Posts Tagged ‘New York Times’

The article, A New Gauge to See What’s Beyond Happiness, by John Tierney (click here to read the whole article) in today’s New York Times questions the idea that happiness is what we should all strive for.  It’s not that happiness is bad, but the author and people interviewed in the article ask whether there is a richer sense of well-being that comes from more than just positive, happy feelings.

This strikes a chord with me. Partly personally, but also because I see clients all the time looking for a deeper well-being, even when in many ways they would describe themselves as happy.   They’re looking for connection and relationships, both personal and in work.  They’re looking for contributing to the greater good and being part of something bigger.

Psychologist Martin Seligman, who founded the positive psychology movement, says he has come around to see that happiness (positive emotion)  is not enough, but just one of what he believes are five crucial elements of well-being: positive emotion, engagement (the feeling of being lost in a task), relationships, meaning and accomplishment.

“Well-being cannot exist just in your own head,” he writes. “Well-being is a combination of feeling good as well as actually having meaning, good relationships and accomplishment.”

The economist Arthur Brooks agrees.

In his 2008 book, “Gross National Happiness,” Dr. Brooks argues that what’s crucial to well-being is not how cheerful you feel, not how much money you make, but rather the meaning you find in life and your sense of “earned success” — the belief that you have created value in your life or others’ lives.

Brooks explains one way this plays out.

“People find meaning in providing unconditional love for children,” writes Dr. Brooks, who is now president of the American Enterprise Institute. “Paradoxically, your happiness is raised by the very fact that you are willing to have your happiness lowered through years of dirty diapers, tantrums and backtalk. Willingness to accept unhappiness from children is a source of happiness.”

Why does this all resonate with me?  I guess because it makes sense that well-being is not always connected to or dependent on happiness per se.  Our culture sometimes puts happiness so high on the pedestal of life, that short of achieving happiness nothing is enough.  This view that overall well-being is more complicated and complex than just feeling happy makes me feel more normal and validated.

What do you do that doesn’t necessarily always make  you happy but that adds to your overall sense of well-being?

I was drawn to a recent article in the New York Times by Tara Parker-Pope, Go Easy on Yourself, a New Wave of Research Urges (click here to read the whole article).  I’ve been trying to do that over the past few years…go easy on myself, that is.  I’m getting better at it, but I’d say my strength, and inclination, is still to be hard on myself.

Self compassion, as it’s called, is a new field of study and researchers are finding that people who are kind to themselves are less likely to be depressed and anxious.  They also add that self-compassion is not the same as self-indulgence.  I sometimes wonder when I’m “taking care of myself,” whether I’m just using that as an excuse to avoid doing something that is difficult or unpleasant.  And so, I think it’s important to be really honest with oneself.

The author says one way to get a clearer idea on how to be nice to yourself is to think about what you would tell a child or friend in your situation.

Imagine your reaction to a child struggling in school or eating too much junk food. Many parents would offer support, like tutoring or making an effort to find healthful foods the child will enjoy. But when adults find themselves in a similar situation — struggling at work, or overeating and gaining weight — many fall into a cycle of self-criticism and negativity. That leaves them feeling even less motivated to change.

And that’s the thing, you want to stay motivated and open to possibility.  Reminding yourself that it’s hard to lose weight, get new clients, switch jobs gives you some breathing room to fail and struggle, but ultimately it doesn’t take away from your desire to lose weight, get new clients or switch jobs.

I was drawn to coaching and love doing it because I am very good at supporting others and steering them out of their own way.  I’m not always as good at using the same techniques with myself, but I have started to ask myself what I would ask a client in my own situation.  How would I support her/him?  Why am I able to have total faith in the brilliance and potential of others, but not in myself?

Are you more compassionate with others than you are with yourself?  What are your most common self-criticisms?  Can you think of a new, more supportive way to look at yourself?

I assume Richard Friedman, M.D. didn’t mean to make a case for coaching in his article, When Self-knowledge is Only the Beginning, in the New York Times (click here to read the whole article), but I think he makes a good (if unintentional) case for it!  He starts out:

It is practically an article of faith among many therapists that self-understanding is a prerequisite for a happy life. Insight, the thinking goes, will free you from your psychological hang-ups and promote well-being.

Perhaps, but recent experience makes me wonder whether insight is all it’s cracked up to be.

I wonder the same thing.  I think there is definitely a place for insight, and for some  people it is an important piece of the puzzle.  But for many others who are stuck in their lives and wanting change, insight is not the key:  action is.

And coaching is all about action…big and small.  It’s about acknowledging that you’re in a situation that makes you unhappy and figuring out alternatives.  There is always another choice…another thing you can do, even if it doesn’t feel like it.  Knowing the root of your unhappiness and focusing on it can even be detrimental.  If someone frames the cause of their suffering as a given or fact, they may start to believe in only that reality.

Friedman talks about a chronically depressed patient with a lot of self-knowledge.

He had been in therapy for years before I saw him and had come to the realization that he had chosen his profession to please his critical and demanding father rather than follow his passion for art. Although he was insightful about much of his behavior, he was clearly no happier for it.

When did he get happier?

…my chronically depressed patient came to see me recently looking exceedingly happy. He had quit his job and taken a far less lucrative one in the art world. We got to talking about why he was feeling so good. “Simple,” he said, “I’m doing what I like.

I think that is one of the strengths of coaching.  You focus on where the passion and energy is and steer the client in that direction.

So, thank you Richard Friedman, M.D. for your article, but next time could you please make a direct plug for coaching.

This morning I read an article in the NY Times and the following quote really stuck out for me.

“It was a whole personality shift for me,” Dr. Martin said. “I wasn’t any longer attached to my performance and trying to control things. I could see that the really good things in life will happen if you just show up and share your natural enthusiasms with people. You have a feeling of attunement with other people.”

Lack of attachment to outcome, giving up control, showing up, and natural enthusiasm…these are all things that I as a coach and a person try to do in my life, and it is what I want to help my clients achieve.  There is so much power in just showing up and sharing who you are, and outcomes and control are illusory.

The funny thing is that this article (click here to read the whole thing) is about doctors using hallucinogens to help people suffering from depression.  It really strikes me how powerful the shift was for the Dr. Martin quoted above, and how fundamental the elements of the shift are.  Even more amazing is how hard it is for human beings (myself included) to not be attached to outcome, to give up control, to show up, and to share our natural enthusiasms!

What would it feel like to be truly fine with any outcome?

What would it feel like to give up control and simply be present?

What are you holding on to?

A recent blog post on the NY Times talks about a new study that shows people who engage in deeper, more substantive conversations are happier than those who mostly engage in small talk.

But, he (the researcher) proposed, substantive conversation seemed to hold the key to happiness for two main reasons: both because human beings are driven to find and create meaning in their lives, and because we are social animals who want and need to connect with other people.

I have spent a considerable portion of my life wondering how things would be if I could keep things more on the surface…stop questioning so much, stop searching so much, stop feeling so much.  In many ways society encourages people to keep things on the surface and frowns on the deeper connection.  I’m not sure if I’m happier (what is happy anyway?) because of the deeper connections, but I do think I’m more fulfilled and present because I am not pushing down these basic instincts.

What would be possible if there were more connection, real connection, between human beings?   Where are you on the conversation spectrum?

To read the NY Times article, click here.