The other “s” word 

red robot

This is day 3 of #30DaysofVulnerability, answering the question: “Who or what are you ‘supposed to’ be?” More info here.

“Stop should-ing all over yourself” -a wise person

“The only thing you ‘should’ do is breathe” -my wise uncle

Sometimes life is a string of shoulds: I should work, I should go to the gym, I shouldn’t eat that ice cream. As adults, we drown in shoulds – while little kids have the answer to all our struggles. 

Open your eyes wide and ask…why? Or better yet, scream it. WHY??

Sometimes we’ll come up with a good answer, an answer from within: I should work on my blog because it’ll help me improve my writing, which is something I want. Instead of “should,” we can say, “I want to do X because…” 

But a lot of the time, the answers come from someone else – a strict parent, the faceless masses of society – or from something negative – the fear of rejection, an irrational belief. No, one ice cream probably isn’t going to chop days off my life, but shoulding all over myself very well might. 

Researcher Brene Brown says that authenticity is letting go of who you’re supposed to be and embracing who you are. “Supposed to” is, aptly, another “s” word. I’m supposed to be calm, put together, and happy. I’m supposed to be outgoing and interesting. I’m supposed to be a productivity machine, always the best and the smartest. Eight years ago, I was supposed to be a violinist…until I realized that I wasn’t.  

My high school calculus teacher called me a robot, and maybe I believed him for awhile. I could be robotic, getting straight A’s, being valedictorian, acing my SAT’s (except that one question – bad robot!). But robots have instructions written by other people. They always do what they’re supposed to be doing, but they don’t enjoy it (at least not yet). Maybe the curse of having wants is that they’re yours, and you have to own them, and you can’t just blame your instruction manual. But it’s a heck of a lot more fun than being a robot. 

Photo by Flickr user littlelostrobot

5 signs your productivity is motivated by shame 

midnight oil

This is day 2 of #30DaysofVulnerability, answering the question: “When do you hustle for worthiness?” More info here.

All midnight work marathons aren’t created equal.

According to researcher Brené Brown, there’s a big difference between pulling an all-nighter because you’re bursting with ideas that simply must come to life, and pulling an all-nighter because you’re anxious to prove to your boss that you’re a good employee. 

They may look the same on the outside, but they’re very different on the inside. One is motivated by fear or shame; in Brown’s words, we’re “hustling for worthiness,” trying to perform, perfect, please, and prove. Our self-worth is on the line: if we don’t finish this project, and finish it well, we’re not hard-working or smart enough. The other one, presumably, is motivated by some form of love – the desire to create, express, explore. 

How can you tell if shame is driving you? For me, shame-driven productivity happens when I’ve set some arbitrary goal for myself, like working 10 hours or writing 15 articles. If I don’t meet that goal, I know I’ll feel like I’ve failed, like I’m lazy, like I’m not doing enough – even if everyone else seems to think otherwise. 

Does that sound familiar? Here are a few signs you might be motivated by shame: 

  • No one is forcing you to be so productive. You’re meeting your goals at work, but somehow that’s not enough. Some taunting inner voice is pushing you forward.  
  • You’re trying to gain someone’s approval. On the other hand, you may be worried about someone’s harsh judgment. If you do a good job, maybe you can finally get their respect. 
  • You feel terrible if you don’t meet arbitrary goals. Even if you’re ill or legitimately distracted, you have to perform. Time is slipping away. 
  • You think breaks are for wimps. Why waste your time? There are things to be done. 
  • You don’t want to be working. If your motivation isn’t to do good work – or some related goal, like moving your career in the right direction or helping a friend – you may just be doing it to bolster your self-worth. 

One night, after a week out of the office with a broken arm, I felt like working. It was Sunday, so there was no pressure to be on call and no hours to bank. I just wanted to get a headstart to the week and I finally had enough energy to sit at my computer. So I worked, churning out two articles. It was light and pressure-free; I put no arbitrary restrictions on what I had to accomplish. And it was a mini-revelation for me: all that self-imposed pressure may be motivating, but it’s not the only motivator out there. You can find your healthy motivation and desire; you just have to give it a little space. 

