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Making the Holidays More Meaningful – and Less Materialistic

Last year about this time, an Instagram photo showing a mountain of shiny wrapped presents – nearly as large as the seven-foot Christmas tree behind it – went viral. I love Hanukkah and Christmas (we celebrate both in our family); at the same time, all the gift buying and present bragging is cause for worry.

Kids who grow up to pursue wealth and material possessions tend to be less satisfied with their lives. They’re not as happy, and they experience fewer positive emotions each day. Research finds materialism in students is also associated with lower-quality relationships and feeling less connected to other people.

There are two things that tend to influence how materialistic kids are.

The first is obvious: Consciously or not, we adults socialize kids to be materialistic. When parents – as well as peers and celebrities – model materialism, kids care more about wealth and luxury. So when parents are materialistic, kids are likely to follow suit. Same thing with advertising: The more exposure kids get to advertising, the more likely they are to be materialistic.

Materialism is worth combating, especially over the holidays. Click To Tweet

The less obvious factor behind materialism has to do with the degree to which our needs are being fulfilled. When people feel insecure or unfulfilled – because of poverty or because a basic psychological need like safety, competence, connectedness or autonomy isn’t being met – they often to try to quell their insecurity by striving for wealth and a lot of fancy stuff. Because of this, relatively poor teenagers ironically tend to be more materialistic than wealthy ones. And less nurturing and more emotionally cold mothers tend to have more materialistic children.

So materialism and the behaviors that go with it – desiring and buying brand name clothes and luxury items – can be symptoms of insecurity and a coping strategy used to alleviate feelings of self-doubt or bolster a poor self-image. But if what kids are really seeking is greater happiness and fulfillment, materialism is a terrible coping method. At best, it will only provide short-term relief; in the long-run it is likely to actually deepen feelings of insecurity.

 

Materialism is worth combating, especially over the holidays when it seems to reach a fever pitch in our culture.

I think the best way to combat materialism over the holidays is to prioritize connection with friends and family and neighbors. My teens would rather be with their friends than anyone else most of the time, but this is the time of the year when we insist on family first.

For example, the weekend before Christmas, my cousins always fly in from Massachusetts and Washington and Florida for a big extended family Christmas party, complete with a funny “Yankee Swap” (aka “white elephant” gift exchange). My mom makes spritz cookies with the kids, a tradition started in Germany with her mother. We light the candles of the menorah and say prayers each night during Hanukkah, something my husband’s Jewish family has been teaching us.

All of this is about renewing our sense that we are a part of something larger than ourselves. Let me not mince words here: This sense that we are connected and part of a larger whole is the single strongest predictor of happiness that we have. It is true that the holidays have become depressingly commercial in our culture, with a massive focus on what each individual will get and what kids want in terms of material gifts.

But we can choose to focus on relationships instead of individual gift lists this holiday season. Not surprisingly, people who focus on family or religion during the holidays report higher levels of happiness than those who don’t.


Originally posted on US News & World Report, December 2017


Do you need support finding more meaning in your life? I hope you’ll consider joining our Brave Over Perfect coaching group.  Learn more or enroll now. Cheers to making 2019 your happiest year yet!

20 Questions to Ask at Your Holiday Dinner

Like many families, ours followed this year’s midterm elections with passion. This will no doubt give us lots to talk about over the holidays and this week at Thanksgiving.

To be honest, this could stir considerable conflict. Our family is diverse: we are gay and straight; Black, white, and Latino; we are Fundamentalist Christian, Liberal Christian, Unitarian, Jewish, Buddhist, agnostic, and Atheist; we are Republicans, Democrats, and Independents; we come from suburban and urban communities. We will be 32 strong at our California Christmas dinner, with cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents hailing from Florida, Washington, and Boston.

