Dilettante

Discipline – or perhaps it’s actually routine – doesn’t come easily to me which, in many ways seems a shame, mainly because my talents could have been a whole lot more developed by now if I’d learned to practice them daily.  Kindly, we might say that I am a woman of divided attentions and that perhaps I am merely an exceedingly late bloomer.

I know that my preference for spontaneity is going to create challenges for me in adopting the much needed practice of meditation so I’ve asked my far more routine-oriented husband to be my partner in committing to the actions needed to make mediation a habit.  We’re using the breath as the focal point to which we return when thoughts, feelings and sensations float in and attract our attention.  So far, we’ve had exactly one ten-minute group meditation session graciously guided by Life University’s own Dr. Brendan Ozawa-DeSilva and four subsequent ten-minute meditation sessions on our own.

Clearly, I’m only just beginning the first steps of adding meditation to my “happy habits,” the activities that are part of the Happy LIFE.  Meditation has been shown to be associated with reducing stress and the host of ills that come along with it: hypertension, inflammation, insomnia (she wrote at 4 o’clock in the freaking AM), heart disease, etc.  Although there are far more forms of meditation than my minimal understanding can even pretend to convey, meditation that is focused on mindfulness seems most effective in producing wellbeing and even flourishing in our lives.

Given the minuscule sum total of my experience with “real” (as opposed to “haphazardly self-taught”) meditation, my practice of it is far from masterful.  So it is, being so new to the practice that I might fairly be thought of as a meditation embryo, I have no idea of the significance (or lack thereof) of the very interesting experience I had while mediating yesterday morning.  As usual, thoughts and feelings would float to mind and attract my attention after which I would bring my focus back to my breath.  And, I’m told that this multitude of thoughts rising to mind when meditating (especially in the beginning) is normal and exactly how it’s supposed to work.  And, each time we return our thoughts to our breath, we are strengthening our minds in the same way that repeatedly returning a dumbbell to its “focal” position in the process of doing arm curls, strengthens the biceps.

I was aware of many thoughts floating to mind, fleeting sensations of mild discomfort in my creaky old bones, and an awareness of what is either the energetic whirring of the world or the beginning of tinnitus.  If I’m going for the contented life, I prefer the former poetic interpretation to the latter geriatric one.  In any event, whether it was triggered by a particular thought or by the meditative process of letting them go, I began to feel a sense of happiness and I’m sure I began to smile.  As I returned to focusing on my breath each time I became aware of the happy feeling, it seemed to continue to grow until, near the end of my ten-minute meditation, I was feeling almost elated and even a little weepy with joy.  I’d have to say that the feeling was somewhat intense and really quite lovely.

I have no idea whether experiencing such a strong sense of joy was typical of what one might expect from breath-focused mindfulness meditation and I don’t know whether I’ll ever experience it again.  I do know that I welcome the opportunity to “test drive” the practice of meditation to see if making it a happy habit might add depth and focus to my life and work.

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Prospective Mind

I’m thrilled to have had a fellow blogger, Jazmine at Prospective Mind, quote and comment on the Vitalism Signs column I posted in my Positively Happy blog.  Jazmine’s post also resulted in a “pingback,”  which,a s a new blogger (and an old broad), I have no clue what that means.  But, I’m pretty jazzed to know someone is reading my articles/posts and actually spring boarding of then with her own thoughts.

Here’s Jazmine’s post:

“Vital Positivity

by Jazmine

From :Vital Positivity.”

…it may be that no adaptive human behavior or condition will escape being classified as a disorder. I promise you, this is not going to get better as long as there are people out there who profit from selling us on the idea that we aren’t happy. We are creating a culture of people who believe that they are free to pursue happiness without knowing it’s going to take some work on their part to catch it. 

“It’s a very fine line between ‘positivity’ and ‘adaptivity’ and disregarding the seriousness of a disorder. Personally, I think the emphasis shouldn’t be on optimism or positive thinking, but rather a perspective grounded in the idea that change is possible. We do have a need to see our mental health as our responsibility, something that has been slowly fading over the years. I like that this article brings up the point of hard work, especially in a culture that is used to getting what we want when we want it. But we do have to be careful in how we display this message to those who suffer from mental illness. We don’t want to be handing over the blame, minimizing the pain, or putting them down, but it is of absolute necessity to obliterate the mindset that there is nothing we can do if we have a mental illness. Instead we should be asking what this illness and these symptoms mean for the individual and what recognizing these symptoms as a disorder means for our society.”