Cropped photo by Flickr user Fossil Watchman

Day 1 of #30DaysofVulnerability: What are your imperfections? 

This post is part of a 30-day experiment in vulnerability – more details here

Researcher Brené Brown has a nice phrase about what we do when we feel ashamed: we “hustle for worthiness.” 

We don’t “strive” or “pursue” worthiness – no, those words are too abstract and banal. We “hustle” – sprinting, frenetic, sweating, rushing, frenzied, never-quite-there. 

Contrast that with what happens when you let go of who you think you should be and just be. Embrace who you are. Own your story. Accept, feel compassion, stop, breathe. You’re here, you’re home. 

For Brown, we have a choice – and we don’t just make it once. We make it every moment, every time we fail or mess up or do something silly. We can strain and struggle and resist our own imperfections, or accept and love ourselves nonetheless. 

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in” – Leonard Cohen

cracksWe’re all full of cracks, Brown reminds us. I over-stress and over-worry and over-think. And when the stresses and worries and thoughts get to be too much, I sometimes get moody and detached. In those moments, I don’t have much to give to the people I love. 

In discussions, it takes a lot to change my mind – and even when I do, I’m embarrassed to admit it. I can get over-exuberant, eager to spread Truth with a capital T. After years and years of being the smart one, sometimes I still don’t feel smart enough. 

I’m clumsy, and I get too hot or too cold if the temperature fluctuates outside the 70-72-degree range. On the days when my hair is untamable and I’ve got nothing to wear, I feel like I’m not pretty, short, tan, or stylish enough. 

I’m not even sure I believe the quote above about the cracks. I still want to be better, and I’m still on my hands and knees patching them up with whatever clay or caulking goes into the cracks of human imperfection. But at least now, I can take some breaks. I know that new cracks will always appear; the task will never be done. I don’t have to define myself by the cracks, but by everything else in between. 

Adapted photo by Flickr user Stian Olsen

Weekly research roundup: Swimming, owning a business, and getting divorced can make you happier

happiness Research

This is a weekly series on the latest happiness research. Learn and be merry! 

Chief happiness officer - According to the 2013 Global Entrepreneurship Monitor U.S. Report, owners of established businesses are significantly happier than owners of new businesses and non-business owners. Women owners of established businesses are even happier.

Dive in – Regular swimming can increase your positivity by about a third in just a month, reported British Gas SwimBritain. It can also improve sleep, energy, and fitness levels.

Go all the way - According to a study published in Social Psychological and Personality Science, the psychological effects of casual sex may depend on your personality. People who are “sociosexually unrestricted,” or have a tendency for casual sex, may feel increased self-esteem and satisfaction and lower depression and anxiety after the experience. People who fit this description tend to be impulsive, extroverted, strong men.

Try, try again - Analysis of the famous Grant Study found that middle-aged people in unhappy marriages are unlikely to turn things around. In these cases, divorce is more likely to lead to happiness.

Photo by Flickr user  Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games

 

What $1,120 per month buys you in Bali

When I tell people I travel the world, a lot of them assume I have some secret stash of money funding my adventures. But I definitely don’t. Instead, I’ve become an expert in “going where it’s cheap.”

As a caveat, you will need some negotiating skills. At the Pertiwi Bisma 2 hotel in Ubud, the official price is $80 per night but they were offering a discounted $1,250 per month. Fred, ever the negotiator, hatched a plan. He told the manager that preferred a different, cheaper hotel, and that he and I were arguing over where to stay. Could they lower the price and make us all happy? Yes, it turns out, they could.

If spending over a month in Bali sounds luxurious, check out what $1,120 – less than the price of your typical big-city apartment – can buy you.

We were greeted with some pretty impressive towel artistry:

Pertiwi Bisma

The bed was made up every day (despite our protests), often with real flowers:

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There was an infinity pool, warmed by the sun:

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The room was large, with two desks, a refrigerator, and big windows opening up onto a balcony:Pertiwi BIsma

Our balcony had a view of the surrounding ricefields, which grew from seedlings into lush greenery within a month:

Pertiwi Bisma

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Breakfast was included, with your choice of Indonesian or American:

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The whole street was pretty quiet, with ricefields on both sides and a soundtrack of frogs and geckos at night. All in all, peaceful:

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A blogging challenge for July: #30DaysofVulnerability 

30 days of vulnerability

Brené Brown, get out of my head!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who thought Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection was custom-written for me. The chapter headings read like a perfectionist’s how-to manual: controlling everything, doing what you “should” be doing, defining yourself by your productivity. Except those are the things you’re supposed to let go of.

