How to Create Happiness: Step 4 of 5

Happiness is elastic.

Thankfully.  We can stretch and become more happy.

We experience happiness at different times, and some people are more happy than others. We know the reward mechanisms of the brain are reinforced when we do certain activities. And when we reinforce those behaviors, we can be happier.  Some activities, such as mindfulness, are now being taught in MBA programs… so that people become more happy.

Here is step 4 of 5:

4.  Keep Learning.

Our brains are delightfully complex organs, designed to evolve.  We regenerate brain cells throughout our lives.  That process, called “Ontogeny,” requires stimulation.

We perceive the world (using our 5 senses.)   That stimulation is interpreted by the brain, based upon previous schemas/experience/data, then stored for some response.

When someone gives us a kiss (stimulation) we respond (with pheromes and increased blood flow.)   Then we call it something happy, like love.

Just so, we follow our curiosity to stimulate our brains in hundreds of ways.

We can keep learning by:

  • asking questions
  • using our non-dominant hand when cooking or writing
  • speaking a new language
  • visiting new places or people
  • researching a new recipe, or subject, or interest
  • intentionally trying new activities, in a new way
When we keep learning we stimulate the brain in new ways.  That process keeps us agile.  And leads to happiness.
Learning is, in fact, a lifelong process.
So, what would you like to learn today?  What are three subjects you want to explore this week?  Who are you curious about meeting, and why?


How to Create Happiness: Step 2 of 5

Happiness is elastic.

Surely you know someone who always “seems happy.”  How did they learn to be that way?

We know the reward mechanisms of the brain are reinforced when we do certain activities.  And when we reinforce those behaviors, we can be happier.  Some activities, such as mindfulness, are now being taught in MBA programs… so that people become more happy.

Here is step 2 of 5:

2.  Be active.

The best way to change your mood is to change your physical state.  We know that 30+ minutes of sweaty exercise 3x/week creates happiness.  It controls obesity.  It reduces heart disease.  Yet fewer than 20% of Americans make that choice… Hmmm.

You can be different.

When you are physically active you will reinforce the physical systems in your body and create more happiness.

The circulatory system, muscular system, lymphatic system, skeletal system, etc are all related in a beautiful organism called your body.

Consider how quickly you can be active if you:

  • stretched in the hallway or on conference calls
  • walked and talked for quick meetings
  • agreed to be a regular accountability partner for someone
  • walked across the parking lot
  • spent 20 minutes daily walking and talking, like someone in Manhattan, regardless of where you live
  • kept an activity journal
  • download a free app to measure caloric output
  • shared activity with friends using “MapMy Fitness”
  • learned yoga or pilates
As a former NCAA x-c ski coach, and an athlete, my happiness is directly related to how physically active I choose to be each day.  As we age our metabolism changes.  Our physical capacity will diminish.  (For instance, I no linger run 6:30 mile splits, but I can still run.)
 The shortest route to happiness starts with physical activity.
So, what physical activity can you do now?  Who can help you be accountable for that activity?

How to Create Happiness: step 1 of 5

There is much being written and talked about in the subject of happiness.  Martin Seligman wrote Positive Psychology and spurred a movement.  There is a clever movie on Netflix called “Happy” that is shared within families, church and school communities.  The “pursuit of happiness” is thought to be a uniquely American trait, associated with the New World, connected to the American Dream… and NOT related to Gross Domestic Product or Net Worth.

In fact, there is a movement called the Happy Planet Index, which measures the national well-being against resource use.

The happiest nation?  Not Denmark or Switzerland…  It is Costa Rica.  Which stopped funding an army in 1949, has a commitment to renewable energy, and that “Latin vibe” that encourages social connection.  One good reference on the Happy Planet Index (HPI) is statistician Nic Marks, on, August 30, 2010.

Happiness is elastic.  We experience happiness at different times, and some people are more happy than others.  We know the reward mechanisms of the brain are reinforced when we do certain activities.  And when we reinforce those behaviors, we can be happier.  Some activities, such as mindfulness, are now being taught in MBA programs… so that people become more happy.


