Are you looking for inner strength?

Identifying and replacing unhelpful thinking habits

We all know what physical strength is. But inner mental strength? What is it? Put in the simplest terms mental strength refers to any set of positive attributes that helps a person to cope with difficult situations.

Someone who has spent a lot of time thinking about this is Amy Morin. She is a licensed clinical social worker, psychotherapist, and lecturer at Northeastern University in the United States. In this powerful 15 minute video she very helpfully explores three kinds of destructive beliefs that can derail us and rob us of our mental strength.

What makes her explanation particularly meaningful is that she talks not just as a psychologist, but from her own experience at the age of 23 with the sudden loss of her mother and then exactly 3 years later of her then husband.

As she says about that time,

“So now I found myself a 26 year old widow, and I didn’t have my Mom. I thought, ‘How am I going to get through this?’ And to describe that as a painful period in my life feels like an understatement. And it was during that time that I realised when you’re going through tough times, good habits aren’t enough. It only takes one or two bad habits to really hold you back…… Because sooner or later you’re going to hit a time in your life where you will need all the mental strength you can muster.”

Even after these tough experiences Amy Morin still had further challenges in her life to deal with, but her insights about helpful and unhelpful thinking habits are universally applicable.

What kinds of bad habits is she referring to?

The first has to do with unhealthy beliefs about ourselves. When things don’t go the way we want, it is quite normal to feel sad or upset for a period of time. That is quite natural and to be expected. The danger comes when we fall into self-pity and start to magnify our misfortune. Saying things to myself such as “Why does this have to happen to me?” in effect causes us to be stuck and focussed on our problems, rather than finding a solution or moving forward in our lives.

The second type of unhealthy beliefs that hold us back is when we have destructive beliefs about others. We have a tendency to think other people control us and that we have no choice. The reality is we have much more power than we give ourselves credit for. (For more on this also see It Took Just A Change of Words).

The third type of unhealthy beliefs that hold us back have to do with the world. We tend to make the assumption that the world owes us something. That if we sacrifice and work hard, then we will come to deserve success. Unfortunately that is often not the case. The world is not fair and the longer we take to accept this the harder we will be on ourselves and others.

Amy Morin’s very helpful insight is that to get through tough times good habits are not enough.  Quoting her again,

“My journey taught me that the secret to being mentally strong was that you had to give up your bad mental habits. Mental strength is a lot like physical strength. If you wanted to be physically strong, you would need to go to the gym and lift weights. But if you really wanted to see results, you would also have to give up eating junk food. Mental strength is the same. If you want to be mentally strong you need good habits like gratitude. But you also have to give up bad habits like resenting somebody else’s success. No matter how often that happens it will hold you back.”

So if we go back to those three types of unhealthy beliefs, we need to understand the following reasons why we resort to those unhelpful patterns.

The reason we have unhealthy beliefs about ourselves is because we are uncomfortable with our feelings, especially the feelings of sadness, hurt, anger or just feeling scared. So our natural reaction is to go to great lengths to avoid feeling uncomfortable. We wallow in our misfortune or find others to complain to and continually go over the bad things that have happened. To a point that is natural and even normal, but the problem is this becomes only a temporary distraction and just prolongs the pain. As Amy Morin says, “The only way to get through uncomfortable emotions, the only way to deal with them, is you have to go through them. To let yourself feel sad, and then move on. To gain confidence in your ability to deal with the discomfort.”

When we have unhealthy beliefs about others it is so often because we are comparing ourselves to other people. Our problem is in our minds we make out others as being better or worse than us; or we think how others are controlling us or how we want to control them. Often that can lead us to blame them for holding us back. This is Amy Morin’s response to that, “But really its our own choices that do that. You have to accept that you are your own person and other people are separate from you. The only person you should compare yourself to is the person that you were yesterday.”  (For more on this see Podcast #018 Spiritual Maturity).

When it comes to unhealthy beliefs about the world it is because deep down we want the world to be fair. We want to believe that we if we do the right thing then God, the world, the universe (whatever way you think about life) then we will be guaranteed success and the good rewards we desire. But again while this is so natural, it will hold us back. Amy Morin’s response to that is, “You ultimately have to accept that life isn’t fair. And that can be liberating. Yes it means you won’t necessarily be rewarded for your goodness, but it also means no matter how much you’ve suffered, you’re not doomed to keep suffering. The world doesn’t work that way.” (For a deeper exploration of this do see Why I Struggle With Religion).

