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Vulnerability –> Happiness

January 4, 2013

In the spirit of personal growth and wellness for the new year, these two videos by psychology and sociology researchers really resonated with me recently. My youngest brother came across this first one from Shawn Achor. It is only 12 minutes long, humorous, and packed with information.

The basic idea is that in our society we tend to think that first we will work hard and attain success, then we will be happy. Unfortunately, when we achieve one goalpost of success, another higher one appears as the next aim to scramble after, so we keep postponing happiness instead of arriving at it. Shawn says that in reality, our minds work the opposite way: if you are happy and positive in the present, then your brain becomes significantly more productive, energetic, intelligent, and creative. Thus, your work improves and you will naturally be more successful.

I especially appreciated Shawn’s 5 concrete, research-based practices to train your brain to be happier: write down 3 gratitudes each day, journal about one positive experience in each 24 hours, exercise, meditate, and do acts of kindness for others.

I feel like the universe kept bringing this second speaker, Brené Brown, into my life until I paid attention and discovered that she researches topics that are absolutely front and center for me right now. First, I noticed Brené on Leigh’s lovely Curly Girl Design blog, but “didn’t have time” to watch her video at the moment. Then I read about her book Daring Greatly on the power-packed Braid Creative blog, but didn’t put two and two together and realize it was the same person. A couple of weeks ago, my friend Kim forwarded me this feature from Gwyneth Paltrow’s peaceful, inspiring goop lifestyle publication. Finally, I figured out that all these fabulous ladies were really onto something, and were pointing me toward some much-needed information.

I think the best thing about Brené is that she is both a rigorous academic and totally one of “us” at the same time. She overbuys office supplies, thinks too much when she tries to meditate, procrastinates work and writing, hates feeling vulnerable, and tries to beat back notions of weakness and insecurity. She found herself buried in thousands of pieces of data that weren’t lining up the way she expected, and discovered her worst fear: that vulnerability, uncertainty, imperfection, and naked authenticity are actually the essential keys to feeling like we are enough, that we belong, and that we’re worthy. Embracing those awkward, excruciating, difficult parts of the human experience (instead of running from them or powering through them) is what gives us resilience, joy, connection, and a better life overall. Whoa. Kind of mind-blowing, right?

This video is a little longer than the first, about 20 minutes. The real punches of it for me are:

  • We can only have connection with other people if we are authentic, and allow ourselves to be seen for who we truly are. If we are hiding pieces of ourselves to try to please other people, win their approval, or avoid their judgment, we will always feel disconnected, unworthy, and shamed…
  • …which usually leads to unhealthy coping mechanisms or addictions of some kind, because when we humans feel vulnerable, we generally try to numb that feeling. Another problem here is that we cannot selectively numb only negative emotions; instead we end up numbing our joy right alongside our pain.
  • The people who feel like they belong and are worthy instead of shamed are willing to be vulnerable. They see vulnerability as a fundamental, necessary part of life. They are willing to say “I love you” first, invest in dreams that don’t come with guarantees, and breathe through the situations that make most of us feel weak, powerless, intensely uncomfortable, and open to rejection.
  • The original definition of courage is “to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart.”

After finding this video so inspiring, I read one of Brené’s books, The Gifts of Imperfection. (Bargain book tip: the Kindle version is only $6, even less expensive than the used copies on Amazon.) I enjoyed it, and found it to be relatively easy, light, quick reading with plenty of highlighter-worthy concepts and passages. I also requested Daring Greatly from our local library, so hopefully I’ll be diving into that soon too. Would you like to hear more about the books on here? Let me know if you’re interested and I will be glad to let you in on more of Brené’s insights!

Hope your new year so far is one of calm and wellness! And I hope you enjoy the videos as much as I did.

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