Author Archives: Jane S. Anderson

24 Invigorating Paths to Well-Being

In every single person, relationship, team, or organization, there is something that works.  What’s working within you or an important relationship?  What’s right in your team or organization?  Whatever that something is, there are bound to be personal strengths playing a lead role.

When thinking about strengths, we often think of achievement-based strengths – things we do well in school or at work like writing, problem solving, or strategic thinking.  Or we think of special talents – things that allow us to succeed in sports or create a gorgeous garden in the backyard.

The 24 invigorating paths to well-being are the less familiar character strengths.  Character strengths are globally recognized human traits that embody us when we’re at our very best.  According to the VIA Institute On Character, the organization behind the science and practice of character strengths, we use the following 24 character strengths in our daily lives:

Creativity * Curiosity * Judgment * Love of Learning * Perspective

Bravery * Perseverance * Honesty * Zest    

Love * Kindness * Social Intelligence

Teamwork * Fairness * Leadership

Forgiveness * Humility * Prudence * Self-Regulation

Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence * Gratitude * Hope * Humor * Spirituality

Think of a situation when you were at your absolute best.  You probably accomplished things easily and energetically.  Maybe you felt unstoppable or sought out ways to continue what you were doing.  Perhaps you felt “in the zone.”  It felt like the “real you.”  These are clues of your top strengths at work.

When using our top character strengths, we express our highest and best selves.  In the right amounts and situations, they create pathways to greater well-being in key life domains – work, school, relationships, and health.

Consider the following summaries of VIA’s research findings, posted on their website as of 7/3/14:

In the Workplace…“The study of character strengths at work has rapidly increased in the last several years.  Consultants, executives, human resource professionals, and managers are now regularly weaving character strengths exercises to help their employees become more engaged, productive, and happy.  The use of character strengths to improve the skills of leaders, teams, and entire organizations is emerging as a popular and successful avenue as well.”

In Education…“…the vast field of education has found enormous benefit to teaching students, teachers, trainers, and entire schools on becoming more character strengths-based.  The new science of character that has emerged in the last 10 years offers a significant change to traditional approaches to character education in schools (Linkins, Niemiec, Gilham, & Mayerson, 2014).”

Want to learn more?  Here are 3 simple things you can do:

  • To learn even more about what’s right with you and your character strengths as a pathway to greater well-being, contact me by clicking on the My Story tab at the top of your screen and scrolling down to the contact form at the bottom of that page.  I’m giving away a complimentary phone consultation to the first 3 people who contact me before October 9 – take advantage of this opportunity while it’s available!

Go strengths!

With gratitude,



Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. New York: Oxford University Press and Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Seligman, Martin E.P.  Flourish.  New York:  Free Press, 2011, p 38.

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Positive Change in 5 Simple Steps

I like to watch a good, trashy TV show occasionally.  Recently, I became engrossed in The Bachelorette.  I know that there are healthier and more enriching ways to relax, like going for a walk or reading a good book.  Numerous times I even picked up a book, attempting to make a positive change.  But I ended up watching almost every episode during this past “Andi and Josh” season.

Whether it’s reading more, losing weight, becoming a more patient parent, or engaging more in uninspiring work, we’ve all been there.  We want to create positive change in our lives, and yet our efforts often prove useless.

Why Is Change So Difficult?

The answer lies in the way our brains form habits.  A colleague of mine, Braco Pobric, recently released his newest book Habits and Happiness on Amazon. He defines habits as:

“…rituals and behaviors that we perform automatically, allowing us to carry out essential activities such as brushing our teeth, taking a shower, getting dressed for work, and following the same routes every day without thinking about them.”

He says that these unconscious habits free up resources for our brains to carry out other more complex tasks, like solving problems or deciding what to make for dinner.   In other words, our habits exist to make our lives easier.

The problem is that we’ve all formed habits that make our lives more difficult.  For example, consuming too many unhealthy calories leads to health concerns and weight gain.  Expressing anger inappropriately causes relationships to suffer.  Disengaging at work reduces productivity. Many conflicts in our lives are actually rooted in our very own habits.

Wouldn’t it be nice if our bodies would reject harmful habits?

Unfortunately that’s not how habits work.  Habits begin with our thoughts and actions.  These thoughts and actions form tracks in the brain.  Through repetition, the tracks become deeper, wider, more groomed.  Well-groomed tracks represent our habits.