For me Amy Morin’s experience resonates with the sudden loss of my friend Bunty in 2014 ( I write about that here and also on the first year anniversary and second year anniversary). That was certainly a time I had to gather all the mental strength I could muster.

To explore this subject more also see:

Podcast #021: Grit

Podcast #007: Religion

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering Part 1

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering Part 2

How does this issue of inner mental strength resonate with you? What questions and comments come to mind?

 

When the small things make a big difference

Lessons from the school of hard knocks

How do you discern the motives and intentions of others? How can you tell the honesty and trustworthiness of someone before it is too late? There is no easy answer. Often we learn these lessons from the school of hard knocks.

I am often struck how in human relationships the small things can make a huge difference. Apparently inconsequential actions can reveal otherwise undisclosed hearts and attitudes. Here are some stories that illustrate this.

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Someone I knew a few years ago use to run a successful cleaning company in Central London. Among his clients were a number of very wealthy Middle Eastern business people. I remember talking with him how he ended up having such a large number of this group to work for. He humbly replied he himself was not sure. However, he also remembered early in his career, when he was just starting out he was asked to go to an address in Central London to do a cleaning job. While cleaning he found at the back of a sofa £800 in cash. His immediate response was to pass this onto the owner. Ever since then, although he couldn’t prove it, he noticed how he found himself being contacted by a large number of very wealthy clients to do similar cleaning jobs for them.

Someone else I know had a very senior position in a large organisation. Unbeknown to most people his wife was also his secretary. Having such an important role many of those who came to see him were very deferential and respectful to him. However, what he found particularly interesting was the feedback he got from his wife as to how visitors who wanted to see him would treat her.They did not realise she was his wife and so the way they treated her gave valuable information about their inner motivations. I remember him telling me how it gave a valuable insight into some people’s true character. A person’s true character reveals itself in the way they treat people who are of apparently little consequence to them.

A relative of mine in India who was a self-employed business man was a number of years ago swindled by his business partner. When I talked with him about what had happened, I asked him if there was anything looking back he should have paid attention to. Was there some clue that might have given more of an insight into this man’s true motives. He paused and told me about an occasion about a year earlier when he had lent this business partner his motor bike. The business partner returned the motor bike after a week, but with no fuel in the petrol tank. At the time he just assumed it was inconsequential, although my relative’s father did tell him that was very inconsiderate. Looking back my relative had to conclude it was a warning he should have heeded more attention to.

For me, a number of years ago I got into a business deal with someone. He appeared very knowledgeable and astute. He had a seemingly plausible story about his business acumen. Myself along with two other friends were taken in by his apparent skills and expertise only to be badly burnt by his eventual dishonesty. The small things we should have paid more attention to? The occasions when he never offered to pay the bill for meals out or never inviting us over to his place. When we did eventually go to where he lived it was remarkable the disconnect between what he said and how he lived. On the one hand small matters, but in the light of what happened quite significant.

Dan Sullivan talks about the characteristics of someone to consistently do business with and keep in relationship with. The list in many ways so ordinary and unglamorous, but they tell a lot about someone’s character:

Show up on time.
Do what you say you are going to do.
Finish what you start.
Say please and thank you.

What is remarkable is that even though these are so much a part of common sense, they are not common practice.

What examples in your own life are there of small things making a big difference?

It took just a change of words

The power of focus

Words are powerful and can have a dramatic effect on our feelings, energy and attitude.

To illustrate this, have a look at the introduction to Charles Dickens’ classic book ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ :

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way…”

 

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So according to Charles Dickens what kind of time was it? Was it the best of times or the worst of times? It all depends on where you choose to focus your attention. There are literally  a million or so thoughts that run through our minds, but we alone get to choose which ones we focus on and take to heart. In turn it seems to be a principle at work that whatever you choose to focus on in your mind, that is what will eventually become more of a reality in your life.

I have to confess I have not read the rest of A Tale of Two Cities, but the introduction for me shows something of the power of the words we use.

In a similar way we live in one of the most amazing times in history with opportunities and resources that only a few decades earlier would have seemed unimaginable to our parents and grandparents. And yet at the same time there seems to be more uncertainty, unpredictability and anxiety inducing  possibilities  out there than ever before.

That is why a change of vocabulary and reframing our circumstances can be so powerful. There is power in the words we choose to use or choose not to use. And no where is that more powerful than in the way we talk to ourselves about our circumstances.

Many of the circumstances that seem to block us in our daily lives may appear to do so based on a framework of assumptions we carry with us. Draw a different frame around the same set of circumstances and new pathways come into view.

