Monday, March 17, 2014

Back to work

It is Monday, and 7 weeks of teaching are looming. A pessimist would think “I have to do all 7 weeks, all at once, there is no relief, until in like 7 weeks, poor me”.  This feels like an insurmountable pile of work. But the optimist says “Hey, you just have only today to figure out, you can do that. One day at a time. Don’t worry about tomorrow. BTW, the weekend is close, too.”


I ventured on with my morning routine. Facebook anticipated my plight and I found a link in my feed from TED with “8 inspiring talks on happiness at work”. I felt I could use some of it. After the first 3 talks I already felt much better, inspired, uplifted.

Check it out in case you are need a Monday/post-spring-break attitude tune-up.

Painted in Waterlogue

It is still –8F (-18C) outside, and this is March, a few days from the official start of spring. I feels like we are held prisoner by winter this year. But, what else is new? Los Angeles had an earthquake, a entire airliner is still missing, and everyone counts on the luck of the Irish today. 

One of the TED talks, the one by Martin Seligman, explored ‘what brings us happiness’. The science of positive psychology. It distinguishes between three paths to happiness: a) having a pleasant life, b) living a life of engagement, being engaged in your activities, your job, parenting, finding flow in your activities, being productive, and c) finding a meaningful life by being engaged and connected.

According to this science, the first path of having ‘pleasant experiences’ is very concrete, you can feel it right then and there, licking the ice cream cone, having a good class of wine or flirting with George Clooney. However, this path has its drawbacks, because it is often just the beginning of the experience that leads to the most pleasant emotions (like the first weeks of a romance or the first spoon of ice cream), and then you need something new again. It gets habitual fast.

The second area is about flow. About being engaged in activity that makes time stop for you. You are highly focused, engaged, you melt into music, a dance, taking photos. It typical comes with your highest strengths and interests. So, if you have a job that overlaps with many of your strength you are in a good place. Or you have to redefine your job so that it includes more of your strength.

The third path to find happiness is about a meaningful life. Using your strengths in the service of something larger than yourself. Like being philantrophic, volunteering at animal shelter, contributing your strength to something larger than yourself.

So, which paths or which formula of participation of all three paths lead to the most life satisfaction? Interestingly enough, the first path alone, the one of the hedonist, leads to the least amount of lasting life satisfaction, it immediately evaporates and needs a new ‘feed’. You can never stop. This is why George Clooney needs a new girlfriend every 2 years. It is why the act of buying new shoes or clothes or new pots is the best, but boring a year later.

However the other two paths, finding your strengths, being in a flow, and/or putting this into a larger context, lead to the highest amount of life satisfaction. It also keeps on giving, your memory of  having participated and contributed.

which brings me back to the beginning of this post: a pile of work. Yes, a pile of work seems crushing, just like getting ready for a run, packing up to go the gym, starting a paper, or cleaning the floor, but it is well-worth getting through it and getting started, because the rewards of satisfaction will roll in soon.

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