In the NY Times Bestseller The Brain That Changes Itself, Dr. Alvaro Pascual-Leone, Professor of Neurology at Harvard Medical School, explains this grooming of mental tracks and thus habit formation.  He suggests picturing a wintery scene – a fresh blanket of snow on a hill, a sledder at the top of that hill.  If that person spent the entire afternoon sledding down, walking up, and sledding down again, at the end of the day she will have created well-groomed tracks which are in fact hard to get out of.

Whether positive or harmful, our habits are like those tracks – well-groomed and hard to get out of.  That’s why any type of change, even when it leads to better health, relationships or work, is so difficult.

Positive Change in 5 Simple Steps

Fortunately, everyone can learn how to change his or her brain and form positive habits.  Below are 5 simple steps to get you going.

1  Focus first on who you wish to become, not on what you need to do.   A powerful question to ask yourself is who do I want to become?  Someone who eats more healthfully and takes care of myself?  A parent who is patient yet firm with my children?  An engaged employee at work?  Focusing on who you wish to become is more empowering and motivating as a starting point.

2  Start small.  Next, define one small step towards becoming that person.  Ask yourself the following:  If I could be just 5% better at eating healthfully, 5% more patient, or 5% more engaged at work, what would I do?  Perhaps you would commit to eating more vegetables, to counting to 10 before responding angrily to your kids, or to utilizing a personal strength more often and in new ways at work.

3  Practice daily.  Grooming your new track requires many trips down the slope.  Practice your new small habit for at least a few minutes daily over 30 days, or until it becomes automatic.

4  Remind yourself.   Set a daily reminder on your smart phone, block out time on your calendar, or check in daily with a trusted friend for accountability and support.  Remind yourself regularly to groom those new tracks in your brain to increase the likelihood that you’ll follow through on your practice.

5  Return to the practice.  I promise that you will miss a day here and there.  Your reminder will fail.  Other priorities will distract you.  Better-groomed habits will take over.  Understand that this is a natural part of habit formation.  Give yourself permission to be human, and return to your practice.  Returning to the daily practice when you miss is key to your success.

After one small habit becomes automatic, add another one and keep building from there.  Over time, you’ll find better health, satisfying relationships, and fulfilling work.  Although it’s not always easy, it’s completely within your power to bring about lasting positive change.

With gratitude for the amazing ability of our brains to change,


To learn more about Habits and Happiness, click here.

To read my review of Habits and Happiness, click here.


Pobric, Braco (2014).  Habits and Happiness – How to Become Happier and Improve Your Wellbeing by Changing Your Habits.  NJ: High Impact Consulting LLC Publishing Division.  p 14

Doidge, Norman, MD (2007).  The Brain That Changes Itself.  New York:  Penguin Books.  p 209

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24 Fun Ways to Celebrate the International Day of Happiness

Happy International Day of Happiness!  Tomorrow – March 20 – is the official date.  Please help me spread the word by sharing this message with others in your network. 

The International Day of Happiness was established by the United Nations in 2012 to 1) recognize the pursuit of happiness as a basic human goal and 2) acknowledge its importance in public policy objectives.  You can read more about that here.

Will you join me in celebrating?

Below is a list of easy and fun ways to cultivate and explore happiness.  Choose at least one, or come up with your own idea and share it by leaving a comment.  The possibilities are endless.  The boost in happiness is contagious!


  1. Take a photo of something or someone who brings you joy.  Keep it with you and look at it often.
  2. Listen to your favorite music for 5 minutes.
  3. Dance to your favorite music for 5 minutes.
  4. Read your favorite inspirational quote.
  5. Share your inspirational quote with someone else.
  6. Sing a song, and ask others to join in.
  7. Tell your best joke, and allow yourself to crack up.
  8. Perform a random act of kindness for someone else.  Buy coffee for the person in line behind you.  Leave a bottle of water for the postal carrier.  Wash your friend’s car.
  9. Watch one of your favorite feel-good or inspirational movies.  A few inspirational movies that come to mind are The Pursuit of Happyness starring Will Smith, La Vita E Bella (Life is Beautiful) starring Roberto Benigni, even Rocky, starring Sylvester Stallone.
  10. Listen to Sara Bareilles’ hit single Brave or Pharrell Williams’ hit single Happy.
  11. Write down 3 things you’re grateful for.
  12. Begin the morning with a note of thanks or praise to a family member, friend, or colleague rather than a review of your ‘to do’ list.
  13. At the dinner table, talk about what went well rather than review the day’s complaints.
  14. Get to know others through their strengths.  Listen for strengths and name them.  Discuss how strengths contributed to what went well.
  15. Go outside and take 5 deep breaths to reset your brain.
  16. Wish someone well in a heartfelt way.
  17. Walk briskly for 5 minutes.
  18. Complete one task you’ve been putting off.  Go do it now!
  19. Set an inspiring personal or professional goal for yourself.
  20. Spread the word by sharing this message with others in your network.


