The Science of Happiness part 2 – appreciation and collaboration

This is the second post in a short series on a talk I went to see last week by Tal Ben-Shahar, courtesy of Action for Happiness.

In the first, I wrote about Tal’s emphasis on reality. He lives in Israel, and in the Q&A, someone asked him the big question of how to deal with the Israel/Palestine conflict. I’ll come back to that a bit later.

Reality drives our existence. What we perceive is the truth we live. If we perceive there to be injustice, we will find it. If we perceive there to be beauty, we will find it. If we perceive there to be human misery, we will find it. If we perceive there to be love, we will find it.

Ben-Shahar made an observation that identifying this reality means we experience a range of emotions, and we have to understand those emotions and how they affect us. If it is true that reality drives existence, then it is also true that emotions drive behaviour. As a species, we have a real depth of understanding of how different emotions prepare the body and mind for action, or not.

He went on to say that it’s in experiencing painful emotions that we experience what it is to be human. Our painful emotions provide us the platform from which we can be human. As a quick, he said the only two types of people who do not experience painful emotions are psychopaths and the dead.

The resilience we build from having painful emotions is what supports our ability to experience positive emotions and positive living. We know what the bad feels like, and will try not to let that happen again. Through positive psychology techniques we support ourselves to build our psychological immune system. I loved that as an analogy.

Tal spoke about the importance of appreciation too. In marriages, once the honeymoon period is over, we start to recognise the imperfections in our partners. We start to let those imperfections become more important than their positive attributes. Reality drives existence. If we focus on the imperfections we see only imperfections.

One of the things that helps is to make efforts to appreciate your partner. Verbally this is important as you are recognising them openly. Our actions also show this, and gestures like small gifts or in kind are important. When we appreciate the good, the good appreciates. Nice, no?

We need to appreciate our imperfect selves better, and in doing so we can appreciate others better. It can be challenging to live well, if we don’t practise appreciation.

Finally he spoke about conflict. In conflict, often the focus is on two differing opinions and the debate nearly always comes back to that. He described, though, a potential way of reconciliation. Imagine if the two parties collaborated on a task which was for the greater good. The collaboration would allow the two parties to start to focus on something other than their conflict. The conflict could and should still be addressed. But the collaboration would mean you are cultivating optimism and hope through an activity for the better good.

He was open and modest enough to recognise there is no easy answer to the Israel/Palestine conflict. However, two people from either side have collaborated in such a way as to focus on the greater good, and this does lay down the path for hope in this situation, even though it may be a long way to come.

It was all kinds of awesome to listen to Tal Ben-Shahar.


What is appreciation?

Sometimes in life it’s hard to know how to accept things offered to us.

The adage goes “it’s the thought that counts” with the added assumption – so you better appreciate the effort.

But what about those times you don’t appreciate something? When something has been offered and you’re just cynical about it. I mean, just what do we do with appreciation?

“I appreciate you” or “I appreciate what you tried to do” or “I appreciate the situation you’re facing”.

Such a loaded and confusing turn of phrase. It can swing from being a genuine “that was kind” to “I need to appease you quickly and efficiently”.

Appreciating people is hard. It means you have to take a moment and consider just what it is you’re trying to do.

Connecting with another person, that’s what you’re doing. When you appreciate something, you’re letting them know you have empathy with them and you are sharing in something they have offered.

It means letting go of your ego for a moment to accept the other person. To accept that they tried something for you and regardless of the outcome their action meant something.

Because all we can do is judge people on our actions.

When the call centre person says “I’m sorry and I appreciate what you’re going through” it’s hard to know if that’s genuine, or if it’s the patter they’ve been trained to say.

But when we recognise someone for doing something, and we let them know – that’s beautiful right there.

I have a call to action for you.

Get in touch with someone. Let them know you appreciate them. You don’t have to use the words “I appreciate you for…” as that can seem quite contrived. But you can let someone know why they’re appreciated.

Truly it’s a gift. We often reserve if for our close loved ones. Imagine how much stronger and more connected we could be if we accepted and appreciated what someone else did.

Beyond that though, we start to realise we can appreciate all sorts of things. We can appreciate difference – be that difference of skin colour, difference of opinion, difference of religion, difference of work practise, difference of hair style, and all sorts of difference.

When we can appreciate that which is beyond our modus operandi, that’s when we become the best we can be. We don’t have to like what’s happening, but an action being appreciated means we start to bridge gaps to resolution.

I. Need.

Vanity. It’s an odd vice isn’t it. We’re all guilty of it. I mean for God himself* to have made it one of the seven deadly sins, there must be something to it. But what is it for? I need affirming. By you. You feed me. I need your approval. I. Need.

