Category Archives: Happiness

Why is flextime so important?

Why is flextime so important? According to Gallup, it’s because people deeply crave freedom. They want to be in control of their own lives.  This lines up nicely with happiness and depression research. Lawyers (especially first and second year lawyers) and ER nurses are the unhappiest workers. What’s the connection with these two occupations? Their work is high stress, low choice.  We crave choices (but not too many choices). And we sometimes don’t notice the door of the cage is open. Psychologists call this ‘learned helplessness’. If flextime is important to you, grade yourself on how well you identify and enjoy your current level of flextime. For example, lunch is built-in flextime. How free are your lunches? (data from It’s the Manager book by Jim Clifton and Jim Harter) 

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What happens if you ask for happiness?

“If you ask the grail for happiness, that demand precludes happiness. But if you serve the grail properly, you will find that what happens and happiness are the same thing.” – Robert Johnson The grail mythology says we are on a life quest for something precious, something unique, something just out of sight…yet in plain sight. We just don’t have the eyes for it yet. Many of us choose pleasure, some form of happiness as an unspoken grail.  If you demand happiness? That’s a sure way of being unhappy. As William Blake wrote, “it is right it should be so, man was made for joy and woe.” What if you don’t struggle against what happens in life, that mixture of joy and woe? Johnson says we will find happiness in what happens. The war is over. Blake agreed, “joy and woe are woven fine, a clothing for the soul divine.”

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Oh, that’s bad, no that’s good! (What I learned watching Hee Haw)

There is a classic skit on Hee Haw where Roy Clark tells a story and Charlie replies with either “oh, that’s good” or “oh, that’s bad”. The joke builds as every time the “that’s good” reply is corrected with Roy Clark saying “no, that’s bad.” What we thought was good news turns out to be bad in the story. And what someone would normally label as “that’s bad” gets corrected by Roy (“no, that’s good”) as we realize that the ‘bad news’ turns out to be good news as the story unfolds. What’s in your circle of control? Larger forces work their dark magic on us and we find ourselves in situations that might be called ‘less than wonderful’. Things happen, bad things happen, beyond our control. Wonderful things happen too. We can focus on what a shame it is we didn’t win the lottery, had that car accident, got that illness, didn’t get that raise, on and on.  And we can also focus on what is in our control – how we perceive and react to what we see. We can consciously choose what our perception is instead of how our unconscious bias labels. If you’re unsure of how to do shake things up in this way, try a simple trick. Whatever you’d normally judge as bad, label it the opposite. What if it’s great? The Buddhists are wonderful at this, welcoming discomfort in the service of learning. And Carl Jung took this contrarian view with this patients – good news was met with dismay because they’d be less likely to do the hard work of individuation, and bad news was met with celebration. So, is what is happening right now good or bad? Are you in heaven or hell right now? Are you sure? “Everybody has that opportunity. It’s our choice of perception. How do we perceive the world around us? We can perceive it negatively and go to hell or we can perceive it positively and make it work well and go to heaven, you know, play with the angels.” – 99-year-old Klaus Obermeyer

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Quix Tip: 5 Excellent Reasons to Walk

 “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” – John Muir 1 – Your inner health Wallace Stevens said, “Perhaps the truth depends on a walk around the lake.” We all experience moments in the day that are extremely challenging. Taking a break from them and re-gathering your energy can really help to change your perspective and regain your sense of humor when faced with the foibles of the human comedy. 2 – Your Physical health Walking at a moderate pace for 30-60 minutes burns stored fat and can build muscle to speed up your metabolism. Walking an hour a day is also associated with reducing your risk of heart disease, breast cancer, colon cancer, diabetes and stroke. Studies have shown that people using a pedometer walk an additional mile each day. That adds up! 3 – Your wallet If you walk more on small errands or even walk to work, you’re saving gas money, along with making a health investment for your future. As you build up your walking practice, remember what Steven Wright said, “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time.” 4 – Your powers of observation John Burroughs said, “To find new things, take the path you took yesterday.” If you have a daily practice of walking you’ll be amazed at the small changes you can daily and weekly see in the nature that you walk through. 5 – Your innovation Friedrich Nietzsche said, “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” When you pull your nose back from the glass, you get a fresh perspective. Fresh air and sunlight are both food for the brain. Remember, Velcro was invented because someone went for a walk.

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Quix Tip: The Growing Orbit of Giving

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke said, “I live my life in growing orbits.” The first orbit starts with the self. The next orbit might be those small generosities, the daily giving you can do for those around you. What can you give to your co-workers, your family? What would they most appreciate? Your time? What’s the quality of your time – would they wish to see you relaxed, healthy and content and share that moment with you – then it may help you to give to yourself – whether it’s exercise, quiet time, time spent with friends and your community, whatever refreshes your batteries, in order to give what people would most like from you The next orbit may be to help strangers, people you don’t know, to find a way to make even that connection feel like home. Pema Chodron recommends starting with what’s easiest, then moving incrementally to what’s harder. Ideally giving is for both you and the world. If it’s just one of those, then you’re missing something valuable.

