Search This Blog

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Happiest People

Not all the things we want turn out to be good for us. Although some fulfilled wishes cause no harm, they may still interfere with our getting that which is best for us. 
All of us deserve food, drink, shelter, and clothing, but too much of a good thing may contribute to unhappiness. Too much wealth, for example, can prevent us from acquiring those things that lead to happiness, those things that are good for the soul--honesty, loyalty, trust, knowledge, wisdom, generosity, self-control, skill, friendship, and love.
  • Happy people understand that comparisons with others spoil their happiness either by producing envy or pride. They realize that there always will be others who have more. There will always will be others who have less. The happiest people don't care. They measure themselves by their internal yardstick. 
  • Materialism poisons happiness. Rich materialists—because they always want "just a little more"— aren’t as happy as those who care less about getting and spending. The happiest people do not wear themselves out to get rich, but to the contrary, have the wisdom to show restraint in their pursuits.
  • There also appears to be a "set point" for happiness. Some people have more grumpy genes, others have more cheerful genes. People can improve or hinder genetic endowments but they aren’t likely to make vast changes in their set point. Happy people learn to accept their genetic condition better than the unhappy. 
  • Health has little to do with happiness. Until one becomes severely ill, happiness seems unaffected by health. Healthy people because they take their health for granted experience no special happiness from their robustness, while hypochondriacs receive masochistic type "happiness" from their misery.
  • Happiness occurs most often when people become so engaged in absorbing activities that they lose track of time. This concentrated captivation—known as "flow" by those who study this phenomenon—brings intense satisfaction. Flow can occur with the simplest to the most complex of tasks. Writing, playing basketball, working a jigsaw puzzle, playing with the children, or doing heart surgery—can contribute to a life of great satisfaction. It’s the joyful concentration on the activity that counts, not the task itself.
  • Because people feel happiest when they are doing what they do best, flow stretches someone without going beyond their capacity for achievement.  Everyone has unique strengths. The happiest use them. Likewise the happiest people don't try to push themselves too far beyond their capabilities.
  • Gratitude—even for the smallest pleasures—enhances happiness. Learning to savor the present moment and talking and writing about those things that produce appreciation   improves the happiness factor.  
  • Forgiveness is the trait most strongly linked to happiness while its antithesis, resentment, destroys happiness more than any other emotion. Those who cause resentment may be spiritually sick. Happy people ask God to help them show the same tolerance, compassion, empathy and patience to those who have harmed them as they would a sick friend.

Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work—this is a gift of God. He seldom reflects on the days of his life, because God keeps him occupied with gladness of heart.
                                                                                   Ecclesiastes 5: 19-20

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Effortful Fullfillment

UCLA psychologist Jim Stigler gave American and Japanese elementary school students the same convoluted math problems to solve. The American kids struggled briefly with the problems and then gave up. In contrast, the Japanese kids kept trying so long that Stigler remembered thinking, “This is inhumane. I have to stop them. They’ll go on forever.”

This experiment illustrates a difference between the two cultures: 
  • In general, with a few exceptions, Japanese students believe that if they keep working, they will eventually solve the problem.
  • Most Americans think that solving problems has more to do with talent than with tenacity.
  • To a Japanese student, the inability to find a solution to a problem results from failing to work hard enough.
  • To an American student, failure results from lack of talent.
  • Americans typically think that inborn ability is more important than effort and persistence.
  • The majority of American students believe that the more effort that is required to succeed, the less talented they must be.

The Self-esteem myth

The American self-esteem myth has produced a narcissistic society that values talent, luck, and social status over effort. Advertisers have told us that a particular possession can provide self-esteem that will fill our lives with friends and fun. Many parents wanting their child to avoid the "agony of defeat" support the declaration proclaimed by Alice in her wonderland: “All have won, and all will receive prizes.”

Parents have been taught that compliments for effortless achievement will encourage children to try tasks that are more difficult. Just the opposite occurs. After all, why work harder when the humdrum brings praise?


