The supports for engagement (DW#970)

Remember that we started by establishing that the science of well-being is grounded on the universal virtues of major religious philosophical traditions. So in order to engage in life and feel great at the same time, we need to engage our own strengths and core virtues.

Here is how Seligman puts it:

"In authentic happiness theory, the strengths and virtues—kindness, social intelligence, humor, courage, integrity, and the like (there are twenty-four of them)—are the supports for engagement. You go into flow when your highest strengths are deployed to meet the highest challenges that come your way. In well-being theory, these twenty-four strengths underpin all five elements, not just engagement: deploying your highest strengths leads to more positive emotion, to more meaning, to more accomplishment, and to better relationships."
What this means is that the more opportunities we have to engage what Seligman calls ‘core strengths and virtues’ in our daily...
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Engage in life not just work (DW#969)

For those of us who are workaholics, it can be easy to think that the E in PERMA means to engage in and give your full attention to your work, to excel at it and to live just at the edge of your comfort zone.

While all of the above are true and do create flow, we can imagine how giving your all only to your work (or even hobbies for that matter) will not lead to holistic wellbeing.
In order to flourish, we need to engage in all aspects of our life including work, health, relationships, and service.  We can create more and more moments of flow as we stretch toward goals that matter and give our best self to every moment.

In other words, when we work, we work. When we play, we play. When we pray, we pray. When we are with loved ones, we connect and be present. We engage in life by being fully present in each moment of our lives and giving it our best.

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Engagement (DW#968)

When was the last time you became so absorbed in what you were doing that you completely lost track of time? Chances are that this happened when you were absorbed in an activity which you were good at and enjoyed, but which was still somewhat challenging.

As we discussed in The Joy of Effort,  that while we sometimes yearn to "chill out" and do nothing, long periods of such inactivity do not add to our wellbeing and can in fact, divert us away from it.  

Engagement, which means spending time in activities in which you are completely immersed and this is often referred to as a state of "flow", is a very important aspect of wellbeing.
When we are in a state of flow, we tend to lose track of time and self-consciousness disappears. We are ‘in the zone.’ Our attention is completely engrossed, and we’re right on the edge of our skill level. This is key.  While we can lose track of time while mindlessly scrolling on social media, this...
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Positive emotions are necessary but not sufficient... (DW#967)

Did you manage to take the PERMA profile? If you did, you have an idea of which elements of PERMA are strong and which need work.

Today, let us talk about the P in PERMA which stands for positive emotions.

P = Positive emotions.

Positive emotions such as happiness, joy, awe, and peacefulness are an important aspect of wellbeing.

However we need to remember a couple of things:

Wellbeing does not mean the absence of so-called "negative" emotions such as sadness, distress, anger or grief.

 In fact, it is impossible to only experience pleasant emotions and a wide range of pleasant and unpleasant feelings is normal and healthy in life. Well-adjusted and healthy individuals experience "emodiversity" – that is a variety of emotions on a regular basis and getting rid of, suppressing or ignoring emotions is neither desirable nor healthy.

Secondly, as we have mentioned, positive feelings alone are not enough to thrive and we need to work on other aspects of...

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The PERMA model of wellbeing (DW#966)

We have been chatting about understanding and nurturing (rather than pursuing) eudemonic wellbeing and why it is important.

Over the next few days, let’s explore the PERMA model of wellbeing as introduced by Martin Seligman who is widely acknowledged as being the founder of positive psychology.

In 1998, Dr. Martin Seligman used his inaugural address as the incoming president of the American Psychological Association to shift the focus of the study and practice of psychology from mental illness and pathology to wellbeing and flourishing.

Seligman’s theory consists of five components that people pursue because they are intrinsically motivating and they contribute to wellbeing. While each of these dimensions can be pursued independently, each works in conjunction with the other elements to produce and sustain wellbeing.

The reason PERMA has become so widely established as a model of wellbeing is because research has shown significant positive associations between each of...

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Better than therapy (DW#965)

Here is an inspiring story about how taking on a challenge bigger than yourself can help heal you and contribute to your wellbeing. I first read it in The Greater Good magazine.

