Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Does Success Breed Success? The Ups and Downs of Capitalising

This article on today's Positive Psychology News Daily looks at the subject of capitalising. This is often referred to as 'making the most of a bad job', however increasingly it is being used in the context of exploiting opportunities and things that go well for us.

Thursday, 20 September 2007

Seligman at Positive Psychology Conference 8th Nov

You'll be delighted to know that Martin Seligman is the keynote speaker at UEL's one day Positive Psychology Conference on Thursday 8th November. Also speaking are Dr Susan David, an Emotional Intelligence expert, Dr Alex Linley, founder and Director of the Centre for Applied Positive Psychology, Dr Gurnek Bains, CEO of corporate psychology consultancy YSC (Young Samuel Chambers), as well as our very own Dr Ilona Boniwell who established and leads the UK's first MAPP programme at UEL. Details below.

Positive psychology, well-being and business: Cutting-edge science for organisational success
Thursday 8 November at the University of East London, Docklands, with Professor Martin Seligman

UEL would like to invite you to a special one-day conference, Positive Psychology, Well-being and Business, featuring a keynote speech from world-renowned psychologist Professor Martin Seligman, founder of positive psychology.

Positive Psychology - the scientific study of well-being - is increasingly recognised as having major, lasting benefits for business. Evidence shows that employees with higher levels of well-being are more focused and engaged with their work; are better team-players; have higher levels of motivation; have less illness and absenteeism; and perform better overall.

This new thinking explicitly challenges the conventional wisdom that fixing a weakness is essential to improving performance. Rather, positive psychology concentrates on what drives and motivates success. Globally, many major organisations are implementing the findings of positive psychology and strengths-based performance management in the workplace, helping them to grow and succeed. This conference will enable you to learn how to put these findings into practice in your own business or organisation.

Whether you are involved in business, human resources, social and corporate responsibility, communication, organisational development, marketing, executive coaching, training or business consultancy, this conference could make a valuable contribution to your operational and staff development.

For more details and to register, visit or contact Sue Meade on 020 8223 4428.

Do let me know if you plan to go, I'd be delighted to meet up with you there.

Sunday, 16 September 2007

Positive Interventions - Gratitude

A new slant on the Gratitude Diary.

There is empirical research to suggest that writing a Gratitude Diary is an effective positive intervention; most studies to date have concentrated on writing a Gratitude Diary on a daily or weekly basis; we have blogged about this before, in March, June and August. Today a friend and fellow UEL MAPP student, Paul Marshall, sent me this five minute gratitude video, with the suggestion that you download it onto your ipod and play it every morning in order to enhance well-being.

I'm not sure if it will be as effective as writing down what you're grateful for, because the act of writing in itself is known to be extremely important in processing information, however, why not give it a try for a week and let us know whether you notice any difference in your level of well-being?

P.S. Sometimes the Gratitude Diary intervention is referred to as 'Counting Your Blessings'. If you're considering using it with a coaching client, you might want to think about what to call it beforehand as there are religious/spiritual connotations to the latter which may not be suitable in your particular situation.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Green and Happy?

You'll be interested to know that in July, the independent think-tank the New Economics Foundation (NEF) published the European Happy Planet Index of carbon efficiency and well-being in the EU.

It reveals that Europe is less carbon-efficient at delivering well-being (measured in terms of the happy, long lives of its citizens) than it was over 40 years ago. This might come as a surprise to some people - after all, as a whole we are wealthier than ever.

The good news is that some European countries are doing pretty well in terms of high levels of well-being (a combination of how satisfied people feel with their lives overall, and their life expectancy at birth). Those in the North such as Denmark, Sweden, Iceland and Finland, as well as Switzerland, report the highest levels of subjective life satisfaction. Interestingly, Iceland and Sweden also have some of the lowest per capita carbon footprints, despite being amongst the richest nations. As a result, Iceland tops the European Happy Planet Index, followed by Sweden, Norway and Switzerland.