So for example, I have caught myself saying things like “I have to go to work” or “I have to go to the gym” or “I have to go to that meeting.” More recently I have consciously changed my self-talk to “I get to go to work” or “I get to go to the gym” or “I get to go to that meeting.”

The first expression (that is saying, I have to do something) is the language of duty. In one sense there is nothing wrong with duty. It is good to take our responsibilities seriously. But too often we say such things with a heavy heart and resignation. We are using the language of being a victim. It can easily become pessimistic, and nothing will kill your creativity, job performance, or relationships like  feeling as through you are a victim with all the negative associations that brings up.

The second expression (that is saying, I get to do something) is the language of privilege. It’s as if someone has given us a gift, and we are excited about the opportunity.

This subtle shift may seem small, but it has had a big impact on my attitude. For this reason I am choosing the language of privilege every chance I get. So here are some examples of reframing:

I don’t have to workout this morning; I get to workout. What a privilege to be healthy and be able to care for my body.
I don’t have to write a new blog post. I get to write one. What a privilege to have readers that actually care about and look forward to what I have to say.
I don’t have to go to church; I get to go to church. What a privilege to belong to a church where I can worship God and where I have such good friends.
I don’t have to stop by the supermarket on my way home; I get to stop by the supermarket. What a privilege to live in a place and at a time where we don’t have to hunt for food.

In many ways using the “I get to” phrase reminds me I do ultimately have a choice. I choose to live my life focusing on gratitude rather than entitlement.

For more on attitude see here.

Do you have other examples of how a change of words can have a dramatic effect on you?

 

The First Question To Ask Yourself To Thrive And Not Just Survive

In our rapidly changing and complex world, for those fortunate to have the opportunities and skills,  there has never been a better time to develop and grow in your chosen field or profession. However, in many ways this is a double edged sword. The further you rise and develop, the more responsibilities and expectations will come your way. With more opportunities will come more responsibility and more people will look to you for guidance, leadership and direction. Will you have the depth of character and resources to handle that apparent success? Or as David Allen succinctly puts it, “The better you get, the better you’d better get!”

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To put that another way, the skills and talent that got you out of Egypt (the mental constraints you find yourself in) are not necessarily the same ones that will get you to your Promised Land.

It is your self-leadership skills that will be the limiting factor which will determine whether or not you can thrive and grow for the long haul. That is,  whether you can fulfil and meet the expectations of others and even yourself.

In other words, it is your self-leadership that will determine how much you find yourself in the zone of your strengths (flow as we have previously discussed) or frustrated and even despondent.

In 1999, Peter Drucker, who has been described as one of the greatest management thinkers of the 20th century, wrote a paper for the Harvard Business Review entitled “Managing Oneself”. In this paper he explained how understanding and knowing oneself is vital to ensuring success in life and all that we are called to be and do. He outlines 5 critical questions he challenges every leader to reflect on.

In this post we are going to look in detail at the first question. It is absolutely critical to ask yourself this question if you are going to thrive and not just get by. What is that first question?

Podcast #027 Beating Burnout

A frank discussion on a sensitive topic

It’s not necessarily a comfortable subject to talk about, but it is increasingly relevant in the complex and challenging world we live in. Burnout is a state of chronic stress that has profound effects on many aspects of our lives. It covers a wide range of emotions that include physical and emotional exhaustion; cynicism and detachment from others as ell as an overall reduction in performance and levels of effectiveness.

1024px-Burnout_-_Patrick_O'Neill_celebrates_after_winning_a_Formula_Car_Challenge_championshipIn this podcast conversation, my co-host Andrew Horton and I discuss our own personal experiences of burnout.

We also explore just how pervasive burnout is. Statistics from organisations like the Boston Consulting Group state for 2016 it affects:

31% of doctors in the United States.

69% of male financial professionals

87% of Hong Kong financial professionals in institutional asset management.

In the UK it it has been reported that 90% of general practice consultations have some degree of stress related to them.

These are staggeringly high figures and yet we do not hear much about burnout.

Do join us in this discussion as we look at practical steps you can take to protect yourself during times of stress and find ways to not just survive, but actually thrive.

For additional resources on this subject do see:

5 Lessons I’ve Learnt From Burnout

Podcast #022 The Stories We Tell Ourselves

Podcast #013 How To Grow In Resilience

Podcast #003 Stress

What thoughts, comments and strategies do you have about preventing burnout in your own life?

