My New Book Living More Than OK

My New Book Living More Than OK
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Sunday, September 30, 2012

Be Happy While You Work

Every now and then I re-read magazine articles I enjoyed to learn more from them. So this past week I was spending some time with the Harvard Business Review January/February 2012 issue. Their special focus was Happiness with several articles focusing on happiness in the workplace. Usually when you observe people they are happy when they are leaving work not going to work. That is what attracted me to the issue. Two articles that stood out to me were "Creating Sustainable Performance" by Gretchen Spreitzer and Christine Porath and "Positive Intelligence", by Shawn Achor.

Both articles brought to light research metastudies that showed how happier and positive employees are more productive, more creative, and go beyond the call of duty. It makes sense that if you hate your job you have less energy and when asked to go the extra mile “forget it”, is the first thing that comes to mind. I thought of my own work over the years and I would say the jobs I enjoyed the most I put more effort and energy into them.

I want to discuss a few ideas from the articles that can help us improve our happiness levels in our work. The first item I want to share is how Shawn Achor discussed the importance of creating positive habits. New habits that are positive can keep us growing to thrive in our lives. He presented ideas such as to write a positive note to someone in your social network on a regular basis. Also to keep a journal and write down a few minutes each day a meaningful experience from your day or write down three things you are grateful for. Since the focus of this is to increase happiness at work I would suggest to think about meaningful experiences in your workday. Maybe you had a positive experience in solving a problem for a customer. Or jot down how you encouraged a co-worker who was having a difficult day.

One thing that can drag us down is workplace stress. Shawn gave an interesting reminder that stress although we don’t like to experience it, often is the fuel for growth in our lives. He listed how one company he consulted with, he asked the managers to list 5 life experiences that helped shape their lives. All the items they listed were times of stress and struggle. He states, “few people grow on vacation”. So, when we are in the stress of work have a mindset of how can I grow through this experience. He suggests to look at the stressors affecting you and list those that can be controlled and those that can not be controlled. Consider the stress factors that can be controlled and then brainstorm specific ways you can lessen the stress.

Another item that helps with happiness levels is discovering a sense of meaning in your work. Look at your work and see the bigger picture of going beyond just putting in your 8 hour day. How does what you do touch others lives? How are you adding value to the world around you in your work? Life long learning relates to this. What new things can you learn to grow in your job position to improve how you serve customers or help your fellow co-workers? As we learn and grow we can find deeper levels of meaning in our work to appreciate and enjoy our work on new levels.
As I have mentioned in the past we spend much of our time in this thing called work so doesn’t it make sense to be happy in it rather than carry a sense of dread about it. Some of the research in the articles show that the benefits of being happy at work carries over to happiness outside of work. If we are happier in our work we do not carry home the burden of stress and anger that is then often displaced on those living with us, or the household pet having to run and hide.

Reflection – Think over your work life then list a few things you are thankful for about your work. Write down a way you can bring new meaning to the work you do. What is your mindset about stress? Look at three turning points of growth in your life. Did they occur out of a time of struggle or a vacation time?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Enjoy A Break From Technology

To enjoy a Living More Than OK Life it helps to take a break from technology. Technology is so much of our daily lives and we often we can not do without it. Much of our work involves the computer screen many hours a day. Emails and texts seem to be never ending. Even in grocery stores in produce sections I see people picking up vegetables or fruits with one hand and scrolling their iphone screens with the other. I want to walk up them and say “why don’t you give it a rest”. As a family we gave technology a rest this past weekend.

We took a weekend trip to Bastrop State Park, which is outside of Austin, Texas. Instead of doing a hotel we rented a full service cabin inside the park grounds. The cabins were very simple but comfortable. I was surprised to read of the history of the cabins on a poster inside the cabin. It turned out that they were built in the 1930’s by the Civilian Conservation Corps during the Great Depression. I remembered that 3 of my uncles served in the CCC before World War II. The cabins were made of stone so they had survived the Bastrop Fires that occurred last Summer.
We enjoyed canoeing on the lake and hiking through the woods. Even though the fire had devastated the area, we viewed nature making a come back. Many of the pines near the cabins were coming back strong. Further from the lake and into the deeper wooded areas the trees were still more barren. If we can have some strong late Fall rains as the weather forecast is predicting hopefully next Spring will see more greening of the trees.

