Are You Open or Closed?

closed

Answer each of the following questions –

Are you open to:

  • The possibility of being wrong?
  • The possibility that someone is better at something than you (smarter, more athletic, more successful, more popular, more attractive, etc)?
  • The possibility that you are better at something than someone else?
  • The possibility that you are hurting someone or something even if that is not your intention?
  • The possibility that you are creating problems for others that you have not anticipated or intended?
  • Trying to understand someone else’s reality or perspective, even if you think you disagree with or don’t like them?
  • Trying something different?
  • Re-thinking your usual assumptions (about yourself, others and the world)?
  • The truth that we are all equally important?
  • The possibility that there are some things we’ll never understand?
  • The possibility that we are not supposed to understand or control everything?

How’d you do with the question list above?  Did you answer Yes to most, if not all of the questions?  How long did it take you to answer each question?  When was the last time you really stopped to reconsider your perspective or opinion and actually shifted your tack?

Perhaps you are not as open as you think if you:

  • Answered Yes to pretty much every question and/or
  • Spent less than a couple of seconds thinking about each question and/or
  • Can’t remember a recent example of shifting your perspective

So this quiz is more about how you took the test, rather than the test itself.  If you think you passed the quiz but actually failed it, don’t feel bad.  I would’ve done the same thing for most of  my life.  In fact, I probably would’ve skipped most of the quiz and went straight to the answer.

I guess what I’m saying is Are you open to the possibility that you are actually closed in some way?

Parenting – A New Low

Bad parenting

Bad parenting

It’s easy to write about the highs of all these personal development concepts and applications I love – how good I feel, how empowered.  It’s harder to write about the lows.  I wrote recently in the Way of Being (WOB) blog how my view of a person determines the quality of our interaction.  If I view them as a real human being with feelings and needs instead of an obstruction, an irrelevancy or a means to an end, then I am more likely to be effective in my interactions with them.  After all, who would you rather work or cooperate with?  Someone who treats you as a person or someone that treats you as a problem?

I have also mentioned in the Must Be Seen As blog, I’ve always felt it was important to be seen as a good mother.  As with so many things I fear, such fears end up being self-fulfilling prophecies if I am not careful.  My fear of being a bad mother means that I try too hard to be seen as a good Mom:  dedicated, invested, proactive, supportive, and worst of all, right.   Needing to be viewed as this super-mom means that my kids must be terrific too.    After all, if you are perfect parent, then your kids should be perfect too, right?  When they’re not, my Must Be Seen As self rears its ugly head and I go into judgment mode: “The Kid won’t step up/work hard/take responsibility.”   A genuinely supportive parent might say, “The Kid is doing his best and I will be as supportive as possible.”

Take, for example, a more neutral comment delivered to a struggling child, “What went wrong?”  Such a statement can be said either with accusation and judgment or with sympathy and curiosity.  The latter treats the listener as a person whose feelings and needs are important, so the recipient is more likely to respond in a relatively positive, non-defensive manner. The part that has not been evident to me is that one can still feel and convey judgment and criticism while maintaining a calm demeanor and tone of voice.   And I’m never fooling anyone despite that calm exterior and quiet tone if my WOB is wrong.

Now I understand why the right action delivered with the wrong WOB results in an unexpectedly disappointing response.   In the past, I would be like, “What’s with the attitude?”  Now I understand that, even if done calmly, if executed with the wrong WOB, it will not go well.  And I would be in the wrong.  One of the little jokes I tell is that parenting is an experiment where you don’t get the results until your kids go into therapy when they’re 30 and find out how much you screwed them up.  I have always said this only half joking.

My belief that this scenario will actually occur keeps increasing the more my self-awareness increases.    My shortcomings as a parent, as a partner, as an employee, as a daughter, as a sister, as a friend, are so glaringly and increasingly evident where previously I have felt like I’d been doing ok.

