First is mindfulness, which is simply paying attention to the present moment. Do you tend to dwell on the past? Or are you like me and spend much of your time worrying about the future? This is where much of our stress comes from. The present moment is usually somewhat pleasant.
Through practice you can train your brain to focus more on the here and now. All it takes is to start noticing when your thoughts are drifting and to bring them back. Your mind will wander. That’s OK; it’s completely natural. Just keep practicing bringing your thoughts back to the present.
The second tip for having greater peace of mind is to be grateful; to notice and appreciate what is good. As humans we have a negativity bias, so we tend to notice what’s bad. We are constantly on the lookout for potential danger, like a honking horn, a client who is upset, or a child’s bad grades.
This means we have to make an effort to notice what is good. One way to do this is “the 3 good things exercise”. Take a minute to write down three good things that have happened to you in the last 24 hours. It can be any small thing like a good dinner last night or running into an old friend or finishing a project.
Doing this exercise once a day has been found to significantly improve people’s happiness. All it takes is to create a routine so that you remember to think of what you are grateful for every day. Try it before you go to sleep at night or include your family and do the exercise together at dinner. Find what works for you and make a habit of counting your blessings.
Peace of mind matters. Increase yours by being mindful and appreciating all that is good.
Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook, and Marissa Mayer, CEO of Yahoo!, are leaning into their careers. Others, like Anne-Marie Slaughter, have made different choices. She decided to scale back when she left her job at the White House working for Hillary Clinton in the State Department to return to her job as a professor because she wanted to spend more time with her teenage boys. And then you have all the women, as many as 43% of working women with children, who have chosen to opt out of their careers.
Let’s face it, being a woman today is complicated! They said we could have it all, then they said we could have it all, just not at the same time. In her book, Wonder Women, Debora Spar suggests that the idea of ‘having it all’ has led women to strive for perfection; to “work a 60-hour week in a high-stress job and be the same kind of parent she would have been without that job . . . and look forever like a 17-year-old model.”
The truth is, nobody is perfect and we can’t have it all. We have to constantly make choices in our attempt to create happy, meaningful lives. And the choices are never easy.
Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what choice to make. Each of us has different values and changing life circumstances, which will affect our individual decisions. But I can give you some advice. Research in positive psychology has identified certain things that are critical for our well-being. By focusing on these things, on what really matters, you can create a life of joy, meaning, and resilience.
So stop trying to have it all and check out my next three blog entries to learn what truly matters.
Have you ever watched the TV show “Who do you think you are?” It’s a documentary series that takes celebrities on a journey to trace their family tree. I’ve seen a few episodes and people often become very moved as they discover details about their family history.
I’ve always been interested in my family tree. Just this past weekend I did a little research and discovered that many of my ancestors lived in the same area of Virginia where we recently moved. I had such fun reading stories from places around here where my family members lived so long ago. It got me wondering if there is a link between happiness and knowing your family history.
It looks like there just might be! Psychologists Marshall Duke and Robyn Fivush developed a “Do You Know?” scale to measure how much children knew about their families. Some questions include: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?
They discovered that children who knew more about their family’s history had a stronger sense of control over their lives, had higher self-esteem, were more resilient, and were more likely to feel their families functioned successfully. The “Do You Know?” scale was actually the best predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.
It helps us all to know that we belong to something bigger than ourselves. Knowing your family history gives you a stronger sense of identity. Remembering the long line of people who came before you also helps you to keep things in perspective. Over time your family has had positive moments and has successfully bounced back from difficulties. You will, too.
Knowing your family narrative can increase your happiness and well-being. So go to ancestry.com to start researching your family tree. Ask your parents to tell you some stories. And by all means, share family stories with your children.
I’ve blogged before about how we can increase our happiness by making a point of noticing the good and looking for the silver lining when something bad happens. It isn’t easy to do, but it can be heartening to see how bad situations often bring out the best in people.
The current government shutdown has many negative consequences. The media is doing a good job, as always, of highlighting all the ways in which people are being hurt by the shutdown. It is certainly frustrating to have a government that seems to care more about playing politics than serving its people. It helps to focus on the stories of what people are doing to make a positive difference during this difficult time.
