Strengths, happiness and 21st Century Life

flex flowMaking myself available and looking out for new streams of income I’ve revisited Martin Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness” site to redo and check out what my strengths are.

Seligman has pointed out, and I agree from my daily practise, that to lead a happy life we need to use our main strengths regularly. Knowing this I felt confident enough to recently write a short statement on twitter:

Happiness is likely when you do / be something you’re good at & like, follow your intuition & heart, communicate from your soul.

Being, who you are, doing what you’re good at – this is exercising our strengths.
Actually, being good at something is our gift to all the relationships and communities we participate in. Who would have thought we don’t have to be anything other than who we are, and do anything other than what we’re good at to be a blessing to this world! This doesn’t mean that we don’t need to develop or improve, if that is what we feel like doing. But unless we do, or are compelled to by inner pressure, simply being who we are is more than good enough: it’s our gift.

Development and improvement is a natural movement; actually it’s emerging in nature all of the time. Our cats, now 8 months old, impress me recently with the precision and strengths of their jumps which have mightily improved these last few weeks. They love hunting the occasional fly that comes into our appartement and to catch them… this is how they developed, by doing what they love doing.

surfing_17_470x350Recently we have moved from a merely changing world to an emerging-flexflow world; by this I mean that the rate of change has accelerated so much that now ‘novelty’ is continually emerging – unprecedented situations, unreducable complexities, ambiguous multiplicity abounds. It seems that a good way to adapt to this, let’s call it simply ‘complexity’, is with collective and collaborative intelligence. This goes for the economy where we’re seeing the first signs of “Enterprise without Boundary” embedded within “Information Fabrics” and “Collaboration Ecologies”, and it goes for social and political life where we also see first signs of the influence of social networks eclipsing the power of parties in some issues. And of course this is true in the individual’s life where the role of community is rising again out of the ruins of mega-individualism; and what we mean for each other is strengthened immensely.

Our identity used to be a fixed ‘thing’. When I grew up – and I’ve heard someone say this just the other day again – grown-ups where asking children (mainly boys, but in emancipated surrounds also girls), “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
It’s a recent development in Western societies that we start to understand that life-long learning and development is not a choice but a must. But actually, that was yesterday, because now having one fixed identity, being someone, is not really needed anymore. Multiplicity, flexibly being many things to many people is much more helpful and satisfying.

So when I say, being who you are – being who I am – this is what I mean, “It’s as if we come from an era where we thought we were a tree in a wood, and now we see that we are a wood ourselves, part of and meshed into forests upon forests.” Another way to put it would be, trust that you cannot be anything but ‘yourself’, which is being many and diverse…

Back to strengths – which are, if what I said above is right, the strengths of all of you; I’ve taken the “VIA Signature Strengths” test on the above mentioned website again today and found that the following are the ones that “we” have; strengths that I very much love to support the larger community with:

  1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
    You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
  2. Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
    Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.
  3. Social intelligence
    You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.
  4. Curiosity and interest in the world
    You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.
  5. Love of learning
    You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums-anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.


Enlightening the Passions – Day 1 (Exploring feelings)

After having looked at the videos I posted about yesterday I decided to do an experiment testing in practice what Michael Brown speaks about in those videos. I will blog about this experiment and practice here because it will help me keep it up and reflect upon it daily, and it might help some of the people who read these blogs.

Let me give you a bit of background:
In the recent very challenging time in my relationship I discovered – or better, uncovered – a constant pattern of behavior: Deeply opening up to – trusting – someone will lead to abuse sooner or later. This pattern comes from my very young years when my mother gave me away to my grandparents who then put me in a boarding school that then kicked me out… don’t want to relate the long sad story of what f****d me up emotionally in my young years, only want to indicate an important influence to the present experiment.

Another important one is that I actually have a very fine-grained ability to feel my emotions; 30 years of therapy and a spiritual path that has been very adventurous has ‘helped’ me discern many shades of, for instance, grief, fear and anger.
And also: Looking at my feelings has almost exclusively happened with the intention of either healing, overcoming or transcending, and even if I did embrace my feelings – as in the meditations I used to do some years ago in which I did “Satsang with my demons” – it was always with the intention of finally healing them.

And finally one more piece of background to my experiment:
In this recent crisis I’ve discovered – or actually uncovered – the indisputable fact that my emotions, the dynamics of my feelings, are out of control; I cannot determine what I feel in almost every situation. For many people, especially women, this is certainly no surprise, and maybe it shouldn’t be one for me, but it is. This is absolutely clear to me now because as part of the crisis – how it came about – was me expressibly allowing, out of my conviction, something that, when it became a reality, deeply hurt, unexpectedly so.