The story is about Kate Hanni, 48, a real estate broker in Napa, California who suffered a horrible trauma on June 21, 2006 when she was lured to a million-dollar home by a man who posed as a home buyer, then attacked her when she arrived. For 25 minutes he beat, stabbed, and tortured her, then left her on the floor to die. "My hair was torn out," Kate says. "The skin on my hands and knees was gone. But worst of all, so was my dignity and my sense of safety in the world."

Kate’s physical injuries healed over time, but the psychic damage she suffered was lasting and profound. "After six months of intensive therapy," she says, "I was still afraid to be alone. If no one else was home, I had a panic attack every time I opened my own front door."

In December of that year, Kate and her husband and sons...

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Take on problems bigger than yourself (DW#964)

We have been chatting about meaning purpose and service are an important part of mental and emotional wellbeing.

I like to think of it in very simple terms:

  • Feeling overwhelmed by your problems? Feeling sorry for yourself? Taken for granted? Unappreciated? Annoyed?
  • Take on a larger problem. A cause beyond yourself.
  • To put your problems and challenges in perspective, take on bigger ones!
  • Social scientists and psychologists call this "the activism cure"

Doctors and psychotherapists have long observed, and scientists can now explain that people who give to others live healthier and happier lives. Studies show that this is true whether a person has suffered trauma, suffers from anxiety and/or depression, or is grappling with a case of the blues, research shows that those who take "the activism cure" find personal healing in their efforts to heal the world.

The first major study to observe this phenomenon in 1986 concluded that people who were in better physical and mental health were...

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The paradox of pursuing happiness (DW#963)

The pursuit of happiness, it turns out is a lost cause.
We discussed a quote from Ward’s book which says that, paradoxically, when we go all in on striving "to be helpful to others and serve the greater good" (without doing so trying to be happy per se), our happiness shows up as a wonderful by-product.

Victor Frankl also emphasizes the same idea in his seminal book, Man’s Search for Meaning:

"Again and again I therefore admonish my students in Europe and America: Don’t aim at success—the more you aim at it and make it a target, the more you are going to miss it. For success, like happiness, cannot be pursued; it must ensue, and it only does so as the unintended side effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than oneself or as the by-product of one’s surrender to a person other than oneself. Happiness must happen, and the same holds for success: you have to let it happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to...

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The good life versus the good mood (DW#962)

Continuing our conversation about Eudaimonia, we could also talk about it as living the good life versus chasing the good mood.
Ward Farnsworth in The Practicing Stoic, puts it really beautifully. He says:

"Stoics regard virtue as sufficient to produce happiness on all occasions, and also as necessary for it. The happiness centrally valued by the Stoic is eudaimonia, or well-being—the good life rather than the good mood. . .  the Stoic believes that virtue gives rise to joy and to peace of mind as well. Virtue produces these good consequences as side effects. The primary mission of the Stoics, in other words, is to be helpful to others and serve the greater good, and they don’t do this to make themselves happy. They do it because it is the right and natural way to live. But doing it in that spirit, as it turns out, makes them happy."

In other words, living a life of virtue has happiness as a consequence of it. This reminds me of wisdom...
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What exactly does wellbeing mean? (DW#961)

Last week, we discussed why and how our mental and emotional wellbeing matters, not only for our personal lives, but also for our working lives and especially for our family lives.
Let’s remind ourselves that we need to focus on our wellbeing not just for ourselves. When we are at our best, we are more productive and more loving.
And we are able to contribute our gifts to the world.
Let us take a moment to make the distinction between what popular culture calls happiness and actual wellbeing. Let’s explore two different words for happiness.

To put it REALLY simply:

Hedonia is about:
  • pleasure, enjoyment, comfort and satisfaction;
  • and the absence of distress.
Eudemonia, a more complex and nuanced concept which includes:
  • authenticity: clarifying one’s true self and deep values, staying connected with them, and acting in accord with them;
  • meaning: understanding a bigger picture, relating to it, finding one’s purpose
  • contribution:...
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