And here’s my reply:

Thank you, Jazmine, for reading my article and posting a quote from it in your post; I’m delighted about both.  You and I agree that it’s important to understand that each of us human beings has the ability to change our mental functioning if we’re willing to work at it.  And I agree with you that we don’t want to blame or minimize the pain of anyone suffering from mental illness.  

However, I’d like to also add that my fear is our healthcare system is all too quick to push everyone to the “middling ground” of average.  We may even be erring on the side of diagnosing quirkiness as mental illness.  After all, quirkiness is the inseparable twin of creativity and the inseparable twin of genius may be diagnosable mental illness. It’s just that the genius has the adaptability to really rock mental illness and make it work to produce great art. 

I fear that direct-to-consumer commoditization and promiscuous prescription of perfectly legal and prodigiously profitable mind-altering drugs make it all too easy to medicate away the pain and processing that is required for us to adapt as well as possible to the inevitable losses, disappointments, tragedies and injustices we’ll encounter in our lives. 

Yes, we should have compassion for those whose neurochemical make up makes it necessary for them to regulate their neurochemistry through pharmaceuticals.  Let’s make sure that we provide as much emotional support as possible and let’s pay enough attention to them to make sure medication is really necessary – and not a poor substitute for the very hard but very normal work needed to process.  And, let’s make damn sure we’re not just providing a manufactured customer base for the pharmaceutical industry.

Vital Positivity

If you’ve ever wanted to a) enter into extensive psychiatric or psychological therapy, b) get on some psychoactive drugs, c) be diagnosed as bad-moonshine-crazy, or d) all of the above, you may be interested in a career as one of the Desperate Housewives of Tootertown Trailer Park.  Or, you might try simply flipping through the soon to be released “DSM V,” the newest revision and fifth edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for the mental health profession.  I’m pretty sure you won’t have to look too hard to find yourself in there somewhere.  I, myself, am mentioned on several pages, featured in one appendix and have been asked to play myself (and a host of all the other characters that live in my head) in the movie version.

Speaking of having more than one person living in your head, having multiple personalities (or, more correctly, dissociative identity disorder, aka “DID”), was once viewed strictly as an aberrant accident of brain chemistry.  Then, once more became known about DID, it became apparent that DID was actually an elegantly – though bizarrely – adaptive approach to enduring unspeakable abuse on the part of children who developed it.  This understanding of DID as an adaptive strategy may have been one of the seeds for the sea change that is happening in the field of psychology.  

The danger with the traditional view of psychology and the new diagnostic standards, though, lies in the fact that it appears intent on making mental health patients of everyone.  Are you feeling sad because you’ve you lost a loved one?  You could have a Major Depressive Disorder.  Is your three-year-old having a spell of pitching temper tantrums?  Could be Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder.  Careful.  You’re walking in treatment territory – the land of traditional psychiatric therapeutics, a condition-based landscape, which only provides views of symptoms to be treated, even in the most normal adaptive responses. 

That’s not to say that we can’t use some help with our psychological wellbeing.  Even though Americans and citizens of other “First World” countries have more material wealth (for now) than at any time in previous history, we are also less happy, more dissatisfied and suffer from depression in greater numbers.  Soon, if we continue to allow ourselves to be manipulated into dissatisfaction with what we should see as great good fortune, it may be that no adaptive human behavior or condition will escape being classified as a disorder.  I promise you, this is not going to get better as long as there are people out there who profit from selling us on the idea that we aren’t happy.  We are creating a culture of people who believe that they are free to pursue happiness without knowing it’s going to take some work on their part to catch it. 

Now, though, after thirty years in the making, the science of psychology is in the process of fully embracing what is essentially a vitalistic philosophy in the form of a field that’s going by the name of “positive psychology.”  Rather than focus on the constellation of pathological deviations that make up the universe of the human mind, positive psychology focuses on the idea that all human beings are creative, resourceful and whole – that we are innately endowed with everything we need to function optimally.  This is a powerfully different view of the psychological landscape.  It presumes that each of us is capable of our own insights toward solutions, adaptation and growth. 