  1. Read a book on happiness.  A few of my favorites are:  10 Things Happy People Do Differently by PaulaDavis-LaackThe Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor;  Choose The Life You Want: 101 Ways to Create Your Own Road to Happiness by Tal Ben-Shahar;  and Flourish by Martin E.P. Seligman.
  2. Check out courses on “the science of happiness” at Wholebeing Institute featuring Tal Ben-Shahar, NY Times Best-Selling author and popular Harvard lecturer.
  3. Register for free webinars available on March 20, sponsored by graduates of MAPP (Masters of Applied Positive Psychology at University of Pennsylvania).
  4. Check out other newsletters.  Two of my favorites include  Positive
    Psychology News Daily
     and Greater Good The
    Science of a Meaningful Life

Still looking for an idea that resonates with you?  Contact me, and we’ll put our heads together.

As you celebrate the International Day of Happiness on March 20, may your heart be full of joy and inspiration while you explore, cultivate, and spread happiness!

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A Tribute to Abigail: Resilience in Action

Below is a tribute to Abigail, published with permission from her mom, dad, and sister – all extraordinary examples of resilience and its impact in the world. 

I’d like to share with you a true story about resilience.  It’s not a list of things that resilient people do or traits of resilient people.  Instead, it’s a tribute to Abigail, a 16-year-old girl who embodied resilience, and the incredible ripple effect that her too-short life had in the world.

Resilience is about adapting well to adversity – trauma, loss, threats, even day-to-day stress.  Resilience isn’t about ignoring pain or sadness.  It’s doesn’t mean the absence of difficulty.  Quite the opposite, actually.  Resilience often involves considerable difficulty and suffering.

Whether we become resilient or not depends on the way we respond to the adversity, not on the challenge or difficulty itself.   The way we respond can mean the difference between adapting well and not.

If resilience is about adapting well to adversity, then Abigail is the most resilient person I’ve ever met.

Abigail was born with significant developmental challenges.  As the extent of these challenges became apparent, doctors told her parents she would never be able to walk.  But Abigail proved them all wrong and learned to walk.

As she grew, doctors told her parents she wouldn’t be able to talk.  And Abigail learned to communicate, although not through words.

She faced challenges in everyday tasks, learning and growing by her own standards, not conventional ones, week by week and year by year.  And without uttering a word, Abigail communicated her thoughts and emotions quite clearly.  She loved her life.

Shortly after her 10th birthday, Abigail was diagnosed with progressive lung disease.  The disease deteriorated her lungs, requiring her to use oxygen from a tank.  Simple respiratory viruses became her biggest enemy, causing regular trips to the hospital for treatment.

For years, her little body withstood super-human quantities of steroids and antibiotics to battle the bugs that most of us would recover from naturally, within a week or two.  With each setback, Abigail bounced back.

Despite her deteriorating physical condition overall, she bounced back well.  Her mom said that the more diseased her lungs became, the happier she became – dancing, singing, appreciating and loving her life even more.

In early February of this year, Abigail breathed her last labored breath when a respiratory virus overcame her weakened lungs.  She left the world in a much better place than she found it.

In sixteen short years, without saying a word, Abigail created deep closeness and connection within her considerable circle of influence:

  • Through her zeal for parades, a good swing set in the local parks, and community events, she endeared herself to the local police and fire department.  Their pride in serving and protecting her, as well as the community, was evident in the police escort her family was given to the cemetery.
  • Through her frequent hospital admissions, she became a celebrity of sorts to the medical staff at the world-renowned children’s hospital where she was treated.  She was an anomaly, defying medical predictions and protocols.  It seems that the medical professionals who treated Abigail were the students, and she was the teacher.
  • Through her obsession with Fritos and love of music, she befriended the marching band members at Northwestern University, near her home.  She was a huge fan, but they also became her fans, even providing a surprise ending to her funeral as they marched through the church playing her favorite song.
  • To her amazing mom, dad, sister, and all of their family, friends and colleagues, she represented both challenge and inspiration, love and heartbreak, laughter and tears.  Abigail showed everyone how to navigate through all of life with strength and dignity.