The premises of the experiment

Being unconditionally with what is right now – flowing with life – is of supreme value (it feeds the soul, not only mine but of everybody I’m with, it is joyful and beautiful, it is needed for true love to unfold, and the foundation for understanding any kind of meaningful truth).

Being unconditionally with what/how I feel is an integral, and necessary, part of flowing with life as an actual experience here and now.

What matters experientally has (at least) 3 facets/components: physical, mental and emotional. By physical I mean the person(s) I’m with or the situation I’m in as a physical presence that ’cause’ or ‘trigger’ (partly) what I experience; the mental is the story I tell myself and/or others about this, my interpretation; and finally what I feel actually – feelings being the prime movers and motivators for my actions and behaviors and words in any given situation.

Feelings/emotions are neither good nor bad in an ethical sense, yet there are feelings I greatly value and seek and those I shun, flee and or want to get rid of. Some of them are ‘good’ in one circumstance and ‘bad’ in another.

The premise to be tested in this experiment is that all feelings, especially the uncomfortable ones, are potentially soul-food and enliven or quicken my present being-alive; they inspire in a most profound way by re-connecting me with the flow of life by intentional/willing/conscious participation. This is so as long as I am with these feelings unconditionally (not to heal, change, or in any way influence them).
An important aspect of feelings, maybe their raison d’etre, is to enliven my present state of being.

What this experiment has led to so far

Considering all this in one way or another I’ve identified a number of uncomfortable feelings that are an important part of the ‘melody of feelings’ that in some depth keep repeating themselves (at least when now I remember what goes on in general). I’ve identified 7 that seem to be basic and given them a label for easier identification. They are all situated in the lower breast and stomach area, 2 of them in the gut area.

Much of my behavior seems to be directed at influencing the situations I find myself in in such a way as to not ‘give reason’ for these feelings to come up, and if they come up to immediately avoid feeling them or if that’s unavoidable to diffuse them, throw some nebulae around them etc. If all of that doesn’t work I (like to) blame the other or situation for me having them, suggesting that if I could only change them/it everything would be alright again.

It also led me to, in my conversations – and at moments in other situations – keep an eye on the emotional melody playing. Since there were no overwhelming emotions it was easy to just be with them, ‘unconditionally’, dipping into their flow.

A very interesting effect: I haven’t been ‘reacting’ to what was communicated and could then much more easily respond to the content of what was said…

Design for next few days

In the morning after getting up spend 20 – 30 minutes with both contemplating my ‘feeling life’ and see if there are more primary uncomfortable feelings that need to be part of the Top Ten, and exploring the ones on the list already, that means:
* Remember situations that trigger  those feelings
* Unconditionally embrace the feeling
* Notice what comes up doing that (not pursuing it)

During the day keep an eye on the feelings, also scan for yet ‘unlisted primary feelings’.

Write about this in the evening.

Starting up the experiment
Day 2
Day 3
Day 4 (Powerlessness)
Day 5
Day 6 (Jealousy)
Day 7 (Guilt & Jealousy)
Day 8
Day 9 (Shame)
Day 10 (Interlude)
Day 11 (Under Pressure)
Day 12
Day 13 (Clear Delight)

Day 14
Day 15 & 16
Day 17
Day 18
Day 19 (Dark Waves)
Day 20 (Time Out)
Day 21 (Splash)
Day 22 (Understanding)
Day 23 (Fear & Imagination)
Day 24 (Vulnerable)
Day 25
Day 26 (The Presence of The Past)
Ending the Experiment – Day 27 (Intentional Vulnerability)

How to be happy, rich and influential

Welcome friend
Welcome friend

At the heart of flow – a word for an inner state coined by Michael Csikszentmihalyi – is the absence of emotion, of any kind of consciousness. “Consciousness and emotion are there to correct your trajectory; when what you are doing is seamlessly perfect, you don’t need them,” says Martin Seligman in his very useful book, “Authentic Happiness”, that I’m working through at present. These lines transport so much of what makes sense to me: for instance that consciousness is much overrated in contemporary spiritual culture.

But first things first: During my recent seminar in the Czech Republic (I’ve written about it here) in one of the exercises that we happened to explore we were looking into what we really, really want. And guess what, I found that I want to be rich and influential. “What for?” you might well ask. But does what we really, really want need a justification?
Not, that I couldn’t give you one: I’m already rich in most matters of the soul, and people coming into my vicinity easily influence me and I them; I call the mutual apprenticeship and what happens between us then “wefullness“. And now, as my understanding of what I want and what is needed matures, I think I cannot only handle financial riches and the influence it brings but I also know how to use it to leverage my vision: “Living in a world where everybody can make their living with what they really want to do.”