The view of positive psychology also recognizes that the way we live in the world, as evolving and adapting beings navigating tremendous leaps of social and technological advancement, sometimes results in interference to our optimal functioning.  And, best of all, because positive psychology presumes that we are created to be mentally and emotionally healthy, it has concluded that there are specific steps we can take to remove interference to psychological health.  These steps are not magic or wishful thinking.  Positive psychology – or positivity – is not putting on a happy face or denying that we are experiencing psychological pain or distress or pretending to be happy when we’re not. 

Positivity, as a mindset, is the practice of choosing to see opportunities rather than, or perhaps within, threats.  Just as the vitalistic view of physical health allows us to see an earache as an opportunity for our immune systems to adapt and grow stronger, positivity allows us to see heartache as an opportunity for our psyches to adapt and become more resilient. 

The choice is ours.  The time is now.  Do we want to be a people who recognize that life isn’t always a bed of roses – but that we’re more likely to have roses when we do the work to turn the soil and prune the canes back to the ground?  We can choose to believe that even devastating loss can be overcome if we do the work to grieve and grow and become grateful for what the loss can teach us.  The alternative is to believe that every emotional setback creates a pill-shaped hole in our hearts. 

 

Note:  This is a “reprint” of my column, Vitalism Signs, found in the current issue of Today’s Chiropractic LifeStyles.

The Happy LIFE Revisited

I’m going to turn an article about positivity on its ear and lead with something negative – just to get it out of the way.  Some people say – and you may be one of them – that positive psychology and the idea we can learn to be happier are a load happy horse feathers.  Or worse.  And, you know, everybody’s entitled to his or her opinion – and attitude.

Here’s the thing, though.  All things begin as thoughts.  Concrete things happen as a result of creative thought.  In fact, most human beings believe that, in some form or fashion, all of creation began as the thought of the ultimate consciousness, which we know as God, in all the many ways and by all the many names through which human beings connect with the divine.

Even on our more minuscule human level, we can clearly observe that our thoughts shape our lives and our perspectives.  Each and every action we take begins with a thought – however well (or poorly) formed that thought might be.  And, our internal lives are also driven by thought – countless numbers of them from moment to moment, coursing through our brains, forming their own pathways, nets, webs and loops – resulting in all the ticks and quirks and patterns of action that define who we are as people.

In the past, with the instrumentation available to it at the time, science concluded that the brain and its patterns of thought could not be changed after adulthood, at which time scientists believed the neural net and physical structure of the brain had been laid down “in stone.”  However, science now has ways to observe the brain at work – in real time, in living and thinking people – and can see with more clarity than ever how the brain is affected by conscious thought.  We now know that thoughts can have physical effects on the brain, not only on which areas become electrochemically activated, but also on the structures themselves.  The more you activate and utilize some part of your brain, the larger that part of the brain becomes and the more robust its functioning.

The discovery of the brain’s ability to change and grow, at every age, is called “neuroplasticity” and that’s the ability we’ll be putting to use as we participate – together – in The Happy L.I.F.E. (Life In Focus Experiment).

The idea behind the Happy L.I.F.E. is to begin forming the “positive habits” that are meant to allow us to increase our ability to pattern positive thought centers in our brains – and maybe in the brains of others.  The first activity is sending one email, every day for twenty-one days, thanking someone in your support network.  We know that performing an action repetitiously makes it likely the activity will become a habit.  The hope is that after twenty-one days of performing a specific act of gratitude, it will be on its way to becoming ingrained as a habit and added to the ways we act in the world.  And, in the process, we may become better focused on all the positive things in our lives – and learn how to better recognize and create more of them.  Moreover, research suggests that increasing the positivity in our lives, not by ignoring real and present sorrows or negatives, but by holding the positives in the appropriate balance with the negatives, we can begin to truly flourish.  As we begin to create more positivity in our lives, we create more optimism, greater resilience, more rewarding relationships and better functioning, both as individuals and as communities.

Positivity.  It’s not rocket science – but it is science.  Better yet, it should be fun.

