-spread concern among people who have generally have neither need nor opportunity to speak to each other on a daily basis.

And with lever and fulcrum, as Archimedes said it would, the world moved.

The page was the lever.  The fulcrum was the concerns of many people partially connected and ready to be connected further.

Is viral politics enough?

Some people thing viral politics is enough.  I don’t think so.  We still have to do the ‘foot slogging’ of door-step politics. We have to build relationships painstakingly.  We have to build our coalition (woops, dirty word in UK).

Simply, if defining history is building new connections with people we don’t normally talk to, we have to build those connections.  We have to initiate the connections and we have to sustain them with repeated contact and mutual respect.

What’s more, we have to engage with people who not want to connect with us.  It might take a while to build the connections we need.  But of course we don’t mind if we really believe in the future we are imagining!

Is success assured?

Again, without being a historian, the Facebook page in Egypt came at the end of an era of making connections and making connections and making connections.  Wael Ghonim didn’t intend to start a revolution.  He put up a Facebook page, and while he wanted to connect with others, he had no idea how important those connections were to become.  The Facebook page might not have succeeded.  There had been many attempts to rally Egyptians.  This was the rally cry that came when the connections were enough.

Simply, change will not happen unless we believe in it enough to begin without any guarantee of success.  If we don’t believe in our people enough to begin, if we don’t believe that we are enough; we will never make enough connections and we won’t have the Facebook page, or whatever happens to be the lever in our movement that tips the final balance.

We never know exactly when the tipping point will be.  We have to begin in faith of our dream and our people.

And is one big viral event is enough?

Sadly, not.  A big viral event may give us a head-start.  A big viral event like Tahrir Square dramatically improves the self-efficacy of everyone takes part.  They will volunteer readily next time and won’t be easily put off by challenges.

But as one swallow only makes us think of summer, we need many successful events for active citizenry to be the norm.  Actually, we need many successful events to trust each other.  We need success to offset the disappointments and to build the momentum.

If we believe in the future that we say we want, we need to do the hard slog of building the connections and maintaining them over the challenges, triumphs, disappointments and tears of real world politics before we will be rewarded with deep and longstanding change.

So if you are banking on one big viral event, you will squander the benefits of the event, for benefits are huge but not enough on their own.

And should we wait for politicians?

I wouldn’t!   Old guard politics will produce more of the same.

What can you and I do?

What has to happen is you and I connecting to people we think are worth listening to.  No proclamation from Whitehall will ever make that happen.  This depends on whom we believe are worth listening to and whether we can be a****d to make the connections.

What we get back depends on what we are willing to do.  England, Britain, United Kingdom is us. If we want change and we haven’t changed something small today, we are simply talking BS (oh dear, what did I say?) 🙂

Change something today – get lucky!

The advice for starting change at local level is the same advice that psychologists will give you for making yourself lucky (and happy) (and indeed for giving up smoking or losing weight!)

The advice from psychologists is simply this.

Do something different today.  Drive to work a different route. Speak to the person next to you on the train.  Give up your seat for someone on the tube.

Mix it up.  Connect.  Connect.  Connect.

  • Complete your world by connecting with everyone you need to take part in the conversations you know are just waiting to happen.
  • Start to tell the collective story.  Start to tell the story of your collective .
  • Learn what other people want too.  See where you can help them and see where they are delighted to help you.
  • And, include the people you think you can’t stand (But talk to them later! Start with someone who is just new or different!)

How long will it take?

I don’t know for sure. Psychologists aren’t  hot on time.  But, the poets and gurus say you will see results in three months and life-changing experiences in a year.

Will you begin to lead locally?

What have you got to lose by trying?  You only have to talk to someone new each day and do something different like take a new route to work?

What will you gain?

A more interesting day for a start.

A life experiment second.

Maybe something bigger third.  The curious will go for that I think.

Resources

Leading questions: If ‘Total Place’, ‘Big Society’ and local leadership are the answers: What’s the question? Leadership February 2011 7: 85-98,

To get a copy of the paper, you’ll have to email the author Keith.Grint at wbs dot ac uk.

