Dealing with Drastic Change


Whether you’re in a natural disaster or facing a crisis of the personal kind, drastic change is tough.  Even changes we choose to make for ourselves bring discomfort.  But extreme and sudden changes win the prize for throwing us into shock.  We find ourselves in the midst of the Big Unknown, and feel disoriented, uncertain and insecure.  Our survival mechanisms flick on.  What’s happening?  What am I going to do?  How will I get through this?

Zen Philosopher Alan Watts says, “The only way to make sense out of change is to plunge into it, move with it, and join the dance.”

“The dance!” you might say.  “Are you out of your mind?  This is no dance!  It’s a crisis, a disaster!.”

Yup.  That’s what it is alright.  The shock and fear and rage you feel is just the thunder of the drums as the dance begins.   And here’s the magic of it.  You get to choose its rhythms and its moods, its tempo  and all the steps and melodies.

First Steps

Life will, after all, go on.  Even when you can’t begin to fathom how.  And the only way to find out how it will go is to keep moving forward, one step at a time.

Let your first step be recognizing and respecting that you’re in crisis mode.  Our normal response to emotions is to generate stories or recall memories around them.   When you’re in shock and overwhelmed with strong emotion, it’s important to make stories that center around your values and strengths instead of painting the situation as an unrecoverable loss.  Yes, it may be a loss of huge, important parts.  But while the loss itself may be unrecoverable, you are capable of creating a new and positive version of your life as you go forward.

The old saying that every change has within it the seeds of opportunity is true.  Decide that you will adapt and overcome.  Consider the idea that you might not only overcome, but make something incredibly strong and beautiful from this experience in your life.

Instead of being overcome with sadness, let the heaviness of your grieving take the form of deeper, more grateful thought.  Experiment with looking at things from a different perspective.  Imagine you’re that guy over there, looking at you.  What would you want him to see?  Imagine looking back on this in time and feeling proud of how well you handled it.  Play with this as being a dramatic section of your life dance, or as an adventure or a grand exploration.  See what you find interesting about your current status.  Be curious about it and about what you might make of it.

American poet and educator Nikki Giovanni gives us this insight about change:

A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are.  Embrace the change no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it

Isn’t that an extraordinary idea?  You can allow yourself to enjoy who are even in the midst of stepping from a familiar world into a brand new one.   It’s like stepping onto a new stage in this dance of your life and writing its music any way you want.  You decide.  What kind of soundtrack is playing?  How do you want to shape it from here?

It’s up to you.  Isn’t that wondrous?

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You may also find these articles helpful:

How to Be Resilient When Crisis Strikes
When the Future Dies: Making a New Start After Tragedy and Disaster   When Happiness Goes Dark: How to Deal with Life’s Traumas 
When Things Go Wrong: 7 Steps to Regaining Balance


Share the Light

Share the Light

The grocery store was crowded when I ran in for a few items yesterday, but I managed to find one fairly short checkout line.  In front of me, an older man sat in a motorized cart with a small pile of canned goods in its basket.  It looked to me like it would be an uncomfortable reach for him to lift his items onto the counter, so I walked to the side of his cart and stooped enough to be at face level with him.

“May I put your items on the belt for you?  Would that be a help?”

His lined face brightened into a smile.  “Oh, thank you!  Yes, that would be wonderful.  You’re an angel.”

As I transferred his items to the counter, he told me he had just been released from the hospital.  I saw that one arm had gauze taped to it and he still wore a hospital ID bracelet on his wrist.  “They said my heart was good.  They couldn’t tell me why I’m so tired,” he said.  When he got home, he intended to take a nap.

He told me that he’d lost his wife a year ago to cancer.  They had been together 43 years.  I told him I had lost a son in an auto accident, and I knew what grief was like.  “A man said something helpful to me while I was grieving,” I told him.  “He said that the pain never really goes away, but it finds a special place in your heart to dwell.”   He smiled and nodded.

He put out his hand, told me his name and asked mine.  Then, when I put my hand in his, he covered it with his other hand and said a quiet prayer of blessing for me, asking that I might be blessed with health and well-being and prosper in all my ways.

The glow of that encounter still flows through my heart and serves as a poignant reminder of the power of a moment of kindness.

