Looking for more happiness in your life? Me too. Even though I have everything I was longing for a year ago, I’m still looking for more… I’m not even sure happiness is the word. There is an elusive quality that likes to stay a step ahead of us, no matter what we accomplish. I am happy with my spouse, my home, my family, my friends, my work, my community and even the weather, now that I’m in the sun most of the time. Still, I long for more of the feeling that dangles itself in front of me like a carrot in front of a mule. I am going out on a limb here, not searching google to find out if, in fact, mules are actually motivated by carrots, because it is distractions such as this that move me off point. What is the point of our lives? What is it that we should do, how is it that we should be, what is it that we should have in our lives if we are ever to satisfy the hunger we can barely even articulate?
The best explanation of the feeling I have heard is from the great Dr. Martin Seligman, one of the fathers of Positive Psychology, the head of that department at U Penn, and author of a book entitled Flourish. He calls it “flourishing”. His research demonstrates that while happiness is a confluence of positive emotional experiences, positive relationships, and accomplishment, happiness leaves out two key elements that lead to flourishing beyond happiness. To flourish, Seligman says we also need engagement and meaning. Engagement and meaning do not necessarily add happiness, but add value. Examples he gives include sitting through a child’s music recital or taking care of an aging parent. Neither of these things being immediate happiness to your day, but they add meaning that you likely do not want to live without. We at Intus, have adopted the word flourish as our company mission “to help people flourish”, to create our vision of a more flourishing world.
Just last month, I was leading a workshop in California. Did I mention I love my life? We did what we could call a “flourishing life” exercise I will share with you here, so you can choose to play along at home. Now, we had about 200 people in the room, who had been doing personal growth work all day, so the mood was set, attitudes were positive and hearts were open. I invite you to share this exercise with someone you trust, and to start by settling in to a quiet space, and taking a few deep breaths. Feel your shoulders drop, relax your forehead and jaw. Begin with letting go of expectations and judgments. Open you mind and heart to new possibilities.
Review these directions with your partner first. You will need some paper and pen. You are going to ask your partner three questions. Take one question at a time, asking it repeatedly, at least ten times. It might help to have your partner close their eyes as they sense their answers. Promise that any answer, silly, serious, or otherwise is perfect. The only way to not get it right is to not play. Promise not to respond to any of the answers, either positively or negatively, or with any comments. Simply follow each answer by repeating the question. If they are stuck, simply repeat the question. Write down their answers for them so they will have a record of what they said. When finished with the first question with at least ten answers, take a breath and move on to the next questions. Once you have completed all three questions, simply trade roles and repeat for the other partner.
Question 1. What do you hunger for? Question 2. What excites you? Question 3. What difference do you want to make in the world?
At first glance, these questions may or may not strike you as life-changing. When presented in the proper context and asked of the heart and not only the mind, I promise they can be life-changing. Some people breakdown in tears through their discovery of missing passion in their lives. Others get stuck in the head, convinced this is an intellectual exercise. It is not. Whatever shows up for you is perfect for where you are right now.
Know that your heart is a brain in and of itself. Research has shown that the heart is a processing center that learns, remembers, and acts independently of the brain and sends signals to brain areas that regulate our perceptions and emotions. This is why I suggest closing your eyes and breathing deeply to bring your awareness into your body when answering the questions. How your heart and gut assist in responding may surprise you. Also, by answering each question repeatedly, you have “permission” to give any answer without worry of it not being important enough, of selfless enough, or serious enough. It is like having a magic genie with endless wishes, thereby removing the pressure of choosing too carefully. So go ahead and hunger for a convertible Bentley (I did), a slice of pizza (I did), and world peace (I did). It’s all ok.
When you’re done, reflect, journal or discuss what you are becoming aware of that’s new. I hope you will email me and share your experiences. Michael Kline is a Certified RIM Facilitator and Certified Jack Canfield Success Trainer for personal and group transformation. You can reach him through his website www.intus.life, or e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org.