Happy Talk

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I conducted an Interprize® Workshop in late 2013 at the IAE Graduate School of Management near Aix-en-Provence. Three days were spent with 20 aspiring interpreneurs outlining grand life ambitions, developing executions plans, and committing to next steps (talk is cheap!). I also offered my students daily happy hours to highlight the role played by happiness in the pursuit of our dreams; these grand ambitions – some practical, some mad, all thrilling – that define us as individuals.

I’ve been reading the research of Seligman, Frederickson and Csíkszentmihályi on the potency of optimism for years. Their findings are highlighted in various previous postcards (click here to go to my Postcards from a Runaway collection) and publications listed under my Interesting Books panel there. More recently I’ve come across Sonja Lyubomirsky, a professor at the University of California at Riverside, whose output in this domain is astounding. Her recent work focuses on 3 fundamental questions:

  1. What makes people happy?
  2. Is happiness a good thing?
  3. How and why can people learn to lead happier and more flourishing lives?

Sonja LyubomirskyIndeed happiness is a good thing if work, friends, family, and health are life priorities (surprised?). Lyubomirsky’s detailed research – and she offers plenty of heavy reading for review should you be so inclined – shows that optimism leads to higher income, greater productivity and higher quality of work. It also reinforces more satisfying and longer marriages, more friends, stronger social support and richer social interactions, more activity, energy, and flow.  Regarding our health, she finds that happiness correlates positively to a bolstered immune system, lowered stress levels, less pain, and even longer life. Lyubomirsky’s work also reveals that we are more creative, helpful, charitable, and self-confident, have better self-control, and show greater self-regulatory and coping abilities when we are happy. (Quoting liberally from her website, which is available by clicking here.)

Of particular interest to me is Lyubomirsky’s research into the connection between the scale of our aspirations and permanence of our sense of wellbeing. The higher we reach the longer lasting is our charge of positive feedback, which stirs us to reach even higher. Equally fascinating is her study of the cause and effect between materialism and sustainable happiness (limited it seems), and steps for getting off what she calls the “hedonistic treadmill.” A girl after my own heart.

During our Interprize Workshops we talk about the role optimism plays in keeping us inspired and positive through the many challenges encountered when taking on a truly grand ambition. Leveraging our core strengths effectively can generate a virtuous upward cycle: achievement makes us happy, which leads to optimism about our goals, which leads to greater effort that results in more accomplishment and happiness. Each happy hour is committed to practices known to engender positive emotions, many of which Ms. Lyubomirsky confirms with her studies: expressing gratitude, practicing kindness, adopting healthy rituals, and savoring simple, rich experiences. As evening assignments my students write letters of appreciation to loved ones and seek out opportunities for flow and savoring. We make paper ring bracelets (think preschool art projects) that document our bad tendencies and then burn them triumphantly.

The core of our workshops, as always, is committed to finding our compass headings and charting a course. Which are our native strengths and styles and how do they support the pursuit of our ambitions, what additional interlectual property (IP) have we acquired or do we need to acquire, where do we find this IP, what will our interprize look like when launched, and will it make us happy? And there’s that word again.

Workshop participants are introduced to yoga and meditation as activities for enhancing sustainability and remaining positive through the mental and physical demands of their ambitious pursuits. At the 2013 workshop Gaëlle Devic of the Layama Association in Aix (click here for more on this centre) had us chanting and stretching and learning how to bring more zen into our harried lives. It is easy to dismiss the need to wind down, but the higher we reach the more energy we expend, and without a balanced regime we quickly exhaust and lose our bearings.

IAE 2013bStudents from China, Taiwan, Korea, Finland, the Ukraine, Brazil, and the U.S. joined locals from France for the 2013 IAE class and it was clear that creative ambition has no geographic boundary. I was thrilled with the breadth and vision of their Interprize plans, which included the launch of international boulangerie and “slow coffee” café chains, a French restaurant in Los Angeles, 2 crowdsourcing platforms for Asia of differing structures, a nonprofit wellness retreat, movie and radio production projects, a microcredit service, clothing design from recyclable materials, and other visions of immense ambition. As the Interprize community expands with each new workshop the network for sharing ideas and collaborating on our personal missions will grow and become more powerful.

For a video recording of Sonja Lyubomirsky participating in the Stanford 2013 Roundtable: Are You Happy Now? hosted by Katie Kurick click here.

Bill Magill

Originally published 18 December, 2013.

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