So even if politics are on all our minds, we can give political conversation a rest for one meal, because as a family we are not defined by our politics. I believe we are defined by how well we love each other, by how well we truly see one another. So this year, under each holiday plate, I will place one of the questions below, to spur the kind of conversation where we truly listen to one another, so we can get to know each other better. Even though I’ve known most of the people at the table since birth — or they’ve known me since I was born — we still have so much to learn about each other.

We are defined by how well we love each other, by how well we truly see one another. Click To Tweet

Conversations like the ones that ensue from these questions help kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves. This, in turn, is likely to make them more resilient, better adjusted, and more successful in school (as I wrote about here). So here’s an extra challenge: See if you can get the adults to weave their answers to the questions below into a narrative demonstrating that your family members have been through both good and bad times together, but through it all, you’ve stuck together.

A printable copy of this list is here.

  1. What do you remember about previous houses you’ve lived in? Which one did you like the best?
  2. For an adult: What did you have as a child that kids today don’t have? How was your life better? How was it worse? For a kid: What do you have that previous generations didn’t have? How would your life be better without it? How would it be worse?
  3. Has anything ever happened at a family wedding or event that you’ll never forget?
  4. Think of some relatives that have passed away in the last few years. What would they be likely to do tomorrow if they were still alive?
  5. Which family member has been your greatest coach in life? How have they coached you? What has made them good at it?
  6. For an adult: When you were a teenager, which family member did you go to for advice? Looking back, was it good advice? For a kid: Which family member have you recently received advice from? Was it good advice?
  7. For adult: What was your favorite movie or book when you were my age? For kid: What was your favorite movie or book last year, and what is your favorite now?

    Conversations like the ones that ensue from these questions help kids experience themselves as a part of something larger than themselves. Click To Tweet

  8. Tell us a story about a family reunion or family party that you remember attending as a child.
  9. What was the hardest thing you went through/have gone through as a child? How did you overcome it?
  10. What are your favorite stories that grandpa/grandma told (or still tells)?
  11. If you could know anything about our family history or about a relative who has passed away, what would you want to know?
  12. What is the most embarrassing thing your mother or father ever did to you?
  13. What are your best memories of holidays or family gatherings?
  14. What three adjectives would your grandparents use to describe you?
  15. Did your parents or grandparents ever lose their jobs? What happened? How did they start over?
  16. What is the best thing that your grandparents ever cooked? What about your parents?
  17. How did your parents change after they retired?
  18. If you could go back to one day in your childhood, which day would that be? Why?
  19. How are you most different from your parents and grandparents? How are you the same?
  20. What did/do your grandparents do with you that you loved? (For adults: What did they do that you didn’t enjoy so much?)

Many of these questions were adapted from the “Family Gathering” edition of Table Topics

Making Gratitude Real

One of the most powerful positive emotions we have in this life is gratitude; mountains of research indicate that gratitude is part of the happiness holy grail. Compared with those who don’t practice gratitude, scientists have found that people who practice gratitude:

-Are considerably more enthusiastic, interested, and determined

-Feel 25% happier

-Are more likely to be both kind and helpful to others

And that’s not all. Gratitude studies report long laundry lists of the benefits of gratitude. For example, people who jotted down something they were grateful for online every day for just two weeks (using an app created by the Greater Good Science Center) showed higher stress resilience and greater satisfaction with life, and they reported fewer headaches, less congestion, and a reduction in stomach pain, coughs, and sore throats.

Gratitude is a skill, like learning to speak a new language or swing a bat. It can be taught, and it needs to be practiced consciously and deliberately. Yet, unlike learning a new language, practicing gratitude can be blissfully simple. Just count the things in your life that you feel thankful for. Do it in a way that works for you; one size does not fit all with gratitude practices.

“Gratitude is a skill, like learning to speak a new language or swing a bat.” Click To Tweet

The key to creating routine gratitude practices that work is to add in an element of creativity and novelty. Think up a practice that you find fun and simple, and each time you practice, try to think of novel things that you are grateful for or new dimensions of those things and people you appreciate. Here are some ideas to get you started:

Contemplate death and destruction.

