Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The power of variety, complexity and choice; or creativity in action

This is taken from the afterword in my book on positive psychology.

In some ways it could be said that positive psychology is attempting to find the code, the initial programme that produces the most beautiful lives. Philosophers and mystics have attempted similar journeys and come to very similar conclusions. 
􏰂􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰆􏰇􏰅􏰈􏰉􏰊􏰋􏰌􏰀􏰀􏰀􏰄􏰍􏰄 􏰎􏰏􏰐􏰎􏰏􏰐􏰄􏰎􏰆􏰎􏰀􏰀􏰀􏰆􏰅
There is no surprise at how much research findings are mirroring some of the teachings of ancient mystics and philosophers. However, it should be remembered that all ancient writings on the practices and behaviours of those who have embodied what has been recognised as the height of human flourishing were written by followers in their name. Buddha, Jesus and Socrates wrote nothing. Their ‘teaching’ was given in practice and through stories and principles that call for reflective action in relationship to the self and others; the best understanding of these teachings is only really revealed in practice.

Human life is not isolated, even within itself. Each thought, word and deed is in communion with otherness: our environ- ment or someone else or our own desires and needs, ambitions or fears, with the added extra of the random feedback loop that each thought generates as it ricochets out and back like an echo-sounder.

When people are happier they are kinder, more generous, more grateful, and healthier. When people open themselves up to growth and compassion, empathy and connectedness, more lives flourish than just that of the individual. Just as micro-financing is recognised as a powerful force for change in building the economic strength of communities from within, so positive psychology is showing us how much the smallest attention to how we look at the world and those around us can affect not just our own well-being but everything around us. Positive psychology is seeking to extend this message in a way that opens up opportunities for individuals to flourish from childhood to old age. Every time you choose to learn, grow and develop personally you change more than your own abilities and well-being. The simplest change in thinking or behaviour can have a far-reaching effect.

We are complicated, and we live in a world that is complex beyond even science’s ability to grasp fully, but the complex arises from the very small and the very simple. 

􏰂􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰆􏰇􏰅􏰈􏰉􏰊􏰋􏰌􏰀􏰀􏰀􏰄􏰍􏰇 􏰎􏰏􏰐􏰎􏰏􏰐􏰄􏰎􏰆􏰎􏰀􏰀􏰀􏰆􏰅􏰑􏰅The butterfly effect can be seen in much of the research in positive psychology.  Barbara Fredrickson tells us that there is an important ratio of positive effect that has a tipping point, 3:1 positive to negative. This is similar to the effects found in chaos theory. But just as the butterfly flapping its wings can cause a hurricane, each small change you make in your life matters. The old proverb: ‘For want of a nail the horse was lost, for want of a horse the rider was lost, for want of a rider the battle was lost, for want of a battle the kingdom was lost, and all for the want of a horse shoe nail’,224 sums it up nicely.

A small caution

A happy fulfilled life as the subject for study and understanding is important. However, looking for the key to happiness and well-being can inspire prescriptive ideals. History is littered with the casualties of putting into practice ideas that claim to lead to a good and happy life. 

Positive psychology is at the forefront of a scientific approach to understanding what makes us flourish and could claim to ‘know’ the answers, but proving one thing and acting on that proof can have unforeseen consequences elsewhere. For example, 25 years ago psychological research discovered the correlation between depression and low self-esteem. Boosting self-esteem became the holy grail of psychologists. However, after more study into the concept, high self-esteem has been found to be great for the individual while not good for others. People with high self-esteem are more likely to be aggressive and bully others, are more likely to cheat and to be self-serving generally at others’ expense. High self-esteem can have negative consequences.  Like our modern obsession with food, we may find that eating blueberries reduces the risk of cancer and heart disease but we also know that a diet of only blueberries would be poisonous. Time and again the research reveals the power of variety and that our strengths can also be our weakness if over-used or used too narrowly, and your talents only really grow when challenged.
􏰂􏰃􏰄􏰅􏰆􏰇􏰅􏰈􏰉􏰊􏰋􏰌􏰀􏰀􏰀􏰄􏰍􏰅 􏰎􏰏􏰐􏰎􏰏􏰐􏰄􏰎􏰆􏰎􏰀􏰀􏰀􏰆􏰅􏰑􏰅

The research to date, the subject and business of positive psychology, should be used to inform and guide rather than dictate. The subjective context in which happiness and well-being are experienced is a complicated and perpetual interplay of how and why we think and how and why we feel, which is both genetic and learned.The happy news is that we can affect the quality of our life and how we feel.