Here is step 1 of 5:


1.  Connect.  

Our social relationships define our success.  Extroverts have always known that they need social reinforcement in order to feel comfortable.  Shared housing movements are increasing from Scandanavia to Sun City, USA.  When we are dis-stressed we typically go to a group (think about Alcoholics Anonymous, a sacred church, or Starbucks…)   When we are in transition we seek groups for social connection (think social media, affinity groups, job seekers…)


So, how are you connecting today and this week?  Who else do you need to connect to?


Recently, on my birthday, I received many Facebook emails.  They were nice.  (Thank you.)  And I treasure the phone calls even more, from loved ones or long-lost ones…  But I will never forget the friends and family who stopped by to visit.  There are never enough of those visits.


On a scale of 1-10, how connected are you now?  What do you need to do to increase that number?

Book Review of Drive; The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009) Daniel Pink

Book Review of Drive; The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us (2009) Daniel Pink

(Daniel Pink has gained momentum from his earlier bestsellers, Free Agent Nation and A Whole New Mind.   He is still on that thread of applying scientific knowledge/research to common application in business, education, community, which leads to sales/a broad readership.)

Drive explains that when thinking about motivating others, there is a gap between “what science knows and what business does.”  I like that phrase because it immediately states the conflict, and opportunity, and focus of the book.

Psychologists, and researchers in organizational development, know what works when motivating others.  For instance, external reinforcements do work to motivate people doing routine tasks that do not require complex thinking.  However, as our knowledge workers evolve from 70% routine work to 70% complex/ heuristic work, we “need an upgrade.”  The carrot and stick approach is limited.  In fact, external reinforcements can lead to unethical behavior, short term decision making, crush innovation or creativity or initiative, and can cloud accountability metrics because of inconsistent practices.

So, what does work?  Self-directed workers require environments where we/they balance three essential elements:  1) Autonomy, the desire to direct our own lives, 2) Mastery, the urge to get better at something that matters, and 3) Purpose, the desire to do something in the service of something larger than ourselves.

I imagined a descriptive model such as three overlapping columns in a 3-D bar graph.  A worker may be high in autonomy (loosely managed or very experienced in one way of doing tasks), yet low in purpose (without vision from managers or lacking career development hope.)  Consequently, no amount of skills training or micro-managing will be an effective motivator, because that person would not care to master a task.  There seems to be a minimal necessary requirement/ threshold for self directed workers to feel autonomy/ mastery/ purpose.

The application of this model is in its infancy.  He cites dozens of examples, such as performance incentives that need to be tied to ROWE, return on work expected, rather than hours at a cubicle.

Pink distinguishes between Type X (external reinforcement for routine tasks) and Type I (internal reward/ satisfaction for doing purposeful work that develops mastery and rewards autonomy.)  He wants us to move from Type X to Type I.  The good news is that Type I behavior can be developed.  Also, Type I behavior leads to stronger performance, greater health and wellness, and higher self efficacy and well being.

1)     Autonomy.   Management needs to foster autonomous workers who have autonomy over time, task, team and technique.  Companies that foster autonomy greatly outperform their competitors.  Examples include 10% innovation time for projects, at Google, IBM, etc.

2)     Mastery.   Results from engagement.  When workers are “in flow” time passes without great challenge.  In fact, mastery has a) a unique mindset that one can improve one’s abilities, b) mastery is painful and requires deliberate practice, and c) mastery is impossible to attain, therefore both frustrating and attractive.

3)     Purpose.    Alongside profit maximization, the baby boomers are defining “Purpose maximization” in the workplace.   Companies are using a) goals to use profits to support a purpose (such a triple win proposals and social investing), b) careful diction/ plural pronouns to emphasize the impact of us/we, and c) new norms and policies that encourage purposeful endeavors (sabbaticals, cross functional action learning sets, collaborative initiatives…)

Pink has an easy style, with enough examples that the pages fly by.

