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.

The Science of Happiness part 1 – Reality is important

This is a short series of posts where I’m writing about a talk I went to last week on the topic of: The Science of Happiness. It was held by Action for Happiness, and the speaker was Tal Ben-Shahar. In the field of positive psychology, Tal is one of the leading figures of academia, practise and thought leadership.

There is something about someone who understands basic things about audience dynamics before he’s even started the presentation which I enjoy. On this evening, Tal made comment that he doesn’t like to do evening talks because that’s when we should be with our family’s or loved ones and spending time with them. He also said that he was told by the compere that he had to keep the talk short and that the hall was only booked until midnight (the programme was due to end about 8:30 pm).

From there it was just a treat to listen to him talk. He relayed a story about someome asking him what’s the one secret to happiness? He replied, there isn’t one, but three – reality, reality, reality. And this was a repeated theme during his talk.

For me, I loved hearing this. He spoke about the work that’s been done in this field and said that time and again it’s not extraordinary or successful people who are any more happy than anyone else. Instead it’s that there are ordinary people, showing ordinary attributes which help them be happy.

Personal is everything. Perspective is everything. There is no global panacea for happiness. It’s all about you and what sense you make of the world.

He continued by telling us how in children we see the best of what this could be. When faced with hard situations, challenging life options and an unclear future, is when resilience is most important. When people are able to consider the following, they allow themselves to build their resilience and have a better future:
– clear future goals
– being kind to others / volunteering
– an optimistic outlook
– identifiable role models
– physical exercise

There’s a lot to say about that list and to help people understand them better. It’s far from exhaustive but are broad categories that capture a lot of behaviours which are beneficial to individuals.

When he started talking about how our thinking affects our reality, I was agreeing vigorously. If our focus is on what’s not going right, then the solutions and insights we seek are only supportive to that. That only makes sense to me and I’m left saying, of course it does! But it’s one of those obvious statements that sometimes needs stating.

The opposite is also, clearly, true. If our focus is on what’s going well, then the solutions and insights we seek will be in support of that.

Remember, reality is important. If we’re not addressing reality, we’re not giving ourselves the right opportunities to be happy. Answering questions around what’s not working are useful and important. Answering questions around what’s working well help provide optimism and hope.

In part two I’ll talk about appreciation, imperfect people, and psychopaths, all from Tal Ben-Shahar’s talk.