Creativity is the unmentioned subject of my book but is the expression of all aspects of a flourishing life. Everything we do is creative or has the potential to create. Every time we smile at someone we create a moment. Being creative is who we are in action, any action, in our work, with our family and friends, and most especially in the effect we have on our environment. Shelling peas can be a creative process and we are all performance artists like Gilbert and George; our life IS our creation and when we flourish we create better.

In comfort and luxury some people can create hell, and in the worst degradation and shortage there are people who can create heaven. It is truly your choice: 

"Believe that life is worth living, and your belief will create the fact" William James, 1842–1910

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

You are not your thoughts

You are not your thoughts. Your brain does what it does, it processes information, it does this without you, when you dream, when your thoughts wander, your brain is doing what it does just as your lungs do or your heart.

Be the watcher of your thoughts just as you can be the watcher of your breathing. You can put your attention to anything your body- which includes your mind.- Your body is experiencing and your mind is interpreting, with or without your attention.  What we experience can be mindless or mindful.

When we let go of attachment to our thoughts we are still using out mind but it is not our mind that is running things it is our higher (deeper, truer...)self.

Don't try to switch off your thoughts, just notice them, especially when you are beating yourself up.

We say things to ourselves that can be horrible. When it is too hard to listen or shut up the monkey in the machine notice with your other senses and turn your attention to what you can hear, how your legs feel, what you are sensing, smelling, seeing or touching. Let go of believing what you are thinking. Practice being.

Try this 13 minute guided meditation with Ally Hamilton

Brexit thoughts, (Nothing to do with happiness!)

The revolution IS being televised,
The revolution is on social media.
The piglet and pooh pastiches, the re-run petitions re-run, the wails and tales and what the f!
The implodes and explodes and the silent retreat modes,
The friendships in question and IQ on trial.

It IS a revolution.
And it IS being televised.

Let them eat cake is the Westminster vibe,
The BBC, guardian the, chattering minds.
But the ordinary, dispossessed, helpless ignored. 
The workers, protesters, manipulated many have delivered their verdict unqualified -bold

Autonomy- Freedom -Connection- Belonging- the need in the story is timeless, predictable, sorry.
It's a revolution no different than any before
Led by opportunists, fanatics and nationalists with distorted  passion and one or two lies..
Fuelling and feeding the anger and lack, or what the heck, to the obviously bored.
The revolution is being televised, media-ised, lionised. 

The familiar players are all on stage
Who is Robespierre who Stalin, who Benjamin Franklin?
See the honour and integrity exploited and changed on both sides.
The rejection of union, undoing the union, united we aren't in uncoupling, reforming, revolting.
Yet hell is also a world without change.

The revolution IS being televised!
Choose love, choose humility, choose understanding choose wisely.
Or choose need needlessly.
Whatever you choose WILL be televised,
It already is.

It IS a revolution.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

There is hope in the madness- getting back to basics. In praise of self-help.

In seeking happiness or at least a happier life why do we need so many books and manuals and even this blog to remind/tell us to pay more attention to the basics?

By basics I mean; to be mindful and aware, grateful and kind, to live with more compassion to both ourselves and others, to judge less and accept more. Surely we don't need a book or article or a pinterest board to know these things? Yet if you look at the self-help shelves groaning with books on all aspects of well-being; spiritual, emotional, physical and mental there are thousands and counting. It would appear that there is a need- almost an epidemic!

After taking out the extreme ideologies, most 'life support' books say the same thing in as many variations as it is possible to imagine. Most use one subject as the catch-all and if the idea catches on it can be exploited for a bit before the next 'way in'.  No-one should care that self help can be exploitive or that money is being made from teaching which ideally should be passed from parent to child. Whatever the need, turning to a self-help book is an indication or awareness of a lack.  Whichever book or article turned to, people are at least looking to challenge or change their pattern of thinking.