(Bet you didn’t see that one coming!) When researchers have people visualize their own death in detail, their gratitude increases. Similarly, simply imagining not having something you love can make you feel more grateful for it. When researchers had volunteers envision the sudden disappearance of their romantic partners from their lives, they felt a lot more gratitude for them. We also feel more gratitude when we imagine that positive life events never happened—like landing a new job or moving closer to family.

Keep a gratitude journal.

This can be handwritten in a journal or kept online (there are loads of web-based versions) or even just jotted down in your calendar. As an alternative, text your appreciation to people who have helped you out.

Give up—or change up—what you really love.

I know, depriving yourself doesn’t seem fun, but entitlement and adaptation undermine appreciation. Gratitude actually arises naturally in conditions of scarcity—for example, when we are hungry, we are more grateful for food than when we are full. Not surprisingly, research shows that we enjoy things more when we give them up for a little while; for example, people who gave up chocolate for seven days enjoyed it more at the end of the week than people who indulged all week. More surprisingly, people report enjoying their favorite TV shows more when they are interrupted occasionally (even by commercials). This is probably why Lent is a common religious practice!

Keep a group “gratitude list” or a collection of things that colleagues or family members feel thankful for.

Post a huge sheet of paper in a public place and ask everyone to contribute to it when the spirit moves them. Anything can go on the list, no matter how insignificant or important— people, places, stuff, events, nature. Variations on this theme are endless; try gratitude garlands, walls, trees— anything you can put a sticky note on or hang a tag on will work.

Start a tradition of writing “appreciations” on place cards at family dinners or on holidays. Depending on your comfort level for group sharing, make folded place cards for each person present, and then ask people to write a few adjectives that describe what they appreciate about one another on the inside of the place cards. Don’t ask people to write something about everyone present unless they want to—you don’t want to force the exercise. But do make sure that everyone has at least one thing written inside their place card so that during the meal you can go around the table and share appreciations.

Write letters for “large” and “small” gratitudes. Large: Write a thank-you letter to someone who is important to you but you haven’t properly thanked for something non-material, and then deliver it in person and read it out loud. Small: Text a quick and unexpected thank-you note for kind words spoken to someone who lent a helping hand, or to say thanks for a fun day.


This post is from a series about flourishing from the “Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing LessWant to go on to the next class or start the course from the beginning? It’s free! Just go to The Science of Finding Flow course page. Enjoy!

How to Raise Grateful Kids

 

“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos into order, confusion into clarity… It turns problems into gifts, failures into success, the unexpected into perfect timing, and mistakes into important events. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.”–Melody Beattie

This video is the 3rd in a series about high impact happiness routines from The Raising Happiness Homestudy. Watch the rest of the videos here.

This Week’s Practice: Create a family gratitude practice

Decide on a weekly or daily gratitude ritual for your family, and schedule it. Really: put it on the calendar, or set a reminder on your phone – anything that will help you remember to practice gratitude until it becomes a habit.

Here are two of my favorite gratitude quotations if someone in your family needs a little inspiration. I occasionally read them at dinner before we go around the table to say what we are thankful for.

Let us rise up and be thankful, for if we didn’t learn a lot today, at least we learned a little, and if we didn’t learn a little, at least we didn’t get sick, and if we got sick, at least we didn’t die; so, let us all be thankful.” –Buddha

When eating bamboo sprouts, remember the man who planted them.”–Chinese Proverb

If you would like to download the audio version of this video to listen to in your car or on the go, click the link below.
DOWNLOAD THE AUDIO VERSION HERE.

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Do You Sabotage Yourself?

Our success and happiness are based as much on what we choose NOT to do as what we choose to do. What things in your life keep you from doing other things that you’ve identified as priorities? Which of your behaviors tend to thwart your goals?