Are geniuses born or made? Certainly successful people have innate gifts, but peak performance has more to do with hard work than with genetic endowments. Commitment and motivation precede outstanding performance. Dedication, drive, and determination appear to be more important factors than innate ability in developing expertise. Here are some examples:

MICHAEL JORDAN. Michael Jordan, perhaps the best basketball player of all time, was no child prodigy. He failed to make his high school basketball team when he was a high school sophomore. Jordan certainly wouldn’t have been a basketball player if he didn’t have height, leaping ability, quickness, and agility, but his phenomenal success probably had more to do with practice than inborn talent. In the well-recognized Nike ad Michael Jordan said, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot— and missed. I’ve failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

MOZART. Early musical exposure and training had as much to do with his success as innate ability. Mozart’s sister, Maria Anna, six years his senior, was considered a musical wonder-child. Mozart’s father, Leopold, a gifted violinist, and keyboardist was a music pedagogue who devoted his life to developing the musical skills of his children. He taught them “to wear the iron shirt" of discipline. Leopold believed musical skill came from grueling work.

PROFESSIONAL SOCCER PLAYERS. A study of professional soccer players suggests that they owe their success more to training than to talent.

CHESS GRANDMASTERS. Chess grandmasters rely on a vast store of knowledge of game positions. Through years of practice, skilled players learn to recognize chessboard information that can be retrieved from long-term memory and they use this information to determine the best move for each situation. To develop their phenomenal memory for different outcomes based on the board position of each chess piece, grandmasters engage in years of exhausting study.

ORDINARY PEOPLE. Even the average performer engages in strenuous effort initially. Once ordinary people reach an acceptable level of performance, they relax and stop developing their talents. Average students tend to develop friendships with other average students. Golfers congregate with golfers who perform at their level. Ditto for artists, mathematicians, writers, and business professionals. For the masses, ease trumps expertise.

THE MOTIVATED FEW. In contrast to ordinary people, prodigies continue to undertake challenges that lie just beyond their competence. Top performers relish challenges. They consider mistakes a natural part of learning, and bounce back from failure with new strategies. Success builds on success because each accomplishment strengthens motivation.


Thomas Edison identified 10,000 filaments that wouldn’t work until he used the carbonized cotton thread for the light bulb. Edison wrote, “Our greatest weakness is giving up. The most certain way to success is to try one more time.”
  • Henry Ford declared bankruptcy five times before he became an automotive industry leader.
  • Walt Disney’s first cartoon production company went bankrupt. 
  • Oprah Winfrey was fired from her job as a television reporter because she was “unfit for TV.”

Because challenge may initially lead to failure, all successful people have failed, many of them repeatedly. Failure is never fatal or final. Failure, instead of dooming us, helps develop new strategies, different approaches, and creative adjustments that produce success. Think of failure as the successful identification of what doesn’t work.


Children do best when parents establish a balance between positive regard and challenge. Here are some suggestions for helping children develop their talents:
  • Praise accomplishments that require considerable effort. Praise for low expectations produces laziness.
  • Praise persistence. Persistence produces peak performance.
  • Praise trying different strategies.
  • Praise personal progress.
  • Teach the value of failure by talking about the struggles of famous people.
  • Pay more attention to hard work and diligence than to grades, SAT scores, and class position.
  • Avoid manipulative praise that is given to build confidence. Confidence comes from effort. Manipulative praise discourages hard work.
  • Be specific with praise. Instead of “good job,” say something like this, “Your story was so vivid that I could hear the rain falling.”
  • Be specific with criticism. A flat, “I’m disappointed in you” is a hollow statement. A specific reason for your disappointment gives the child direction and encourages positive change.