At the end of the book he has clever approaches to engage readers into discussions.  For instance, “Twenty Conversation Starters to Keep You Thinking and Talking” and “The Type I Reading List: Fifteen Essential Books” in an annotated bibliography.  The result is that this book becomes one among other conversations, with other authors and readers and thinkers.  The reader is engaged.  In fact, the structure models self-directed workers by assuming one is autonomous (capable of independent thought), has mastery (desire to improve) and purpose (ability to apply these ideas to one’s own world.)

In short, one of the most important books I can recall reading in many years.


  1.  Builds upon shift in psychological services from illness toward health.  Extension of positivism.  Huge opportunity for consultants and business leaders.
  2.  Reinforces huge need for coaching that develops unique strengths.  Could be connected to StrengthFinder  assessment
  3.  Complex model that needs a simple application in order to gain momentum in an organization…
  4. When I emailed Daniel Pink, he replied quickly and that impressed me…
On 2.26.12 I just re-read the book for several reasons.
1.  Our daughter is taking AP Psychology and Drive is required reading.  That fact says something about the reach of his book within 2 years.  She is tasked with implementing a capstone project at her independent high school.  I am curious what shea nd her fronds develop.
2.  In the March, 2012  Inc magazine there is a related reference to “The Motivation Matrix” which cites research and a forthcoming book by Noam Wasserman at Harvard, which extends some of Pink’s concepts to explore why entrepreneurs start businesses, and what they (we ) want… very provocative.
Anyone know of any related assessments being used in the field?


Recipes for Creating Epiphanies

The holidays are a perfect time for baking and cooking… but an epiphany?

The word “Epiphany” can be both a holiday and a feeling.

Perhaps you know that the Epiphany holiday is celebrated near January 6, as a traditional time for feasts, fruitcakes, Twelfth Night, and the manifestation of Jesus to the Maggi.  In Colorado, people celebrate by catapulting fruitcakes.  In France, people eat the “King Cake” until a child finds the porcelain bean and is declared “King for the Day.”  A baptism connected to sudden surprise.  I love how we mash traditions and beliefs into one holiday.

The feeling of Epiphany  is a sudden realization, that “Eureka!” moment, when we discover something important (such as gravity), or something spiritual (such as God.)  In fact, psychologists study the feeling of epiphany when studying innovation.  Philosophers study supernatural insight.  Mystics study the conditions that support epiphanies.


Why not celebrate both the holiday and the feeling?

What if we could, somehow, select the ingredients, create a recipe, then bake a fertile climate for epiphanies?  For instance, if we mashed together “preparation” and “inspiration”?  Or “market” and “opportunity”?  Or “buyer” and “seller”?  Or chocolate on top of  peanut butter cookies?

As a coach I help people design their future.  Kind of like helping them create the recipe, so that they can frost the cake.  The coaching process has 3 steps:  1) increasing awareness (of your strengths, a situation…),  2) taking action (with intentional constructive steps toward your personal and professional goals), and 3) driving accountability (determining what works, then doing more of that…”

I wonder if we can create Epiphanies, in a similar way?

Religious leaders and mystics talk about “Thin Places.”  These may be cathedrals (like Winchester) or ancient sites (like Stonehenge) that enable us to feel connected to the supernatural or spiritual.  If you have ever looked through stained glass, or sung in Handel’s Messiah, then you know about Thin Places.

For me, natural wild places are perfect conditions for Epiphanies.  Last week, for instance, I was running along a rocky ridge line in New Hampshire.  Imagine spruce and fir trees.  Ancient granite.  Snow and ice.  A good friend nearby.  Spectacular views of lakes and mountains.  Then imagine the sun setting into crimson lines of endless colors.  In that Thin Place I felt more spiritual than physical.

My epiphany was that, despite advancing age, I always feel stronger after a run.  Connected to something ancient.  Thankful for being alive.

So, here is a short Recipe for Creating Epiphanies:

1. Be physically active every day

2.  Serve others

3.  Do meaningful work

4.  Consider possibilities

5.  Maximize living in the Now

6.  Design the Future


And let me know how it goes…

Do you think it is possible to celebrate both the holiday and the feeling of epiphany?