Achieving ‘Flow’ at Work – 9 Steps

[Flow means] being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. — Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

9 Steps to Achieving Flow in Your Work

–by Leo Babauta, Original Story, Apr 30, 2012

“Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment.” - Buddha

Have you ever lost yourself in your work, so much so that you lost track of time? Being consumed by a task like that, while it can be rare for most people, is a state of being called Flow.

In my experience, it’s one of the keys to happiness at work, and a nice side benefit is that it not only reduces stress but increases your productivity. Not bad, huh?

When I wrote about called The Magical Power of Focus, I promised to write more about how to achieve Flow, a concept that is very much in vogue right now and something most of us have experienced at one time or another.

Today we’ll take a look at what Flow is, why it’s important, and how to achieve it on a regular basis for increased productivity and happiness at work.

What is Flow?

Put simply, it’s a state of mind you achieve when you’re fully immersed in a task, forgetting about the outside world. It’s a concept proposed by positive psychologist Mihály Csíkszentmihályi, and these days you’re likely to read about it on blogs and in all kinds of magazines.

When you’re in the state of Flow, you:

** are completely focused on the task at hand;

** forget about yourself, about others, about the world around you;

** lose track of time;

** feel happy and in control; and

** become creative and productive.

One thing I love about Flow is that it takes the very Zen concept of being completely in the moment, and applies it to work tasks. It’s a concept I’ve talked a lot about here on Zen Habits — being in the moment, focusing completely on a single task, and finding a sense of calm and happiness in your work. Flow is exactly that.

Why is Flow Important?

I believe the ability to single-task (as opposed to multi-task) is one of the keys to true productivity. Not the kind of productivity where you knock off 20 items from your to-do list (although that can be satisfying), where you’re switching between tasks all day long and keep busy all the time.

The true productivity I mean is the kind where you actually achieve your goals, where you accomplish important and long-lasting things. As a writer, that might mean writing one or two important and memorable articles rather than 20 or 50 unimportant ones that people will forget 5 minutes after reading them. It means getting key projects done rather than answering emails, making a lot of phone calls, attending meetings, and shuffling paperwork all day long. It means closing key deals. It means quality instead of quantity.

And once you’ve learned to focus on those kinds of important projects and tasks, Flow is how you get them done. You lose yourself in those important and challenging tasks, and instead of being constantly interrupted by minor things (calls, emails, IMs, coworkers, etc.), you are able to focus on the tasks long enough to actually complete them.

And by losing yourself in them, you enjoy yourself more. You reduce stress while increasing quality output. You get important stuff done instead of just getting things done. You achieve things rather than just keeping busy.

Flow is one of the keys to all of that.

How to Achieve Flow and Happiness in Your Work

So how do you achieve this mystical state of being? Do you need to meditate or chant anything? No, you don’t (although meditation can improve your ability to concentrate). And Flow is anything but mystical — it’s very practical, and achieving it isn’t mysterious.

It can take practice, but you’ll get better at it. Here are the key steps to achieving and benefiting from Flow:

1. Choose work you love. If you dread a task, you’ll have a hard time losing yourself in it. If your job is made up of stuff you hate, you might want to consider finding another job. Or consider seeking projects you love to do within your current job. At any rate, be sure that whatever task you choose is something you can be passionate about.

2. Choose an important task. There’s work you love that’s easy and unimportant, and then there’s work you love that will make a long-term impact on your career and life. Choose the latter, as it will be a much better use of your time, and of Flow.

3. Make sure it’s challenging, but not too hard. If a task is too easy, you will be able to complete it without much thought or effort. A task should be challenging enough to require your full concentration. However, if it is too hard, you will find it difficult to lose yourself in it, as you will spend most of your concentration just trying to figure out how to do it — either that, or you’ll end up discouraged. It may take some trial and error to find tasks of the appropriate level of difficulty.

4. Find your quiet, peak time. This is actually two steps grouped into one. First, you’ll want to find a time that’s quiet, or you’ll never be able to focus. For me, that’s mornings, before the hustle of everyday life builds to a dull roar. That might be early morning, when you just wake, or early in the work day, when most people haven’t arrived yet or are still getting their coffee and settling down. Or you might try the lunch hour, when people are usually out of the office. Evenings work well too for many people. Or, if you’re lucky, you can do it at any time of the day if you can find a quiet spot to work in. Whatever time you choose, it should also be a peak energy time for you. Some people get tired after lunch — that’s not a good time to go for Flow. Find a time when you have lots of energy and can concentrate.