If you have trouble with follow through on your highest priorities, make a “NOT-To-Do” list (a fantastic Peter Bregman idea).

Our success and happiness are based as much on what we choose NOT to do as what we choose to do. Click To Tweet

When we aren’t clear about what we don’t want to do, the things we don’t want to do often end up distracting us from our higher priorities. For example, nurturing my teens is one of my top priorities. As part of this, I want to spend more time hanging out with my kids after dinner and after they finish their homework. Ideally, I’ll spend 20 minutes with each of them one-on-one. But instead, I often get pulled into my email or back into my work, and poof! Just like that, the time is gone, and the opportunity missed. (Now that my daughters Fiona and Macie are away at school, I’m painfully aware of how fleeting and precious that time is.)

So under the priority labeled “Nurture my family and close relationships,” I’ve written: Don’t go back to work after dinner if the kids are at home. I have similar “NOT-to-do” items under each priority.

Be Explicit

By being explicit about what I’m NOT going to do–by actually writing these things down–I’m increasing the odds that I’ll spend my time on the things that matter most to me.

By being explicit about what I’m NOT going to do–by actually writing these things down–I’m increasing the odds that I’ll spend my time on the things that matter most to me. Click To Tweet

Now it’s your turn: Spend this next week noticing the behaviors and activities that sabotage the way that you spend your time. Each time you notice yourself doing something that thwarts a better behavior, add it to your “Not-To-Do” list here:

 Click here to download the not-to-do list PDF

If you are just joining us, you might want to check out some related activities. Before you make a NOT-to-do list, it helps to:

1) Identify your top priorities according to what is fulfilling to you and

2) Re-organize your to-do list according to your top priorities.

See Unit 2: CHOOSE in my free Science of Finding Flow online course for more information about how to live your life according to your highest priorities.

As always, let me know what questions you have in the comment section!

 


This post is from a series about how we choose to spend our time in my online course, Science of Finding Flow, an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!

Parenting Video: Harnessing the Power of Dinnertime

Dining with one’s friends and beloved family is certainly one of life’s primal and most innocent delights, one that it is both soul-satisfying and eternal.” –Julia Child

Do you eat five meals a week with your kids? If so, how do you make it happen? If not, what are the biggest obstacles to your success? Do your kids like family mealtimes? Why or why not?

If you don’t typically eat dinner as a family, what is preventing you from having more meals together?

  • Is it a matter of planning? Do you need to schedule more time over the weekend to prepare your meals for the week?
  • Does it have to do with sports or another activity that takes place during dinner?
  • Is there something about your work schedule that you can change to make family dinnertime more feasible?
  • Can your family work as a team planning, shopping for, and preparing meals?

This video is the 2nd in a series about high impact happiness routines from The Raising Happiness Homestudy. Check out the rest of the Homestudy here..

If you would like to download the audio version of this video to listen to in your car or on the go, click the link below.
DOWNLOAD THE AUDIO VERSION HERE.

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Do You Want to Feel More Confident? Or Successful? What About Content?

What do you want to feel more of in this one wild and precious life (as Mary Oliver would say)?

I’m not wondering about what you want to achieve or accomplish, I’m wondering how you want to feel. Shooting for the feeling-state that you want more of (maybe you want more happiness, confidence, or fulfillment) will always take you down a different path than setting your sights on a particular achievement. Emotions are more motivating—and far more fulfilling—than an achievement goal in the long run.

Maybe you you really want to grow your business, but you feel too exhausted and overwhelmed right now. An achievement goal would be to grow your business by 25%. But probably what you want to feel is successful, while at the same time feeling well-rested.

Next, identify the activities in your life that already produce the feeling-state you are looking for. These activities don’t need to be habits or things you have done recently; they just need to be things that have produced the emotions you are after in the past. We human beings are terrible at predicting what will make us feel happy (or feel anything positive) in the future. Although we think we know what will make us happier, plenty of research shows that we tend to be wrong about what actually does.