 

When is wife-beating just a cultural issue?

The dangers of culture

No you haven’t misread the title of this blog post!  We have talked about how culture is much more than the food we eat and the clothes we wear. It profoundly affects the way we look at life and in turn the way we live. Everyone likes to think their cultural way of doing things is the best or even the only way. That brings us to the example of wife-beating.

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Should it be a crime for a husband to beat his wife? Or is wife beating just a cultural issue? That’s not as crazy a question as you might think.

In the United Kingdom during the 1800s, a time of widespread professed Christian faith, wife beating was extremely common and only caused outrage if it was exceptionally brutal or endangered life. There was a widespread belief among ordinary people, both male and female, that it was every man’s ‘right’ to beat his wife so long as it was to ‘correct her’ if she did anything to annoy or upset him or refused to obey his orders.

In 1853 a British newspaper remarked that wife-beating was ‘being accepted as the habit of the nation’. The church by and large in England at the time saw nothing wrong with it. (For more on this see here).

That was the 1800s. How about more recently? I remember speaking with surprise and shock to some Punjabi Christian men and women in England in the late 1980s and 1990s and hearing how wife beating was an acceptable thing to do. The only question was how much pain and damage you caused.

Domestic violence, usually the husband beating the wife, is still an issue in England, but the culture  generally accepts that it is unacceptable. It is a criminal offence recognised in law and over the last 150 years significant progress has been made while there is still a lot to be done. In 2015 there were 2 women killed every week in England and Wales by a partner or former partner. The Police in the UK receive one call every minute related to domestic violence. (For more on this see here).

Having said that wife beating as a criminal offence is not as obvious as you might think. For example in Russia wife beating is a question of culture and not of right or wrong. On 25 January 2017 the Russian parliament (the Duma) voted to decriminalise domestic violence against family members unless it is a repeat offence or causes serious medical damage. In Russia domestic violence, usually the husband beating the wife or parents beating children is seen as part of Russian culture. So it is seen as a way of building strong families. An old Russian proverb says “If he beats you it means he loves you.” The Russian law that is being passed allows abusers to beat relatives once a year with no case for a crime to be recorded. This year it won its second reading in the Duma by a massive 385 votes for and only 2 against.

Similar statements could be made about wife beating for many countries in the Middle East where it would be regarded as a matter of culture and not of human rights.  According to some proponents of Islamic law, a husband may strike his wife for any one of the following four reasons:
– She does not attempt to make herself beautiful for him.
– She refuses to meet his sexual demands
– She leaves the house without his permission or for a “legitimate reason”
– She neglects her religious duties.
Any of these are also sufficient grounds for divorce. (For more on this along with the work of Baroness Caroline Cox talking about the dangers of Sharia courts in the UK see podcast #019). A helpful summary on wife-beating in Islamic cultures is here.

But equally there are things in our own culture that a hundred years from now, our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will be saying, “How on earth could they call themselves enlightened and progressive and believe and do those things?”

So culture can become dangerous when it becomes too important to us. In other words, from a Biblical spiritual perspective, culture becomes an idol of the heart. Worshipping an idol is much more than bowing down to a statue. An idol is making anything more important than God.

Part of the problem is that we like to imagine God is made in our own image. In the book of Genesis we are told that human beings are made in the image of God. However, human nature is to put this in reverse.  I naturally want to make God in my own image. All of us have this tendency. So God, if you like, is the best bits of me on my best day. That is what I like to think, but then so do all of us. We do that personally and we do that collectively as groups, as churches, as religious organisations, as nations. We assume God is like me or at least like my culture.

Culture has a powerful impact on so much of our lives. Because culture is so core to our identity we can hold onto our cultural beliefs with great tenacity and conviction, even in spite of evidence to the contrary showing it to be harmful.That is why challenging someone’s culture can evoke the same response as criticizing someone’s mother. You may have mixed feelings about your mother; there may be some habits or idiosyncrasies about her that annoy you, but should anyone criticize your mother then all sorts of defences and emotions can quickly come to the surface!

In many ways that what makes Paul’s words in Romans 12:1-2 from 2000 years ago so powerful and revolutionary. Here is the paraphrase translation from original Greek in the Message translation. Please read it slowly to reflect on the implications it makes about whatever culture we come from:

So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him. Don’t become so well adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You’ll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what He wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you.

For a deeper discussion on the spiritual implications of this see Podcast #007 on Religion and Podcast #018 on Spiritual Maturity.