5. Clear away distractions. Aside from finding a quiet time and place to work, you’ll want to clear away all other distractions. That means turning off distracting music (unless you find music that helps you focus), turning off phones, email and IM notifications, Twitter and Growl, and anything else that might pop up or make noise to interrupt your thoughts. I also find it helpful to clear my desk, even if that means sweeping miscellaneous papers into a folder to be sorted through later. Of course, these days there isn’t anything on my desk, but I didn’t always work like this. A clear desk helps immensely.

6. Learn to focus on that task for as long as possible. This takes practice. You need to start on your chosen task and keep your focus on it for as long as you can. At first, many people will have difficulty, if they’re used to constantly switching between tasks. But keep trying, and keep bringing your focus back to your task. You’ll get better. And if you can keep your focus on that task, with no distractions, and if your task has been chosen well (something you love, something important, and something challenging), you should lose yourself in Flow.

7. Enjoy yourself. Losing yourself in Flow is an amazing thing, in my experience. It feels great to be able to really pour yourself into something worthwhile, to make great progress on a project or important task, to do something you’re passionate about. Take the time to appreciate this feeling (perhaps after the fact — it’s hard to appreciate it while you’re in Flow).

8. Keep practicing. Again, this takes practice. Each step will take some practice, from finding a quiet, peak time for yourself, to clearing distractions, to choosing the right task. And especially keeping your focus on a task for a long time. But each time you fail, try to learn from it. Each time you succeed, you should also learn from it — what did you do right? And the more you practice, the better you’ll get.

9. Reap the rewards. Aside from the pleasure of getting into Flow, you’ll also be happier with your work overall. You’ll get important stuff done. You’ll complete stuff more often, rather than starting and stopping frequently. All of this is hugely satisfying and rewarding. Take the time to appreciate this, and to continue to practice it every day.

“To be able to concentrate for a considerable time is essential to difficult achievement.” - Bertrand Russell

Life Lessons: Losing and Finding

Lessons from Those Who Lost … and Found

–by Pavithra Mehta, Apr 25, 2012

Jill Bolte Taylor, Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy and Chef Grant Achatz are an unlikely trio. What do this brain scientist, late eye surgeon, and a leader of the molecular gastronomy movement [yes there is such a thing] have in common? At a takeoff point in their careers they were each dealt a sucker punch — one that robbed them of what was arguably their greatest gift. Yet none of them threw in the towel. And each would rise to greatness after mining their unthinkable experience of loss for deeper insight into the human experience.

Loss. Consider the paradox of how that one word, brief as a seed, can swallow our world whole. We’ve all experienced it, in ways that range from the mundane to the profound.

Lose something every day,” the poet Elizabeth Bishop urged us perversely,

Accept the fluster

of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Except that it is. The experience of living is fraught with loss. And wrestling the thorny experience of it into an art form is not easy. But there are some rare individuals who’ve done it with inspired grace, and our world is the richer for it.

In the face of milder, more everyday losses what can the rest of us learn from what these three extraordinary people lost, and found?

The Chef Who Lost His Sense of Taste

In 2007 Grant Achatz’s star was on the rise. He’d been named one of the best new chefs in America and was running one of the country’s most wildly innovative restaurants. Just as the culinary spotlight hit him, so did the diagnosis: Stage four squamous cell carcinoma:  tongue cancer. Aggressive treatments followed. Achatz lost peeling layers of skin in his mouth and throat — and lost his sense of taste.

A cruel outcome for a man whose life’s work depended on perceiving the delicate nuance and shaded subtleties of flavor. And yet, “Tapping into the discipline, passion, and focus of being a chef, he rarely missed a day of work. He trained his chefs to mimic his palate and learned how to cook with his other senses. The food was never better.” Five months later Achatz was pronounced cancer-free and in the same year won one of the nation’s highest honors in the culinary arts.