If basic things like gratitude and kindness isn't taught at home thank goodness there is a plethora of 'basic' messages getting out at the moment.  Self-help books can be great and although they come in many varieties and cover many aspects of life, mostly they tell the same story; to wake up and take responsibility for ourselves and how we live! Whatever has or is happening to us we are the guardians of our souls and yes we do have souls.

The Dali Lama's message of a calm mind supported by compassionate living and a strong character is one of the many voices on happiness. His influence is immense but if the Chinese had not invaded and destroyed his country, Tibetan buddhism would have remained hidden in the closed society that was Tibet. The pain for Tibet was a force for good in the world. 

It is pain, depression and emptiness  that is the reason there is a mass waking up to the 'basics'. It is living sadly and badly that causes people to want to know how to live a little (or a lot) better and happier. There is hope in the madness.

The western culture, that focuses on the self, feels different pressures. The distance and separation we feel, is not from God so much as from an ideal we think we 'should' be in our own eyes. The greater the discrepancy between how we think our lives or ourself 'should be' compared to how our life 'is' or we 'are' is a measure of unhappiness. The greater the discrepancy, the more unhappy and depressed we are. 

“The secret of happiness, you see, is not found in seeking more, but in developing the capacity to enjoy less.” Socrates

If we are lucky we might get unhappy enough to want to do something about it and although some ideas out there might be another road to hell the more people who are waking up and addressing the issue the more all the simple ideas get airtime and the rotten apples come to light. The rise of fundamental religious belief is part of the same need and it too may rise or fall as a consequence of how much misery or joy it brings.

History teaches us that 'ideal' instructions for living well, have constantly been re-learnt -  both individually and collectively. I am just glad that the 'basics' are back on the menu. 

The suffering of the Tibetan people or Nelson Mandela have given us examples of people who have risen from Job-like experiences, but seem out of reach to most of us. Individual and global suffering calls us to compassion and action, but often it is only through our own suffering that we are 're-minded' how fundamentally important are kindness, appreciation, gratitude and noticing the small joys.  

Perhaps we need to loose much of what we have come to think matters before we can wake up and remember the really big one, the hard idea that comes through acceptance, compassion and kindness - Forgiveness - starting with ourselves.

I wrote this some time ago but feel I want to post this after hearing Laurie Taylor on Radio 4 being very sniffy about self help, and the wellbeing 'industry'. I end where I began-  who cares if people are pedalling mindfulness, gratitude and meaningful living and getting it into government departments and the like. Something is amiss if we are not happy -and surely these ideas are better than some of the more fundamental religious ideas that also seek to fill the current void.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Gratitude and apprieciation is a life force

How appreciative are you of what you have right now?
Sometimes it is easy to stop noticing the small miracles around us all the time.
Gratitude is the door through which life pours, being grateful and appreciative is a choice, a choice to open yourself up to seeing the world afresh every minute.

Do you use the word 'if' or 'when' in the way you look at your life? for example
if I had more money
if I was married/ had a boyfriend/ wasn't in a relationship...
if my mother/ father hadn't.....
if I had not been bullied/ changed schools /suffered........................
when I get sorted
when I get a promotion
when I go away
when I have time- if I had more time......................
you get the picture - you are looking at life from the perspective of a victim.

Bad things happen but wishing things were otherwise or blaming someone or something for the situation you dislike is only giving you permission to stay helpless and a victim to circumstances- it is also a way of not talking responsibility for creating your own life.

New things come into your life when you see things with gratitude. 
What are you grateful for learning and what gave you the opportunity to learn this? what are you most grateful for right now? How many things could you appreciate more if you stopped worrying for a moment?

One way to start appreciating and developing a grateful outlook is to become mindful. Just stop for three minutes and be aware of what your body is doing. Your heart is beating in a way that is able to pump your blood hard enough to gather oxygen, hormones, vitamins and minerals and then push them to all your body cells appropriately - even to the end of your toes and then have enough power to return to the heart. You are breathing life sustaining oxygen in an equally and integrated way and you are able to be aware of this cognitively- WOW! I am aware I sound annoying but a living body really is technologically beautiful, a stunningly designed self sustaining system ...........
-and you are both creator and user- you choose and create many of the apps. How much stress hormone your body creates depends on how you think!