As I write this, Hurricane Harvey is tearing up homes and towns and lives in Texas.  From the looks of things, the damage will be catastrophic and widespread.  And like most of you reading this, I wish I could offer more than a donation to relief funds.  I’m so tired of witnessing all the suffering in the world.

But my encounter at the grocery store reminded me that even small kindnesses can touch lives in meaningful ways.  And I think nothing is more needed right now than offerings of kindness, every day, at every opportunity.   What if we all looked for those opportunities?  What if we focused on that, instead of bristling with a willingness to take offense?

Who knows what a touch, a smile can do?  Hold a door.  Say hello.  Help carry a burden.  Take a neighbor a cookie or flower.  Say the magic words:  Please, and Thank You.  Tell the people that you care about that you love them.

We might not change the world.  But we can at least tip it a little more toward the light, hey?  I say we all put on our kindness hats and get out there and give it all we’ve got.



What’s Your Personal Happiness Style?

Personal Happiness StyleOne man’s happiness is another’s  ho-hum.  I learned that lesson forcefully when I was helping my friend Jan redefine her personal happiness style.

Jan was recovering from major surgery.  She was depressed because she didn’t have the energy to enjoy her previous active lifestyle.

Jan loves to be on the go.  She’s always meeting friends for golf, for lunch and shopping, for an hour at the gym, an afternoon at the movies.  She takes classes and attends workshops and loves to entertain.   And now it was all she could do to get dressed in the morning and stroll around the block.  She was frustrated and bored.

As we played with finding a way to reframe her situation so she could more easily embrace it, I asked her how she felt about the trying to adopt a mindset of contentment.

“I hate it!” she spat out such vehemence that I laughed in stunned surprise.  Personally, I love contentment.  It’s one of my favorite feelings.  It had never dawned on me that anyone could find it as distasteful as Jan apparently did.

Eventually we came up with the phrase “joyful ease” to represent a mindset she could enjoy cultivating.  She could learn to go slowly buoyantly, she decided, floating with ease on her way to greater stamina and strength.

The Flavors of Happiness

That experience with Jan showed me that, just as we all have our own set of personal strengths, we have our personal preferences for particular flavors of happiness, too.

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson In her landmark book, Positivity: Top-Notch Research Reveals the 3 to 1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life identifies ten primary positive emotions.  Each of them has the power to make us feel upbeat or uplifted.  In other words, they’re the different flavors that we group together in the big category, “Happiness.”

Read through the following list of the primary positive emotions slowly, and as you do, try to sense how each one feels in your body.  Notice which ones seem to hold a special attraction for you, which ones shine more brightly or resonate more clearly with you.  Which ones make your happiness taste buds tingle?

  • Gratitude
  • Serenity
  • Interest
  • Hope
  • Pride
  • Amusement
  • Inspiration
  • Awe
  • Love
  • Joy

Finding Your Own Brand of Happiness

Your happiness preferences aren’t inborn, fixed traits, and you’re capable of enjoying every one of the positive emotions.   But you’re likely to experience some of them more frequently or more deeply than others.

I have a cousin, for example, who meets life with enormous humor.  He has a real talent for finding fun in almost any situation.  And he creates fun in unexpected ways, too.   At a family wedding, he once gave a loud wolf-whistle right in church as the mother of the bride walked down the aisle.

No doubt, he would find himself strongly identifying with the emotions of amusement and joy.

Identifying which flavors of happiness feel most natural or familiar to you will help you notice them more often.

All of the positive emotions have in common that they don’t linger long.  They’re like brief passages of music that play on our inner radios and then float away.   They may impact our mood and color the feel of our day, but they’re fleeting in themselves, all too often gone and forgotten before we consciously registered their presence.

However, when we notice them as they’re happening, we can choose to savor them, to give them our full attention and to immerse ourselves in them.  That makes them more vivid and allows their particular harmony to reverberate inside us with greater richness.

When you know what kinds of happiness you most enjoy, you’re also in a better position to create experiences that will produce them.  You can intentionally make time to spend doing the kinds of things you’ll genuinely enjoy.

How to Build More Happiness

The key to experiencing more happiness is to simply pay more attention to those times when it dances into your life.