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Questions for the Journey

On your next journey you may wish to ask yourself these seven questions: What would I like to quest for on this small journey? What simple pleasures can I really allow in today? What will help me recharge my batteries? What will it take to soften a little bit more in the belly, to breathe more slowly, deeply and freely? What will help me bring a sense of ease back into my day? How can I be more fully alive and present to all the delights that are around me right now? What will enable me to give my best when I return?

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Team Building The AMC Hut Croo Way

After a full, beautiful day of hiking the White Mountains in New Hampshire, my long-time friend Kevin (over 30 years!) and I reached our resting place for the night. We unslung our backpacks at Mizpah Spring Hut. An Appalachian Mountain Club hut is a ‘hut’ in name only. Located on Mount Pierce at 3,800 feet elevation, the Mizpah Spring Hut can sleep up to 60 people. Meals are served family style to the hikers, so and we sat down at a long table filled with hikers. I was quite unprepared for what came next. Out came the croo (they spell it that way) members for dinner announcements. Two people trudged out wearing old wooden frame backpacks. Attached to each of the packs was a wooden chair. Sitting on the two chairs were croo members, the man wearing a fashionable gold lame top and comfy pajama bottoms. And for the next few minutes there they sat, explaining how meals worked and what was for dinner. The whole time, the others where stolidly standing in place with well over 150 pounds of wood and humanity on each their backs. Adventures like this continued throughout the evening and into the morning. The croo woke us up by singing a song (the best alarm clock ever). Tasks they wanted people to do in the morning after breakfast were relayed in the form of a very funny take on an old fairy tale. We were all sold on the experience, all bought in, all engaged. There were smiles everywhere throughout the room, and cheers, laughter and applause were the norms. The croo members were a positive contagion. Every human in the room got elevated (pun intended). So, great. What does this have to do with anything, you ask? I work with teams for a living. I’ve worked with great teams, worked with extremely dysfunctional teams. I’ve worked with literally thousands of teams. This was the highest performing team I’ve ever seen. These young men and women (this was their summer job while in college for the most part) gave us what we technically needed – a place to sleep and two meals. But they gave us so much more – an experience that lifted us, inspiration, laughter, a feeling we were part of something special. The daily grind of modern work is unforgiving. And it can deaden. I know, I know, belive me, I know. I see it everywhere and know the feeling intimately too. But we do have a choice. We can give these higher qualities to the people we work with. Or we can decline to do that. We can give the members of our family team at home that experience, the members of our community team that experience. Or not. And we can look for inspiration from the good that’s being done in the world to help balance out the bad we hear so much about. The choice is here today for you, for me. September, a month of fresh starts, beckons us, hoping for a smile on our lips and a generosity in our hearts. Here’s to you and me being living inspirations this month!

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Try Something New: The Optimism Test

