Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Happy thinking

The third intentional activity from The How of Happiness is to stop overthinking or ruminating about problems and stop comparing ourselves to others. Recall from my earlier blog that it’s these intentional activities and habits that can account for as much as 40% of our happiness. The first intentional activity was expressing gratitude and the second was deliberate optimism.

It is very difficult if not impossible to be envious and happy at the same time. The more frequently we compare ourselves to others, the more we expose ourselves to potential unfavorable comparisons. Over comparing ourselves to others can leave us chronically vulnerable, threatened, and insecure.

I honestly rarely ever compare myself to others I work with. I can always find someone that makes more money, has a nicer office, publishes more and higher quality research, and teaches better than me. Instead, I focus on trying to identify the objective standard of performance that I need to achieve to remain competitive in the marketplace. I know how much I need to publish and how well I need to teach to be able to find another good job if I wanted one. I am only interested in the performance of my colleagues in as much as I might be able to learn something from them that could improve my own performance.

And when things go wrong at work, we just have to get over it and move on. But how you move on is critical. Rumination and regret are a waste of energy.

Learn to view failure as a tremendous opportunity to learn. Failure is a signal that there is a gap between where we are and where we need to be. Learning to live with the creative tension these gaps present us are the key to continuous learning and improvement.

In her excellent new book What I Wish I Knew When I was 20, Tina Seelig calls the ability to view failure as an asset the “secret sauce” of Silicon Valley or similar creative environments.

Failures offer learning opportunities and increase the chance that you won’t
make the same mistake again. Failures are also a sign that you have taken
on challenges that expand your skills. In fact, many successful people
believe that if you aren’t failing sometimes then you aren’t taking enough
risks. (p. 72).

Let’s find ways to keep ourselves and those around us encouraged as we learn to transform our problems and failures into success and satisfaction.

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