When his radiation cycles ended, Achatz’ ability to taste did begin to come back. His perception of flavors returned literally one flavor at a time, first sweet, then salty, and finally bitter. “My palate developed just as a newborn — but I was 32 years old,” Achtaz says, “So I could understand how flavors were coming back and how they synergized together … It was very educational for me. I don’t recommend it, but I think it made me a better chef because now I really understand how flavor works.”

His loss and the subsequent slow recovery afforded Achtaz a chance to understand the evolution of taste and the chemistry of how different flavors interact, with a visceral purity that few, if any of us, will ever know. His initial loss through the radiation was accompanied by a total and complete annihilation of taste perception, followed by a very gradual relearning of it — this with a radical new self-awareness. Unlike a newborn, Achatz could actually consciously and proactively tune into the process of taste acquisition underway. He could observe it in ways that were previously indiscernible and that led to fresh insight.

Achatz’s experience shows us that with loss can come the opportunity to re-acquire and re-learn experience with greater consciousness and intention — in such a way that the inner logic and the natural laws of experience become deeply apparent to you for the first time.  Jill Bolte Taylor can vehemently attest to the truth of this.

A Brain Scientist’s Stroke of Insight

At 37, Jill Bolte Taylor was a Harvard-trained neuroanatomist with a promising career. Until one fateful morning, when a blood vessel detonated in her left hemisphere. With the dispassionate curiosity of a true scientist she bore incredible witness to the breakdown of her brain functions. [Her vivid description of the experience and what followed is now the second-most watched TED talk of all time].

The stroke left Taylor initially unable to talk, walk, read, write or recall her past. In her own words, “I didn’t even know what a mother was, much less who my mother was.” As her left-brain shut down she lost her processing capacity and all acquired language. Her mind was suspended in a newfound silence, and she experienced a simultaneous sense of deep peace along with an inability to distinguish edges and boundaries between her, and the rest of the world. It took eight dedicated years for Taylor to completely reclaim the normal functions of her mind and body. In the process she would become her own experimental subject, and arrive at many profound realizations.

One of her first, was the realization that every emotion has a physical component that we can learn to consciously feel. “Joy was a feeling in my body. Peace was a feeling in my body. I thought it was interesting that I could feel when a new emotion was triggered. I could feel new emotions flood through me and then release me,” says Taylor, “I had to learn new words to label these “feeling” experiences, and most remarkably, I learned that I had the power to choose whether to hook into a feeling and prolong its presence in my body, or just let it quickly flow right out of me.”

Imagine the freedom that accompanies the visceral (not merely intellectual) realization that you have the autonomy to choose your response to the onslaught of emotion. A newfound knowing that runs cell-deep.

“I made my decisions based upon how things felt inside. There were certain emotions like anger, frustration, or fear that felt uncomfortable when they surged through my body. So I told my brain that I didn’t like that feeling and didn’t want to hook into those neural loops. I learned that I could use my left mind, through language, to talk directly to my brain and tell it what I wanted and what I didn’t want. Upon this realization, I knew I would never return to the personality I had been before. I suddenly had much more to say about how I felt and for how long, and I was adamantly opposed to reactivating old painful emotional circuits,” writes Taylor in her best-selling book, My Stroke of Insight.

Her story demonstrates how loss can give us an opportunity to practice being present to the physical component of our emotions. And in practicing this, we can increasingly choose through the power of our awareness, to either strengthen an emotion’s hold on us — or gradually weaken it. Dr. Govindappa Venkataswamy was someone who experimented extensively with his awareness this way, and in the wake of an extreme loss.

A Perfect Surgeon With Crippled Fingers

Born in a village of southern India, Govindappa Venkatswamy lost several cousins to complications during childbirth, all before his tenth birthday. There were no doctors in the village, and these early losses steeled his resolve to become a surgeon when he grew up. He steadily worked his way to and through medical school. Then in his early thirties, just as he was about to embark on his lifelong dream of specializing in obstetrics, he was struck by the dire symptoms of acute rheumatoid arthritis. A disease that drastically twisted and froze his fingers permanently out of shape, like the gnarled branches of an old tree.