Keeping a gratitude journal is a great way to feel better about your life or just noting before you fall aleep what you apprieciate about the day, and why.

I love this  - funny and spot on!

Emmons R.A. and McCullough M.E. (2003). Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377-89

Monday, 1 April 2013

How interested are you in your relationship?

I have a great aunt of 94 who has never been married, the other day she said to me that of course she has no first hand experience but as far as she could see the reason most marriages failed was because of boredom.
"They say it's because of this or that reason, but I think people just get bored" was how she put it. 

I think she is probably right. In her ted talk Esther Perel reminds us that the important things we look for in long term relationships such as security and certainty are also passion killers.

We have an inbuilt system that reduces the pleasure something affords us over time, we adapt all to quickly to having the things we desire and the initial pleasure wanes with familiarity. This is called the hedonic treadmill and capitalism mercilessly exploits our voracious appetite for pleasure and happiness that consumerism,  material acquisition and new experience gives us.

We can become consumers of people too, caught up in the feelings we ‘get’ from other people and sexual pleasure is one of the biggest pleasure/ happiness drugs of all. But like all drugs the effects can become muted over time. The hedonic treadmill can apply as much to our relationships as to anything else.

Friday, 29 March 2013


Watch your thoughts because they become your words
Watch your words because they become your actions
Watch your actions because they become your habits
Watch your habits because they become your character
Watch your character because it becomes your destiny.

I spend a lot of time focusing at the beginning of this quoteon how we think. We can choose how we think and change our perspective and the rest follows; what you think creates the world you experience. Today I would like to focus on the 3rd line. Watch your actionsbecause they become your habits.

Our habits express who we are much more than our sentiments.

In fact our habits can betray us however much we want to deceive ourselves that we are what we think more than what we do. Thinking affects what we do, but it is also true that doing effects what we think.

If you smile you will feel happier, just as if you are happy it makes smile.
Kinder people are happier and happier people are kinder.

The life we have been dealt can shape our character. 
Our character is expressed through our habits.
Our habits govern our actions.
Our actions direct our words.
Our words betray our thoughts.

This way round it sounds less inspiring.  When written this way it conveys a powerless response to life events (reactive),  as opposed to motivated directed response (proactive).

If our character is shaped by a mindless reactive response to life’s lottery the process is probably continued until the thoughts generated at the end of this process would feed back into the return re-action i.e.from those thoughts back to character and destiny.  And back again. An endless feedback loop.

Traditional therapy spends a lot of time examining things in backward direction; from events to thoughts, in order that people can understand why they might think theway they do and then choose to change things.

Backward thinking people use their thoughts to examinetheir lives.
Forward thinking people use their thoughts to create their lives.

Any thinking is good, even backward thinking. However when trouble strikes the habit of forward thinking will serve you much, much, better than backward thinking.

Mindless action, thoughtless behavior can be a habit in and of itself, and I include in this understanding of mindless behavior;
Behavior and actions that come of mindlessly following and obeying rules.
Behavior and actions done with no thought at all beyond immediate gratification.
Lack of awareness, general thoughtless behavior.

What is sad is that many people don’t wake up to, or question their thinking until trouble strikes.

Do mindless actions lead to thoughtless habits? Whichin turn define our nature? If we examine our actions do we say we act this way because that’s the way we are or the way we are choosing to be.

A fixed mindset believes that we are who we are and people cant and don’t change. A growth mindset believes anyone can change.

We develop our character through what we habitually do and think, and we CAN choose how we think, act and behave.

We don’t speak much about character today and we certainly don’t spend much time discussing the qualities and behavior that belies good character. We have become facile in how we speak about values, and forget that what we value is at the heart of what we really care about and governs our behavior. What we DO defines us and gives us our identity, and what we do can be done mindlessly.

Are you choosing your story or mindlessly at the mercy of it?