Things 2

Wouldn’t you know it?  First the cowboy boots and now another mere thing is calling my name, tempting me with the borrowed and shallow happiness fleetingly conferred by possessions.  And, just like the cowboy boots I’ve recently adopted, this new thing kind of embarrassing, too.  On top of that, it’s also the fulfillment of a pipe dream of mine.  You know the of pipe dreams in which you “invent” something by saying, “Man! Somebody ought to make a car with a tennis ball cannon!”  And, “somebody” really should because having a tennis ball launcher mounted on the hood of your car could prove to be just the “input” some jackasses need to get the message about committing egregiously “me first” driving behavior.  The launcher wouldn’t have a lethal amount of force, just enough to pop a very visible dent, pronounced enough to be outside the range of repair available by means of comparatively inexpensive dent removal methods.

So, let’s say some driver decides to drive at a high rate of speed for a half-mile in a center turn lane because traffic’s slow and he/she can’t be expected to get in line and wait to turn like everyone else.  Worse still, the driver never actually turns at all but, rather, pushes back in the line of slow cars way ahead of all the other cars he/she passed by speeding down the center turn lane.  If only a few people in the slow lane had tennis ball cannons, the offensive driver’s car could look like the surface of the moon in about seven seconds flat.  Heh.  Not very Positively Happy, I know.  It’s not a very pretty pipe dream and I’m mostly managing to contain my road rage through a commitment to collaborative driving.  Still, I’m just saying.

This new thing won’t make me truly or deeply happy, either, but would sure tickle my gadget fancy.  Better yet, it’s another “invention” of mine:  the “Swiss Army” iPhone case.  “Somebody” has now produced “my” idea and that somebody is Task Lab, which is in pre-production of the Task One multi-tool iPhone case and it is amazing.  You can open a beer with the bottle opener, clip a tag with the scissors, tighten a screw with any one of several screwdrivers, choose from six Allen wrenches, whittle something down to size or even saw a good sized hotdog roasting stick from a nearby unsuspecting tree.  Being a goober and all, the only tool it doesn’t have that I’d really miss is a toothpick.

It’s kind of pricey ($90 for pre-orders, $100 after it has “gone wide” to stores), but it looks really well made and I think it would contribute to my feeling at least superficially happy for a long time to come.  It’ll have to wait, though, because I had to have the shattered screen replaced in my current phone and it’s showing signs of creeping decrepitude that strongly suggest a phone upgrade is in my near future.  It’s also going to be a tough call because my current phone case was a gift (thank you, Deb!) that provided me with something even more useful than multiple tools:  a two-three card-carrying-capacity Case Mate phone case.  This case made it possible to have my driver’s license and one-two credit cards with me whenever I have my phone with me (which, as an iPhone junkie, is pretty much all the honkin’ time).

In the world I’d like to live in, they could combine the credit card case with the multi-tool case and keep it “pocketable,” and I’d live happily (though shallowly) ever after.

 

And in the interest of full disclosure, I’m telling you about these two phone cases because they’re both too cool not to share.  Fortunately for you, dear readers, no one has to pay me to force my unsolicited opinions on you.  In fact, they’d probably have to pay me NOT to  ;0).

Things

While I am aware that things don’t really make us happy, I find they certainly can be a source of real enjoyment, even when they’re a little embarrassing.  Or, on second thought, maybe they’re so enjoyable because they’re a little embarrassing.  A case in point is my recent adoption of cowboy boots as a feature of my wardrobe.  My recently acquires “first” pair came into my life as something of a fluke (and, I warn you, these things are so potentially addictive that if you ever find yourself uttering the words “my first pair,” you are very likely to soon hear yourself saying “my second pair”).

I was invited to go to a fundraiser that goes by the name “Boots, Blue Jeans and Barbecue” and benefits a women’s shelter.  While I definitely have a deep love in my soul for both blue jeans and barbecue, I hadn’t had boots since the Urban Cowboy craze of the 70’s.  And, I’d been a little embarrassed by that pair even though they were quite the thing at the time.  I was certainly embarrassed at the idea of owning a pair over three decades later, without a single excuse in my life to account for them.  I mean, I don’t own a horse, I don’t listen to country music and I have never even visited much less lived in Texas.  Yet, after having been invited a final time to accompany my friend, coincidentally when I was “batching it” for the evening anyway and while I just happened to be standing within sight of the local boot store, I agreed to go take a look.  How could I not?  Clearly, the stars were aligned.  So, I promised that I would look in good faith and, if I found a pair, I’d be happy to go and support the cause.