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Khalil Gibran and The Happiness Index

Don't Spill! by Ack Ook via FlickrUK’s Happiness Index

David Cameron’s Happiness Index has most people puzzled.

How can we measure happiness?  Surely, we aren’t put onto this earth to be happy, we protestants cry?  Surely, happiness means different things to different people?  Surely, happiness is like a shadow – seen but essentially ephemeral?

Begin the science of happiness with poetry

All the usual objections are valid and in a strange way illustrate what we mean by happiness.  Khalil Gibran explains in the The Prophet.

“Then a Woman said, Speak to us of Joy and Sorrow.

And he answered.

Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.

And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with tears.

And how else can it be?

The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not  the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is the lute that soothers your spirit the very wood that was hallowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall in the truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

Some of you say , “Joy is greater than sorrow,” and others say, “Nay, sorrow is the greater.”

But I say unto you, they are inseparable.

Together they come, and when one sits with you at your board, remember that the other is asleep in your bed.

Verily you are suspended like scales between your sorrow and your joy.

Only when you are empty are you at a standstill and balanced.

When the treasure-keeper lifts you to weight his gold and silver, needs must your joy or sorrow rise and fall.”

Khalil Gibran and The Happiness Index

Indeed, we can cannot measure happiness.  But, we can measure the fullness of our emotional involvement with the world.

Indeed governments do not create happiness.  But, they do influence conditions that enrich or narrow our lives.

And remember, rich men too have narrow lives.  How much can we enjoy life when we are daily separated by car windows and personal assistants who keep us away from the people sharing our streets and the mysteries of unmatched socks?

A happy country is a country where we weep when others weep and smile when others smile.

A happy country is a country where winners celebrate losers because without willing losers, there is no race to win.

In a happy country delight leads to compassion, surprise leads to curiosity and our days are balanced between strangers and intimates.

Measure the size of our cup carved from joy and sorrow.

The happiness index is possible, but first we need to look to poetry to understand what we are trying to put into numbers.

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Triumph of the Human Spirit

Sadness by Ed Yourdon via FlickrI ask not for good health, but for an alert and discerning mind.

I ask not that things go my way, but that I have perseverance and courage.

I ask not for less responsibility, but for increased strength.

Master Cheng Yen, Tzu Chi

Hat-tip: Psychological Resilience

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Happiness Index: Practical useful stuff

Three chess games, Jul 2009 - 19 by Ed Yourdon via FlickrHappiness Index

We have to take happiness seriously. Yes, we do! The UK government is going to measure our happiness and as we all know, what gets measured gets done!

Positive Psychology

Positive psychology has been around now, in a formal way, for over 10 years. That is not long but after all Google has been around for about the same time. And Facebook for a fraction of that.

Of course, happiness is a lot older. To make a more precise statement about ‘happiness’, academic psychologists in Western countries have been studying happiness with a sense that ‘it is right to do this’ for a decade.

So what have we learned from ten years of the formal study of happiness by psychologists?

What does positive psychology tell us?

Positive psychology is little different from other topics in social sciences. It doesn’t tell us answers. It helps us ask the right questions. Most importantly, it helps us put aside questions that are simply the wrong questions.

What are the wrong questions to ask about happiness?

Are some people more happy than others?

We love to ask who is more intelligent, who is more good-looking and after all, who is more worthy. We like to line people up with the best in front and thereafter claim they will beat the front of the line forever and because they are in the front, permanently the best, that they are worthy of more respect, more love, more care, and sometimes even more food.

We know this is the wrong question for three reasons.

Wrong question – Reason 1

Yes, some people are better and some people are worse at specific tasks and they keep this rank order for a short space of time. They are also likely to build a portfolios around their strengths of today, but they don’t stay permanently on top. A top cricketer might become a cricket coach in time, for example, but he will no longer be the top batsman or bowler. Sensible people retire from competition at the right time!

If we are going to compete in the happiness stakes, most of our lives we must be losers.  Logic fail?