And the bad news? Some economically-advanced countries feature pretty poorly in the Index. Take the UK for example - it comes 15th out of 30 in rank order for both life satisfaction and life expectancy. It also has the 4th largest per capita carbon footprint in Europe, behind Luxembourg, Estonia and Finland. As a result the UK ranks 21st out of 30 overall in the European HPI, only slightly ahead of 'transition' countries such as Bulgaria and Lithuania.

Countries like Germany, Finland and France don't fare much better either, coming 15th, 16th and 18th in the Index respectively.

So what can we conclude from this? Quite simply, as I'm sure you already know deep-down, consumption is not the main route to well-being. If this were true, the poorer countries would always feature at the bottom of NEF's league tables, but they don't.

What the report also shows us, however, is that it is not impossible to be prosperous, happy and green. Perhaps we should be looking towards countries like Iceland and Sweden for some answers?

Wednesday, 12 September 2007

The Hamburger of Happiness

A simple 2x2 model for understanding Happiness

In his recent book 'Happier', Harvard University lecturer Tal Ben-Shahar presents a wonderful model of happiness which he has christened The Hamburger Model. What I really like (apart from the 2x2 format which all MBAs love...) is the simplicity of it. It goes something like this:

Junk Food Burger
: tasty but unhealthy. When people are asked to describe what a happy life means to them they quite often think of a life filled only with pleasure and devoid of any pain. This is the life of the hedonist, someone who lives only for the moment, giving little thought to future consequences. Young children are like this, until they learn to forego immediate gratification for some longer-term reward. But what would happen if your life were only ever about indulgence? In a continuous succession of pleasurable experiences, how would you distinguish one from another? Put simply, if you ate your favourite food every day, how long would it take before you got thoroughly sick of it?

Vegetarian Burger: healthy but not tasty - the kind you eat because you know it's good for you, not because you really want to. In this quadrant of the Hamburger Model, you forgo current pleasure entirely in order to derive some future benefit, living your life according to the 'No Pain, No Gain' principle. The problem with this is that you can start to believe that happiness is something you can only achieve in the future. And when you reach that future, what then? Often, you're still searching...Life has become a rat race.

Worst Burger: both tasteless and unhealthy. Before you ask, "well why would you eat it then?", some people become resigned to the belief that their life is pretty pointless - they give up on the present and the future and spend their time ruminating on what went wrong or what could have been. Seligman's research on a phenomenon called 'Learned Helplessness' shows how easy it is for us to learn that we have no control over our own lives and that whatever we do is futile. Ben-Shahar describes this desperate place as 'Nihilism'. Fortunately what has been learned can be unlearned.

Ideal Burger: both tasty and healthy. The Happiness quadrant is where you enjoy a good balance of pleasure, fulfillment and purpose in your life. Sounds simple doesn't it? There are two crucial points here. Firstly - take a moment to consider your own personal definition of happiness. If you're thinking you'd like to experience pure unremitting bliss for the rest of your days, beware. Leading psychiatrist Dr Raj Persaud has suggested that we really should be aiming for no more than "mild contentment". Anything more and you're likely to set yourself up to fail. So you might have to revisit your expectations. Secondly, does your definition of happiness incorporate activity as well as feeling? If not, think about it again - only you can make you happy, so in order to be happy, to create meaning and purpose in your life, you have to do something.

So what are you going to do differently?

Tuesday, 11 September 2007

Well-being at Work: CIPD Perspective

At the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development's seminar on Well-being at Work back in July this year, stress and trauma expert Dr Noreen Tehrani presented the CIPD's employee well-being model which incorporates five domains - Physical, Emotional, Personal Development, Organisation and Values.

Having spoken to many organisations about well-being, we know that many go little further than the physical domain, providing subsidised gym-membership, healthy options on the canteen menu, and perhaps support to give up smoking. The fact that the CIPD model goes well beyond the physical domain is therefore a great step forward we think.

Many organisations also believe that they tick the boxes when it comes to the other four domains (Emotional, Personal Development, Organisation and Values) - they are after all committed to open and honest communications (...we have yet to find one which isn't...), they have a statement of company values on their website, they provide staff training and coaching, and perhaps even flexible working.