In the past, this failure would’ve eaten at me, and I would’ve felt like the most miserable human being on the planet (a real first world problem.)   Now I know that I’m just a mere, imperfect mortal like everyone else and that it’s more important (and realistic) to learn from our mistakes than to never make them.  Now, I also can forgive myself as well as others when mistakes are made.

The rest of the experiment-ending-in-therapy story that I don’t usually relay has to do with me hoping that my kids will forgive me when they finally realize just how lousy of a parent I really am.  I have long since forgiven my parents for less than perfect parenting since they try their best, just like me and everyone else.  If my kids also realize that I was doing my best, flawed as it was, then perhaps they will forgive me too.

The Ubiquity of the Importance of Presence

No, not "presents"

No, not “presents”

I figure needing to google a word that I use in the title of this blog portends well for neither me nor the blog.  Yet I feel the need to explore this topic of presence (ha!  You might’ve thought I would google ubiquity… or maybe importance?).  I wish to differentiate presence from the concept of being present.  They are related, but different.  English majors, spiritual gurus and psychologists everywhere:  I apologize for taking liberties, as usual.  This blog is where I attempt to convert naïveté into a semblance of coherence, in a public fashion.

The presence I’m referring to is defined in the book Leadership Presence, by Lubar and Halpern.  The  book talks about presence in terms of leadership,  but learned from the art of acting and theater.  This type of presence is also used for professional effectiveness in terms of public speaking and interacting with customers or patients in a way that is responsive and authentic.  The authors describe four components of presence (PRES) as being present (P), reaching out to others with empathy and sharing of self (R), being expressive with body language and tone (E), and self-knowing (S).   R and S, and maybe to some degree E, are important components of emotional intelligence (EQ).   If you think about it, isn’t PRES the primary ingredients you’d like to experience when interacting with another person under any circumstances?

I personally feel presence, as defined by Lubar and Halpern (PRES), has been hugely helpful to my effectiveness as a speaker, facilitator and teacher.  But I am finding that PRES is also important in other areas of my life.  First, for my Command strength, I believe this strength has everything to do with PRES.  Command is not just about being able to command an audience or attention, but also has to do with influence and leadership.   Developing PRES concurrently develops Command skills in the best possible way, at least from my perspective.

PRES is also important for communication in my personal life.  Chris and I have decided to be proactive about managing our communication, especially when conflict is involved.  As a result, we have learned to use deep listening skills to communicate our relational needs to each other.  I know, it’s a little bit of a cliché, but when you commit to the process and really do it right, it makes a world of difference.  What is involved is listening to the other person until they’ve said everything they want to say (in a non-blaming way), and then you reflect back to them what they said.  When they’re done, it’s your turn.  There is no interrupting or criticizing the message (though you don’t have to agree, just try to understand).  To do this successfully, you must be total present to accurately capture their message, you should respond with empathy, and when communicating your own perspective/needs, you must have self-knowledge and share yourself.  Yeah.  That equals PRES.

Finally, I feel that what I learned at Arbinger is also the equivalent of PRES.  Arbinger talks of being out of the Box and interacting with people as humans, not objects.  So, PRES is required to some degree whenever you’re out of the Box.  But as I’ve discovered recently, when I move through life viewing every person I encounter as someone that is important, beautiful and talented (this is my interpretation of seeing them as people), I cannot help but interact with them on a new level.  I’m alive to where they are in that moment (distracted, happy, depressed), and open to interaction with them on whatever terms they wish (no eye contact, a smile, or a chat).  If they wish to engage, then my complete attention and Being is available to them.

Please do not misinterpret this essay to mean that I’m always PRES.  I’m not.  I’m only recently connecting the above dots (I told you I was working this out as I go) though this is probably painfully obvious to many of you already.  For me, I’m just getting my head around how important and impactful PRES is for almost every aspect of my life and deciding it’s well worth investing in.  Simply being present and out of the Box is difficult enough.   I’m never going to master either of them, but feel like these are essential tools for my lifelong journey.

I cannot help but feel that this is all the tip of the iceberg.  In what other dimensions or applications are these tools useful? What other tools are out there?  I’m excited to find out!