Dr. V (as he would come to be better known) was bedridden for the better part of two years, and through it all his body was wracked by pain so intense that he could neither sit, walk, stand nor eat without assistance. When he recovered enough strength to return to medical school, he knew his dream of becoming an obstetrician had shattered. Someone recommended the field of eye surgery instead. Dr. V enrolled in the field of ophthalmology and trained those badly afflicted fingers to cut and operate the eye. In the course of his career he would perform well over 100,000 sight-restoring surgeries. How did he do it?

The force of his willpower had a role to play, but it wasn’t just sheer stamina, that allowed him to wield the surgical knife with such precision. There was more at play. His fingers were affected but his mind was clear, and he began to give it firm instructions. “You want your life to lose all hatred, jealousy and envy, and to look instead for courage and love. You want to surrender absolutely to the divine, to perfection, to whatever you may want to call it. You do not want anything egotistical within you. It is an experiment you are constantly conducting,” he said.

This man consciously and routinely attempted to put himself at the service of a higher force through deepening his inner awareness. “Once you separate your inner consciousness from your outer consciousness, you can contact a deeper reality than your reason can. We have the opportunity to do this all the time, every minute, every second,” said Dr. V.

His life and work reveal how the seeming limitations clamped down by loss can be eclipsed by the strength of the human spirit, and its capacity to put itself at the service of immutable values. When we work to expand selflessly beyond our loss, we can tap into a strength that far transcends our surface frailties. And we regularly grow our circle of care.

Sometimes, as the stories of these three extra ordinary individuals demonstrates, if we have enough resolve and bring a certain discipline of mind and heart to bear on our lives, then –

Loss is more.


This article is printed here with permission. Pavithra Mehta is the co-author of Infinite Vision: How Aravind Became the World’s Greatest Business Case for Compassion.

Finding Purpose & Doing What you Love

The only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. –Steve Jobs

How to Find Your Purpose and Do What You Love

–by Maria Popova, Original Story, Apr 22, 2012

Why prestige is the enemy of passion, or how to master the balance of setting boundaries and making friends.

“Find something more important than you are,” philosopher Dan Dennett once said in discussing the secret of happiness,“and dedicate your life to it.” But how, exactly, do we find that? Surely, it isn’t by luck. I myself am a firm believer in the power of curiosity and choice as the engine of fulfillment, but precisely how you arrive at your true calling is an intricate and highly individual dance of discovery. Still, there are certain factors — certain choices — that make it easier. Gathered here are insights from seven thinkers who have contemplated the art-science of making your life’s calling a living.

PAUL GRAHAM ON HOW TO DO WHAT YOU LOVE

Every few months, I rediscover and redevour Y-Combinator founder Paul Graham’s fantastic 2006 article, How to Do What You Love. It’s brilliant in its entirety, but the part I find of especial importance and urgency is his meditation on social validation and the false merit metric of “prestige”:

What you should not do, I think, is worry about the opinion of anyone beyond your friends. You shouldn’t worry about prestige. Prestige is the opinion of the rest of the world.

[…]

Prestige is like a powerful magnet that warps even your beliefs about what you enjoy. It causes you to work not on what you like, but what you’d like to like.

[…]

Prestige is just fossilized inspiration. If you do anything well enough, you’ll make it prestigious. Plenty of things we now consider prestigious were anything but at first. Jazz comes to mind—though almost any established art form would do. So just do what you like, and let prestige take care of itself.

Prestige is especially dangerous to the ambitious. If you want to make ambitious people waste their time on errands, the way to do it is to bait the hook with prestige. That’s the recipe for getting people to give talks, write forewords, serve on committees, be department heads, and so on. It might be a good rule simply to avoid any prestigious task. If it didn’t suck, they wouldn’t have had to make it prestigious.”

More of Graham’s wisdom on how to find meaning and make wealth can be found in Hackers & Painters: Big Ideas from the Computer Age.

ALAIN DE BOTTON ON SUCCESS

Alain de Botton, modern philosopher and creator of the“literary self-help genre”, is a keen observer of the paradoxes and delusions of our cultural conceits.

In The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work, he takes his singular lens of wit and wisdom to the modern workplace and the ideological fallacies of “success.”