I went in and, as always, headed to the women’s department with my Sasquatch feet and little hope that I’d find anything big enough.  Remarkably, they did have three pairs in my size (11, if you must know).  Two of the pairs, I would not have worn on a bet and the third pair was just boring.  Nonetheless, I pulled them on and was immediately horrified by the fact that two of the three pairs weren’t actually big enough and the third pair may have inspired Steve Martin in writing “The Cruel Shoes.”  So, with a sigh of unsurprised disappointment, I walked out of the store and headed to my car.  But, I had promised a good faith effort and, so, I turned around, went back into the store and did what I usually do:  headed to the men’s department to look for something that wasn’t too terribly butch for a straight girl (overgrown tomboy though I may be).

There, as it turns out, I encountered the most amazing salesperson in the history of salespeople.  He asked if he could help me and I was never so grateful for that question in my life.  I said, “Oh, good Lord, yes.  I’m up here in the men’s department because, as usual, I couldn’t find anything that fit in women’s.  And, I have no idea what to look for in a cowboy boot so I could definitely use your help.”  I stuck out my hand and introduced myself.  He said, “I’m Adrian.”  Yes, Adrian the cowboy.  And, just so you get the complete picture of exactly how much we were both defying the stereotypes, there we were:  Rebecca, the old broad shopping for cowboy boots while wearing Birkenstocks and Adrian, the African American cowboy.

As it turns out, Adrian was also the freaking boot whisperer.  He asked me what I thought I’d like and I said, “Well, I’m thinking black but, beyond that, I have no clue.”  He said, “OK, I’m going to start bringing you some choices and here’s what you should know:  Boots should fit a bit tight across the top of your instep and have about a half-inch of heel slop; your heel should slide up and down a bit in them.”  I said, “Oh, I totally get it.  That’s how Danskos are supposed to fit, too, so I actually have a frame of reference for this; who’d’ve thought?”  Indeed, who would have thought that my history of wearing Danish clogs would provide me with a context for buying cowboy boots?

So, Adrian started handing me boots.  I pulled on the first pair, and no sooner than I’d gotten them on and stood up, Adrian said, “Nope.  Those don’t fit.  Pull them off.”  I was stunned, and asked, “How did you KNOW that?  I was just about to say, ‘Oh, my God, if this is what they feel like, I can’t wear cowboy boots.’”  Adrian said, “Well, I could see that the leather just didn’t bend right on your foot.  Here, try these.”  And he handed me another pair.  I pulled them on and he said, “OK, those feel better, don’t they?”  I said, shocked again, “Yes, much – how the hell can you KNOW that?”  He told me that he could just tell and to take a few steps in them.  I’d taken about three steps and he said, “Nope, those won’t do.”  Again, I was stunned and said, “I was just about to say, ‘Oh, no, they hurt my right little toe.’”  Adrian said, “Yep, you were walking like they didn’t feel good.  Here.  Try these.”  And so I did.  This time, I pulled them on, took about three steps and Adrian said, “Ahhhh…those feel good, don’t they?”  Even though you’d think I’d have been over the shock at this point, I said, “Godamighty, Adrian.  I’m amazed.  I was just about to say, “Well, this is the first pair that fits like you told me they’re supposed to.”  He said, “Those are the ones, then.”  And, so they were.  I did look at one more pair that had caught my eye on the way in and, when I discovered they were $1200, I got over the very idea of them instantaneously.  So it was that I acquired my first pair of cowboy boots (and, yes, I have since bought a second, brown pair – an actual factual women’s pair, which made them almost as exciting as the first pair) and attended the fundraiser, contributed to a wonderful cause, and had a great time.

Image

Here’s the deal about these things and their effect on my happiness:  Even though I initially found the idea of wearing cowboy boots embarrassing, I have since come to know and love the way they make me feel when I’m wearing them.  They give my step such a decisive “thunk” when I walk, nothing at all like the soft padding of Birkenstocks or the slightly more sharp “thwick” of Danskos.  They look far more acceptable with business attire and they are even more comfortable than Danskos (though nothing holds a candle to Birks).  And, with that sure-sounding “thunk,” comes a certain sense of assurance.  No matter what someone may throw at me, I just feel like, “You can’t mess with me, I’ve got my boots on – I’ve got this crap covered.”  Fortunately, I know my happiness doesn’t depend on these things but I’m really glad I got over my embarrassment and my cheap gene, just bit the bullet and bought them.  In other words, my boots are not the cake.  But they’re pretty good frosting.