Exploring the Nature of Flow

Flow

Flow

I have been contemplating the nature of flow from both my scientific background and my emerging spirituality.  The flow I’m talking about is when you’re in that sweet spot where your talent and passion collide and actions and events seem to fall into place smoothly and easily.  During flow, you lose track of time, and people say to you, “wow, how did you do that?”, or “you should do that for a living.”  Don’t dismiss those comments.  Just because it’s a no-brainer for you doesn’t mean it’s that way for others.

It’s no surprise, therefore, that the metaphors around flow have to do with water:  go with the flow, in with the tide, versus swimming upstream, going against the tide.

I suspect that if you asked 100 people if they’ve had the positive flow experience, the vast majority of them would say that they had.  If you asked the same 100 people if they had experienced the swimming upstream metaphor, all 100 people would reply in the affirmative.

So what is it in our life that provides this shared experience of flow?  Is it something spiritual (the will of the universe?) or something that can be explained logically?

Given my recent obsession with StrengthsFinders, I am inclined to approach a logical inquiry by starting with our strengths.  The positive psychology literature shows that when people work with their strengths, they are happier, more productive, engaged and creative.   I would also surmise that they are likely to be more present and in the moment.  The net result is that they will also have greater access to their intuition (probably why they have a strength there to begin with), are more observant, are able to convert that information that others may completely miss and rapidly channel that into a fascinating opportunity.  Others take note of that talent and doors begin to open.  An obvious and logical path emerges as one moves towards a goal.  Success builds upon success in an upward spiral.

Conversely, if we’re working in an area of relative weakness, then we are struggling and must work harder to accomplish the same task.  We may fail to note what may seem obvious to others, and will have difficulty putting the pieces together in a useful and meaningful way.  Others may simply view us as clueless,  incompetent or not trying.  Continuing to pursue areas of weakness may feel like we’re constantly swimming upstream as we find that doors fail to open for us.  Resisting the flow and fighting the directionality of our lives is exhausting, depressing and discouraging.  All of the above makes it harder to succeed, resulting in a downward spiral.

I am not sure the above explanation accounts for all the pieces that often seem to fall into place when we’re in flow.    Sometimes when in flow, factors that seem completely unrelated may have a role, subtle or conspicuous,  in shaping the outcome of a situation.  When we’re in flow, perhaps we’re less likely to allow hurdles to deter us and more likely to take advantage of an opportune event.  Or perhaps this is where the universe steps in.

Regardless of whether the reason for flow can be explained or proven with scientific inquiry or logic, I believe that being in flow is an indicator that we are engaged in our life’s purpose.  Since we all have strengths (as described in a previous blog), then it follows that everyone, from the biggest screw-up to the most successful billionaire, all have unique talents and strengths that can be channeled into their own version of genius!  We are all savants in some way, and that discovery is ours to uncover.  Should we be so willing.

Sometimes it seems we are all too willing to discover our failures as a person.  What about our successes?  Where are you looking?

Way of Being

Something has come over me during the last year where I feel the need to bare my soul to a handful of people, that is, anyone on the worldwide web with this URL.   In a way, I’m facing my demons by doing what scares me the most: showing my soft underbelly.

This week’s version of shameless self-disclosure comes during my Arbinger Institute facilitator training.  I wrote in my last blog about one of the Arbinger concepts, Must Be Seen As.  Admitting I have this Box to first, a roomful of strangers, then to the WWW again tests my willingness to be brutally (and I mean brutally) honest with myself and others.  Of course, after a week of disclosing our worst selves, these former strangers are now my partners-in-crime.

Another Arbinger concept that I love and is, in a very different way, equally terrifying:  way of being (I’ll call it WOB for short).  WOB refers to how we see others during the course of what we do.  For instance, I may ask someone, “please get me some Post-Its.” But how I view him will determine how I make the request.  If I view him as a person whose wants, needs and desires are equally important to my own, then the way I ask will differ compared to if I view him merely as a means to an end.   For the exact same sentence, the manner in which I say those words (grateful versus haughty, for example) can make a world of difference in terms of how he perceives my attitude (WOB), and thus his reaction. If I’m in my Must Be Seen As (or other) Box, then I’m more likely to be haughty, demanding, rude, entitled or possibly even meek, timid, or afraid when asking.