I’ve done month-long experiments in gratitude, optimism, and honesty, and I knew I wanted to do one in vulnerability, Brown’s concept of embracing the inherent uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure of life. She actually hosted a six-week course with Oprah, but it’s not available anymore. So I had to improvise.

As I understand Brown’s books, becoming more vulnerable is not a set of to-do’s, but really requires some deep soul-searching. So instead of a daily exercise, this experiment is a series of questions to reflect on – and if you’re like me, blog about. In the end, the goal is to move toward what Brown calls Wholeheartedness: living life with courage, compassion, and the feeling that you’re worthy of love and belonging – without shame. 

Does anyone want to join me in blogging #30DaysofVulnerability in July? I’ve created five prompts per week, but you don’t have to do all of them. If you’re interested, just tag your posts on Facebook or Twitter with the hashtag #30DaysofVulnerability. 

Week 1: Worthiness/self-acceptance

  • What are your imperfections? What are you ashamed of? Fill in the blank: I am not _____ enough.
  • When do you “hustle for worthiness,” or act energetically to prove that you’re worthy?
  • Whom or what do you feel you’re “supposed to” be?
  • What are the benefits of feeling worthiness, that you are “enough” just as you are?
  • What would you say to yourself about your struggles if you were your best friend?

Week 2: Letting go of control

  • Why do you want to control things?
  • What things in life are you afraid of losing? Instead of feeling fear, can you feel gratitude?
  • Who is there for you when things don’t work out? Share one of your answers to these questions with them.
  • What happens when you try to control things?
  • What would happen if you stopped trying to control things?

Week 3: Normalizing discomfort

  • How do you run away from discomfort?
  • Ask your friends, or post on Facebook or Twitter: When do you feel stress and anxiety (or whatever your typical discomfort is)? See what people say. 
  • What discomforts are a normal part of your life?
  • Why do you need to normalize discomfort, or understand that discomfort is a part of life?
  • If you’re able to persist and engage in life despite discomfort, what does that say about you?

Week 4: Changing priorities 

  • Why should accomplishment not be your main priority?
  • Make a “joy and meaning” list: List the ingredients that you need in your life to feel like things are going well, and compare it to your to-do list.
  • What does it mean to be courageous and “show up”?
  • What does it mean to be authentic?
  • How can you play, laugh, sing, and dance more?

Every day

  • When you wake up, say: “No matter what gets done and how much is left undone, I am enough.”
  • Before you go to sleep, say: “Yes, I am imperfect and vulnerable and sometimes afraid, but that doesn’t change the truth that I am also brave and worthy of love and belonging.”

Photo by Flickr user  paolo di tommaso

Weekly research roundup: For a happiness boost, create some art, get some respect, or move to California

happiness Research

This is a weekly series on the latest happiness research. Learn and be merry! 

Indulge your right brain – According to a report by the Brookings Institution, people who participate in the arts – creating or viewing – may be happier. Other studies have found that creating art may increase your self-image, reduce anxiety, and increase open-mindedness. One study even quantified the happiness boost: participating in the arts makes you as happy as an extra $150 per month would.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T -Researchers discovered the “local-ladder effect,” whereby having more respect in your social community increases happiness.

Choose your home wisely – According to reviews of over 500,000 workers in the 50 largest US metro areas, the happiest employees are in San Jose, San Francisco, Washington, DC, Norfork (VA), Salt Lake City, San Diego, Seattle, Oklahoma, San Antonio, and Austin, respectively.

Influential dads – Feeling loved by our fathers may be more important to our later happiness than feeling loved by our mothers. Even with a loving mother, rejection or hostility from our fathers can increase the likelihood of depression and behavioral problems. One study suggested that we tend to learn persistence and tenacity from our fathers, not our mothers.

