Thursday, June 07, 2007

5 Days of Happiness, Part 5

When the nineteenth century British economist Adam Smith wrote his Wealth of Nations he did so under the auspices that happiness is considered to be the ultimate goal of all economic activity. Greater wealth is not synonymous with increased happiness: I’ve said it before, “money is like oxygen—the more you have of it, the easier it is to breathe.” Through years of evolution of economic thought economics diverged from the study of the mechanics of human happiness and replaced it with those things which were the material requisite to make someone happy. This eventually evolved into the economic concept of utility—“the happiness or satisfaction gained from a good or service.” When choosing between two different things a person is apt to choose the one that maximizes their satisfaction or happiness.

The Greeks had a term Eudemonia: That has been translated into meaning either “happiness” or “human flourishing.” Aristotle knew that Eudemonia was constituted of virtues through the rational activities conducted within a complete life; one of which was friendliness. The “right action” of friendliness is one of the virtues that lead to happiness and, thus, the “highest good.” The by-product of social relationships is our own happiness—not because we do so for our own gain, but because those actions which we partake in are intrinsically good. In other words, in the Aristotelian view happiness is not something that is to be pursued; rather it is something that finds you when you do virtuous things.

Whether or not happiness is something that is meant to be pursued, rather than allowing it to pursue you, is something that you can decide whether or not to take up yourself. The adage “what comes around, goes around” has some meaning to it, however.

Robert Putnam, a political scientist from Harvard University, analyzed the phenomenon of social detachment in his book Bowling Alone. From memberships in various social and civic organizations, to visiting friends and neighbors, to being a part of sports leagues—such as bowling—he illustrates how Americans are only 30-50 percent as connected to one another than we were in the 1950s. Why has this happened? As the individual pursuit of wealth became a higher priority to everyone, we forgot about the emotional attachments that makes the pursuit worthwhile. The sociopolitical climate since the middle of the 20TH century has been one where apathy of social and moral concerns and the acquisition of wealth have overcome a consciousness of the issues of the larger community and the respect people have for it.

Yes, everyone seems to have an agenda. Some genuinely do it out of a concern for legitimate issues; the remainder of people do it for myriad other reasons. Likewise, some of the issues are genuine and some are not. The analysis of this is outside the scope of this discussion, short of it to be said: Social connectedness has been replaced with social apathy. Respect for thy neighbor has been replaced with apathy for everyone around me but those I favor. The virtues of community and civic pride have been vanishing with a Machiavellian drive for the goal…

…When, in fact, the goal is right under our noses and most are not able or don’t care to fathom it.

5 Days of Happiness, Part 4

The philosopher Voltaire once said “The art of medicine consists of keeping the patient amused while nature heals the disease. Certainly modern medicine has advanced since the days of Voltaire to the point to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the very act of laughing relaxes us and reduces our exposure to problems associated with high blood pressure, strokes, arthritis, and ulcers. Because research has suggested that distressing emotions such as stress, anger, and depression can lead to heart disease, laughter can help alleviate these emotions and hedge against heart disease.

Furthermore, the benefits of humor reflect in social situations. Researcher Fabio Sala, part of the Hay Group, found that executives who used humor more than their counterparts were perceived better, using humor 17.8 times per hour; whereas it was found that executives who were ranked average used humor 7.5 times per hour. While positive and neutral humor was the most used, some negative humor was used also. Humor can also be seen to have benefits in negotiation situations.

The average child laughs about 300 times per day: How many adults do you know that laugh this much in every 24-hour period? In a work environment that is in constant change for most of us, humor can be wonderful, a force-multiplying phenomena in our work lives. When I worked in the wireless industry as a supervisor/analyst in receivables management we dealt with a high stress load mostly because we handled customers who escalated because they were displeased with their situation, the customer service representative which they were working with, or something else. The team that I was on that dealt with these situations with a humorous approach: While often a cynical one it was a differential that helped us keep our sanity after being constantly abused by irrational customers complaining about some aspect of their wireless service.

Echoes of this can be found in most every workplace environment. A successful leader in any of these environments is able to keep the humor with them while spreading humor with others. Not only will this offer you the opportunity to be held in high regards by your peers and others, it will also help to offer a rounded edge to what could be otherwise stressful situations.

Some people will go through their lives living with the understanding that happiness is the end result when, rather, happiness is the means to the end that you seek. Imagine the man or woman that is constantly, in a Machiavellian sort of way, striving for that little piece of happiness. We sacrifice those things which we have today, here and now, for that piece of a pie that we want to have tomorrow: Expensing the moment for the promise of something tomorrow. Allow happiness to be your method for achieving those things in life you get. Studies have consistently shown that happy people are more apt to be successful. Happiness begets success; success does not necessarily beget happiness.