Since being trained on this topic (though I’ve been taught this before), I have become acutely aware of my WOB as I move through the world.  I have mentioned before that I’m actually a shy person and must work on intentionally making eye contact with strangers (my secret exercise with unwitting strangers).  Now, I look at strangers with a fresh perspective comprised of acute curiosity and awareness of our common humanity instead of as a vehicle for improving my shyness.

This simple shift has me once again feeling strangely vulnerable and open to whatever the stranger chooses to offer to me in return.  Sometimes, it is averted eyes.  Sometimes it is a smile or conversation.  Sometimes it is a return gaze containing an equal level of curiosity.    Regardless of the reaction, this new WOB has resulted in a heightened sense of connection to others that feels almost overwhelming.

I feel so privileged to have the opportunity to have participated in both the StrengthsFinders and Arbinger trainings.  Not only have they been personally transformative for me, I can’t wait to use these tools to help others to be more authentically engaged with their lives.  This phase of my life is yet another powerful new beginning for me, an exciting leg of my life’s journey.  The beauty and wonder of this journey is literally breathtaking to me; I can’t imagine why anyone would be closed to such exploration.  Perhaps it is best stated by Marianne Williamson, in her poem The Greatest Fear:

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.

Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.

It is our light not our darkness that most frightens us.

As I look with new eyes at each of my fellow humans, I now see that your light is, indeed, powerful and beautiful.  Whether you know it or not.

 Be not afeard; the isle is full of noises,
Sounds, and sweet airs, that give delight and hurt not.
Sometimes a thousand twangling instruments
Will hum about mine ears; and sometime voices,
That, if I then had waked after long sleep,
Will make me sleep again: and then, in dreaming,
The clouds methought would open, and show riches
Ready to drop upon me; that, when I waked,
I cried to dream again

–          William Shakespeare, The Tempest

Must Be Seen As….

Centering and re-equilibrating

Centering and re-equilibrating

One of the reasons I started writing this blog is to make me talk about things that make me feel uncomfortable and vulnerable.  The vulnerability topic for today has to do with the need to be seen in a certain way.  Like most unconscious drivers, most of us at one point or another, feel we Must Be Seen As something – a terrific parent, sibling, son/daughter, husband/wife, employee, or attractive, smart, creative, sexy, competent, athletic, macho, responsible, logical, ethical, right, or perfect.  You name it.  Nothing wrong with this need, per se.  It’s very normal and can drive us to achieve.  Of course, problems may occur when someone or something threatens our self-perception.

How does this work?  So I have a need to be seen as a good mother and employee.  If someone criticizes my work performance or my kids, then my self-identity is threatened.  I have a choice to either cope constructively (see below) with my feelings of inadequacy, shame, embarrassment, or to go into denial and blame. If my self-image as a great mom is being threatened, I might blame or attack my kids or the messenger himself (you are stupid/unfair/unreasonable/bad), or maybe defend my kids (the other kid started it, she got what she deserved, he was just tired, there is an unreasonable amount of homework).  Conversely, I might just take it out on myself:  I’m a terrible person, I’m unworthy, no one will respect/love me, I’m a helpless victim, and so on.   If at work, I may use the same sort of self-justifications to protect my sacred self-image of the good employee, or merely indulge myself with a good round of self-hate and self pity.

So, does this behavior make me a better mom and employee?  Or worse?  Again, my fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. 

What Must You Be Seen As?  What happens when someone threatens to unravel your carefully protected self-image?  Do you go into self-hating mode or go into attack/blame mode?  How does it feel?  How do you act?