Abigail’s earthly presence is a gift to us all.  She demonstrated the potential of the human body and mind to overcome adversity and suffering.  To bounce back and live a good life.  And she inspired so many others to embody resilience like she did.

I like to think that in a world with too much cynicism, “busyness” and unimportant distractions, Abigail’s mission is to help us take a time out for things that are truly important.  Relationships, love, and laughter.  Positive contributions.  Meaning.

Although she never uttered a word and lived only 16 years, Abigail demonstrated the extraordinary ripple effect of resilience and made the world a better place.  We should all live so well.

You’ve made your imprint on my heart forever, Abigail.  May you rest in peace.


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Create New Year’s Habits To Enjoy Lasting Change

Enjoy lasting, positive changes in your life by creating New Year’s Habits rather than a New Year’s Resolution. 

read time:  about 2.3 minutes

Happy New Year!

Did you make a New Year’s resolution this year?  Whether you did or not, you’re probably familiar with the most common ones.  Lose weight.  Get organized.  Spend less.  Save more.  Stay healthy.  Fall in love.  Spend more time with family.  Live life to the fullest.

I gave up making them years ago.  It’s not that I failed entirely –  I did manage to become a more patient parent one year and lose a few excess pounds in another.

The problem was that my results were temporary.  My renewed patience lasted only a few weeks.  I gained back the few pounds I lost.  Like a majority of people who set New Year’s resolutions, I didn’t enjoy any lasting changes.

Research shows that most change efforts, whether personal or organizational, yield only temporary benefits and aren’t sustained over time.  Consider the billions of dollars we spend annually on weight loss, personal training, skills training, and leadership development to get a sense of how important, and difficult, it is to achieve lasting positive change.

How is lasting change possible?

This question is not insignificant.  Our individual health and well-being, and that of our relationships, families, organizations, and society depend on the answer.

We know about strategies that increase the odds of success.  Set clear, value-based goals.  Work with an accountability partner.  Break larger goals down into smaller, more manageable parts.  But that’s not enough.

Lasting change requires an actual behavioral change.  Our behaviors form habits.  Our habits govern everything we do and don’t do.  We need to actually create a new habit and do things differently to see a different result.

According to brain scientists, healthy and unhealthy habits create connections that form neural pathways in the brain.  The more ingrained the habit, like brushing our teeth after meals, the stronger the neural pathway.  Picture a channel of water that deepens and widens as it rains.

Unfortunately, an unhealthy habit like reaching for a soda instead of water also has a fortified neural pathway in the brain.

Change is hard.

Habits are hard to break.  But when we form new ones, new neural pathways emerge and strengthen with the repetition of practice.  The old ones weaken and eventually cease to exist.

So this year, instead of a New Year’s resolution, try creating a New Year’s habit.  Instead of “losing 10 pounds by April 1″ work on adding more vegetables to each meal or replacing one daily soda with water.  Instead of “living life more fully,” work on using a strength in a meaningful way each day at work or expressing gratitude daily at family mealtime.

In other words, live the change you’d like to see. 

Below are some tips for making lasting change easier:

  • Repetition is key, so remind yourself to practice a new habit.  Set a daily reminder on your phone.  Schedule your practice into your calendar.  Create a visual reminder.  It takes about 14 days for the brain to begin changing and longer to strengthen the new neural pathway.
  • Give yourself permission to struggle as you create a new habit because change doesn’t usually happen on the first few attempts.  Picture those developing neural pathways.
  • Expect to struggle, but focus on returning to your practice when things aren’t going so well, not on berating yourself or giving up.
  • Work on only 1 or 2 things at a time to avoid stress and getting too far outside of your comfort zone.  Then move on to 1 or 2 more habits.

Over time, these small changes will snowball into many healthful habits you’ll carry into your relationships and daily activities.  This year, commit to living the change you’d like to see as you practice the habits of lasting positive change.

With gratitude for putting happiness first,


Please feel free to forward this blog to people in your network.  Or use the Subscribe button on this page to become a subscriber.  If you subscribe, you’ll receive an email asking you to confirm the subscription.  Make sure you complete this step in order to receive future blog posts in your inbox. 