Wrong question – Reason 2

Being good at one thing does not make us good at everything. Indeed, learning a skill takes time (around 10 000 hours of practice as a rule-of-thumb or ten years of organized practice) and we can generally only be good at one thing.

If we think about being good at something, we are going to make a choice. Some of us can choose to be good at happiness. Others will have to make do with being good at something else.  Logic fail?

Wrong question – Reason 3

Asking who is the happiest is simply not a worthy question.

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that one person  is permanently good at one thing and with great good fortune also good at two or three other things: does that make them a more important person than someone who is not very competitive at any activity?

Should one child be loved more than another? How corrupting is that for the child who is supposed to be so much better? Lets not go there for if we do it is a case of morality fail, not so?

What is the right question about happiness?

If asking who is the happiest is the wrong question, then what is the right question?

What is happiness?

All these discussions about who is happy and who is not begs a simpler question: what is happiness?

Most of can recognize happiness in the same way that we recognize the difference between a good meal and an indifferent meal.  We just can without necessarily being able to create a good meal ourselves.

Partly we fail to create good meals because we don’t want to learn the skills and do the work that goes into making a good meal. We try cheating with recipes. We add ready-made sauces. We can work on one or another principle ideas – for example, buy good ingredients (would we recognize them?).

The truth is good meals are produced by many factors brought together by someone who understands the issues, who has had a lot of practice, and who is paying attention on the day. Happiness is the same.

• We work with what we have in the moment

• We understand the issues

• We pay attention adjusting as we go

What are the issues surrounding happiness?

Positive psychologists and management theorists in a related field, positive organizational scholarship, have settled on a checklist of FOUR issues to guide our thinking at any moment.  The four issues have been compressed into an acronym PERMA.

• Positive emotion

• Relationships

• Meaning

• Accomplishment

Positive emotion

Positive emotion simply means play nice – not only with others but with ourselves.

A simple trick is to review each day and after reviewing what we feel and the stories we are telling ourselves (and others), we look over our stories and highlight what we went well.

It is astonishing how negative processes are allowed to crowd out positive processes. In part, it’s a survival thing – we attend to what scares us.

The trick to restoring a positive outlook is to make a (written) checklist of what did go well and mark what we would like to repeat and expand.

Relationships

We are intensely sociable animals. Even the most introverted among us like to do things that make sense socially.

Sometimes an activity done alone, like writing poetry, really is sociable, as is the commute of a person who treks long hours to earn an income for his family. We will always prefer the activity that links us to the people we care about.

Indeed, we care about the people when we do things together.  We like the people we do things for and with.  Games designer, Jane McGonigal, suggests we like people better when we play games with them, for this reason. Sports bring us together, etc. etc.?

Giving mental space to our relationships makes even the most introverted of us happy.

Meaning

Life also makes sense when we are working on something bigger than ourselves. Sometimes that means commuting for the sake of our families. Sometimes we use the ‘bigger than’ line as an excuse, e.g. when we go to university because the system requires us to. But we know the difference because when we don’t care about the wider meaning, we hate what we are doing and feel exhausted.

We have limitless energy when we really care about the ‘story that we are writing’. This is a good exercise as well. Write a few lines of your autobiography each night and ask whether you are writing about who you want to be – or about someone else. In a previous post, I’ve suggested that (necessity) entrepreneurs rewrite their story nightly. Writing our story coherently helps orient ourselves to what we care deeply about.

Accomplishment

How we love to achieve! Solving problems is lovely. Triumphing over adversity is invigorating. Dreadful jobs are dispensed with so much more easily when we set them up as little challenges that we can tick of – there! there! there!

Setting little hurdles for ourselves improves the day.

Happiness Happening near you!

If you haven’t already seen Jane McGonigal’s presentation at School of Life (sermon actually) on 26 October 2010, it follows below.

Jane McGonigal is a games designer. She explains the theory of positive psychology. She explains how she used the theory to accelerate her recovery from concussion.  She illustrates the theory by replacing the dreary world of ‘to do’ lists with the PERMA checklist. She weaves her vision for the world into the template of sermons as a children’s story.