The very first day of the shutdown World War II veterans who had flown in from Mississippi peacefully pushed aside the barriers to visit the memorial in their honor and nobody tried to stop them. On the second day of the shutdown furloughed workers were volunteering around D.C. to pass out information to tourists who had come to visit the capitol.
One of the radio stations that I listen to has been inviting furloughed federal employees to come in as interns since the shutdown started. The interns seem to be having a great time answering phones, doing the weather, and chatting on air with DJ Tommy McFly.
Many restaurants in D.C. are giving away free food to furloughed workers. Spanish chef José Andrés is offering free sandwiches at three of his D.C. eateries to government employees every afternoon during the shutdown. I love the sign at one restaurant offering a 10% discount to federal workers and double the price for members of Congress. Sam’s Club has offered free shopping passes to military personnel so that they can take advantage of the low-priced products sold by the wholesale club.
We can’t help but notice the many negative ways in which the government shutdown is affecting us. Try to also notice and appreciate how negative events can bring out the best in people. And please share your stories with us!
I have to admit that, despite my passion for the issue of women’s careers, I didn’t rush to read Sheryl Sandberg’s book Lean In when it was first published. I was troubled that she seemed to imply that it was women’s fault that there aren’t more of us leading companies. As I often mention, I believe the problem is that women aren’t interested in working for companies that don’t give them the flexibility they need to live full, happy lives. Until the workplace changes women will continue to choose not to lean in.
That said, I did finally get around to reading Lean In and I think it is a very good book. Sheryl presents much of the psychological research demonstrating the more subtle obstacles that keep women from advancing to the top. Societal norms discourage girls from taking risks, advocating for themselves, or acknowledging their accomplishments. Society also expects women to be nurturers, caring for their children and showing concern for others at work rather than looking out for their own best interest. All of these put women at a disadvantage in the workplace. Yet when women try to go against these norms in order to succeed, they are disliked because they don’t fit the female stereotype. So in a way we are damned if we do, damned if we don’t.
I told my husband that I think it is as important for male leaders to read Lean In as it is for women. The only way these subtle barriers will be overcome is if everyone in the workplace is aware of them so that they can work to counteract them.
We do need more women at the top to bring about the kind of changes necessary for a majority of women to want to lean in to work. Hopefully, Sheryl’s book will help to increase the percentage of women leading organizations so that we will all benefit from the change they will create.
I wrote a blog about Diana Nyad after her fourth attempt to be the first person to swim from Cuba to Florida without a shark cage. I thought we could all learn from her amazingly positive attitude. Despite having to give up, she was proud that she had done her best and encouraged others to keep chasing their dreams. I admired her resilience at the time. What I should have realized was that with an attitude like that she would try again. And try she did!
Wow! Talk about perseverance! On her fifth attempt on September 2, 2013, after almost 53 hours in the water, the 64-year-old Nyad finally did it! She successfully swam the 110-mile stretch between Cuba and Florida. Diana again offered words of wisdom, this time as she celebrated her success. One of the first things she said as she came out of the water was, “never give up”. She also said you are never too old to chase your dreams and she recognized the work of her team commenting that swimming is not a solitary sport.
Diana succeeded thanks to her supportive relationships, her commitment to a life purpose, and her resilience, all of which led her to persevere despite setbacks. Her first attempt to swim from Cuba to Florida was in 1978 and she tried and failed three more times in 2011 and 2012. But rather than giving up, Diana remained hopeful by focusing on how to resolve the challenges that were preventing her from succeeding. Jellyfish were a serious problem on her fourth attempt, so she and her team figured out how to solve the problem with a special silicone mask to protect her face.
Having a dream helps us to stay focused and compels us to find a way around obstacles. A supportive team and a positive attitude give us the resilience we need to never give up.
I applaud Diana’s success and I thank her for being an inspiration to all of us to never stop chasing our dreams!
Today is the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In order to commemorate the anniversary, NBC has launched a campaign asking people to share their dreams on social media using the hashtag #DreamDay. Do you have a dream to share? It turns out that having a dream for the future or a purpose is extremely important for your well-being.
A recent study by Barbara Fredrickson and her colleagues found that having a sense of meaning in life is associated with significantly better health outcomes than simply being happy. Happiness makes us feel good in the moment, while meaning in life emphasizes what matters to us. People who have a sense of meaning are aspiring to accomplish something.