Start by deciding which of the ten primary flavors are your “signature” happiness feelings.   Focus on those for a while, using as many of the activities below as you like. Then, over time, experiment with  adding more flavors, one or two at a time, until you’re fully aware of them all.

  • Try beginning each day with a conscious intention to notice when you’re experiencing one of your signature flavors of happiness.   Notice what triggered it.  And in the evening, take a moment to replay your happiness moments, savoring the memory of them.
  • After you’ve identified your preferred flavors of happiness, pick one or two to focus on for the next week or so.   Focusing on one of them at a time, think of a time when you were feeling that feeling.  Let yourself recall as many details of the situation as possible—the physical surroundings, who was with you, what the weather was like or what the room was like, the colors and sounds around you.   Make your focus feeling as intense as you can.  Then notice how it feels in your body, and say to yourself, “This is [name the feeling].”   Pay special attention to how your face feels.   Then, as you go through the week, let your body signal you when it is feeling the same way and you’ll be able to enjoy the current happiness more fully.
  • To broaden your awareness of your signature happiness feelings, you may want to look each of them up in a thesaurus ( and scout out other feelings that fall in the same family.  My favorite, “contentment,” for instance, is a member of the “serenity” family.
  • If you want some variety in your happiness practice, write each of the ten primary emotions on a slip of paper, fold it, and put it in small basket or bowl.   Draw one out at random each morning and let it be your focus of the day.  Watch for it, and enjoy it when it appears.
  • Play with keeping a happiness log or journal where you jot down what positive emotions you experienced during the day and what triggered them.
  • Create a family ritual where each member shares his or her happiness stories with each other over a meal.  Or enlist a friend to be your happiness buddy and exchange happiness stories on a regular basis.  (Research shows that simply sharing happy stories increases happiness, by the way.  This one is truly a win-win.)
  • Share a happiness experience on your favorite social media site every day

Expanding Happiness

What we focus on expands in our experience.   Let yourself play with your signature happiness feelings daily and they’ll grow by leaps and bounds.

Research shows that happiness is contagious by at least three degrees.  When you’re happier, so are your friends, and your friends’ friends, and their friends.  So by expanding your own experience of happiness, you’re literally making the world a happier place.  You can rightly consider being happy a public service.

Most of all, expand your happiness because it adds richness and health and well-being to your life –in all the flavors that are most delicious for you.   As Houston auto dealer Tommie Vaughn says, “You only get one go at it… might as well Rock it.”

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Remember, sharing happy stories boosts your level!  If you enjoyed this article, pass it along to your network.

You might also enjoy:

Scavenger Hunting for Positivity Souvenirs
Why Happiness is Job #1

photo by hortongrou


The Wow Factor: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence

Swallowtail on White BlossomsWhat sets off the Wow inside you?  A breathtaking sunset?  An extraordinary sports play?  A masterpiece of music or art?  Witnessing an act of surpassing kindness and generosity?

The appreciation of beauty and excellence finds its focus both in nature’s beauty and in every endeavor known to man.  What brings it forth in you may be entirely different from what triggers it for me.  But whatever its focus, the feeling of it is universal – a thrilling sense of elevation and awe.

It’s no accident that positive psychologists classify the personal strength of appreciating beauty and excellence as one of the transcendent strengths.

When the Wow Factor strikes us, we’re momentarily swept into a world that’s higher and headier than simple emotion or thought.  In fact, it’s the kind of peak experience that’s often beyond words.  Beauty and Excellence speak to the very best in us; they raise us up.   Experiencing them with full appreciation adds more joy and meaning to our lives.

Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence Defined

Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman,the developers of  the personal strengths classification, define the appreciation of beauty and goodness as “the ability to find, recognize, and take pleasure in the existence of goodness in the physical and social worlds.”

They go on to describe three types of “goodness” that can trigger this strength:

  • 1. Sensory beauty, such as a natural scene or a symphony, a work of art, or dance or architecture.
  • 2. Skill or talent, such as we might see in a sports performance, or in any field of human endeavor.
  • 3. Virtue or moral goodness, such as the dedication of Mother Teresa.

You may personally be drawn more toward one type than another.  Or, if this strength is one of your top strengths, you may find that your sensitive to all three.