It’s fun to watch and shows you where this happiness stuff has got to and where it is going.

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Coelho’s true path to wisdom

PauloCoelhoThe Pilgrimage

Finding Paulo Coelho’s The Pilgrimage, in the local Oxfam shop, I bought it thinking I had already read it. I hadn’t. It’s marvelous; and packed full of wisdom that makes this a reference book to keep on your shelf.

True path to wisdom

One of the nuggets I thought would come up again is the advice Coelho is given by his guide who was called Petrus in the book.

“The true path to wisdom can be identified by three things,” said Petrus. “First, it must involve agape, and I’ll tell you more about this later; second, it has to have practical application in your life.  Otherwise, wisdom becomes a useless thing and deteriorates like a sword that is never used. “

“And finally, it has to be a path that can be followed by anyone.  Like the road you are walking now, the Road to Santiago.”

Writing to remember

I don’t have a good verbal memory so I like to write about things and link them to similar ideas.  That way, I’ll be able to recall the idea whenever I want to.  My method satisfies step 2, I suppose!  Blogging is practical.

Blogging also helps with step 3.  Anyone with a computer and internet connection and some literacy or a camera can blog.  About half the world, I suppose.  It’s not a protected activity, anyway.

But agape?  I write for a better understanding.  Yes, that is agape.  And I write to share. Not always well, but I try to be intelligible.

I worry though that I will reduce the ideas of Paolo Coelho to something prosaic and unworthy.  For what it is worth, these are two ideas from other domains that I immediately wanted to compare with Paolo Coelho’s ideas about the path to wisdom.

Happiness and chaos/complexity theory

Losada modeled happiness in a butterfly shaped space.   Contrary to views presented in the popular press, happiness isn’t  a consistently cheery mood.  It is appropriate reaction to events. We feel sad at sad times and happy at happy times but get stuck nowhere.

Ratio of positive to negative events

Losada uses three variables to model the space.  The ratio of positive to negative in our environment must range from 3:1 to 11:1.  3:1 is a lot.  For every jarring event, we need three good ones to recover.  5:1 is optimal.  Sometimes we struggle to maintain that ratio and the struggle captures our focus.  In these distressing times, we tend to exaggerate the bad by excluding what is good.  The good gets buried and we are in danger of slipping so far down the ratio we might never recover our composure.  Simply, we have to make a special effort to celebrate what is good in the situation to compensate our tendency to repeat the bad over and over again like a broken gramophone, presumably in the fear that if we don’t, it will bite us.  I take that to be agape.  The search for the good.

Other vs self

The second variable that Losada used was discussion of the outside world.  When we balance discussion of the world outside our immediate circle and the needs of our circle almost our mood swings throughout the spectrum.  We are less likely to see everything as all good or all bad.

To give you an example, I sometimes cheer myself up with an elaborate day dream of what I am going to do.  When I go out into the world, I am living my dream.  But people around me don’t see me that way.  It’s like meeting a bucket of cold water!  My immediate reaction is to feel small.  A better reaction is to build up the dream to include them too.  When my dream is not situated in the harsh realities of the world, other people will stop me, and more importantly my own sense of shock will stop myself.  And then I am unhappy because nothing works!!

Inquiry vs Advocacy

The third variable that Losada used is a balance of inquiry and advocacy.  At first sight, this is not the same as the criteria of universality, inclusion and humility that Coelho espouses, but when I put it like that, you possibly see the similarity.

Any way, I was struck by the similarity of ideas coming from different traditions and had to stop to test how far the ideas ran in parallel.

Social media

The second notion that struck me is that social media is successful because it also follows these principles.

Social media is a courteous world.   Sure it has its spammers and robots and flamers but the general ethos is to be helpful.    We simply get more done by celebrating what we can do together.

Social media is a practical world.  I watch my rankings not out of vanity, though of course there is an element of vanity too.  I watch my ranking and Google Analytics to help me find people who share my interests.   “5 best way” articles are very popular and that is partly a search for practicality ~ but they belong in the point below.  I write on blogs because they keep me grounded in reality (or at least more so than if I didn’t).