But for now what questions, comments and reflections does the question of the dangers of culture raise for you? When should wife-beating be excused as just a cultural issue?

 

 

When life just doesn’t make sense

Joseph is one of my favourite Bible characters. The story has been well known over the centuries, and more recently was the subject of a musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber.

Who was Joseph? He was the favourite son of Jacob. Jacob in turn was the grandson of Abraham, greatly revered in the three great monotheistic faiths of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Joseph was given the famous multi-coloured coat and also had the ability to interpret dreams. However, he went through a series of unfortunate and undeserved betrayals and tragedies.

Joseph was betrayed by his brothers to be sold as a slave to Egypt. In Egypt he began to prosper as slave to a rich official in Pharaoh’s court called Potiphar. However, Potiphar’s wife persisted in making sexual advances towards him, which because of his faith in God he refused to succumb to. Even so on one day when they were alone she attempted to grab him with the intention of seducing him. Joseph had no choice but to run away, leaving Potiphar’s wife to claim that he had tried to rape her. Thus started a long and undeserved 13 year prison sentence.

The short video above is from the film ‘Joseph, King of Dreams‘. Yes it is a cartoon, and there is artistic licence, but don’t let that deceive you into thinking it is simplistic or childish.

I think the movie clip powerfully conveys something of the confusion we all at times struggle through when life does not go the way we intended or hoped for.

Here are the words of the song to ponder and reflect on:

I thought I did what’s right, I thought I had the answers, I thought I chose the surest road,
But that road brought me here,
So I put up a fight, And told you how to help me,
Now, just when I have given up, The truth is coming clear, You know better than I,
You know the way, I’ve let go the need to know why, For you know better than I

If this has been a test, I cannot see the reason,
But maybe knowing I don’t know, Is part of getting through,
I try to do what’s best, And faith has made it easy,
To see the best thing I can do, Is put my trust in you,

For you know better than I, You know the way,
I’ve let go the need to know why, For you know better than I

I saw one cloud and thought it was the sky, I saw a bird and thought that I could follow,
But it was you who taught that bird to fly, If I let you reach me, Will you teach me,
For you know better than I, You know the way, I’ve let go the need to know why,
I’ll take what answers you supply, You know better than I

At this stage Joseph had no idea how after 13 years of imprisonment his fortunes were about to change dramatically. Having correctly interpreted the dreams of two previous prisoners (a baker and wine taster 2 years earlier), he was to be called before the most powerful man in the world at that time, Pharaoh of Egypt. Within 24 hours Joseph would go from the obscurity and shame of a prison cell to becoming the second most powerful man in Egypt. But at this point he has no way of knowing how his life would dramatically change.

Joseph’s life story takes a whole series of amazing twists and turns. You can read about it in more detail in Genesis chapters 37-50 of the Old Testament.

My intention in sharing this video with you is that whatever you may be going through in your life this can be of some encouragement to you. It is also a reminder that our lives are like a whole movie and not just a single scene.

If we are honest there are many occasions in our lives when we go through suffering and undeserved hardship that on the surface makes no sense whatsoever. It is most likely not anywhere on the scale of what Joseph went through, but the feelings of loss and confusion can be just as real. My most recent example of that was the loss of my friend Bunty on 17 March 2014.

The words of the song convey the wisdom of submitting our confusion and lack of answers in suffering to the One who knows all and sees the big picture far more than we can. There is real struggle to get to that point, and it may take many years, but once we can reach that place of acceptance God can begin to do His work within us.

If you would like to explore these themes further do see:

How Can I Find Hope In My Darkest Days?

Do You Need Hope Today?

Why Understanding Easter Brings Hope

3 More Life Lessons On Turning 50

Why Does A Loving God Allow Pain and Suffering?

Walking With God Through Pain and Suffering Part 1 and Part 2

Should A God of Love Get Angry?

What questions and reflections does the example of Joseph and his unjust suffering raise for you?

5 things you can control in an increasingly uncontrollable world

Life is complex and unpredictable. So much happens that is outside of our control. Just in this past week I have had to contend with major organisational changes at work, a gas leak at home with freezing temperatures outside and cataract surgery.

640px-Generic-remote-control-shallow-focusOn the grand scale of things these are all relatively minor, but each has the capability to unsettle or cause major disquiet,especially if you are something of a control addict like me! There is also so much that happens we don’t expect or takes us by surprise. It is so easy to feel powerless and at the mercy of whatever is latest and loudest. Some have described this as a VUCA world – volatile, unpredictable, complex and ambiguous. And with each passing year it doesn’t seem to get any less turbulent.

