The Three Vital Ingredients To Happiness- At Work, and In Life
Woody Allen once said: “80% of the secret to success is just turning up.” I ‘turned up’ once to a talk by someone billed as ‘the world wide expert on happiness.’ I left an hour later a changed man. And have had a much happier life ever since. Here are the three key tips I learnt that day.
His name is Dr Martin Seligman. He’s the Director of The Positive Psychology Center at The University of Pennsylvania. In essence he’s spent much of his career researching and helping people suffering from depression. Through this work he gained deep insight into ‘happiness’ and resilience, and has shaped theories around this which I wanted to hear more about.
So one cold winter night I went with my brother-in-law to his lecture in downtown Sydney. It was life changing. This is what he told us.
The Three Keys To Happiness
This is how I recall what he told us that night, and how I have used it to help shape my life. I share these three tips at every training session with my STW colleagues. I tell my friends. I tell my children.
According to my recollection of what Seligman said, the ‘happiest’ people he observes have three common characteristics in their lives.
1. They do every day what they love and what they are good at
This is a very similar message to that of Sir Ken Robinson, outlined in my recent post A Knight To Remember-This Changed My Life. Be very clear about what your ‘element’ is- what you really love doing most in life and are good at, and build that into your working life as much as you possibly can. I have not worked many days in my life. I am lucky. I love working, I love challenges, I love working with young people, and I love the creative industries. I’m in my element when I coach and inspire. And I get to do that every day.
2. They do something for others without expecting anything back in return
For me, apart from some involvement in charity work, I achieve this by helping as many young people as I can make a start in this industry. I give them time, and then link them with my contacts, hoping to kick-start momentum to finding a role. And increasingly I am also doing this with the older tribe, working to reinvent themselves and find roles in the latter phases of their careers.
3. They are optimists, and have learned to stay that way
Seligman calls it Learned Optimism. It’s this concept I tell as many people as I can about. Train yourself to be optimistic in how you view the world, and how you react to circumstance. Become a skilled ‘disputer of negative thoughts.’ (You know, when that voice tells you: “You can’t do- it will be a disaster.” Counter it with: “Hang on a minute- yes I CAN do it, and it will be great, and I am absolutely going to give it a go.”)Take full responsibility for what happens to you. Refuse to blame other people. Learn lessons from setbacks. And keep 150% forward looking and focused on what actions you can take to solve issues and improve matters. Be optimistic. Have hope.
A quick final story. John Gardner, the founder and CEO of investor and financial relations firm Magnus is one of the most optimistic guys I know. When he worked with me at my firm Savage & Partners, John’s optimistic approach literally saved me from giving up. I remember one day when a big banking client called to fire us. I put the phone down, devastated. “But that’s great news,” said John, enthusiastically. “Yes we will miss the revenue short term, but they were a difficult client, marginally profitable, did not appreciate us, and we all hated working on it. Now we can go all out to win work from their competitor!” And that’s exactly what we did, with enthusiasm, a spring in our step, and hope in our hearts.
Be optimistic. Train yourself to view the world that way. Be forward looking.
It makes for a much happier life, or at least, that’s how becoming a Learned Optimist has impacted mine.
Thanks Dr Seligman. Thanks John Gardner. I learnt a lot from both of you.