Doidge, Norman, MD.  The Brain That Changes Itself  New York: Penguin, 2007.

Senge, Peter M.  The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization  New York: Doubleday, 1990.





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3 Ways to “Happy Up” Your Holidays

Treat yourself to a calmer, more joyful, and meaningful holiday season.

The holiday season is here in all its splendor!  The anticipation, the sparkly lights, the religious rituals, family traditions, favorite recipes and special songs.  The stalking mall shoppers for their parking spots, door-busting deals at 2 a.m. and long ‘to do’ lists.

Our lists seem to grow longer and more onerous each year as we squeeze working, shopping, planning meals, cleaning, wrapping, traveling, socializing and more into our already packed calendars.

We often act as if these are the only days available to share fellowship, gifts, and meaning.  And so we push forward, careening into the new year, tapped out socially, physically, emotionally, and financially.  Some of us began the holiday season that way.

Typical holiday stress-busting articles suggest a variety of ways to prioritize, simplify, and delegate.  Honing these skills, they say, help fend off  the stress, overwhelm, and sadness experienced by so many of us who already have too full plates or face difficult situations.

I’d like to propose a radically different approach.  Instead of doing more in less time, why don’t we all just take a deep breath and slow down?  Not to a snail’s pace, but a little bit.

Below are 3 research-based strategies that will jump-start the changes you’d like to feel, whether that means engaging more in the beauty and meaning of the season, freeing yourself from mental clutter, lowering your stress, boosting your creativity, or simply accomplishing more.

Treat yourself to one of the three strategies.  Use one a little bit each day through the end of the year – maybe just 4 or 6% more – to begin crafting a calmer, more joyful and meaningful holiday season this year.

Peace to you, my friends, this holiday season.




“When it comes to the things we value and the goals we most hope to accomplish…it is strengths that will help us be at our best, give us the greatest sense of meaning, and enjoy our lives to the fullest.”

-Robert Biswas-Diener

When we think of strengths, we often think of “achievement-based” skills and talents that contribute to our successes in work and life.  Problem solving skills, networking skills, or artistic capabilities readily come to mind.

Character strengths also contribute to success, though they’re often overlooked in everyday situations.  When we use our own character strengths, we feel fulfilled and morally valued without diminishing others.  They are the elements of personality that lead to meaning.

The 24 character strengths include creativity, curiosity, love of learning, bravery, perseverance, honesty, kindness, teamwork, fairness, and leadership.  Forgiveness, humility, prudence, gratitude, hope, humor, and spirituality.  And others.

The use of each character strength cultivates a specific virtue – wisdom, courage, humanity, justice, temperance, and transcendence.  Kindness, for example, cultivates humanity.

Performing a random act of kindness each day, like carrying someone’s groceries or giving the mail carrier a hot cup of cocoa to go, would be one way to exercise that strength and raise humanity.

If you’d like to learn more about character strengths or take the free assessment to learn your highest strengths, click on this link

Take a moment to reflect on the character strengths that help you be your best, provide a sense of meaning and purpose, or enhance your life.  If you were to use that strength a little bit more – maybe just 3 or 5% – what would you do?



“The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you truly are.”

  -C. G. Jung

How would you answer the question “who are you?”  Your answer might reflect the roles you play in life – a parent, a spouse, a student, an executive.  But that doesn’t reveal the deeper substance of who you really are.

Many of us don’t know who we are.  We live our lives according to what our jobs, family, or friends expect of us because that seems easier than becoming who we want to be and doing what we want to do.

The price is steep.  Living someone else’s life leaves a feeling of emptiness deep inside and extinguishes that inner fire that fuels our potential to do great things.

Authenticity is knowing yourself and being yourself.  It sounds simple, but the pressures of the holidays make it easy to be less authentic.  Now is the perfect time to begin a practice of authenticity.  To reflect on what you value, find meaningful, and care about.  Then to express that and act on it.

Becoming who we truly are is the privilege of a lifetime.  If you could step into your authentic life…The dots are for you to reflect on and reveal how you can live just 4 or 7% more authentically this holiday season.



“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet.  It is a way of entering into the quiet that is already there – buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks every day.”

-Deepak Chopra 

Take a moment to think about your 50,000+ daily thoughts.  How many are anxiety- or stress-producing?

