Reasons to be Cheerful (Part 4)
There’s been a lot of talk as we’ve navigated the uncertainty and disruption of the last few years about the importance of accepting the discomfort of struggle as an integral part of life’s full experience.
And I 100% agree.
I regularly talk in my keynotes about the need to give ourselves permission to be human. But the balance has tipped too far and it’s making and keeping us fragile. Adam Grant recently wrote a piece for the New York Times on languishing – that feeling of ‘bleh’, when life just feels a bit ‘beige’.
Why does it happen?
We can increase levels of thriving through two pathways, firstly by reducing or removing factors that decrease our thriving and secondly by adding factors that increase levels of thriving. (This is called the Two-Factor Theory of Wellbeing). Languishing happens when there aren’t enough additive factors in the equation.
Emotions researcher Professor Barbara Fredrickson suggests that positive and negative emotions work like the balance between levity and gravity. Too many positive emotions – too much levity – and we risk floating away and becoming disconnected from reality. But too many uncomfortable, negative emotions – too much gravity – can de-energise us and leave us unable to create movement. And that’s where I see many of us are right now; fragile and unable to move forward.
Reasons to be Cheerful – Part 3 was a hit for London-based rock band Ian Dury and the Blockheads in 1979 and it’s a standout for me as part of the soundtrack to my childhood. In stark musical contrast, I also knew all the words to My Favourite Things from the musical The Sound of Music by Rogers and Hammerstein by the time I was 9. Talking about, singing about, knowing what brought me joy seemed natural and easy then.
Of course, some of that may have been the innocence of youth, but I see in my teenage girls and their friends that life seems heavier now – they’re carrying a heavier load. And when I was asked by a friend recently ‘What brings you joy?’ I was stumped. I listed a few examples, but they were all related to ‘work’ in some way: to achieving an outcome or making progress, and whilst I get an immense sense of satisfaction from those things, I realise now that isn’t the pure joy I was being asked about; the kind of joy that feeds your spirit and soul.
As I talk with my family, friends, clients and colleagues I see that many of them have lost touch with Joy too.
I reckon now’s the time for us to create Reasons to be Cheerful – Part 4. Because the thing is, positive emotions produce success in life as much as they reflect it. Research has found that our levels of positive emotions impact outcomes in all areas of our lives: physical outcomes, such as immune function; work outcomes, such as productivity and absenteeism; social outcomes, such as quality of social interactions and relationships; personal outcomes, such as creativity and energy; and a range of psychological outcomes, including resilience, self-confidence, and self-regulation.
We’re also often able to think more quickly and creatively when we’re experiencing positive emotions because our brain is flooded with the feel-good neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. And, because our brains feels safe, we’re more likely to connect with others easily, which means we think a little less about ‘me’ and a little more about ‘we’. But positive emotions don’t just give us an advantage in the moment. As our feel-good experiences build up over time creating a reserve – a bit like savings in your bank account – that helps us to thrive in the future, even when things get tough.
Now, you may not be surprised that experiencing positive emotions helps us to thrive through challenging times, but it’s not just about the volume of positive emotions we experience, it’s about the frequency. We need to be having these joy-filled experiences regularly and often. Think about it as six small meals per day rather than one big one.
The problem is the negativity bias of our brains means it’s the negative side of life that gets most attention. Which is why it’s even more important right now to intentionally find ways to notice, look for, and then amplify the positive and prevent negativity from taking over our experience. Rather than seeing these moments as icing on the cake of life, we need to see them as an essential ingredient of the cake itself. We need to move them from a ‘nice to have’ to a ‘need to have’
The moments of joy that feed your spirit and soul are the antidote to languishing.
So whether it’s ‘Raindrops on Roses and whiskers on kittens’ from Rogers and Hammerstein or ‘The juice of a carrot, the smile of a parrot, A little drop of claret, anything that rocks’ from Ian Dury that lights you up, spend a bit of time pondering what brings you joy. And then make it happen a little more often every day. Deliberately seek out, register, and amplify the good things in life. Look for patterns; consider how to bring different flavours of positive emotions – joy, gratitude, love, pride, amusement, interest, inspiration, hope, or serenity into your life, and do it more often.
I’ve started keeping a ‘My Soul Loves…’ list on my phone as I notice what’s making me smile or lifting my spirits so that when I’m languishing, I can choose something from the list to help lift my energy. Maybe you could too.
And if you’d like some ideas and inspiration to get you started, take a look at what’s on my My Soul Loves… list or have a listen to Reasons to Be Cheerful – Part 3 – Ian Dury and My Favourite Things – Rogers and Hammerstein.
Dr Paige Williams
International Speaker, Author, Mentor
Determined to help leaders move beyond just the need for resilience, Paige provides practical, evidence-based strategies for leaders to become antifragile, lead themselves and their teams to thrive and succeed in the Decade of Disruption.