And here we are. I write in the hope that you will read. That you will create with me a connection that means that at some point we both gain something. But what is my writing for? A desire to be praised? To be recognised as someone who has an opinion in his field. Dare I say, to be a thought leader? Well, dammit yes. I. Need.

Which leads me to some recent realisations. I’ve enjoyed a lot of events this year. A chance tweet from Sarah Durbs, turned into a joint venture with Natasha Stallard to deliver an awesome piece of work under the guise of Altruistic HR. That was awesome. A group of us came together and formed L&D Connect, and decided to hold the first unconference for the L&D community. Lots of great stuff happened as a result of that, and by God it made me proud. HRD12 by the CIPD was particularly enjoyable this year as I got to enjoy the whole event from the perspective of an official blogger. And along the way, good things have been happening on Twitter, and with family. All things that have helped me on a journey.

It came to a point some weeks back where I wanted to achieve something else. For me. A sole venture to test my resolve. What could I achieve? Now there is the question to hold yourself to account for. What could I achieve? I decided I needed to hold a public event, where people would spend time with me, and I help them develop their knowledge on a fringe topic. I had to be careful that it wasn’t work related, that it would be cleanly detached from work commitments, and I could be free to go forth at my will. And so Positive Psychology in Application was born.

My goal here is to prove that I can do this. I have an ambition to one day deliver a TED talk, or a Do Lecture. I also have an ambition to help others understand more about Positive Psychology. It’s such a rich field full of insight into the human condition that I want as many people to know about it as possible. I’ve studied it a fair bit, practise it where I can, and help others to understand it through my blog, and even talks at work. I get it, and want others to get it.

I’ve set myself a fair target. I want 150 people to attend. I’m charging for the event as I want to hold it at a decent event space, and create a sense of commitment from people wanting to attend. The pound signs aren’t important though. What’s important is that I make this happen. For me. I. Need.

There’s no call to action here. I could provide a link to the Eventbrite page, but that’s tacky. It screams desperation. Instead I’m going to be better than that. If you follow me on Twitter, you’ll have seen that I tweet about the event daily. I’m also sending out emails, and getting in touch with potentially interested people directly. There’s interest out there. It just needs to be nudged in my direction.




*Allegedly. Also, not entirely true, as its a bi-product of pride. According to Christian lore.

I’m totally being hypocritical and linking to the Eventbrite page so you can get your asses over there and booking 🙂

A post about appreciation

True, unadulterated, non-judgemental, uncynical, appreciation.

Not easy my friends, not easy at all. We, as humans are full of contradictions and fallacies. We have double standards galore, our behaviour is erratic, and our thoughts uncontrollable. There are few individuals inhabiting this world who can truly say they appreciate others. By and large, you and me, we’re not anywhere near it.

We have too many things going on. Politics at work, commitments to friends, responsibilities to family, conflict in society > none of these lend themselves to being appreciative. On an individual level, our bodies are amazing things. It’s a scientific miracle the human body actually exists and is able to thrive. Our minds are an added complexity. Conscious thought, unconscious thought, subconscious thought. It’s all a big pile of fuck-up.

But here we are. We exist. We live. You and I have the capacity for intelligent thought and ability to do something with it. But showing appreciation seems to never be high on our list of priorities. Strange really when one of the biggest motivators in a person’s life is to be appreciated. Instead we focus on getting to work on time. doing the daily toll, grumble, moan, bitch, having a beer, eating a meal. Life, it just gets in the way.

When did you last take a moment? Not to see the world through fresh eyes, but to appreciate that you are here at all? Have you? I had an opportunity to do that this week. I’ve had a busy 3 months. Kicked out of house, family stayed with my in-laws for nearly 3 months, moved to a new house, birthday parties, and big changes at work. It’s been tough at times. Yet, here I am.

So I’m taking the time to write down what I appreciate. I appreciate my wife. We have vastly contrasting views on so many of life’s things, but by God does it make me appreciate her. I constantly find I have to re-evaluate what I thought I understood, and that only causes greater appreciation. I appreciate my children. They show me what innocence is all about and how delicate life really is. Without them I would die inside, and I wish I never have to experience their loss. I appreciate my friends. I’m not an easy person to be friends with. I make demands and can be quite unaccommodating. And they don’t put up with that shit and tell me to shut the fuck up. Fuck yeah! I appreciate the rare position I’m in to enjoy the work I do. I haven’t had to graft to get to my position, not like many have. I’ve had a fairly easy ride of things. And that’s pretty rare in the main. And I appreciate my parents. They have taught me so much about what it means to act humbly, I can only hope I am able to teach my family the same.