Our minds wander, often into the future.  What if the weather prevents me from getting home?  What if I can’t pay that bill?   What if I don’t get a job?  What if she doesn’t love me?

Future uncertainty is a source of high stress and anxiety.  The pressures and pace of the holiday season can intensify our worries and add new ones.

Neuroscientists have found that meditation shifts brain activity from the stress center to other parts of the brain.  This shift reduces stress, mild depression, and anxiety.  Meditation has also been shown to reduce migraines, pain and the risk of heart disease; enhance energy and immune system function; boost creativity, memory, reaction time, and IQ.

Before you decide you don’t have time to meditate or that you can’t imagine sitting still for even a minute, ask yourself how much time you spend checking emails, catching up on Facebook or LinkedIn, and surfing the web.  And consider whether a few moments of your time would be worth a greater sense of inner calm and focus.

To begin a simple meditation practice, try using a 4-breath meditation to reset your mind and body before a meeting, a family get-together, or any time you feel hurried or anxious.  With eyes closed and long deep breaths, use breath 1 for centering.  Breath 2 for gratitude for your practice.  Breath 3 for inner peace.  Breath 4 for setting the intention to carry this feeling forward.  Centering.  Gratitude.  Peace.  Intention.  Just four deep breaths.



Biswas-Diener, Robert (2010).  Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching.  New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons Inc.

Peterson, Christopher & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues:  A Handbook and Classification.  Washington, D.C.: APA Press and Oxford University Press.

Allen, Colin (April 1, 2003).  Psychology Today.  Based on studies conducted by Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, University of Massachusetts Medical School.




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With Gratitude For You

Thank you for being part of this blog community. 

read time: about 1 minute

Tomorrow, we Americans will celebrate Thanksgiving, a day historically devoted to giving thanks for the bounty of the harvest.  It’s one of my favorite holidays.  Those of you who reside in other countries have a different holiday schedule, so you might be working or doing other things.

No matter where you live or what you celebrate, the Thanksgiving holiday reminds us to give thanks and express gratitude for our blessings.  The practice of gratitude is an important, highly researched one, but I’ll save the research for another day.

On this day before Thanksgiving, I’d rather include you in my own daily gratitude practice.  So with a warm, full heart…

…I thank you for spending a few minutes with me each week, reading blog posts and sharing bits of your lives through comments and emails.  I know that your time is precious, and I so appreciate that you choose to spend some of yours here.

…I’m grateful to you for sharing this blog with others in your network.  By sharing with others, you not only spread the word about the tools of flourishing, but also help a friend or colleague who may need a boost.

…I appreciate your valuable feedback about the content, structure, and even technological aspects of this blog.  Your input is transforming what I thought would be a solo activity into a collaborative process that’s building a community in a fun and engaging way.

Cheers to you, friends and colleagues in the United States – Happy Thanksgiving!  And cheers to you, friends and colleagues in other countries – happy Thursday (or Friday, depending on where you are)!  May this day, and every day, be full of thanks and gratitude for each other and our collective blessings.



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“Permission To Be Human”

Raising positivity isn’t always the answer.  Sometimes the answer is giving ourselves “permission to be human.”

Welcome!  Feel free to share this post with others in your network. 

read time:  about 2.2 minutes

Life is hard, sometimes devastating.  Too many people around the world can attest to that, from those in Washington, Illinois to the Philippines, whose lives were forever altered recently by heartbreaking natural events.  Anyone who has suffered the loss of a child, spouse, parent, friend, or job can relate.  Countless others afflicted by disease, crime, loneliness or any other life challenge can as well.  We’ve all been touched by adversity in some way.

As I wrap up this blog series on positivity, I can’t help but think about the role of positivity during adverse times.  There is definitely a need for positivity during adversity. 

While going through my second round of breast cancer, I remember many moments of gratitude and humor.  For instance, as I was being wheeled into a long 7-hour surgery, under light sedation, l noticed the ashen faces of my beau, my sister, and my brother-in-law, all faithful supporters, staring off into the distance.  Sensing their worry, I  held up my hand, separated my fingers between my middle and ring fingers, and proclaimed, “At least I can still do this!”

What?  Not being Star Wars fans, we weren’t even certain what that meant!  But it was hilarious at the time and broke up the tension.  We still laugh about it today.