How do you become happier? Here are a few pointers:

  • Learn to balance work and play. Maybe you are a person who lives to work; maybe you’re a person who works to live. Either way, there are activities which we each would describe as work or play. With things in moderation, the successful individual learns to balance work and play. There are caveats and exceptions to this rule; Donald Trump believes that if you are in the right line of work “play” is not necessary

  • You can only spread yourself so thin before you’re no good for yourself or anyone else. Knowing your limits and pushing yourself enough past those limits that you don’t cause damage is integral. Successful people are often integral parts to other people’s lives, organizations and the like: If you commit yourself too much you are risking that you will be able to contribute less to those things and people that you value—and those people and things that value you.

  • Laugh and smile more. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at the world. Remember that it takes 37 muscles to frown and 22 muscles to smile. Smiling is much easier and much more beneficial.

  • Surround yourself with people who are positive. Negative people can’t necessarily bring you down, but having negative influences contribute in your life can only, ultimately cause you to take on those negative aspects of their influence as well. Birds of a feather flock together.

  • If you are someone who tends to bottle emotions up, not get things out into the open, avoids issues, or has problems letting your thoughts and feelings be known, learn to practice self-assertion techniques. Sooner or later not asserting yourself will catch up with you and you will be prevented from growth and progress.

  • Learn to relax and cope. While happiness can bring with it traits of self confidence and such, emotions such as panic and despair will not. When things get to be too much: Relax; because a situation can only best you if you allow it to do so.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

5 Days of Happiness, Part 3

Esteem is one of those terms whose meaning is not very concrete to most people. It is a term with a definition that can be very relative to each individual. Wikipedia, however, defines esteem as “a favorable appraisal of a person who possesses qualities estimated as of significant value.” To this end it labels two distinct types of esteem: Respect and recognition by others and self-respect.

Think of a person in your life whom you have good faith in as being competent, has integrity, perhaps they have complementary moral values and ideals close to your own, and having your trust. These are all components of a respected individual. Respect is a great thing in that it adds general reliability to social interactions, enriching them and making them more efficient and effective as it allows individuals to work in groups, adding a complementary nature to them. This can only be built by a person partaking in acts that are generally considered good and beneficial to those whom hold the respected person in such high regard. Once these requirements are met respect can be earned.

The benefits of having respect among members of a group or team are force-multiplying—useful for hierarchical and peer relationships in that environments of mutual respect often lead to dramatic increases in progress and productivity, especially when it is recognized by all parties.

By having large social networks a person has a greater opportunity to be recognized for your respectable deeds, integrity, and complementary nature to others. Earning respect with others means building esteem. Being held in high esteem by others fulfills the esteem need set by Maslow…mostly.

The other half of esteem is self-respect. Theologian Abraham Herschel once said “Self-respect is the fruit of discipline; the sense of dignity grows with the ability to say no to oneself. Respecting oneself boils down to accepting oneself: Holding yourself in regards enough that you accept who you are for the good, the bad, and the ugly. Self-respect is not necessarily contingent on success, because life will bring failures with it. Research conducted by Dr. Ellen J. Langer, Judith White, and Johnny Walsch, of Harvard University suggests that self-respect allows people the advantages of being less prone to blame, guilt, regret, lies, secrets and stress.

When I was younger my family moved more than most: Three different towns by the time I graduated high school. In the third grade I was held in high regards by my peers, was accomplished, and felt like I was on top of the world. Then my family moved. Again, I made the investment and gained much of what I had back—probably more; just in a different place. By the time we made the next move two grades later I wasn’t so apt to make the investment: Sooner or later it would all end up the same. This was the time in my life, however, where I entered the “trying too hard” phase. I answered every question, laughed a bit too much perhaps, and went that extra mile. Evidently this did not bode well with my peers in this new place. My confidence decreased, my self-esteem was at an all-time low. What was happening inside my head started dictating what was happening in my world.

It wasn’t until I dug deep inside, found my core competencies as an individual, and gained self-esteem from them by expressing myself through various outlets in which I could derive self-worth. The better I felt about myself, the better my world became: The more those around me began to hold me in higher regards.

The truest happiness comes from inside ourselves: The happier we are, the more the world around us notices it. Happiness is not just the feeling that we want to achieve (at least in a periodic basis), but it is something that begets success.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Just a Note

I'm planning on finalizing the social bookmarking code by next week. Right now, I am thinking about only doing so for three to five social bookmarking sites.

If you have a favorite or a suggestion, please leave a comment!

5 Days of Happiness, Part 2

Imagine an individual that you admire, respect, and look up to. Likely, when you are faced with a decision you reference this person. Ask yourself: Are they a sociable figure? Are they someone that gets along well with other people? If you get along well with this person chances are that they get along well with other people. Generally, people who are well socially adjusted seek to be an active part of a community in some capacity. They seek to like people and to be liked by them.

After the priorities of “house and health” are met, we seek to belong to a group. Some people can make their way through a room effortlessly socializing with each and every person in the room. Some people struggle with other people. Some people choose to avoid other people for any number of reasons, cynicism among them.

