Monday, June 13, 2011

Motivation Mondays: Optimism Runs in the Family!

Okay, first of all, my nephew Holden is working on a series of pictures of happy faces doing things. Here they are reading a book about happiness. 

And here's an essay my brother, Ed Wiedmann wrote as a guest-motivator. He didn't give it a title, so I'll call it

Your Brain Doesn't Want You to Think it Gets Better

You are a mean, unforgiving person. It's okay, though, because so am I.

Years back, my sister Jane painted me a picture, and across the top of that picture were the words “Happiness can only be a transitory experience”, individually cut out and glued to the canvas. In a display of poetic foreshadowing, arranging and transporting the painting had left it saying “Happiness can be transitory”, soon followed by it becoming a wordless painting.

Somewhat unfortunately, this is truly the case, at least for the happiness brought on by individual events. A few weeks ago, one of my stunningly beautiful friends paid me a very flattering compliment. I was beaming, on top of the world. Thinking of it now brings back some of that feeling, but for the most part I am back to my normal level of happiness. We obviously can't ride that high forever because then we'd have no new feelings of joy, progress, and success. I, for one, am okay with going out to get more happiness.

Last week I had the pleasure of being surrounded by many of my favorite people in the world; my family. We had 4 generations of thinkers and you can bet there were some great conversations. Jane and I were discussing happiness along with some other members of the family. We discussed how sometimes you have to work for happiness (The Happiness Project) and I, of course, started blabbing about serotonin and dopamine, my two favorite neurotransmitters (What are yours?).

Now comes the part where we're all mean people. You see, as wonderful and enjoyable the bursts of dopamine and serotonin are, a deficit of either of them is less than pleasant. The feeling of dread we get from failure or social rejection can go so far as being physically painful and emotionally crippling. During our temporary bouts of happiness, we rarely tell ourselves that the feeling will last forever, since we know better. However, if the mistake is big enough or the rejection is deep enough, our brains will make us feel like nothing is ever going to get better. Now this may be our mind's way of making sure we don't make the same mistake again, but some people unfortunately never make it past that point. 

As Jane and I discussed this, I let her in on a little secret passed on to me by Dr. Eric Cooper (Iowa State University), my favorite psychology professor ever. On our closing day of Evolutionary Psychology class, Dr. Cooper shared with us his secrets to happiness. Stay tuned for the list, but for right now I will just share the gem that I told to Jane that day, a secret that has been out in the open all along: Things will always get better. Always. Do not let your brain tell you that they won't. Do not be unforgiving to yourself, and do not be mean.

When I mentioned this to Jane and she happily agreed, our grandmother joined in on the conversation with a succinct summary of everything we had said: “This too shall pass.”

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