At the World Congress on Positive Psychology last month Martin Seligman and Roy Baumeister talked about how focusing on the future, what they call “prospective psychology”, can bring meaning to our lives. In his book, “Making Hope Happen”, Shane Lopez explains how “futurecasting” by dreaming about your life in the future is a fundamental skill for increasing hope.
Dr. King had a very clear vision for the future and he committed his life to pursuing his dream. Your dream doesn’t have to be as big as his was in order to reap the benefits of a meaningful life. All that matters is that you have a sense of purpose; some reason to get out of bed everyday. Focusing on your dream gives you something to work toward, to hope for.
So what is your dream? What do you care deeply about? How can you put your strengths to use to make a difference? What action will you take to commit to your purpose? Go to Facebook or Twitter and let the world know that you, too, have a dream! #DreamDay
Adam Grant is a professor at Wharton whose research I have been interested in for years. He recently wrote a book, Give and Take, where he summarizes much of what he has learned from his studies and similar research. In it he identifies three different reciprocity styles: takers, who like to get more than they give; givers, who prefer to give more than they get; and matchers, who try to balance giving and getting. His overall finding is that givers are the worst performers and the best performers, with takers and matchers falling in the middle.
How can that be? It turns out that there are two kinds of givers: selfless givers who care only about the interests of others and otherish givers who care about helping others, but are also concerned with their own well-being. Otherish givers are less likely to burnout and more likely to flourish.
Adam identifies some key giving strategies that otherish givers use:
1) Chunking – Givers who chunk their giving by doing a lot of it at once are happier than those who spread their giving out over time. Doing five acts of kindness one day a week makes your giving more salient than doing the same five acts across five days. Setting aside chunks of time to help others also lets you conserve time to attend to your own interests.
2) 100-hour rule – One study found that people who volunteer between 100 and 800 hours per year are happiest. So volunteering at least two hours a week seems to be the sweet spot that maximizes energy and engagement while minimizing burnout.
3) Passion – People derive the greatest amount of satisfaction from giving when they help others out of a sense of enjoyment and purpose. Otherish givers are careful to choose causes that they feel are important; that are meaningful to them.
4) Seek support – Givers also avoid burnout by soliciting the help of others. They understand the importance of social support for their own well-being and actively seek the support of others when they start to feel burned out.
There is no doubt about it: giving makes us happy. As the saying goes, “giving is its own reward”. But giving in the wrong way can lead to burnout. Follow Grant’s advice and you will reap the rewards of giving while avoiding the potential downsides.
You’ve probably noticed that I’m a huge advocate of workplace flexibility. Giving employees more choices regarding when and where to do their work can really help them to achieve greater work-life balance. But I must say that I don’t think increased flexibility alone will resolve the difficulties that women face in pursuing their careers. The biggest problem has to do with the extremely long hours that many jobs require.
In her HBR blog Joan Williams revealed that only 9% of working mothers work more than 50 hours a week. Compare that number to the 29% of working fathers who work more than 50 hours a week. This is one of the main reasons women hold so few leadership positions; they aren’t willing to work so many hours. Working over 50 hours a week leaves very little time to see your children awake. And the fact is, most mothers (and fathers) actually want to be around for their kids.
When I left my full-time tenured position as a professor in Spain to move to the States I knew I still wanted to teach, but I also knew I wasn’t willing to put in the hours it would take to get tenure again in another university. So I accepted a part-time position at Arizona State University. My children were 5- and 7-years-old and I wanted to spend time with them. I realized how quickly they were growing up and I didn’t want to miss it.
I have to admit in the beginning it hurt my ego to no longer be among the esteemed group of full-time faculty, but in hindsight it was one of the best career moves I’ve ever made. It allowed me to continue teaching and doing research, but without the long hours that a full-time position would have required. It turns out I’m not alone; 60% of working mothers would prefer to work part time.
The “long hours problem” is a cultural problem, originating from traditional masculine organizational cultures where busy, stressed-out people are important, loyal employees are willing to put in long hours, and “real” men don’t need sleep (or to see their kids). Until these cultural norms change, women will continue to reject positions that demand such unreasonably long hours.