On the other hand, are we expected to put on a brave face, crack a joke, and practice positivity through the grief, anguish, and anxiety inherent in difficult life situations?  I don’t think so.

Although there is a role for positivity during adversity, raising positivity isn’t always the answer.  Cultivating positive emotions isn’t always appropriate or even helpful for everyone all the time.  It’s not a cure-all.

We’re human beings, not robots.  As humans, we experience both positive and negative emotions.  In the words of Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD, former Harvard lecturer, and lead faculty, we must “give ourselves permission to be human” in order to flourish and become happier.  The phrase refers to the unconditional acceptance of all our emotions – both positive and negative.

In other words, cultivating only positive emotions while repressing negative ones isn’t a healthy approach to life and doesn’t lead to greater happiness.  In fact, repressing intense emotions actually intensifies them.

Prove it to yourself with this simple exercise.  Pretend that there is a pink elephant standing across the room from you, about 10 feet away.  It’s strange, but can you visualize it?  For the next 30 seconds, do NOT think about that pink elephant in the room.

If you’re like most people, all you can think about now is that pink elephant.  Intense emotions are similar – they intensify when we try not to think about them.

I recently worked 1:1 with a woman whose 37-year-old son passed away, a senseless death, leaving behind a wife and two young children.  As she approached the two year anniversary of her son’s death, she expressed her own version of “permission to be human,” saying the following:

“Today was a pretty rough day.  Yesterday was better, and who knows what tomorrow will be?  I guess that’s just the way it is right now.”

She never asked for that burden.  She certainly didn’t want it.  But she actively accepted it.  She savored the positive moments, celebrating her son’s life in tangible, meaningful ways and reliving fond memories with her family.  And when anger and sadness rose to the surface, she expressed rather than suppressed them.

While raising positivity is often helpful, promoting creativity and resilience, it isn’t always the answer.  As Tal would say, sometimes we need to just give ourselves permission to be human.

With gratitude for positivity and permission to be human,


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Wow Factor of Positivity

Compelling facts about positivity provide a ‘wow factor.’  

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read time:  about 2.3 minutes

“There’s actually no ‘wow factor’ here.”

The statement came from Tal Ben-Shahar, lead faculty, during  our first 1-week study immersion.  After sitting through 8 hours of daily lecture for three intense days in a row, I found myself daydreaming.  But not enough to miss Tal’s comment.

“What did he just say?” I wondered silently, snapping back to attention.

“What do you mean there’s no ‘wow factor?’  I’m here for the ‘wow factor.’  I’m here to learn the deep secrets of positive transformation and flourishing individuals, organizations, and societies.  Isn’t that why we’re all here?”

On the one hand, I understand why a world-renowned expert in Positive Psychology would take this position.  After all, ‘deep secrets’ don’t really exist in any realm, and Positive Psychology is a scientific discipline.  On the other hand, I find ‘wow factors’ all the time.

For starters, who knew that positive emotions promoted resilience and creativity?  In my two blog posts entitled “When You Need Creative Solutions Fast,” I described how positive emotions are a tool to help us think outside the box, make better decisions, and combat negativity.  Wow – I think that’s a pretty big deal.

There are other compelling facts about positive emotions as well.  Consider the 10 most researched forms of positivity  –  joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.

In her book Positivity, Barbara Fredrickson says that  specific circumstances and thoughts spark positive emotions, giving us the ability to turn them on when we need them.  For instance, she writes the following about awe:

“…awe happens when you come across goodness on a grand scale.  You literally feel overwhelmed by greatness…Awe makes you stop in your tracks.  You are momentarily transfixed.  Boundaries melt away and you feel part of something larger than yourself…Sometimes we’re awed by nature…Other times we’re awed by humanity.”

During a recent trip to Spain, I was in awe of the massive cathedrals and palaces, dating back to the 1200s – all architectural marvels with a rich history of the geniuses behind their design, building and preservation.  I experienced awe firsthand – feeling overwhelmed by greatness, becoming transfixed by the beauty and grandeur, having a connection with a culture and history different from my own.

IMG_0462To savor these experiences, I look at my vacation photos often and remember how it felt to stand before colossal structures like the one in this photo.  My photo-viewing ritual provides an instant shot of positivity.

Barbara Fredrickson writes about all ten positive emotions, describing the circumstances and thoughts that activate them.  I’m passing along excerpts to you.  Click on this link Ten Forms of Positivity  to take a read through.