We have better success in the future when we look at what has produced the results we are looking for in the past. For example, a client of mine identified that she wanted to feel more calm, and two activities that make her feel calm are walking her dog in the morning and meditating.

Having a nice long list of the tasks, circumstances, behaviors and activities that already make you feel how you want to feel is going to be handy for the next few activities we’ll introduce as a part of this online course.

So spend some time reflecting on the feeling state that you are after. How do you want to feel when you find your flow? Which activities and pastimes have produced the feelings that you want to feel?


This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!

What Will People Say When You Pass Away?

Since her own bout with burn-out and crippling exhaustion, Arianna Huffington has been giving great advice for finding greater meaning and fulfillment in life: Start working on your eulogy, and stop working on your resume.

She elaborates:

It is very telling what we don’t hear in eulogies. We almost never hear things like:

The crowning achievement of his life was when he made senior vice president.
Or
He increased market share for his company multiple times during his tenure.
Or
While she didn’t have any real friends, she had six hundred Facebook friends, and she dealt with every email in her inbox every night.

After we’ve passed away, people will recount the ways that we made a difference in their lives and in the world. They will tell stories and recount memories of times we enjoyed together. They will talk, in essence, about the meaning that we found in this lifetime, about our value, our impact, and our purpose.

When we start working on our eulogy instead of our resumes, we reorient our efforts toward meaning and away from achievements. We look away from the glitter of external rewards: the decadent meal, the Botox, the designer shoes, the higher paycheck, and the more prestigious title. We look inside ourselves to see what really lights our fire, what really brings us peace.

Please note that this probably isn’t about finding a different job. It’s about identifying the meaning that is already there.

We humans find our calling in all types of work—as janitors and ministers, as executives and hairdressers, as artists and parents and mail carriers and farmers. One study found that among administrative assistants, one-third considered their work a job (they focused on their paycheck—not the meaning or enjoyment they derived from the work), one-third considered it a career (mostly a series of ascending achievements), and another third considered it a true calling (they felt that their work was interesting, socially useful, and truly worthy of their time and energy).

Researchers have found the same results in other occupations. People tend to be more or less equally distributed in each of the categories of job, career, and calling.

It isn’t the job description or title that determines meaning— whether we consider our work a job, a career, or a calling. It’s the person. It isn’t about the prestige or even the helping nature of our work. It’s about the meaning we personally find in it and express through it, and the effort and commitment we give to it. So what do you want people to remember? 

Questions for Introspection

Think about what your friends and family will say at your funeral. What do you want them to say, and what would they likely say now?

Now, take a step back and think about what meaning you find in your work, and in your life.

What are you passionate about? What do you find most interesting, important, and worthy of your time and energy? What positive impact are you having on the world and other people?

Do your time and effort reflect your commitment to the work you value the most?

This is a first step towards discovering what you value, so that you can better prioritize your time. The next activity is about how best to prioritize.


This post is from a series on finding more meaning in how we spend our time. If you are interested in learning more, check out “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!

How to Fulfill New School Year Resolutions

Help your kids reach their goals this school year. (Or set some goals for yourself!)

Now that our summer break is wrapping up, I’ve started asking my kids about their hopes for the coming school year. Every year at this time our conversations remind me a little of New Year’s Eve with adults – lots of optimism, but initially no plans concrete enough to justify faith in their intentions.

Here’s the thing: Intentions are never enough. Even full-blown goal-setting isn’t worth much if you don’t do it right.

It’s a mistake not to set goals in a way that’s proven effective; just vaguely wanting to do well in school, make the team, or be class president will not get kids where they want to go. But kids don’t know this; how could they? We parents need to teach our older kids, our teens, and our college students how to change their behavior in a way that helps them reach their goals.