His terrific 2009 TED talk offers a taste:

One of the interesting things about success is that we think we know what it means. A lot of the time our ideas about what it would mean to live successfully are not our own. They’re sucked in from other people. And we also suck in messages from everything from the television to advertising to marketing, etcetera. These are hugely powerful forces that define what we want and how we view ourselves. What I want to argue for is not that we should give up on our ideas of success, but that we should make sure that they are our own. We should focus in on our ideas and make sure that we own them, that we’re truly the authors of our own ambitions. Because it’s bad enough not getting what you want, but it’s even worse to have an idea of what it is you want and find out at the end of the journey that it isn’t, in fact, what you wanted all along.”

HUGH MACLEOD ON SETTING BOUNDARIES

Cartoonist Hugh MacLeod is as well-known for his irreverent doodles as he is for his opinionated musings on creativity, culture, and the meaning of life. In Ignore Everybody: and 39 Other Keys to Creativity, he gathers his most astute advice on the creative life. Particularly resonant with my own beliefs about the importance of choices is this insight about setting boundaries:

16. The most important thing a creative per­son can learn professionally is where to draw the red line that separates what you are willing to do, and what you are not.

Art suffers the moment other people start paying for it. The more you need the money, the more people will tell you what to do. The less control you will have. The more bullshit you will have to swallow. The less joy it will bring. Know this and plan accordingly.”

Later, MacLeod echoes Graham’s point about prestige above:

28. The best way to get approval is not to need it.

This is equally true in art and business. And love. And sex. And just about everything else worth having.”

LEWIS HYDE ON WORK VS. LABOR

After last year’s omnibus of 5 timeless books on fear and the creative process, a number of readers rightfully suggested an addition: Lewis Hyde’s 1979 classic, The Gift: Creativity and the Artist in the Modern World, of which David Foster Wallace famously said, “No one who is invested in any kind of art can read The Gift and remain unchanged.”

In this excerpt, originally featured here in January, Hyde articulates the essential difference between work and creative labor, understanding which takes us a little closer to the holy grail of vocational fulfillment:

Work is what we do by the hour. It begins and, if possible, we do it for money. Welding car bodies on an assembly line is work; washing dishes, computing taxes, walking the rounds in a psychiatric ward, picking asparagus — these are work. Labor, on the other hand, sets its own pace. We may get paid for it, but it’s harder to quantify… Writing a poem, raising a child, developing a new calculus, resolving a neurosis, invention in all forms — these are labors.

Work is an intended activity that is accomplished through the will. A labor can be intended but only to the extent of doing the groundwork, or of not doing things that would clearly prevent the labor. Beyond that, labor has its own schedule.

There is no technology, no time-saving device that can alter the rhythms of creative labor. When the worth of labor is expressed in terms of exchange value, therefore, creativity is automatically devalued every time there is an advance in the technology of work.”

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has a term for the quality that sets labor apart from work: flow — a kind of intense focus and crisp sense of clarity where you forget yourself, lose track of time, and feel like you’re part of something larger. If you’ve ever pulled an all-nighter for a pet project, or even spent 20 consecutive hours composing a love letter, you’ve experienced flow and you know creative labor.

STEVE JOBS ON NOT SETTLING

In his now-legendary 2005 Stanford commencement address, an absolute treasure in its entirety, Steve Jobs makes an eloquent case for not settling in the quest for finding your calling — a case that rests largely on his insistence upon the power of intuition:

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”

ROBERT KRULWICH ON FRIENDS

Robert Krulwich, co-producer of WNYC’s fantastic Radiolab, author of the ever-illuminating Krulwich Wonders and winner of a Peabody Award for broadcast excellence, is one of the finest journalists working today. In another great commencement address, he articulates the infinitely important social aspect of loving what you do — a kind of social connectedness far more meaningful and genuine than those notions of prestige and peer validation.

You will build a body of work, but you will also build a body of affection, with the people you’ve helped who’ve helped you back. This is the era of Friends in Low Places. The ones you meet now, who will notice you, challenge you, work with you, and watch your back. Maybe they will be your strength.

If you can… fall in love, with the work, with people you work with, with your dreams and their dreams. Whatever it was that got you to this school, don’t let it go. Whatever kept you here, don’t let that go. Believe in your friends. Believe that what you and your friends have to say… that the way you’re saying it — is something new in the world.”