This awareness of our usual emotional and behavioral response is the first important step to managing our Must Be Seen As needs.  The Arbinger Institute refers to this dysfunctional reaction as going into, or being in, The Box.  Arbinger recommends we find out of Box space: a safe, calming person, place or thing that allows us to feel heard yet open to other perspectives and inputs. I have friends/loved ones that I go to who are supportive, honest and impartial, and who do not encourage my self-justifying behavior.  Even the memory of an aunt who showed me a great kindness when she didn’t have to is soothing.  I also treasure the time in my bathtub or at the river, or perhaps even just a quiet space where I can stop the chatter in my head as a means to restore me to my saner self.

Making a mistake does not make me a bad mom or employee.  It makes me human.  It makes me want to grow and improve.  It makes me realize that I used to make many more mistakes in the past and that I have improved over time.  It humbles me to realize that I have so much more to learn.   Reaching out to those I have mistreated because I’m in the Box is healing to us both.

I’m not saying it’s now easy to feel like a screw-up or failure.  I’m just saying that I’m less likely to go into or stay in that space for long if I own my need that I Must Be Seen As.   And that, my friends, is freeing.

Everyone’s Unique Awesomeness

Sometimes it’s easy to take our fellow man for granted.  Cut them off in traffic or in line, get cranky on the phone with customer service, walk by without eye contact as if we are not co-existing and co-dependent on this small planet.  Sometimes, even with people we know, we may treat others as a difficult or annoying obstacle to our productivity or peace of mind, rather than someone who is also just trying their best every day.

Which is why I love StrengthsFinders.  I know, I’ve been blathering on for almost two weeks about it now, I promise I’ll stop after today (or maybe not).  It’s not a perfect instrument or tool by any means but the benefits of looking at our strengths are just sooo cool!

Looking at someone through their Top 5 strengths makes everyone look amazing!  It’s pretty much impossible to look at someone’s Top 5 strengths and not just say, “wow.”

For example, here is the Top 5 of a loved one:  Activator, Analytical, Belief, Relator, and Strategic.   Loves to get started and get going,  uses information and data to understand and relate to the world, has a strong belief system/is principled, loves to form deep relationships and can quickly see the big picture map of how to proceed.  Considering the possibilities in general terms (since the combinations express themselves differently in each person),  this person uses details and data to understand the world but can use that information to envision and execute the best plan.  The plan will be informed by their principles and beliefs.  If he applies those principles to his relationships, then he can potentially form strong commitments and relational roles (husband, father, son,  friend, co-worker) with those that he cares about.  Whew.  Impressive.  Doesn’t he sound incredible?

Another loved one:  Relator, Adaptability, Ideation, Restorative, Empathy.  Equally cool.  Loosely speaking, this person loves to form deep relationships with people, is flexible and can adapt quickly to changing circumstances, is creative and loves novelty, a problem-identifier and –solver, and is empathic.  Think about the possibilities of someone who is a creative and flexible problem-solver.  This skill for personal and professional life seem endlessly useful.  Maybe he’d be an excellent  disaster manager, principal, or special event planner.  Consider the empathic ability to sense others’ emotions along with the desire to build close relationships – this person may love to solve problems of his loved ones and/or enjoy working in close-knit teams.  He may also bring creativity to the relationships themselves.  How much fun will he be to hang with?  How awesome is he?

The thing that has been interesting about these profiles is that both share two of my Top 5 strengths.  Since there are 34 strengths, this is statistically unlikely to happen by chance.  Yet sometimes we tend to focus on the differences in our strengths, which can become a barrier to mutual understanding and cooperation.  Instead, we can focus on our commonality (really!  Two out of five!) or appreciate how our strengths compliment each other.  We have skills that, together, provide diversity and a wider range of options – if we work together and don’t let them get in our way.

See what I mean?  Everyone looks amazing when using the strengths lens.  When considering my own strengths, I feel proud and powerful.  It’s impossible not to appear as the amazing humans that we are.  Now you understand why I’m raving about strengths.  OK, I’ll stop now.