Enter behavioral psychologist Sean Young, who knows more about behavior change than anyone. Using Sean’s framework – as well as the research I wrote about in my book “The Sweet Spot” – I’ve freshened up my plan for how my kids and I set our goals (and inspire behavior change). This framework can obviously be applied to many different types of goals, and I’ve created a goal-setting worksheet to make it all easy here.

NOTE: The example below is from the worksheets that I helped my daughter Macie complete last year around this time. Happily, Macie accomplished her goals and is headed off to college this week! Before she goes, we’ll complete a new worksheet.

1. First, state the big goal. What would you like to accomplish in the next three months or so?

Macie is a high school senior applying to colleges this fall. She knows she needs sleep to be mentally and physically healthy – and to do well academically and athletically. Specifically, she hopes that she won’t get caught in a cycle of exhaustion this year, where she oversleeps and then has to rush out the door in the morning, skipping breakfast and generally not starting the day well. Her dream is to get eight to nine hours of sleep each night and get out of bed as soon as her alarm goes off at 6:30 a.m. on weekday mornings.

2. Next, break this larger idea down into long-term goals. Long-term goals take up to three months to accomplish. Macie’s long-term goal is to have a 30-day “streak” of getting eight to nine hours of sleep each night and getting out of bed within five minutes of her alarm going off in the morning.

3. Break it down again into short-term goals. These goals should take one to three weeks to accomplish. Macie’s first short-term goal was to outline for herself specific morning and evening routines in 10-minute time increments. Those specific plans helped her see what she needed to do to get to bed by 10:30 p.m. and wake up by 6:30 a.m.

4. Now break goals down into very specific, ridiculously easy baby steps. What can you do today? Tomorrow? Here are the baby steps Macie took:

  • Get an alarm that doesn’t bug her (that she won’t resist setting).
  • Ask a parent to enforce the family rule that phones are charged outside of bedrooms. (We let that slip with her over the summer.)
  • Set her alarm for 6:30 a.m.

5. Set up the environment to make things easier. Our environment dramatically influences our behavior. We like to think our behavior is all our personality and preferences, or that it’s the strength of our ironclad will that determines our success. But actually, we are hugely influenced by the people, places and technology that happen to be in close physical proximity to us.

This means that to be successful in reaching our goals, it’s very helpful to set up our environment to make things easier, to create what are called structural solutions. This usually means removing temptations. For Macie, it meant getting her phone out of her bedroom at night (where it would keep her up) and while she was studying (where it would distract her so much she couldn’t finish her homework by bedtime).

6. Involve other people. We humans are often more motivated to do things that we might otherwise resist if it makes us feel more of a sense of belonging, or if it deepens or increases our social connections. In addition, involving other people can provide added motivation–a little external willpower as we establish new habits–getting them to do stuff they’d rather blow off.

For example: I make sure Macie is out of bed in the morning. If she is not, I annoyingly sing “rise and shine.” She is too old for this, and it bugs the heck out of her to have me hovering in this way. This is sufficient motivation for her to get out of bed before I arrive.

7. Identify why the goal is important. Help kids think less about what they want to achieve and instead focus on how they want to feel. Identify a “why” for the goal that will motivate them over the long haul.

We do better when we let go of our logical reasons for why we want to do something. Why? Because research shows that good, solid, logical reasons for doing something – like exercising because we want to lower our blood pressure or ward off cancer – don’t actually provide lasting motivation. It turns out that emotions are far more motivating than achievement goals in the long run.

So help kids shoot instead for a feeling a certain way. For example, maybe they want more confidence or calm. Macie wants to get out of bed on time because she wants to feel “on it,” “well-rested” and “disciplined.”

8. Make the new behavior a part of their identity. Macie wants to be able to say, “I am a person who is well-rested and self-disciplined.” She’s tracking the days she gets into and out of bed on time, so she can look back and see, “Yup, I’m on it!” Collect evidence that your kids are the type of people who do whatever it is that they are trying to do.

