In my role as Senior Scholar at the Center for Consciousness and Transformation at George Mason University, I’m participating in a Well-Being University Learning Community. Our purpose is to “create a blueprint for what well-being looks like in different areas of the university”. I must say, this is an exciting, but difficult task!
While everyone participating in our project has a special interest in well-being, we also have different opinions as to how to define it. Well-being is a subjective evaluation of how satisfied we are with our lives. What I consider to be vital for my well-being may be different from what someone else believes contributes to his or her well-being.
Yet we believe it’s important for our group to have an agreed upon definition that we can use to explain to others what we mean by a well-being university and to evaluate the success of our initiatives. So to start with we are each contributing working definitions that we will then shape into a shared definition of well-being at Mason.
Here is my first stab at it: “In a well-being university students, faculty, and staff learn how to make choices that lead to optimal functioning of mind, body and spirit in order to thrive together.” I think our well-being is the result of small choices we make throughout the day regarding what to eat, whether or not to exercise, what goals to pursue, where to focus our attention, how to respond to others, etc. And since universities are learning institutions, I believe a well-being university should teach people to make choices that will maximize their potential to thrive throughout their lives.
Although what determines well-being is different for each of us, I do believe there are specific things that contribute to everyone’s well-being. Some of these include:
- Love and connectedness
- Engagement and mastery
- Meaning and purpose
- Mindfulness and self/other awareness
- Hope and resilience
- Physical health and safety
What about you? What do you think is important for your well-being? I’d love to know your thoughts!
I recently read Search Inside Yourself, written by Chade-Meng Tang, Google’s Jolly Good Fellow. Seriously, that’s what it says on his business card. The book describes a mindfulness-based emotional intelligence course that Meng designed for Google.
One of the interesting things discussed in the book is “response flexibility”. This is the ability to pause before you act after experiencing a strong emotional stimulus. This pause gives you time to choose how you want to react. Viktor Frankl referred to this as the space between stimulus and response. He said “in that space lies our freedom and our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our happiness.”
Have you ever regretted doing something when triggered by an emotional situation? Me too! Fortunately, we can learn a better way of responding. Mindfulness can help us create distance between our emotions and ourselves. We can acknowledge that a situation has caused us to feel a certain way, while realizing that we have the power to let go of our initial feelings and reassess the situation in order to respond in a more positive way. Emotions are what we feel, not who we are.
The next time you experience a strong negative emotion, pause. Try counting to ten or taking several deep breaths; anything to create a space between the stimulus and your response. I like to silently sing the chorus from Dave Matthews Band’s song.
Now mindfully bring attention to the emotion you are experiencing. Reflect on where the emotion is coming from and try to reframe the situation. Often the emotion comes from your own history; perhaps something in your past has made you especially sensitive to what just happened. Try to see the other person’s point of view to understand his or her motive. Look for something positive. Ask yourself what you might learn from the situation or how it might help you grow or strengthen a relationship. Finally, consider ways you might respond that would have a positive outcome.
Obviously, this isn’t easy to do, but it isn’t impossible either! The more you practice letting emotions move through you, like clouds moving across the sky, the better you’ll get.
P.S. Meng is a very funny guy as you will see if you visit his website.
There is overwhelming evidence from research in positive psychology that people who are happy are more successful. Positivity is related to higher levels of job performance, supervisory evaluations and perceived customer service. Positive people perform better because they are more motivated and more effective. This is due to a number of benefits associated with experiencing positive emotions:
(Read the rest of this article on the ASTD Happiness Blog)
Leading a balanced life is extremely important for our well-being, but it is something that many of us struggle with.
How balanced is your life?
Here are some things to consider:
- Work & life – Work is important, but so is your personal life. Often the demands of work make it hard for us to find time to spend for ourselves or with our families. Try not to let work overtake your life. Schedule time on your calendar for yourself; to play squash, get a manicure or join a friend for Happy Hour. And do all you can to make it home in time to have dinner with your family and to leave work in time to see your daughter play softball. Remember that nobody on their deathbed says they wish they had spent more time at the office!
- Doing & being – Most of us spend long intervals of time focused on our work, taking little time for rest and renewal. But research shows that we are much more productive when we work in shorter intervals with time in between to recharge. So make sure you get enough sleep and take frequent breaks throughout the day. Check out The Energy Project if you’d like to know more. Here you can see the sleep pods used at the Huffington Post.
- Together & alone – Spending time with others boosts our mood and strengthens our relationships. But it is also important to spend time alone. Solitude gives us the opportunity to clear our mind, reflect, concentrate, and increase our self-awareness. What do you need to do to create more balance? Do you need to find ways to spend more time with others or do you need to schedule some “alone time” in your calendar?
- Present & future – Mindfulness or focusing on the present moment keeps us positive by preventing us from bringing up negative emotions associated with the past or worrying about the future. But in his book, Making Hope Happen, Shane Lopez explains how having hope for the future inspires and engages us. So we also need to spend time thinking about our future, setting goals and planning how we will achieve them.
What will you do today to start bringing your life into better balance?
People who have the opportunity to do what they do best every day are happier and more successful. A strengths-based approach to managing talent recognizes the value of emphasizing strengths and adopts practices that help employees identify, use and develop their strengths at work.