Social media is an inclusive world.  Through teaching, I know that a major difference between Gen Y and earlier generations is that digital natives test information in their own lives and absorb it or not when they find it useful.  When we can communicate useful  (not popular)  information, we see the response.  Of course, popular also wins.   Of course, tawdry also wins.  Not everything useful is deep or good.

I know we can take the analogy too far and the poetic description is far better than the stilted prose of a former academic.  I just wanted to test whether the three criteria ~ agape, practicality and openness ~ worked in other areas of my life.

Do they work for you?

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Happiness is how we live, not what we get out of living

Happiness ny-image0.etsy.com.il_430xN.39722240

Who does this belong to?  Please tell me and I will add a link here or any purchase information or remove it if you prefer?

And to everyone else, remember happiness is how we choose to live our life.  It’s the way we make our choices not what we hope to gain from our choices.

We only have to ask: what is the happy way to do this?

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Why do we stop using a gratitude diary when we are happy?

Oahu's North Shore by ttrygve via FlickerHow often do you use a gratitude diary?

Do you use a gratitude diary? Some people recommend using one weekly.  I have used one daily but I’ve found that when I’ve had a particularly bad day or when things are going particularly well, I don’t use it.

Why leads us to skip our gratitude diary routine?

I pondered the latter, particularly.  At first, I thought that when I already feel positive,  I spontaneously avoid becoming more positive.  After all, after positive comes irrational optimism and I like to keep my feet on the ground.

My one-off test

Then I disciplined myself to jot down some notes on a lazy Saturday morning and I decided that the opposite is true.  It strikes me that we veer away using a gratitude diary when life is going well because it reminds us of our underlying anxieties.

It’s reasonable to avoid spoiling the party but anxieties are anxieties because there are serious matters in our lives that might not work out well.  Acknowledging anxieties does not have to be mood-dampening.  Cleaning dust out of a corner doesn’t make us think our house is permanently dirty (though we might marvel at how much collects).

Acknowledging anxieties keeps us in touch with rich tapestry of life and makes life fuller and more enjoyable.  At least, that’s my current thesis.  Time to get back to using a diary, I think.

What do you predict? ‘Events’ notwithstanding, will I be better off for cleaning out the subconscious anxieties that I  would be quite content to ignore if I thought I could?

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If our words for happiness and sadness were different, we wouldn’t feel muddled

I want to follow up Gaye’s comment

“ I’ve not seen happiness or sadness as fixed points. My own experience told me long ago that both come and go. While I’m not that good at going with the flow, I remind myself of that old Quaker saying “this too shall pass”.

However, I find it hard to be so accepting of grief and hurt and sadness and pain, and I am surprised at the anger I feel in the cold-blooded way that many casually brush all those feelings aside with this quote from Gibran, as if one compensated for the other. Contrast yes, but compensate no.”

I don’t disagree with Gaye. I would like to extend the thinking.

Empathy

Discussions about happiness become complicated when we are entangle questions about the nature of happiness and sadness with our ability to understand the happiness and sadness of others.

We vary a lot in our ability to empathize with others. We are also more empathetic in some situations and less in others. I suspect that we find it easier to be empathetic when we have been in a similar situation to the one we are observing.

Quite often we look for empathy from people who are simply don’t understand. They are out of their depth.

Belonging

If someone does not have experience to understand our distress, it does not really matter. What matters is that guiding them may be an extra task when we are already strained.

What really matters is when they are in power in some way. Their lack of empathy denies our reality and we experience rejection on top of grief. In theory, the two together could be sufficient to spin us out of the natural butterfly loop of life and out of the natural recovery from grief as time passes.

Appreciation

Almost in contradiction, but not completely so, close relationships such as marriage are more likely to flourish when one partner helps the other partner elaborate good times. Yes, listening in bad times is important. But of more importance is drawing out positive stories in positive times. Recounting good stories deepens our understanding of how good things work and our capacity to come back into the butterfly loop of flourishing when we have spun out of the orbit is widened.