But employee well-being is both more and less than this. When I've asked business leaders and HR managers about their policy on psychological well-being, there are usually two responses: they either look blank or they say brightly "we provide counselling through our Employee Assistance Programme". To us this completely misses the point.

Psychological well-being is not about solving people's problems, it's about creating an organisation culture where people thrive and flourish. Your company might provide an enormous amount of tangible benefits, yet it still might fall short on the psychological aspects of well-being.

The CIPD well-being model touches on this (p8) but we don't believe it's sufficiently bold enough to get business leaders really thinking differently about how their organisations are run in reality. For example, think about the organisation or department that you manage at the moment: hand on heart can you honestly say that your employees are thriving and flourishing at work?

It could be that the CIPD's approach to the employee/organisational well- being debate is deliberately softly softly. If so we look forward to further developments very soon.

Get in touch if you want to find out more about our approach to organisational well-being or our workshops for coaches or HR managers.

Monday, 10 September 2007

Emotional Intelligence - Myth or Reality?

There is increasing media coverage of the government's plans to introduce lessons in emotional intelligence (EI) in schools in England, not all of it positive. Some argue that this initiative is needed to create a healthy balance after years of focusing on targets, league tables and standardised testing brought about by the introduction of the national curriculum. Others think it's a load of liberal mumbo-jumbo which has no place in a system which fails to ensure all school leavers have basic maths and literacy skills. According to the recent 2007 CBI / Pertemps Employment Trends Survey 52% of employers are dissatisfied with the basic literacy of school leavers, and 50% with their basic numeracy.

But does it have to be an either/or solution? It might be more effective if separate EI lessons aren't added into the curriculum (which would mean that some other lessons have to be squeezed out) but if existing subjects, like English, Drama and History are adapted to focus on the relevant EI topics (like self-awareness and motivation). In this way, an EI approach becomes incorporated into the fabric of the school, and ultimately becomes 'the way we do things round here'. It's a bit like trying to change the culture in an organisation - it doesn't work unless behaviours also change.

And there are a couple of interesting points which do need to be explored further in order to get parents and teachers on side with this. The first is whether or not EI can actually be measured - as with happiness and well-being assessments, much of it is subjective. Does that mean they are any less meaningful or useful? In a system so tied in to targets and league-tables, this may not be an easy one to resolve.

The second is whether EI can be increased through teaching or training. It is true that a greater number of EI assessments are being used in the business world today, to help enhance ones skill in recognising and understanding emotions, ultimately enabling them to be managed more effectively. What we don't know is whether ones EI can be increased - even the experts behind the original EI theory, Mayer, Salovey and Caruso are unsure about this.

Most people working in the positive psychology field appear to welcome the introduction of EI into British schools. If we want it to be successful, however, there is one big caveat....DON'T create an EI league table!

Tuesday, 4 September 2007

Emotional Intelligence in Schools

How the next generation will be better prepared for the challenges of the workplace.

The Times today reported that "lessons in happiness, well-being and good manners are to be introduced in all state secondary schools".

It's unfortunate that the SEAL (Social and Emotional Aspects of Learning) programme is being labelled in this way by the media, because it instantly downgrades its importance, putting it firmly in the category of pink and fluffy fads which we'd be better off without.

What SEAL is actually for is to promote children's social and emotional skills which underpin effective learning, positive behaviour and emotional health and well-being in schools. "So what?", I hear you ask. Well, for many years now, various employment and business related organisations in the UK, such as the Confederation of British Industry, have been highly critical of employees' lack of (so-called) soft-skills. In 2004/5, Sir Digby Jones, then Director-General of the CBI said of new graduates:

“ A degree alone is not enough. Employers are looking for more than just technical skills and knowledge of a degree discipline. They particularly value skills such as communication, team working and problem solving. Job applicants who can demonstrate that they have developed these skills will have a real advantage.”

So you could say that the real point of the SEAL programme in schools is to start providing kids with the necessary tools to develop their self-awareness, empathy, motivation, social skills and ability to manage their emotions, so that ultimately they can become successful members of the community and successful in the workplace. Makes perfect sense now, doesn't it?

Thanks to Bruce Stanley for the Times article.