Identify strengths – The first step in a strengths-based approach to management is to help employees discover their strengths. Managers can use strengthspotting to identify strengths in others. Clues that point to potential strengths are enjoyment, ease, energy, and excellence. Inventories can also be used to assess people’s strengths. Some popular ones include the VIA Survey of Character Strengths, the StrengthsFinder, and Realise2.
(Read the rest of this article on the ASTD Happiness Blog)
Since this is Telework Week, I thought I’d discuss the critical role that telecommuting plays in creating positive workplaces where employees thrive. I was shocked and extremely disappointed when Marissa Mayer decided to ban working from home at Yahoo!. How could a tech company with a female CEO make such an out-of-touch, backwards decision?
Technology has allowed companies to stop babysitting their employees and to focus instead on what really matters; results. Thanks to technology, people no longer have to be physically side-by-side in order to communicate and collaborate. Research shows that teleworkers are more satisfied, more productive, work longer hours, take fewer days off, and are less likely to quit.
Having the option to work from home is necessary for people to balance their work and non-work responsibilities. Workplace flexibility allows parents to attend their children’s after-school activities and eat dinner together as a family. It makes it possible for people to take care of their aging parents. It provides Generation Y workers the option of working when and where they are most productive. Work-life balance is important for everyone and forcing people to work set hours in the office deprives them of the control they need to perform at their best.
In a survey I did of women workers, I found that job control significantly reduced work-life conflict. In her article, Why women still can’t have it all, Anne-Marie Slaughter explained that, “having control over your schedule is the only way women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” She left her job as Director of Policy Planning at the State Department because the inflexible schedule made it impossible for her to spend enough time with her teenage sons.
Interestingly, Slaughter’s prior positions as a law professor and as dean of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, while both extremely demanding jobs, did allow her the flexibility to be with her children when needed and still get her work done. It’s not high job demands, but rather a lack of control that leads talented women to reject certain jobs.
That is why I’m celebrating Telework Week and I hope you will join me in spreading the word that flexible work options are the only smart option.
Do you have a goal that you’re trying to achieve? If so, I have good news for you. There is one easy thing that you can do to significantly increase your chance of success: plan how you will achieve your goal. That’s it! Deciding when, where and how you will take the steps needed to achieve your goal makes a huge difference.
In her book, Succeed, Heidi Halvorson describes an experiment where college students were asked to write an essay over Christmas break. Half of the students were also asked to decide exactly when and where they would write the essay. The students who were asked to make a plan were more than twice as likely to complete their essays. Seventy-one percent of them wrote the essay, compared to 32 percent of those without a plan.
The best plans are if-then plans: if I am in this situation, then I will take this action. This is an amazingly simple, but very effective strategy. If-then planning has helped people to eat less fat, stop smoking, remember to recycle, not drink alcohol, and use public transportation more.
If-then planning works because it helps you to take action by creating a link between a situation, which serves as a cue, and a behavior that should follow. The cue reminds you to take action. It helps your brain automate the behavior that follows so you don’t depend as much on your self-control.
Some of my if-then plans include:
- If I am asked what I’d like to drink at a restaurant, then I’ll order iced tea (instead of the diet coke that I’m tempted to order).
- If I want to eat chips and dip, then I’ll eat veggies with the dip instead.
- If I take the kids to the bus stop, then I will go to the gym before heading back home.
- If I feel stressed, then I will take three long deep breaths.
- If I’m going to write my blog, then I will close my email.
- If my children or husband want to tell me something, then I will stop whatever I’m doing to listen to them.
- If it is Sunday, then I will call my parents.
I’ve found if-then planning to be extremely helpful for remembering to practice strategies that keep me positive, like nurturing relationships and being healthy. What about you? What are some of your if-then plans?
Since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, I thought I’d dedicate this blog post to the topic of love. Barbara Fredrickson, who first peaked my interest in positive psychology with her wonderful book, Positivity, just published another book, Love 2.0. In it she summarizes findings from her research and other scientific studies showing the enormous power of love to transform your life for the better.
One of the most interesting aspects of this book is Barbara’s conception of love. Based on brain activity research, she redefines it as micro-moments of connection between people. When you share positive emotions with others you experience a positivity resonance. Your brain activity syncs up with that of the other person, which leads to a mutual motivation to invest in each other’s well-being. These micro-moments of connection can happen between two people who hardly know each other. Having a brief conversation with someone while waiting in line will increase your concern for that person.
Micro-moments of connection are important for your health because when your brain registers the emotion of love, the hormone oxytocin is released. Oxytocin reduces levels of stress hormones in your body, lowers your blood pressure and reduces inflammation, which can lead to heart failure, stroke, and diabetes.
So it is in your best interest to expand the amount of love in your life. Each time you encounter another person, you have the opportunity to connect with them with warmth, openness and goodwill. It helps to realize that each person you see has experienced both good and bad fortune. This means everyone deserves either your compassionate love for what they have suffered or your celebratory love for their good fortune.
Be mindful as you go about your day so that you notice people, on your commute, at work, in the grocery store (that means put your phone away!). Look for nonverbal signs that might indicate suffering or joy. Make eye contact, smile at them, and wish that they be released from suffering or that their good fortune continue.
You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship to reap the benefits of love. You can share micro-moments of connection with anyone. Short conversations, even eye contact, can trigger the release of hormones that will significantly improve your health.