A society that values wealth, power, and beauty over effort breeds an narcissistic culture. Acknowledging the usefulness of failure, the fun of challenge, the value of persistence, and the benefit from hard work produces a healthy culture.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Intelligence Ain't All That Great

Daniel Goleman, a former brain sciences editor of The New York Times, wrote a follow-up book to his enormously popular Emotional Intelligence. The sequel, Working with Emotional Intelligence, was based on studies done by dozens of experts in 500 corporations, government agencies, and nonprofit organizations worldwide. An examination of these studies asserts that emotional intelligence is twice as important as either IQ or technical expertise in predicting career success.
Here’s good news for all of us with average IQ scores:  Unlike IQ, emotional intelligence continues to grow with life experiences. Since emotional intelligence is essential to career success and leadership potential, let’s look at those areas that define emotional intelligence:
Know Thyself
Knowing our internal states—our emotional strengths and weaknesses—can help us develop our talents while minimizing our defects. For example, if we understand that we have a weakness for impulsive decision-making, we can train ourselves to sleep on a decision or wait through a weekend before making a determination. On the other hand, waiting until we have enough facts to be confident that we have covered all the bases causes deal-defeating delay. Taking action when we have 50-60% of the information prevents “analysis paralysis.”
Cool Under Pressure
Those with high emotional intelligence know that they have control over one factor—their internal state. While we are unable to control other people or events, we can control our feelings by changing our beliefs about people and events. We can also learn to manage our disruptive emotions—to control our temper, our pessimism, and our cynicism.
Moved By Action
Many talented people waste their abilities because they remain inactive. Productive action comes from the desire for pleasure, the urge to avoid pain, and the belief that goals can be accomplished. Motivation comes from craving success multiplied by the belief that we can accomplish our desires. Belief in ourselves is enhanced when we see others accomplishing their goals.
Winning with People
The art of getting along with people is more important than raw intelligence. Studies at the Carnegie Institute of Technology proved that even in the technical areas of science and engineering, 85 percent of success depends on skill with managing people and 15 percent of financial success is due to technical knowledge. John D. Rockefeller said, “The ability to deal with people is as purchasable a commodity as sugar or coffee. And I will pay more for that ability than for any other under the sun.”
The self-esteem myth has produced a narcissistic society that values innate talent, luck, and social status over effort. Advertisers have told us that a particular possession can provide self-esteem that will fill our lives with friends and fun. In our Wonderland World, we acknowledge the declaration proclaimed by Alice: “All have won, and all will receive prizes.”   
Parents have been taught that compliments for effortless achievement will encourage children to try tasks that are more difficult. Just the opposite occurs. After all, why work harder when the humdrum brings praise?

Encouragement, optimism, positive feedback, and confidence have tremendous value. The usefulness of failure, the fun of challenge, the values of persistence, and the lessons learned from hard work have even more value.

Friday, October 28, 2016

Spiritual Wisdom

 My good friend, Bill Hendricks, MD, and I were discussing the blog on emotional intelligence. Bill said, “That was good stuff when it came out twenty years ago, but have you thought about spiritual intelligence? What characterizes spiritual intelligence?”

I immediately suggested the key to spiritual wisdom began with humility. One has to humble oneself to God. Bill suggested that before humility came surrendering oneself to God. I suggested that in this case humility and surrender were synonyms. He didn’t agree.

I proposed a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as essential. Bill agreed.

Bill then suggested listening to God was the third criteria for spiritual wisdom.

He then provocatively suggested three types of grace. Classical grace is the unmerited favor of God. According to Bill another grace that God grants is awareness that we have made a spiritual error. He gave this example:

This morning when I was shaving I began thinking about my retirement party in eighteen months. Everybody would come and patients would discuss their experiences and I would discuss my thoughts about them. Suddenly God’s grace intervened and told me I was selfishly patting myself on the back. Instead I should be focusing on being in the present, my tasks for the day, and how I could grow closer to God today. This experience could be called a revealing grace.

According to Bill spiritual grace occurs after God exposes our selfishness and invites us to have a closer relationship with Him.

I felt that Bill’s evocative words were well worth sharing. Now, of course, Bill and I are no more theologians than the Pope is a hall of fame baseball player, but perhaps these ideas will stimulate your thoughts about spiritual wisdom.