How to Enhance Life’s Meaning

In our high-tech, achievement-oriented society, it’s easy to turn into “a head on a stick,” and to be so caught up in our internal, intellectual worlds that we overlook the beauty and excellence that life has to offer.

But cultivating the strength of appreciating them makes our lives more meaningful and worthwhile.  It allows us to get back in touch with our sense of wonder.

That’s not to say that we can’t find beauty and excellence in the intellectual world as well, if we choose to look for it.   In his book, Unweaving the Rainbow: Science, Delusion and the Appetite for Wonder, Richard Dawkins says,

“The feeling of awed wonder that science can give us is one of the highest experiences of which the human psyche is capable. It is a deep aesthetic passion to rank with the finest that music and poetry can deliver. It is truly one of the things that make life worth living and it does so, if anything, more effectively if it convinces us that the time we have for living is quite finite.”

The time we have for living is indeed finite.  So why not fill it with all the richness and beauty we can?

Yeats said, “The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.”  We can intentionally sharpen our senses and the strength of appreciation for beauty and excellence in many ways.

The key word is “intentionally.”   Each of us possesses all of the personal strengths to greater or lesser degrees, and by paying attention to any one of them, we can raise its degree of functioning in our life.  The first step is to make a commitment to yourself to look for beauty and excellence.  Remind yourself when you wake in the morning that this is one of your intentions for the day.

Psychologist Ben Dean, founder and CEO of Mentor Coach, suggests that you can increase your appreciation for beauty and excellence by keeping a nightly journal in which you record  “something you saw during the day the struck you as extremely beautiful or skillful.”  Or visit a museum and hunt for something that especially touches you because of its aesthetic value.  Afterwards, write down your impressions.

Dr. Clare Wheeler has some suggestions for increasing your appreciation for beauty and excellence, too.

  • Take a mindful walk, she says, where you stroll slowly, opening all your senses to the world around you.  Even if you do this for only a short while, say, from your house to your car, it will enrich you and clue you in to all that can be observed and enjoyed.
  • Add variety to your daily routine.  If you take a different way to work, for example, or to the store, you’ll be more apt to notice new things.
  • Create more time in your life for the things that you find beautiful and moving.  Buy yourself flowers or plant a garden.   Surround yourself with coffee table books about the things that you enjoy and find inspiring.  Read biographies of people who have excelled in their fields.  Attend more concerts and sporting events if they draw you and watch for the moments of high skill and artistry.
  • Use the camera on your phone or a compact digital camera to capture the beauty you spot in your daily life.  “Make a deal with yourself to take one photo of something you think is beautiful every day for a month,” she says.  “Before long, you’ll find yourself seeking, and finding, beautiful people places and things every day.

I have to admit that the last one is my personal favorite.  I started doing it three years ago and the result is my daily blog, “High on Happiness,” where I share my photos and the thoughts they inspire, just for the joy of it.  And I can attest that the activity has indeed added more happiness and meaning to my own life.

However you choose to develop it,  and whatever aspect of life’s goodness creates a Wow moment for you, the time you spend cultivating appreciation for beauty and excellence will enrich you beyond measure.

If you found this article worthwhile, please do pass it on.  And while you’re here, subscribe and get your free copy of the Quick Start Guide to Fabulous Well-Being, along with my Sunday morning letters – both special ways to add more uplift to your life.

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This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”

You may also enjoy How to Live a Meaningful Life


Photo: c. 2013 Susan K Minarik


The Hidden Strengths of Modesty and Humility

Modesty and HumilityIn today’s celebrity culture, where glamour and fame ride high, the traits of modesty and humility seem more like throwbacks to some dusty, forgotten age than qualities to be desired.

But don’t let their unassuming nature fool you.  The hidden strengths of modesty and humility sing to our hearts and appeal to our highest nature.

Modesty and Humility Defined

To understand why, let’s start by defining them.  If you look them up in the dictionary, the two words generally describe the same kinds of attitude and behavior.   “ Modesty” applies more to the way we express ourselves in our speech or dress.  It’s concerned with standards of decency.  “Humility” focuses more on the way we value ourselves compared to others, including the level of authority we have in a given situation.   But both of them are about freedom from arrogance, showiness and excessive pride.