Uncovering Hidden Tools

I occasionally have a gizmo or do-dad that I have stuffed away in a drawer somewhere, completely oblivious to its function.  The example that comes to mind was a jar opener in my kitchen.  When I finally asked and learned what it was, I had a small Aha moment, then was pleased to have a new tool (especially as I’m terrible at opening jars).

Roughly the same phenomenon occurs when I go to the gym and some kick-ass instructor has us doing something I’ve never done before.  Suddenly I’ve discovered muscles I didn’t even know I had.

Just imagine if we had access to all available kitchen or handyman tools and knew how to use them?  Or if every one of the muscles in our body was in top-notch condition when athletic ability is critical to our success?  Doesn’t it make sense to become aware of, and use, all the tools that we have to help us be successful and happy?  It’s kind of like trying to fix a car with only a hammer, wrench and a screwdriver.  You can probably get by for a long time with just those three tools, but at some point you’ll hit a brick wall.

Turns out, we have all kinds of tools that we rarely use.  As you probably know by now, StrengthsFinders is a self-assessment instrument that identifies the 34 common human strengths, such as Communication or Empathy, and ranks them for each person from strongest to weakest (yes, we all have all 34 to various degrees).  By focusing on our dominant strengths, we can maximize our effectiveness, engagement and happiness. Becoming aware of our strengths is the first step, as we frequently take them for granted.  I’ve written recently about some of my strengths that I want to embrace and develop.

But it doesn’t end there.  Apparently, our bodies and voices also give us access to a set of emotional tools.  Researcher Amy Cuddy describes how body language affects not only how others perceive us but also has real, physiologic effects on how we feel and even who we are.   Powerful poses make us feel more confident and less stressed, whereas defensive poses increase our stress hormones.  Actual changes in testosterone and cortisol (stress hormone) result based on our posture.  She recommends adopting a powerful pose (think:  Man of Steel poses) for at least two minutes to change your hormone levels and give you the confidence and courage to make a series of small changes that can change who you are.  Restricting yourself to defensive poses (slouching, keeping limbs close to body), therefore, can make it more difficult to be successful.  In other words, Fake It Until You Make It has an actual physiologic underpinning.  Cuddy advocates you Fake It Until You Become It.

Similarly, our voices have a range of five “elements”, according to Barbara McAfee, author of  Full Voice: The Art and Practice of Vocal Presence.  Each element corresponds with an emotional range.  For example, earth element is associated with authority and intuition, fire with passion and personal power, water with compassion and caring, metal with clarity and focus and air with spirituality and inspiration.  Relying too heavily on one or two voice elements may restrict our emotional range, both in terms how we might feel in a given moment but also eliciting and processing feelings from past experiences, according to McAfee.  The ability to access each element helps you put those emotions to work effectively in your life.  For example, I observed that while I was trying to embrace my Command strength, I intuitively went deeper into the Earth element, but too deep as I was stressing my voice.  I will need to work on finding the right mix of voice elements to improve my effectiveness. The down side of command is being perceived as bossy.  Perhaps intentionally eliciting the water elements of my voice could help provide balance.

If I can name three there are probably dozens more ways we can learn to more effectively use our hidden skills. Perhaps we are truly on the brink of being able to tap into the full human potential.  We already know so much about unlocking our potential, it’s now merely a matter of whether we choose to seal those kitchen drawers shut or dig through them periodically to find, and use, our hidden treasures.  I’m digging as I need something to prevent coffee grinds from going everywhere and to be viewed as less bossy.  What’s hidden in your toolkit?

A Few Good Tools

Toolkit

Toolkit

Here’s my week:

  • Friday – Finish StrengthsFinder coach training and fly home
  • Saturday – Sell my house of 16 years
  • Monday
    • Buy a new house;
    • Son starts college (living at home);
    • New assistant starts;
    • Begin implementation of a university-wide career development project we proposed this spring;
    • Begin planning to lead a task force across my professional organization
  • Tuesday
    • House un-sells and goes back on market
    • Sister comes to visit
  • Wednesday – son graduates high school
  • Thursday
    • We decide to go forward with new house despite the old one not being sold
    • Discover we need to replace son’s car (it breaks down again) as a derecho does a quick spin through town
    • Sister leaves
  • Friday
    • Assistant of many years (the only one I ever had)  retires
    • The day is still young

(How we doin’?)