So what is controllable in what is an increasingly complex and challenging world? Maybe not a lot in the wider world, but there are specific actions we can take. We can, however, still move forward when we take responsibility for our lives. Here is how the late Stephen Covey put it:

“Look at the word responsibility – “response-ability” – the ability to choose your response. Highly proactive people recognise that responsibility. They do not blame circumstances, conditions or conditioning for their behaviour. Their behaviour is a product of their own conscious choice, based on values, rather than a product of their conditions, based on feeling.”

So what can you control in a fast changing and increasingly turbulent and uncontrollable world?
As I give this list to you I am very much aware of how I too need to implement these in my own life….

Podcast #026: The search for happiness

I like to cheekily describe my friend Andy Parnham as a happiness guru. He works part of the week for the charity Livability, that serves people with disabilities, while the rest of the time he acts as an independent wellbeing advisor and coach, running amongst other things, The Happiness Course. This is in a variety of settings, including schools, health centres, companies and the voluntary sector.

Screen Shot 2017-01-24 at 10.00.28Do join us on this podcast as Andy and I discuss a subject of relevance to every one of us. We discuss and explore:

How happiness is not the same as wellness.

The over-emphasis on physical health when we talk about wellness.

The need to also include emotional, psychological, spiritual, relational and community aspects to fully understand wellness.

How and why Andy developed The Happiness Course.

How positive psychology research emphasises health is not just the absence of illness.

What the research shows are the factors that contribute to a flourishing life
– living lives of appreciation and gratitude.
– nurturing healthy relationships.
– forgiveness
– practising acts of kindness
– savouring experiences

Some hard bottom line results that result from happy employees:

– spend twice as long in their jobs as their least happy colleagues.
– believe they are achieving their potential twice as much.
– spend 65% more time feeling energised.
– are 58% more likely to go out of the way to help their colleagues.
– identify 98% more strongly with the values of their organisation.
– are 186% more likely to recommend their organisation to a friend.

What do we mean by the word happy or subjective well-being.

The three dimensions of subjective well-being – pleasure, engagement and meaning.

Distinguishing between happiness and joy.

The four areas covered in the happiness course – the happy life, the successful life, the relational life and the meaningful life.

Going on a journey from what makes me happy to what makes me fulfilled.

A corporate view of happiness.

The Jewish concept of ‘shalom’ that brings together the idea of overall wellbeing.

For more on Andy’s work and The Happiness Course see his and his wife Jill’s website here.

Andy has also written a guest posts for me: We’re all materialists now!

You may also find of interest

Podcast #006: Rediscovering Joy

Why I am working at becoming a happier person.

Why is joy more important than happiness?

The search for joy.

The lies we tell ourselves about joy.

Moving from disappointment to joy.

What questions, thoughts and reflections does the search for happiness raise for you?

 

What is your culture?

When we think about culture we tend to think about the foods different people eat, how they eat that food as well as the clothes they wear. (For a fun quiz on food habits around the world see here). While that has a place, it is only the start.

Talking about culture is a bit like asking a fish, ‘What is water?’ Because the water is such a fundamental part of its existence, the fish hardly notices it is there – unless the water is taken away or changes for some reason.

by Snoron.com

by Snoron.com

 

Another way to put it is, culture is the lens through which we look at the world. They are the spectacles through which we interpret the world around us. Cultural patterns of behaviour and belief frequently impact our:
– Perceptions (what we see)
– Cognitions (what we think)
– Actions (what we do).

In other words culture is really important! It has a powerful impact on so much of our lives. We can hold onto our cultural beliefs with great tenacity and conviction, even in spite of evidence to the contrary showing it to be harmful. That is why challenging someone’s culture can evoke the same response as criticising someone’s mother. You may have mixed feelings about your mother; there may be some habits or idiosyncrasies about her that annoy you, but should anyone criticise your mother then all sorts of defences and emotions can quickly come to the surface!

One of my favourite authors, Tim Keller helpfully gives a working definition of culture as a ‘collective heart’ – ” a set of commanding commitments held and shared by a community of people…. it is the source of so many ….. deep aspirations, unspoken fears and inner conflicts….. It (shapes) their daily work, their romantic and family relationships, their attitudes toward sex, money, and power.”

So in other words, everyone has a culture, even if they choose to recognise it it or not.

Growing up in between Western and Asian culture this was a big issue for me……