That, of course, is a world that is governed by what may be called ‘grown-ups with only minor hang-ups’, people who understand that we’re living on one round globe and together with an infinite number of living beings and innumerable non-living beings. People who also know – and live according to that knowledge – that “if we no longer imagine that objects stare back,  then […] they are not partners in dialogue with whom an I-Thou relationship obtains. Once the soul of the world loses its face, we see things rather than images. Things ask no more of us than to be owned and used, becoming possessions.” (Italics mine, from ‘The Force of Character and the Lasting Life’ by James Hillman; p. 149).

So when I say that my path now is committed to becoming as rich, if not even more rich, as I am in character, soul, psyche, imagination, love, wefullness and understanding, I’m not talking about things and possessions, I’m talking about real images coming alive with the breath, the spirit of imagination. It’s money talking with a very convincing voice, saying, “it is my purpose to provide a living, a beautiful and meaningful living for everyone.”

I’m only have slight indications where that wealth might be coming from, but I don’t need more than that. Surely the richess will come, of course, in keeping with the vision mentioned, it needs to come about by doing what I love to do. which is saying the same things as, it cannot but come complementing what I really, really want to do. And since most of the time I’m doing just that – creating the next generation social network, designing the collaboration ecology as well as the first drafts of the UI, doing seminars on self-discovery and self-empowerment in the manner of mutual apprenticeship, writing, reading – I rest assured that my true want will turn into reality.

Now before it became as clear as it is now what I want, when it was just clear what world I want for my children, grandchildren and me to live in – yes I believe it can become a reality before I leave my darling body behind – upon deep reflection it became clear that I choose the happy path to help co-design and help realize this world. Which brings me back to the beginning of this blog-post, and the book I’m reading on “Authentic Happiness”.

Martin Seligman’s encouraging us to do what we already know is good for us (and much more, but I won’t go into that, except to say that if you are looking for very intelligent, or scientific, or just plain common sense reasons for pursuing happiness, you find them in this book), and he says that the one thing that has most influence on enduring happiness is leading a rich and fulfilling social life – and he’s not talking about the online-variant, but I guess that counts for something :-). We also all know that gratitude and forgiveness is very good when dealing with the past; being optimistic and hopeful helps when considering the future… And the above quote comes from that part where he speaks about being happy in the present.
Then he makes a very important distinction: The difference between pleasure and gratification. We all know what pleasures are, they are “delights that have clear sensory and strong emotional components,” as Martin puts it. Gratifications, on the other hand, are “activities in which time stops for us [I would say doesn’t exist for us], our skills match the challenge, and we are in touch with our strengths.” Really, gratification comes from being in the flow, where neither emotions nor consciousness are present; we simply disappear into what’s going on and what we’re doing.

Choosing the happy path in life, actually before anything else you could possibly want, makes an amazing lot of sense to me. So whatever it is that you really, really want, start doing it today, maybe step by step, maybe in one big leap. And doing so, do it the happy way.
And – you can certainly want what you already have; if so, spread your happiness.
If it needs to turn from an image into a tangible reality first, go about it as happy as you can.
If what you want cannot be reached by being happy, it might be worth reconsidering if it is what you really, really want. Because if it doesn’t contribute to your happiness moving towards (or living) it probably won’t contribute to our happiness as human and other beings.
And if you are happy about anything, or just happy without a cause, be assured that it will be a wellspring of goodness to all of us.


Thank you Brian for pointing me there….

In his book, “Authentic Happiness,” Martin Seligman condenses what it takes to be happy to a very simple statement.

Discover your strengths and use them often.

(If you want to discover your strengths, you can do so with the strengths assessment test)

Want a truly meaningful life?

Discover your strengths, use them often, and give them to something bigger than yourself.

And, if you are curious about my “signature strenghts”, they are:

1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence
I notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

2. Creativity, ingenuity, and originality
It’s important to me to think of new ways to do things. I’m never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible

3. Love of learning
I love learning new things. I have always loved reading, and take every opportunity to learn

4. Curiosity and interest in the world
I’m curious about everything, always asking questions, and you find most subjects and topics fascinating. I like exploration and discovery.

5. Leadership
I excel at the tasks of leadership: encouraging a group to get things done and preserving harmony within the group by making everyone feel included. I do a good job organizing activities and seeing that they happen.

Meditation & Irritation

A lovely movie illustrating what meditation can do to irritations…


Happiness is easy…

… at least when you’re a mouse who is missing a certain gene called TREK-1. I wonder how long it takes, before the pharma-industry comes up with a means to knock out what TREK-1 does for us (presuming that it’s similar for us.

“A new breed of permanently ‘cheerful’ mouse is providing hope of a new treatment for clinical depression. TREK-1 is a gene that can affect transmission of serotonin in the brain. Serotonin is known to play an important role in mood, sleep and sexuality. By breeding mice with an absence of TREK-1, researchers were able create a depression-resistant strain….” 

You find the whole article here.