It’s a crazy convergence, like my life stumbled into some kind of karmic mixing bowl.   If one of my friends with Connectedness strength could please tell me the meaning of all these transitions happening concurrently, I would greatly appreciate it.

And what am I doing about all this?  Well, I’m writing my blog, just like I do every other day for the last 200+ days.  Life goes on while life goes on.

I spent some time reflecting on why I actually feel quite OK with all this craziness.  I realized that I have drawn from my toolkit of super human (different from super-human) skills to manage the chaos.  First of all:  optimism.  When one phase ends, another begins.  I don’t really tend to mourn the old phase but rather look with anticipation to the new.   I’m fortunate enough to have a strong support system and resources to help get through all of these events, so I’m definitely not doing this alone.

Second of all:  gratitude.  It hasn’t been perfect, it won’t be perfect, things will go wrong.  That’s all part and parcel of our messy, chaotic life and I’m so grateful to have so many wonderful things going on, even if it’s all simultaneous.  Notice that all these transitions are positive events by and large, though it has not always been that way for me.  Oh yeah, did I mention my support system?

Finally:  being present.  I am not worrying about the future (once the decisions are made, anyway) nor am I regretting the past.  Not worrying about the future means I am not trying to control it either.  As I attach the hyperlink to this skill, I realize that this also helped me in the past when I hit rock bottom.  This is a good one, y’all.

So here I am, enjoying my coffee as I write my blog, just like I do, every other day of my life.  Cheers!

The Karmic Parenting of Humanity

The unseen but tangible relationships between gratitude, positivity, forgiveness, optimism and productivity, creativity and even good luck have been shown in scientific research.   The more you embody positive emotions, the happier and more successful you are likely to be.  The phenomenon has much to do with creating your own reality:  the more that you expect good things to occur, the more they are likely to happen.    The better you feel (grateful, optimistic, forgiving), the happier you will be.  It’s a positive, upward spiral.  In other words, the happy get happier.

The reverse is also true:  the more negative, pessimistic and cynical you are, the more likely you will be to create that reality.  A negative, downward spiral.  The miserable get more miserable.

Some feel that they are victims in their own world.  For sure, there is much suffering and pain among people who have done nothing to deserve it.  But there are also victims and martyrs among the most affluent and successful regions of the world, and peaceful, contented, grateful people among the poorest.  Given that our economic or social circumstance may not be entirely within our control, and that neither of them guarantees happiness (or misery) anyway, then apparently our happiness starts with us.  It’s not the other way around. We are happy because we choose to be happy.  Our circumstances do not make us happy.

This upward spiral is described in many resources including Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. From my personal experience, this phenomenon is so very true.  The more I maintain a positive, optimistic, grateful attitude, the more smoothly my life seems to go, things fall into place, and I can get into flow (I’m in my groove, my sweet spot!).

It’s almost as if there is some karmic parent out there doling out rewards and punishments:  Suzie didn’t say thank you, so she gets no more gifts; Suzie has a bad attitude and is going into time out; Suzie did something she knew was wrong and is going to get spanked; Suzie didn’t do her homework and has to stay after school. Suzie made A’s in school and will get to stay up late and watch Homeland.  Suzie wrote a nice thank you note and so will get a mani-pedi for her next gift.  Suzie ate all her dinner and will get chocolate cake for dessert.

That being said, a great attitude won’t prevent anyone from getting cancer, getting hit by a car, or losing their job.  It only means that you are more likely to turn a setback into an opportunity and weather the crisis gracefully.  In other words, positive, optimistic people are resilient. 

I don’t really know, in the end, about the karmic parent or the neurobiology behind the upward spiral.   I just know that it’s there and whether we’re riding up or down is our choice.  What are you choosing?