These forms of positivity aren’t new, but we don’t always appreciate when they enter our hearts.  See if there’s one that resonates and draws you in for more.  If there is, try cultivating that one emotion just 5 percent more every day.

For instance, try writing down three things every day that you appreciate or feel thankful for to cultivate gratitude.  Or notice what inspires you – a quote, music, or a picture perhaps – and savor it daily to cultivate inspiration.  Even for just a few minutes.

The positive transformation of an idea, our health, even a relationship often starts small, with just a seed of positivity.  So even the busiest person on the planet can find the time to make small changes and begin a positive transformation.  This, I believe, has the biggest ‘wow factor’ of all.

With gratitude for putting happiness first,


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Fredrickson, Barbara (2009).  Positivity:  Top Notch Research Reveals the 3:1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press.

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When You Need Creative Solutions Fast – Part 2

When you need creative solutions fast, first cultivate positive emotions.  Learn more about the important connection between positivity and creativity.    

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read time:  about 2.3 minutes

In the first part of this blog post, I introduced a simple experiment developed by Barbara Fredrickson, world-renowned researcher on positive emotions.  In case you missed it, check out “When You Need Creative Solutions Fast – Part 1″ dated October 24, 2013.  In a nutshell, the experiment demonstrates the connection between positivity and creativity.

The first part of the experiment induced a neutral emotional state in the participants, who were then asked to make a list of everything they wanted to do with a hypothetical, unencumbered half hour block of time.  The second part of the experiment induced a positive emotional state in the participants, who were again asked to make a list of everything they wanted to do with that block of free time.

Skeptical by nature, I wondered how this experiment could possibly demonstrate a connection between positivity and creativity.  So I found my own participants and lead them through Barbara Fredrickson’s experiment.  Let me share the results with you, below.

When in a positive emotional state, my participants created lists that were up to 7 times longer than when in a neutral state.  The lists were more expansive and richer in details, often full of meaningful and inspiring activities.  One individual reported that his list was “in color” while he was under the influence of positivity, as opposed to the black and white version he saw  when in a neutral state.  When asked to describe their experience, my participants chose the following unedited words and phrases:

  • Colorful
  • Felt the sensations and positive emotions, heard the sounds vividly
  • Saw the world in a different way
  • Experienced more
  • Expansive view
  • More enlightened and energized

Overall, being in a positive emotional state increased the sheer volume of possibilities they noticed.  It broadened their perspectives.  It increased their level of engagement.  It visibly ramped up their energy.  It even seemed to change their physical posture.

In contrast, when in a neutral emotional state, their lists were significantly shorter.  And they chose the following words and phrases to describe their experience:

  • Felt no sensations
  • Devoid of color
  • List was fact-based
  • What I thought I had to do, whether I did or not, and not what I wanted to do
  • Small-minded
  • Miniscule details

It makes me wonder about the times when I felt stressed, anxious, or angry.  I’m sure you can think of examples from your own life.  In those moments, our perspective narrows, and our thinking becomes smaller.  Our ability to perform important tasks – envision and plan, listen and consider other views, resolve conflicts and problems – diminishes.

Through this experiment, I saw firsthand how positivity opened up my participants’ thinking and their perspective.  They noticed more possibilities that weren’t already on their radar.  Each participant made a completely different, more enriching and enlivening decision on how to use that hypothetical block of time.

Can you imagine all of the circumstances under which having a broader perspective and envisioning more, different possibilities would be incredibly useful?  I can think of a few off the top of my head:

  • Before beginning any creative endeavor.
  • Before making an important decision.
  • Before making a daily decision.
  • Before resolving conflict or a challenge.
  • Before having a difficult conversation with a spouse, a child, or an employee.

Or can you imagine what might happen if projects, decisions and challenges within families, businesses, educational and medical institutions, the government and society in general were completed more often under the influence of positivity?

I may sound naïve, but I believe that if one person at a time begins to use positivity in more strategic ways, we can all flourish.  Will you give it a try in your own life?

With gratitude for putting happiness first,


To subscribe to this blog, and have new posts delivered directly to your inbox, please use the Subscribe button on this page.  You will receive an email asking you to confirm your subscription.  Make sure you complete this step in order to receive future blog posts in your inbox. 



Fredrickson, Barbara (2009).  Positivity:  Top Notch Research Reveals the 3:1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press.

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