The developers of positive psychology’s VIA Character Strength Survey say this about someone who ranks high in modesty and humility:  “You do not seek the spotlight, preferring to let your accomplishments speak for themselves. You do not regard yourself as special, and others recognize and value your modesty.”

In other words, you don’t need to be the center of attention and you have a sense that your personal qualities and abilities, while they may be exceptional in some way, don’t make you more special as a human being.  You recognize that we all have our worth.

Humility’s Essence and Depth

Writing about humility in the now discontinued magazine In Character Wilfred M. McClay calls humility “foundational to the very possibility of human flourishing.”  That’s a pretty big statement to make.   But he may be right.  He describes humility’s task as one that allows us to “reorient ourselves to our proper place in a larger reality, which, for all its vastness and unfathomable mystery, is the ground of any genuine human happiness.”

What that means is that humility is the quality that lets us see ourselves honestly, as small sparks in an endless stretch of time and space, as one of several billion human beings who share this one particular moment on this one little planet.   It means that we keep things in perspective, that we recognize our limitations as well as our strengths and don’t overestimate either of them.

I like the way that Brett and Kate McKay put it in their article at the Art of Manliness:

“The definition of humility need not include timidity or becoming a wallflower. Instead, humility simply requires a man to think of his abilities and his actions as no greater, and no lesser, than they really are. Real humility then mandates that a man knows and is completely honest with himself.  He honestly assesses what are, and to what magnitude he possesses talents and gifts, struggles and weaknesses.”

In essence, humility is keeping a balanced view of ourselves and of our place in the larger whole.

Because the whole is so large, someone somewhere will always be better than we are at some things, worse than we are at others.  That means there’s no need for arrogance about what we do well or for shame over what we can do only poorly.  It also means that we give credit to others where it’s due.  It means we can genuinely celebrate others’ achievements without feeling personally lessened by them in some way.

The whole is not only large, but it’s interconnected.  It’s all once piece, and we, individually, are just its parts.  We’re dependent on each other for all that we are.  All the material goods and services we enjoy come to us through the efforts of other people.  All that we’ve learned, we’ve been taught or led to by others.  Other people shape our cultures, our institutions, our world views and our beliefs.  Humility is the conscious recognition and appreciation of the contributions of others.  It’s a kind of gratitude for our fellow man.

What’s So Cool About Humility?

Humility makes you more likeable.   When you’re focused on seeing that other people get what they need instead of only looking out for your own interests, people develop trust in you.  When you sincerely applaud their achievements and contributions, people feel acknowledged, validated and seen.

Lately, humility has been identified as a top quality of strong leaders.  According to leadership expert Jim Collins, a great leader loses his or her greatness when it becomes all about that leader. In almost a biblical sense, greatness comes when those who could be first decide to be last.

“We found that for leaders to make something great,” Collins says, “their ambition has to be for the greatness of the work and the company, rather than for themselves.”

Humble people tend to be confident and to have a strong sense of purpose.  Research
shows that people who rank high in humility seem to have “a sense of security grounded on feelings of self-worth.”   They’re “less driven to impress and dominate others” and “to collect special benefits for themselves.”

Because they’re confident in their self-worth they tend to be flexible in their opinions and open to the viewpoints of others.

Self-Worth vs. Self-Esteem

Self-worth is different from self-esteem.  Self-esteem is ego-centric and competitive.  It measures how good you are compared to others.   It can be boastful and arrogant, and it’s sometimes built on a less than honest appraisal of your true attributes, talents, authority, or skills.

Self-worth, on the other hand, acknowledges that you have deep-rooted, built-in value – just because you are -while respecting the value of others as well.  It holds onto its perspective of the larger whole.

What’s so cool about humility, in the final analysis, is that it’s about love and respect.  It’s about loving and honoring yourself, just as you are, so fully that you love and honor others as well.

And that, I believe, is why it’s the foundation for all human flourishing.

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This article is one in a continuing series on positive psychology’s 24 character strengths.  To find the others, go to our Article Index and scroll down to, “Strengths, Individual.”


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You may also enjoy How to Develop Your People Smarts
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