The morning canoe outing was the highlight for my wife and I. It was so relaxing to be out on a still lake viewing the surrounding nature from that perspective. We took the sights in with all our senses to savor the time together and capturing pictures of the beauty of the park. That is one of the positives of taking time to be out in nature to savor God’s Creation.

In the evening at the cabin we continued to keep away from technology. There was no television in the cabin. So we spent time playing a game called WhatchamaDRAWit. We had never played it since buying it and had lost the instructions so we made up our own rules and enjoyed playing our version of it. That opened up conversation time which is also a rare item in today’s technology world of texting or talking in short phrases. Twitter and Facebook communication has limited communication to just short phrases. It seems like people can’t read an email that asks three topics as they will just respond to whatever the person first stated and ignore the other items in an email. So it was pleasant to be away from the technology to use old fashioned speaking in communication.

We bought a Texas State Park pass at the park as we realized as a couple and a family, we need to break away from technology from time to time. To enjoy life to the fullest it helps to do other things than to be tied to the electronic gadgetry that tries to control our lives. We are looking forward to going back to Bastrop State Park and exploring other state parks during this next year.

Reflection: Take a day and shut down the electronic technology that you think is vital to your existence. You will see you can survive a day without Facebook or texting. You may even enjoy it. Go to a State park, zoo, museum, or a picnic at a local park. Enjoy a conversation with someone with the cell phone off or silent. Write in a journal how your experience from technology felt.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Weaving Our Dreams In Life

In my work with college students I encourage them at the beginning of the semester to dream big dreams. Life has much to offer if we work hard and go for the dreams and goals we want to accomplish on our life journey. There are also hardships and struggles which at times bring chaos into our lives. At these junctures we often need to re-evaluate our dreams and see if they need changed or new pathways to obtain them

I don’t apologize for telling students to think big about their lives. I was reminded about today a quote from C. S. Lewis, “It is not that we desire too much, but that we desire too little. Our appetites are not too big, they are too small.” How much more in life could we accomplish if we went big with our dreams for our lives? Often what stops us from dreaming big are life’s pains that overtake us as well as worries that keep us bound up in the chaos of life. We don’t see our dreams coming true instead life looks like just a chaotic mess of knots and twine. What started me thinking about this recently was hearing the song by Gary Wright back in the 1970’s called “Dream Weaver”. As usual I ask you to look over the lyrics and listen to a video of the song by clicking on the song title.

Dream Weaver (click on title to view video) by Gary Wright

I've just closed my eyes again Climbed aboard the dream weaver train
Driver take away my worries of today And leave tomorrow behind
Ooooh, dream weaver I believe you can get me through the night
Ooooh, dream weaver I believe we can reach the morning light
Fly me high through the starry skies Maybe to an astral plane
Cross the highways of fantasy Help me to forget today’s pain
Ooooh, dream weaver I believe you can get me through the night
Ooooh, dream weaver I believe we can reach the morning light
Though the dawn may be coming soon There still may be some time
Fly me away to the bright side of the moon And meet me on the other side
Ooooh, dream weaver I believe you can get me through the night
Ooooh, dream weaver I believe we can reach the morning light
Dream weaver Dream weaver

The song reminded me of how I encourage students to follow their dreams. It reminded me of the importance of dreaming big. Some of the words remind me of the famous quote, “Reach for the moon, even if you miss you will land among the stars”. This is much better than those who do not try and just trudge the mud of this earth just existing with no aspirations. The Dream weaving concept also made me think that we often have many dreams through out life. Some we reach, some are changed and reworked. When we go through the process of reaching tour dreams, life can seem like a mess like the underside of a rug that looks chaotic. But once we accomplish our dream and look back at all the pains and struggles we see how they fit together in a beautiful pattern.