THE HOLSTEE MANIFESTO

You might recall The Holstee Manifesto as one of our 5 favorite manifestos for the creative life, an eloquent and beautifully written love letter to the life of purpose. (So beloved is the manifesto around here that it has earned itself a permanent spot in the Brain Pickings sidebar, a daily reminder to both myself and you, dear reader, of what matters most.)

This is your life. Do what you love, and do it often. If you don’t like something, change it. If you don’t like your job, quit. If you don’t have enough time, stop watching TV. If you are looking for the love of your life, stop; they will be waiting for you when you start doing things you love.”

The Holstee Manifesto is now available as a beautiful letterpress print, a 5×7greeting card printed on handmade paper derived from 50% elephant poo and 50% recycled paper, and even a baby bib — because it’s never too early to instill the values of living from passion.


This article is reprinted with permission from Maria Popova. She is a cultural curator and curious mind at large, who also writes for Wired UK, The Atlantic and Design Observer, and is the founder and editor in chief of Brain Pickings (which offers a free weekly newsletter). 

10 Keys to Happier Living

10 Keys to Happier Living

–by ActionforHappiness.org, Original Story, Apr 14, 2012

Action for Happiness has developed the 10 Keys to Happier Living based on a review of the latest scientific research relating to happiness.

Everyone’s path to happiness is different, but the research suggests these Ten Keys consistently tend to have a positive impact on people’s overall happiness and well-being. The first five (GREAT) relate to how we interact with the outside world in our daily activities*. The second five (DREAM) come more from inside us and depend on our attitude to life.

1. GIVING: Do things for others
Caring about others is fundamental to our happiness. Helping other people is not only good for them and a great thing to do, it also makes us happier and healthier too. Giving also creates stronger connections between people and helps to build a happier society for everyone. And it’s not all about money – we can also give our time, ideas and energy. So if you want to feel good, do good!
Q: What do you do to help others? 
2. RELATING: Connect with people
Relationships are the most important overall contributor to happiness. People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self worth. Broader networks bring a sense of belonging. So taking action to strengthen our relationships and create new connections is essential for happiness.
Q: Who matters most to you?
3. EXERCISING: Take care of your body
Our body and our mind are connected. Being active makes us happier as well as being good for our physical health. It instantly improves our mood and can even lift us out of a depression. We don’t all need to run marathons – there are simple things we can all do to be more active each day. We can also boost our well-being by unplugging from technology, getting outside and making sure we get enough sleep!
Q: How do you stay active and healthy?
4. APPRECIATING: Notice the world around
Ever felt there must be more to life? Well good news, there is! And it’s right here in front of us. We just need to stop and take notice. Learning to be more mindful and aware can do wonders for our well-being in all areas of life – like our walk to work, the way we eat or our relationships. It helps us get in tune with our feelings and stops us dwelling on the past or worrying about the future – so we get more out of the day-to-day.
Q: When do you stop and take notice? 
5. TRYING OUT: Keep learning new things
Learning affects our well-being in lots of positive ways. It exposes us to new ideas and helps us stay curious and engaged. It also gives us a sense of accomplishment and helps boost our self-confidence and resilience. There are many ways to learn new things – not just through formal qualifications. We can share a skill with friends, join a club, learn to sing, play a new sport and so much more.
Q: What new things have you tried recently?
6. DIRECTION: Have goals to look forward to
Feeling good about the future is important for our happiness. We all need goals to motivate us and these need to be challenging enough to excite us, but also achievable. If we try to attempt the impossible this brings unnecessary stress. Choosing ambitious but realistic goals gives our lives direction and brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction when we achieve them.
Q: What are your most important goals? 
7. RESILIENCE: Find ways to bounce back
All of us have times of stress, loss, failure or trauma in our lives. But how we respond to these has a big impact on our well-being. We often cannot choose what happens to us, but we can choose our own attitude to what happens. In practice it’s not always easy, but one of the most exciting findings from recent research is that resilience, like many other life skills, can be learned.
Q: How do you bounce back in tough times?
8. EMOTION: Take a positive approach
Positive emotions – like joy, gratitude, contentment, inspiration, and pride – are not just great at the time. Recent research shows that regularly experiencing them creates an ‘upward spiral’, helping to build our resources. So although we need to be realistic about life’s ups and downs, it helps to focus on the good aspects of any situation – the glass half full rather than the glass half empty.
Q: What are you feeling good about? 
9. ACCEPTANCE: Be comfortable with who you are
No-one’s perfect. But so often we compare our insides to other people’s outsides. Dwelling on our flaws – what we’re not rather than what we’ve got – makes it much harder to be happy. Learning to accept ourselves, warts and all, and being kinder to ourselves when things go wrong, increases our enjoyment of life, our resilience and our well-being. It also helps us accept others as they are.
Q: What is the real you like?
10. MEANING: Be part of something bigger
People who have meaning and purpose in their lives are happier, feel more in control and get more out of what they do. They also experience less stress, anxiety and depression. But where do we find ‘meaning and purpose’? It might be our religious faith, being a parent or doing a job that makes a difference. The answers vary for each of us but they all involve being connected to something bigger than ourselves.
Q: What gives your life meaning?
* The first five keys are based on the Five Ways to Wellbeing developed by nef as part of the UK Government’s Foresight Project on Mental Capital.