In plain language, when we are struggling with the awfulness of life, we need the good times as a map to find our way back into the natural cycle of happiness and sadness. Becoming trapped in either is illness.

Semantics of happiness

The real issue is the ‘theory’ that we brought to the discussion. When we define happiness and sadness as separate and different, then we ask how much of one should we have and how much of the other should we have.

If we had a word in English to define happiness and sadness and the seasons of our life as one thing, stretching in a straight line or in that looping butterfly shape, we would ask different questions.

If someone is sad, then we act accordingly knowing that there will also be a time when they are happy and we will act accordingly them too.

I like Khalil Gibran’s words because he illustrated this notion of oneness. We find it hard to grasp the idea because of the words that we begin with.

If we had started with a different kind of word, we would have a totally different understanding. What that word should be, I don’t know, but flourishing and thriving are good starts. Languishing is the opposite of flourishing.

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Happiness & sorrow are two sides of a coin; it’s in the maths

4 puzzles of positive psychology

I forgot to finish my series on the 4 puzzles of positive psychology, but I was reminded by lines I read in Khalil Gibran.

The maths of happiness

Old school

It is easy to forget that everything written about psychology is based on an underlying mathematical model.  Psychologists like measuring things and as soon as they do, they’ve made an assumption, whether they realize it or not, about the shape of the thing measured.

Much of our work uses as straight line – like the ruler we used as school.  We fill in questionnaires. We get points and we get a score. We think of intelligence, for example, as being a straight line.  We have more. We have less.   And we can describe our intelligence as a point on that line.  A point.

New school of positive psychology

Positive psychology tosses that assumption of as straight line out of the window.  Mostly.

We stop seeing something like intelligence or happiness as being more or less.  We discard the line.  And we definitely discard the point.  Points will now signify illness. And what’s more, serious illness requiring hospitalization and round the clock care.

The new school of positive psychology psychological phenomena in terms of “flourishing” or “languishing”.  Are we moving around the world freely, or are we stuck in the mud unable to move in any direction?

The mathematical model that we now use describes what is means to be flourishing.  It is a model of movement, not a model of stillness.  It is a model of action & reaction and how we change from one moment to the next.  It is not a model of how we stay the same.  If we are a fixed point, then the new model regards us as ill.

Kahlil Gibran came to my rescue to explain the combination of happiness and sorrow  in poetry

“The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.

Is not the cup that holds your wine the very cup that was burned in the potter’s oven?

And is not the lute that soothes your spirit the very wood that was hollowed with knives?

When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy.

When you are sorrowful, look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Sorrow and joy are two sides of the same coin. One cannot exist without the other.  When our life is all one or all the other, we are ill.  We are living in a make-believe world.”

Personal, persistent & pervasive

But being what we are, we humans tend to think that “what is” will continue forever.  When times are bad, we tend to feel that bad times will continue forever.  We often feel that a situaton is “personal, persistent & pervasive” when in reality is nothing more than  a natural oscillation that in this moment is giving us particular pleasure or sadness.

The danger is that in our anxiety we might bring our worst fears to pass.  The trick of a flourishing life is to mourn that which should be mourned but not to over-generalize and claim that everything else is also a source of sorrow.  Nonetheless, over-generalizing is a trap that we all fall into sometimes.

Happiness is not a point – it is constant movement between many points

Enough for now.  The important idea to grasp is that happiness is not a question of a mark on a ruler.  Happiness exists only in contrast to sorrow; so it coexists with sorrow.  Oscillation between the two, and all the points in between, is normal and healthy, because without sorrow, it would not be possible to be happy. It would not be possible to appreciate happiness.  If nothing changed, if nothing ever changed, we would not even notice it were there.  It is impossible to be happy all the time because if we were, we wouldn’t notice.

Not a contraction; just maths

It is not a contradiction to say that happiness includes sorrow.  It just depends up on the maths that you assumed at the beginning  : a line of fixed points or constant movement in space.

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