9. Make the behavior more enticingWe human beings pursue rewards: a pretty little cupcake, attention from a mentor, a sense of accomplishment. When our brains identify a potential reward, they release dopamine, a feel-good chemical messenger. Dopamine motivates us to pursue the reward, creating a real sense of craving, wanting or desire for the carrot that is being dangled in front of us.

Rewards need to be immediate or, even better, built into our routine when possible. Macie loves her bed; hitting snooze instead of getting up is its own reward, which makes getting out of bed much more difficult (and who doesn’t relate to that?!) So I’ve worked with Macie to praise herself enthusiastically when she gets out of bed on her own using what B.J. Fogg at Stanford calls the “Yay Me!” reward.Even something as small as a short mental victory dance can trigger a little hit of dopamine, enough to tell your brain to repeat whatever you just did. She is basically giving herself a pat on the back and noting how “disciplined” and “on it” she is.

10. Make the behavior more habitual. Once we do something on autopilot, everything is easier – we don’t need much willpower to enact our habitual behaviors. Can you help kids make the behaviors related to accomplishing their goals habitual in any way? Do this by anchoring behaviors in existing habits or routines, or even a schedule, using a when/then statement: “When I do x, then I will y.” For Macie, it starts at 7 p.m.: “When it’s 7 p.m., I will put my phone in the charging station while I study.”

What are your kids’ goals for this new school year? What are your goals? Now that you have a framework for how you and your children can achieve those goals, you can lead by example to turn talk into something more.

If you need support setting and achieving your goals, I hope you’ll check out our Brave Over Perfect group coaching program! At only $20 for 3 coaching calls and two months of online support, it’s a no-brainer. Learn more or enroll now here.

Flow Class: Finding Meaning at Work

“Success is about getting; significance is about giving: we make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

–Satinder Dhiman, Seven Habits of Highly Fulfilled People

Social psychologists define meaning, as it applies to our lives, as “an intellectual and emotional assessment of the degree to which we feel our lives have purpose, value and impact.” In a stunning series of studies, Adam Grant proved that briefly showing people how their work helps others increases not only how happy people are on the job but also how much they work and accomplish.

Grant’s most famous series of studies were conducted at a call center with paid fundraisers tasked with phoning potential donors to a public university. As anyone who’s ever made cold calls knows, work in a call center isn’t easy. People receiving calls are often annoyed and can be downright rude. Employees must endure frequent rejection on the phone and low morale at the office—all in exchange for relatively low pay. Not surprisingly, call center jobs often have a high staff turnover rate.

In an effort to see if he could motivate call center fundraisers to stay on the job longer, Grant brought in a few scholarship students (who presumably had benefited from the fundraisers’ work) for a five-minute meeting where callers could ask them questions about their classes and experience at the university. In the next month, that quick conversation yielded unbelievable results. Callers who had met the scholarship students spent twice as long on the phone as the fundraisers who had not met any students. They accomplished far more, bringing in an average of 171 percent more money.

In another study, Grant found that having fundraisers read an account from scholarship students about how they had been helped by the fundraisers’ work significantly increased the amount of money they raised. But reading an account from a previous fundraiser about how the callers themselves benefited from their work as a fundraiser did not. The difference? A shift in the callers’ beliefs about the social meaning of their work, and an increased sense of their purpose, value, and impact.

These studies are remarkably counterintuitive. We assume that Westerners are best motivated on the job by our own interests— money, prestige, what’s in it for us, what we’ll get, not what we give. But actually, these studies show clearly that we humans are best motivated by our significance to other people. We’ll work harder and longer and better—and feel happier about the work we are doing— when we know that someone else is benefiting from our efforts. It turns out that one sure path to finding your flow–to both ease and strength–is to find the social meaning in your daily activities.

 


This post is taken from “The Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. I’m sharing “lessons” from this online class here, on my blog. Want to see previous posts? Just click this The Science of Finding Flow tag. Enjoy!