Topsy Turvy

My mind is officially blown.  A medical doctor is advocating a non-pharmacological approach to managing depression and anxiety through targeted mental exercises and a positive psychologist is advocating the use of emerging nanotechnologies to create “posthuman” or “transhuman” solutions that ensure we believe in the right things and hold the right values.

This posthumanist proponent, a Master of Applied Positive Psychology, is so terrifying, I’m going to let him speak for himself:  “Brains of the future may in fact be calibrated to maintain certain beliefs or behaviors in spite of temptations to stray from these values.”

This idea runs counter to everything I’ve loved as I’ve read and learned more about positive psychology and its focus on using our own internal resources to become more open and creative, better able to imagine an expanded range of solutions available to us.  This vitalistic view of positive psychology is respectful of life and the Universe that designed it.  This view also recognizes that, despite our recent exponential leaps in knowledge and manipulative abilities, we are mere infants in the larger context of what the Universe knows about the systems it has designed to create and maintain life.  

While the positive psychologist starts his proposition with the amazing work being done with nanotechnology to create mind-controlled prosthetics for people who’ve lost limbs or restore/create vision for those who’ve lost their sight, his startlingly quick leap to using technology as mind control is horrifying.  Imagine, what dictators and megalomaniacs since the beginning of human history haven’t been able to accomplish with war, subjugation, genocide and the murder of “undesirables,” biotechnology may be able to accomplish in a generation with a nannite “vaccine” that forces us to “maintain beliefs or behaviors” of someone else’s choosing.  And, it would all be in the name of enhancing performance, of creating a “better” human being.

Anyone familiar with Nietzsche’s “uberman?”  A fellow named Hitler was a big proponent of the concept.

Celebrate

I may be a slow learner and you probably already know this: if you want to be happier, make sure to celebrate special events.  Hell, for that matter, make up whacky holidays just so you can celebrate them.  It’s not like Hallmark has the corner on creating holidays.  It’s just that their holidays, designed to produce profits, are chockablock with bric-a-brac.  If we want to design holidays that produce happiness, we’re better off spending money on the celebration part, especially if the celebration reinforces our relationships and makes great memories.

There’s actually research that suggests the best way for money to make us happy is if we 1) make sure we don’t break the bank, 2) spend it doing something we really enjoy and 3) use it to do smaller things more often.  In other words, if you love going to the circus, you’ll be happier if you buy cheaper seats and go more often than if you go once because you shot the whole wad on sitting in the VIP section.

I’m not sure how I never knew this but I’m glad good friends have shown me the way, however late it may be.  So, here in the last trimester of my life, I’m finally figuring out that it’s important to celebrate birthdays, anniversaries and accomplishments.  Shoot, I’m having so much fun I may have figured out that I need to be celebrating every day I wake up on the right side of the dirt.  If I can get the hang of grateful celebration for the gift of each day, in the end, when I finally I wake up on the wrong side of the dirt, I will hopefully leave others with a little something to celebrate for having been part of my Happy LIFE.

Off Balance?

OK, I’ll admit it.  I’m a bit of a workaholic (though I’m in recovery – kind of – my husband’s opinion notwithstanding).  One of the things that’s helping with my recovery is getting past this notion of work/life “balance.”  It’s a little too black-and-white, really, this idea that work and life can be sufficiently separate to weigh them against one another on some sort of cosmic scale and make sure both sides come out even.

It may even be that we’re making ourselves unhappy by continuing to pursue the idea that we can balance life and work.  Perhaps a better concept is work/life integration, an idea that really resonated with me when I first heard it used at a women’s leadership conference (and, of course, it would be women talking about it, since no one ever seems to be too concerned about men’s ability to balance their work and home/family lives – but I digress into my 70’s coming-of-age and the stalled women’s movement that hasn’t moved us past the 77 cents-to-the-dollar pay inequity in the intervening decades).

