An understanding of happiness and wellbeing
In his book “Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being“, Seligman (the father of positive psychology), offers a simple practice that promises to enhance your wellbeing that I found very interesting— the “Gratitude Visit”.
Though to the cynical eye the exercise might appear both old-fashioned and overly self-helpy, it is rooted in decades of Seligman’s acclaimed research and brings to practical life some of modern psychology’s most important findings. Seligman takes us through the practice:
THE GRATITUDE VISIT – exercise for brave minds
“Close your eyes. Call up the face of someone still alive who years ago did something or said something that changed your life for the better. Someone who you never properly thanked; someone you could meet face-to-face next week. Got a face?
Gratitude can make your life happier and more satisfying. When we feel gratitude, we benefit from the pleasant memory of a positive event in our life. Also, when we express our gratitude to others, we strengthen our relationship with them. But sometimes our thank you is said so casually or quickly that it is nearly meaningless. In this exercise … you will have the opportunity to experience what it is like to express your gratitude in a thoughtful, purposeful manner.
Your task is to write a letter of gratitude to this individual and deliver it in person. The letter should be concrete and about three hundred words: be specific about what he/she did for you and how it affected your life. Let her know what you are doing now, and mention how you often remember what she did. Make it sing! Once you have written the testimonial, call the person and tell her you’d like to visit her, but be vague about the purpose of the meeting; this exercise is much more fun when it is a surprise. When you meet her, take your time reading your letter.”
In the age of anxiety, we think too much about worries, we focus on what goes wrong and bad in our lives. We don’t count our good things, we somehow assume that they should be already there. This type of thinking is affecting our confidence in future, our outlook and more importantly is affecting deeply our general wellbeing.
INSIGHT FOR THE WEEK
Of course, sometimes it makes sense to analyze bad events so that we can learn from them and avoid them in the future. The problem with analyzing is that we get so good at it that we forget that we have to focus on the second part: the LEARNING. Therefore we enter this vicious circle of analyzing and we become experts in beating ourselves up for the bad things that happen in our lives.
This focus on negative events sets us up for anxiety and depression. One way to keep this from happening is to get better at thinking about and savoring what went well.
For some maybe evolutionary reasons, most of us are not nearly as good at dwelling on good events as we are at analyzing bad events. Those of our ancestors who spent a lot of time basking in the sunshine of good events, when they should have been preparing for disaster, did not survive the Ice Age. So to overcome our brains’ natural catastrophic bent, we need to work on and practice this skill of thinking about what went well.
Antidote for negative thinking habit
What you need: 10 minutes before going to bed for next week
1 nice journal to write on it
Method: Write down, every night, before going to sleep, three little things that went well during that week. I highly recommend to use a pen and a classic journal for this exercise. It is very important to have a physical record of what you wrote on it. The three things need not be earthshaking in importance (“My husband picked up my favorite ice cream for dessert on the way home from work today”), but they can be important (“My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy”). Next to each positive event, answer the question “Why did this happen?” For example, if you wrote that your husband picked up ice cream, write “because my husband is really thoughtful sometimes” or “because I remembered to call him from work and remind him to stop by the grocery store.” Or if you wrote, “My sister just gave birth to a healthy baby boy,” you might pick as the cause … “She did everything right during her pregnancy.” Writing about why the positive events in your life happened may seem awkward at first, but please stick with it for one week. It will get easier. If you have any questions, or you feel like giving me a feedback, please do write me an email, I am more than happy to hear your thoughts.
This exercises helps us to build a new thinking habit and to focus on the positives, on increasing our general wellbeing. Don’t worry if this exercise seems a bit challenging at the beginning, it is about forming a habit. It will take a while!
More about the attitude of gratitude
Many of us are driven and ambitious, we all strive to achieve ‘success’ which we may define in all sorts of ways including our status, income and wealth. The problem is, even when we achieve our goals, feelings of satisfaction and contentment can be fleeting. Some of us reflect only momentarily before moving on the next thing.
Sometimes, it can help to reflect on our achievements and other things to be grateful for. Studies show that simply evoking a feeling of gratitude induces a coherent state.
What does it mean to be coherent
Have you ever produced a substantial piece of work of high quality and in good time, and felt somehow that all this happened with relative ease? Do you know what it’s like to think creatively and conjure up solutions to problems as though it’s the easiest thing in the world? Have you ever engaged in some task or hobby, felt absorbed and focused, subsequently to feel as though time has flown by? These experiences are examples of a focused and resourceful state where the communication between the heart and the brain is synchronized and harmonious. Some researchers describe this state as ‘physiological coherence’ or simply ‘coherence’. coherence can actually be measured and tracked, and it’s closely tied with heart rate variability. Remember, heart rate variability is the beat-to-beat variation in the heart rate.
Back to our gratitude attitude.
As you will practice the exercise shown above, your perception of things that you are grateful for might expand. How about keeping the journal to remind yourself of them? In challenging times like ours, even the briefest of references to that list may do wonders to return you to a state in which you can respond positively and creatively.
Good luck with the exercise
Two weeks left until we’ll meet up to work on our resilience in the workplace. If you are missing our sessions and find interesting the topic, you can purchase your tickets here:
RESILIENCE IN THE WORKPLACE- bounce back from adversities
Have a great week!
Elite Vision Coaching
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