Stay at home, mom – In a study of 28 countries, married women who stayed at home were slightly happier than women who worked full-time.

Photo by Flickr user cleansurf2

 

Pursuing happiness: You’re doing it wrong

Martin Seligman - FlourishIn Flourish, Martin Seligman announced the big goal of positive psychology, the science of happiness: to have 51% of people “flourishing” by 2051.

But what does it mean to flourish?

In the book, Seligman explains just that – and debunks the be-all-end-all concept of happiness that he and so many of us have been subscribing to. Happiness is not the goal we’re all seeking.

How come people have children, even though studies show that having children doesn’t bring more happiness? How come we love the feeling of flow, even though we lose track of time and don’t feel much of anything? Are all introverts less happy because our moods are generally lower? Why do so many people achieve great success and find they aren’t happy?

Seligman’s framework explains these and many other questions. Instead of pursuing the single goal of happiness, he says, we pursue these five things:

  • Positive emotion: Momentary feelings of pleasure, glee, satisfaction, etc.
  • Engagement: Flow, or being fully immersed in what we’re doing.
  • Accomplishment: Mastery and success.
  • Relationships
  • Meaning: Belonging to and serving something bigger than the self.

He selected these five criteria because we choose them for their own sake, and they all contribute to well-being. In this new framework, our 24 character strengths can play a role in all these areas.

Seligman explains that this list isn’t meant to be a guide for achieving happiness; it’s simply an observation of the goals people do pursue. But I can’t help but see it that way.

If you had to rank these five areas of your life in order of satisfaction, what order would you put them in? Mine would be achievement, relationships, engagement, positive emotion, and meaning. What areas are you neglecting or putting off?

Some people say that trying to be happy is making us miserable. If that’s true, maybe it’s because “happy” is too generic. It’s hard to wake up and say, “I’m going to be happier today,” but it’s easier to wake up and say, “I’m going to have more positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning, or accomplishment today.” As Yogi Berra said, if you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.

Weekly research roundup: Millennial dads are less happy and more selfish

happiness Research

This is a weekly series on the latest happiness research. Learn and be merry! 

Happy Father’s Day – Millennial dads may be less satisfied than their Gen X and Boomer counterparts. According to the 2014 DDB Life Style Study, millennial dads are less likely to say raising a child brings them a lot of happiness (82%, vs. 87% of Gen Xers and 92% of Boomers) and more likely to say parenting is a real burden (41%, vs. 25% and 16%). Also, more millennial dads admit to not enjoying spending time with their kids (29%, vs. 22% and 14%) and preferring to spend time with friends (35%, vs. 20% and 12%). Finally, millennial dads are more likely to say their own happiness is more important than the happiness of others (49%, vs. 33% and 20%).

Rise and shine - Ikea’s “Life at Work” survey found that we’re happier if we wake up quickly, or take the time to cuddle, have sex with, hug, or kiss someone in the morning. Ikea surveyed over 80,000 people in eight cities.

Let’s hit the sack – According to a study presented at SLEEP 2014, the more in sync a couple’s sleep schedule is, the happier the wife is.

Photo by Flickr user Gwenaël Piase

Weekly research roundup: Women breadwinning isn’t so bad – for the men

Happiness research

This is a weekly series on the latest happiness research. Learn and be merry! 

Breadwinners win some, lose some – A MONEY survey of over 1,000 married adults found that when women make the same or more as men, couples are more in love, happier, and had significantly happier husbands. They speculated that these arrangements are more egalitarian. But overall, women who earn more than their husbands are less likely to say they’re very in love and they worry more about finances.

Avoid the haters - According to a study out of the University of Colorado-Boulder, obesity has a big effect on happiness only when you live in an area where it’s uncommon. If obesity is the norm – and, presumably, you aren’t being judged for your weight – it doesn’t make you much unhappier. Overall, the judgment of others has a greater unhappiness effect on women than on men.

Faster food! - A study from the University of Toronto found that living in an area with lots of fast-food restaurants makes you more impatient and less able to savor pleasurable experiences, like a beautiful hike. And even making people think of fast food in the lab – by showing them a photo – causes them to make impatient decisions, like hurrying through a task, desiring time-saving tools more, and saving less for the future.