It’s not like anyone who’s got even a remote shot at being happy in their work is two different people, split perfectly into a work self and a life/family/home self.  If we’re going to be happy in our jobs, a sense of ownership of our work is essential.  And, if we truly own what we do at work, we necessarily have to integrate who we are and what we care about into our work – and vice versa.  Daniel Pink’s book Drive makes the case that, in order for us to be fulfilled by our work, we need three things:

1)   Autonomy

2)   Mastery

3)   Purpose

Clearly, autonomy isn’t entirely under our control (there are still plenty of bosses who believe that we won’t work unless someone’s standing over us with a whip) but we can come close to it by taking full responsibility for what we do and being proactive.  Mastery is mostly within our control because no one can learn for us (although having good teachers – or good training – can certainly speed up the process).  Purpose is also something we can find, if we’re fortunate, through belief in our employer’s mission but it’s also something we can bring with us (as in having the personal purpose of, “I’m here to make things just a little more pleasant or easier for everyone who’s touched by the work that I do”).  In other words, we have to find ways to integrate who we are fundamentally into the work that we do or we’ll never find happiness in our jobs.

On a practical level, given all the connectivity tools available to us these days, it’s becoming harder and harder to truly disconnect from work anyway.  This means that many of us are just naturally falling into a pattern of answering questions and sending info when we’re away from the office because, sometimes, the best answers (and questions) often come to us when we’re away from the thick of things.

So, how do we start integrating effectively?  First, if there can be some flexibility in scheduling and it would make your life a whole lot easier, ask for it.  And, if you’re a boss, give it whenever possible.  If it really doesn’t make much difference whether you or your employee arrives at 8:00 sharp and you (or your employee) would arrive much less stressed at 8:30, why not?  Or, perhaps leaving earlier in the day would be a blessing and you or your employee could start at 7:00 in order to be gone by 4:00 – again, why not?  Do it.

If you’re the boss and there’s simply no leeway about the schedule (for reasons other than you’re just a control freak and it’s your way or the highway), make it clear why the schedule has to operate the way it does and remember to thank your employees for making it work.  Don’t take their punctuality for granted.  If you’re the employee and there’s simply no leeway in the schedule, accept that as a condition of your employment and be on time without complaint because every time you bitch about something you can’t change, you’re chipping away at your ability to be happy in your work.

Next, if at all possible, work from a different location – even if it’s for a short time – once a week.  If your job is necessarily attached to a specific location, ask for an assignment that involves doing something a bit different from your regular duties.  This starts to give your head the idea that it’s OK to think about work differently – and perhaps find a new kind of productivity.

Third – disconnect mentally for at least 5-10 minutes every day.  Shut everything off and, in the best possible world, meditate.  Let your thoughts flow (it’s a common misperception that meditation is about trying to turn thoughts off) while you keep re-centering on your breathing.  The idea is that you are trying simply to be for a few minutes, finding that perfect silence between thoughts, and learning to extend it and benefit from the self-control and freedom you experience as a result.

Next, pay attention to what really floats your boat and figure out how you can experience more of that both in your life and in your work.  If sharing your knowledge really turns you on, for instance, find out if there are opportunities to bring your life skills to a development program at work or to bring your work skills to a mentoring program outside of work.  You, your company and your community will likely all benefit.

Finally (for now), have fun because if you’re not having fun, you’re not doing it right.  Integrate into your work at least a little of whatever makes you laugh at home – and don’t get caught in the picklepussed “professional” viewpoint that says, in order to be taken seriously, we have to be serious all the time.  Work can’t be a laugh riot all the time but remember that, at the very best ones, even funerals are a laughing matter.

Enough About Me?

Did you know that there are “me” areas in the brain?  And, that they’re more active in people with autism and anxiety, attention and hyperactivity disorders – and that this greater activity is also associated with Alzheimer’s and even schizophrenia?

So, in a sense (and taking a huge leap), being self-centered could end up being defined as a disorder.  Even though I fear the pharmaceutical industry is trying to “symptomize” and medicate many perfectly normal, adaptive responses to life’s tough times, such as grief, this one bears thinking about, especially since there’s clear non-pharmaceutical approach to alleviating it:  meditation.  

According to Yale News, meditation appears to decrease activity in areas of the brain called the default mode network (consisting of the medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate cortex), and decreased activity in this network “was seen in experienced meditators regardless of the type of meditation they were doing.”  Researchers also suggested that, the more experienced the meditators were, the less likely they were to be having “me” thoughts even in a resting, non-meditative state.  The interesting and paradoxical implication seems to be that the more inwardly focused and self-regulating we become, the less self-centered we become. 

I’m looking forward to discovering meditation’s effects in the next phase of the Happy LIFE.  But, enough about me.  What about you?