This article is reprinted here with permission. Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier society. The organization is a UK-based with participants in over 120 countries.

Easter

Siva-Nataraja (Lord of the Dance), Maharaja's Palace, Tanjore, India

When my old friend and mentor, Bede Griffiths, a Benedictine monk, visited Osage Monastery in 1978, he presented them with a statue of Siva Nataraja, saying that the Nataraja can also, in a sense, be a symbol of the risen Christ.

The meaning of Nataraja’s Dance is expressed symbolically by his posture and attributes. Siva dances on the Demon of Ignorance: Human beings can only reach true wisdom by conquering the ignorance or illusion, which takes the phenomenal world as real, instead of seeing all as a reflection or manifestation of the Ultimate Reality underlying everything.

He dances within the flamed arch: The arch represents nature, the processes of the Universe and the Transcendental Light sustaining it. Siva dancing within and touching the arch with head, hands and feet is the universal omnipresent Spirit. In one ear he wears a female earring, and in the other a male one: signifying that he represents both the masculine and the feminine energy in the Cosmos. 

He has four arms: the upper right arm carries a drum, signifying Creation, the Creative Energy of Sound - the Divine Word . In the palm of His upper left arm he bears a tongue of flame, which symbolises Destruction, but also purification. The balance of the hands gives equal weight to both creation and destruction, as necessary for purification, evolution and transformation. Creation and destruction – dying and rising.

The lower right arm is placed in the ‘fear not’ gesture – the gesture of our angels - and the lower left arm is pointing to the lifted foot, indicating release from ignorance - Grace. All activities happen simultaneously – creation, destruction and the granting of Grace.

On my seasonal spiritual tours to ashrams of South India, I make sure we come here to see these amazing images, cast so meticulously in ancient bronze. For any who would like to have information on future tours, please contact Meath Conlan, PhD – meath@diversejourneys.com

Mahatma Gandhi

Meath Conlan with Tushar Gandhi - the Mahatma's great grandson - in Bangalore

As Easter approaches, I think of all those who work tirelessly for peace and justice. One of the most enjoyable films I ever saw was simply called “Gandhi”, a portrayal of a remarkable being. I have since seen again and again. Since then I increased my visits to India and became friends with another man of peace, my friend, the late Bede Griffiths, who lived and died at Saccidananda Ashram in South India for over 30 years. I still go to India where life is vibrant, colourful, friendly and lived to the full. It’s an extraordinary place!

Last year I had the good fortune to be at a family function with the Mahatma’s great grandson, Tushar Gandhi. Like his forebear, he too works for peace and for raising up the very poor through education. I wish him and all those with whom he works well in their humanitarian endeavours.

I am including some sayings from Mahatma Gandhi – they have been among those that have influenced my life inestimably:

I will give you a talisman. Whenever you are in doubt, or when the self becomes too much with you, apply the following test. Recall the face of the poorest and the weakest man whom you may have seen, and ask yourself, if the step you contemplate is going to be of any use to him. Will he gain anything by it? Will it restore him to a control over his own life and destiny ? In other words, will it lead to Swaraj (i.e. self-rule) for the hungry and spiritually starving millions ?

Then you will find your doubts and your self melting away.”

- Gandhi

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

- Gandhi

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

- Gandhi

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.”

- Gandhi