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“A bird perched in a tree is never afraid that the branch will break, because its trust is not in the branch but in its wings.”
I’d love to take you there. It is a place where time and space almost always seem to stop. It feels like being in a dimension suspended in the here and now. High creativity, productivity, fluidity, inspiration, purpose, enthusiasm, energy, love and passion are experienced. In a word: happiness. Of course, those of us who live in this space-time also experience the so-called negative emotions, those that are not pleasant. After all, we are human beings living on this Earth, even though it appears to us that we live in Heaven.
But those unpleasant emotions do not cloud our happiness because we well know that they are part of it, and we have already learned to recognize them, accept them and, above all, to manage them. It is a place where each of us knows what we were born for. It is a territory where we find certainty, optimism, hope. And all this fills us with a force so powerful that the rational mind cannot understand, it even gets scared. It’s like having a rocket stuck to your back. A rocket whose mission is to live life with meaning.
When we speak of happiness from science we refer to an integral well-being that leads to the flourishing of the being as expressed by Dr. Martin Seligman, recognized father of positive psychology. We were born with a “tool kit” to be happy and productive. It is what we know as the essential being, the characteristics that make you unique and different. To recognize those own gifts, we must return to the eternal question, Who am I? An easier question to answer than you might think. Some answers of vital importance to enjoy a full life.
“Happiness is, and should be, the highest goal of life.”
Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar.
Asking anyone if they want to be happy would seem like a no-brainer. However, it is no longer so obvious when we review everyday decisions. If we really want to be happy, why do we act so many times in the opposite direction? And even more paradoxical is that from there we ask our loved ones to be happy.
We were born with the right to be happy and also with the duty to be so. We do not live happiness by default, we bring the brain designed to be pessimistic [i] and be alert to threats. And as if that were not enough, the cultural environment reinforces the danger to us by all means. In every decision we make we seek to be happier, it is human nature, our right, even if we make mistakes.
Our duty to be happy comes from the deep interdependence, each action has repercussions in the repercussions, like the waves in the water when a stone falls.
Therefore, it is moral and it is not selfish to take care of your own happiness first. Because nobody gives what they don’t have. Because to save others you must first save yourself, as we are well instructed on airplanes to put on oxygen masks. Saving yourself is taking care of yourself. Taking care of yourself is being consistent with yourself.
Today we are looking for consistent parents, consistent partners, consistent leaders, consistent teachers. Peter Drucker, the great master of management, determined that the differentiating factor of great leaders is authenticity – he who is consistent is authentic, does not need facades. It is not charisma or high intelligence. Confidence-inspiring authenticity. You know who you have, period.
How do I align myself with my “essential productive self”?
In the world of coaching, positive psychology and human development we speak of “Maximum Potential”. Potential is what already exists within a seed.
Discovering your essential productive self, your productive potential, is the same as aligning yourself with your Zone of Maximum Potential -ZMP-. It is the point of conjunction between character strengths, values, talents, and passions. When you live from them, you are consistent and in a position to inspire others.
To live consistent with your happiness and greater productivity, you have to set goals and make decisions with the 3 A’s: Authenticity, Autonomy, and Affection . Every decision you make must be aware that it feels “very you”, free from external pressures -even if nobody saw me, they would still do it- and full of passion.
There are people who can work from their strengths of character, skills, and values, but are not passionate about what they do. A friend of mine had his life served as a silver platter, he could display his strengths, his talents and his values in his professional career, but he was not happy.
One day he decided to take a totally different path, guided by love for what he wanted to be and do. He went from being the commercial director, son of a business owner, to writing stand-up comedy about spirituality. And although her income was not as good at first as her previous job, she was happy. His passion was active, he felt alive, creative, animated, enthusiastic, optimistic. It could be said that the fire in his heart ignited the rocket gasoline.
I have received comments from people who are good at accounting, but for nothing in the world would they dedicate their lives to it. They do not feel passion, nor sense, even when they have talent. And there are people who are passionate about some activity, but believe that they have no skills. The good news is that our brain changes permanently, it learns. Any skill can be developed through constant, repetitive practice fueled by passion. This is what Carol Dweck calls the growth mindset.
Passions are felt like the Flow that Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi exposes and they are recognized by three characteristics:
- We feel fully committed to the experience because we know the sense of purpose that comes with it. Our mindfulness is in the present moment. Nothing distracts us. We lose track of time and space.
- We receive positive feedback immediately. The experience gives pleasure, energy, enthusiasm and vitality. It could become addictive.
- The challenge is adjusted to our abilities, neither very easy to bore, nor very difficult to scare. It’s the precise, delicate, and sensual stress that makes it feel challenging and doable.
“Meaningful relationships are the # 1 predictor of happiness.”
They are those where there is connection, closeness and you can count on someone.
Usually our passionate and purposeful professional life is deeply related to serving others. When we see the value we add to others is when we see the value of our life, the meaning of our existence. The meaningful life (Seligman) is the cherry of the dessert that is above the pleasures and satisfactions.
Tal Ben Shahar says that those who reach midlife and have not reflected on their transcendental life find an unbearable existential void and find themselves in serious trouble. A meaningful, productive life doesn’t have to be grandiose Mother Teresa or Nelson Mandela style.
Awakening empathy for yourself and others can be a great start to discover your passions. Passions are the clues that lead you to clarify your life purpose. What is the value that you came to add to the world: people, institutions or causes?
That empathy is generated by oxytocin. Oxytocin can be stimulated in different ways, and once it circulates through the body it can be easier to recognize your passions because you feel closer to people and can see their needs. You can deliberately and consciously set aside time to do any flow-producing activity – even if it’s not professional. And taking advantage of that state, you can sit down and write what your professionally passionate life would be like.
Who do you want to be in life? What would you dedicate your life to if you didn’t have to work for money? What would you do at any time, place, without conditions? What retrospective of your professional life do you want to see after 5 or 10 years? What gets you out of bed? What fills you with energy and enthusiasm?
You are the greatest expert and wise person in your life. And only you can define the footprint you want to leave, the value you can add, the pleasure you can get from doing it.
If we were all born with a toolkit to develop our full potential, be happy, and add value to the world, it is because we can live economically on it. If you still do not know how to monetize your passions and your life purpose, it does not mean that it does not exist. It just means you haven’t seen it yet. Your duty is to discover it, and fly!