Personality theorist Erik Erikson posed that people go through varying stages throughout their life. In our childhood we go through stages such as the development of trust, seeking autonomy, finding the initiative, striving for becoming industrious, and finding our identity in adolescence. As young adults we are each faced with the struggle between intimacy and isolation: After establishing a stable identity a person develops the need to seek out intimacy in their life. Sharing deeper friendships or meaningful love with others are the evolution of having found your identity—in the sense that you want to share with this with others to shared with you via shared and contrasting experiences. Researchers have found that, in fact, three out of every four college-age men and women rank a good marriage and family life as important goals to attain throughout their adulthood. This need for intimacy is often found to be at odds with isolation in that often people can fail to make meaningful and deep relationships instead forming several unfulfilling, superficial relationships leading an individual to feel alone and uncared for in life, setting the stage for later difficulties in life.

Developing social networks—regardless of their mechanics—is important to everyone and anyone’s happiness. Only through prioritizing and meeting the social need can someone seek to fulfill the need to feel respected and develop a healthy amount of esteem.

The easiest way to develop those social connections I like to compare to melting an ice cube: All other things being equal, an ice cube that is a simple block of ice will melt more slowly than one that is of the same mass but in the form factor of being a sheet; the ice that was a sheet had more surface area to increase the speed with which it melted. Just like the ice cube increasing its surface area, the more a person “increases their surface area” to the rest of the world, the more opportunity they have to make friends. Spend more time doing more things in more social situations.

However, you don’t necessarily wish to hang out in places with people who aren’t necessarily sharing the same ideals, morals, and belief structure as you. Then again, you can spend your time in social situations with people that, as a group, share the same (or similar) ideals as you...or you can spend time in social situations and groups that are things you aspire to. Realistically the best way to go would be a combination of the later two—exposing yourself to social groups that share your ideals as well as those which you aspire to.

When determining which social groups you’d like to belong to keep in mind religious, political, volunteer, humanitarian, and civic organizations. I have a good friend that has chosen to immerse herself in such organizations and, to my observations she is all that more respected and enriched because of it—and she has enriched those around her directly and indirectly.

Monday, June 04, 2007

5 Days of Happiness, Part 1

Anyone who reads this blog at length probably understands that part of my message that I illustrate and narrate with it is to pursuit of success. A component of success that can be overlooked by the overzealous, but is a critical component in the truest of successes is that of happiness. The most successful men and women derive happiness and a sense of self-worth from those things that also bring them enough wealth to make them comfortable.

For the love of money is the root of all evil:” 1 Timothy 6:10. The acquisition of money and wealth should not be what one loves, for that can lead to greed: Regardless of what Gordon Gecko says, Greed is not good. Money is a tool that should be used for the achieving self-actualization. Dr. Abraham Maslow, a psychologist, proposed a theory that contended that as people meet their “basic needs,” they seek to satisfy successively “higher needs.”

1. Physiological Needs: The essentials—food, water, sleep, etc. Anything that aids in your body continuing to breathe and move forward from day to day.

2. Safety Needs: Security, employment, and generally anything that offers you the sense of feeling safe and secure.

3. Social Needs: Everyone needs a sense of belonging—whether to another person, a family, a friend, or an organization—everyone needs to feel like they are part of the larger community.

4. Esteem Needs: Confidence, respect, achievement—When you feel appreciated for those things that you have defined as adding to your self-worth, you are well on your way to achieving the esteem need.

5. Self Actualization: The pinnacle of the hierarchy allows a person to achieve great things.

Dr. Maslow studied individuals that made profound marks on history (ala Albert Einstein) instead of those individuals that had a tendency to be maladapted and a burden on society (“The study of crippled, stunted, immature, and unhealthy specimens can yield only a cripple psychology and a cripple philosophy.”). The first 4 needs are deficiency needs in that they are a priority while—and only while—an individual is on that level. For example, let’s say you are doing great in your life: You are an active member of your community, respected by your peers, and have a family with a house and a white picket fence. All of the sudden this changes when you lose your job. Instead of the person that you were, having met your physiological, safety, social, and esteem needs and well on your way to becoming self-actualized, you are now forced to look for new employment. You might have to worry about keeping the roof over your head and food on your table; these needs that were once far away from being your worries and priorities are now forefront on your radar. As you move up the hierarchy the needs that have been met on one level become less of a priority that what is on your current level of the hierarchy: As the priorities are met on one level, you begin to work towards meeting the priorities on the next level.

A staff sergeant that I once worked with had a view of money that I reference to this day: “Money is like oxygen—the more you have of it, the easier it is to breathe.” Money is not the goal to have for someone who seeks success; rather it is the tool for achieving it. Money helps to meet physiological and safety needs, freeing up your time and other resources towards the priorities of social and esteem needs, on your way to self actualization.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

Monkey Mondays: Summing Monkeys

"[Monkeys] can accurately assess which of two behaviours is more likely to bring them a reward by summing together a series of probabilistic clues. And their reasoning is reflected in the firing rate of individual neurons in their brain."

Full Article at New Scientist