The term Dream Weaver in the song also made me wonder who the Dream Weaver is? Reading a little about Gary Wright his worldview comes across as heavy in Eastern religious thought so the Dream Weaver may be an impersonal force of the universe. From my Christian worldview I see a personal God in Jesus Christ being the Dream Weaver. Therefore I seek to have my dreams for my life line up with God’s will and direction for my life. The God of the Bible can use dreams in our lives. Here are just a few references to dreams and visions from the Bible:
And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions." Joel 2:28

"And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams." Acts 2:17

Then the Spirit took me up and brought me in a vision by the Spirit of God into Chaldea, to those in captivity. And the vision that I had seen went up from me. So I spoke to those in captivity of all the things the Lord had shown me." Ezekiel 11:24-25
"...the secret was revealed to Daniel in a night vision. So Daniel blessed the God of heaven.” Daniel 2:19

In your life take time to think over dreams you have for the next part of your life journey. Desire big dreams in your future. Don’t go small. You will be surprised with a little commitment, discipline and hard work what you can accomplish.

Reflection: Look over your life journey. Was there a dream you had that looking back you can see how the difficulties were well worth the final end result? Looking forward is there an out of this world starry sky dream you want to aim for in the next phase of your life journey? Write it down and plan to go for it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Living a Flourishing Life

Dr. Martin Seligman’s book Authentic Happiness was one of my first introductions to Positive Psychology. That book along with the online course I took of Dr. Tal Ben Shahar solidified my thinking that psychology is not only for the variety of mental illnesses but the principles are also there to help all people live better lives. I am grateful for both of these experiences in my life.

Being the Bookhead I am, when I saw a new book Flourish, by Dr. Martin Seligman I had to get it. The book has been out for a while and it continues his thoughts on Positive Psychology. The work is a deeper expansion of Positive Psychology beyond his initial work, Authentic Happiness. He shows examples of how the principles behind Positive Psychology have been used with beneficial results in a variety of populations.

The deeper expansion Dr. Seligman speaks of in the book is moving beyond happiness to overall improved well being in our human life journey. The core features of Positive Psychology he mentions in the first chapter are having positive emotions, being intentionally engaged in our life focus, and having a sense of meaning and purpose. The first core principle focuses in on our happiness level and life satisfaction. The second is centered on the joy of learning and creatively looking at life. Then the third focuses in on what is the big picture of what we want to do with our lives. What will make our life journey meaningful? He describes some other principles which flow out of the three core features but I don’t want to give all the book’s features away. Hopefully you will go to your local library or favorite bookstore and pick up a copy to read. As I definitely would say this is one of those books that would make life better if everyone would read it.

In the preface of the book he makes this statement that stood out to me “… happiness, flow, meaning, love, gratitude, accomplishment, growth, better relationships – constitute human flourishing. Learning that you can have more of these things is life changing.” Life can be a continual growing journey of flourishing if we make the right choices to spiral up instead of spiral down in life. This is the way to have the best life possible and I believe it is the way we were meant to be.

As I come at life with a Christian worldview, the title of Dr. Seligman’s book made me think of how God wants us to be living. I looked in the scriptures for the word flourish and found many references to the word in Psalms. In Psalm 92:1 we read, “The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon.” Or in Psalm 52:8 “ But I am like an Olive tree flourishing in the house of God; I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever.” There are several other verses that use the metaphors of our being like a flourishing tree or plant without using the term flouring but it is implied, (Psalm 1:3; Psalm 144:12; Proverbs 11:28; Jeremiah 17:8).

The scriptures look at God’s desire for us not as shriveled up plants or dried up dead trees. The verses mentioned above describes God’s people as flourishing, healthy trees. Trees that are strong and fruitful as well. The metaphor carries with it that our lives are to be positive and have meaning in being fruitful so that we have a purpose in our daily living. So, that we are strong to meet the challenges of each day. This is what I appreciate about Positive Psychology is that it’s focus on making people stronger and more fruitful in their life.

Reflection -- If you were a tree what kid of tree would you be? Thinking of the three core features of Positive Psychology where are you at presently:
1. What is your level of happiness?
2. Are you learning something new and excited about it?
3. What do you see as your primary purpose in life at the present time?