What happens when you try something new that is in some way challenging? How do you react you when you don’t quite get a new skill right away, or master a task? What do you tell yourself? These are questions I ask during our music team building programs, whether it’s Play the Blues, Rock Band Inc. or Bang On My Drum All Day. All of these programs let people try out a new skill. And just like the first time someone tries to ride a bicycle, there are moments of failure before playing a song successfully. And the responses I hear and see from people holding harmonicas or drums for the first time are varied, even in a small group. In any given program, I’ll see enthusiasm, tension, playfulness, intense concentration, laughter, frustration, hesitation, excitement and defeat within a minute of starting. The two ends of the response scale, the enthralled excitement and the giving up, especially intrigue me – what makes some people give up on a new challenge and what makes others thrive and take that challenge on, whether they are actually seeing progress yet or not? It’s especially interesting because something like a harmonica or a drum has a relatively low threshold level of expertise, unlike complex tasks such as learning a new computer program, learning to play the oboe, or even driving a car. A Moment of Truth I like to think of the moment of truth for people in these workshops (and in the myriad moments when we’re confronted with new challenges in an ever-changing world) as an optimism test. If you give up on something small, whether because of unrealistically high expectations (“I’ve been playing for five minutes and I still don’t sound like the guy on those Muddy Waters albums yet”), ‘challenge overload’ at work, or a myriad of other reasons, odds are you’re likely to give up more quickly when large challenges come your way. Conversely, if you stick with something new, stay humble, are able to laugh at yourself gently, and have some faith that “I’ll be able to play something for my kids when I get home even if it doesn’t sound like much now,” you also stand a good chance at approaching life’s larger challenges with that same positive attitude. Our Capacity for Happiness Dr. Martin Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, ( has spent a lifetime studying optimism and pessimism, happiness and depression. He says that how we explain events to ourselves when we fail is a key determinant for our capacity for happiness. He says, “When we fail, we all become at least momentarily helpless.” Whenever we try something new, we fail many times in small ways – we fall off the metaphorical bike, again and again. But what do you do then? Do you give up? There are people out there who have given up on riding a bicycle, finding true love, making a positive difference at work, writing a book, giving the best of themselves. What stops us from living our best lives? Seligman notes that people who explain events in a pessimistic style feel helpless when something bad happens. They see momentary misfortune as being permanent and universal. “I wasn’t able to play that note just then and Sarah next to me could” becomes “Everyone’s getting this except me. I can’t play this thing. I’ve never been able to play music. My first grade teacher told me I was tone-deaf and she was right. I’ll never be any good at this!” The Optimism Edge Optimistic people see failures as temporary, with specific causes for the failure. So, “I wasn’t able to play that note just then and Sarah next to me could” becomes “That was the first time I tried getting that note. It makes sense that I wouldn’t get it right away, but I know I will.” Other optimistic thoughts that might follow? “This is just like learning to golf last year. It wasn’t until the 100th swing that I started to get a little of the magic of the game. I’m going to keep trying, I know I can get better at this – if Sarah can do it, so can I. And my kids are going to be really excited when I play a song for them tonight before they go to bed.” Research shows that optimistic people are physically and mentally healthier, and more successful in school, sports, and work. But how do you exercise your ‘optimism muscle’ and stay in the game, no matter how tough it gets?   Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s teams building and team development activities: Play the Blues – As featured on NPR and in The Meeting Professional  Learn to play the blues harmonica in just two hours! Each team member will receive their own harmonica, a copy of Blues Harmonica for Beginners book and play-a-long CD. Within minutes you will be playing a real blues song together. The grand finale features your team as the stars performing an original blues song that you have created together! 40 Days to Change For Good – Don’t just manage change, lead it. Create a successful forty-day blueprint to lead a change that lasts. Resiliency: Five Keys to Success – Leverage the five principles of resiliency – engagement, efficiency, endurance, flexibility, and loving the game – for peak work performance and enjoyment.

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How to Savor the Moment

The next time you get ready to drink something – whether it’s a beer, glass of water, juice, wine, pause to savor the moment. Use all of your senses to appreciate the impending taste. Pause and let go of anything else you’re thinking about, whether future or past or mundane – let it go. Block out any other distractions around you, sharpen your perceptions and focus on your filled glass. Look and enjoy the colors and reflections in your glass, swish the drink around in your glass and watch it flow. Smell the aroma, breathe it in deeply and slowly. Imagine its long complicated multi-level journey to get to you. Think of all of the people involved, what grew where, the sun that grew the ingredients, the technology that was created to make this possible. Now realize that all of that choreographed effort was done for you. It’s all culminating in you enjoying this drink in this penultimate moment. You’re the fruition of all that effort, the grand finale, the celebration. Congratulations! Now taste. Slowly take a sip. Eke out every bit of pleasure from each mouthful. Savor the taste and imagine the benefits of it going through your body. Now pause a moment to remember what that first taste was like. Thanks to habituation, no taste after that will be quite as amazing as the first sip. Take a mental snapshot of your experience After you’re done, share your experience. Either set up the experience for someone you care about or at least tell them about your taste trip. Savoring in Action This technique can be expanded to any mundane experience you have in a day. It’s in line with the emerging field of ‘savoring’. Fred Bryant and Joseph Veroff of Loyola University define savoring as “the awareness of pleasure and of the deliberate conscious attention to the experience of pleasure.” By savoring, you’re giving yourself a chance to slow up, be present in a moment, be more mindful and concentrate better. Martin Seligman, the founder of Positive Psychology says, “The speed of our modern life and our extreme future-mindedness can sneak up on us and impoverish our present…saving time (for what?) and planning for a future (that arrived yesterday but also never comes), we lose acres of the present.” What better way to bring ourselves back to the present than by consciously experiencing pleasure? Here are five techniques that Bryant and Veroff suggest to promote savoring: Sharing with others Memory-building Self-congratulation Sharpening perceptions Absorption How many of these techniques did you find present in the tasting exercise above? Bryant and Veroff also have outlined four kinds of savoring that these techniques support. Which kinds did you access when you did the tasting exercise? Basking (receiving praise and congratulations) Thanksgiving (expressing gratitude for blessings) Marveling (losing the self in the wonder of the moment) Luxuriating (indulging the senses) Try savoring in small and large places in your life. Pause especially after the fruition of a large project, presentation, or anything you worked hard to complete, were a little scared about, and did well. We can all use more pauses like that in our life, a life that’s just waiting to be savored. Further Reading: Authentic Happiness by Martin Seligman Savoring: A New Model of Positive Experience by Fred B. Bryant and Joseph Veroff Explore this idea more fully in Quixote Consulting’s teams building and team development activities: Resiliency: Five Keys to Success – Leverage the five principles of resiliency – engagement, efficiency, endurance, flexibility, and loving the game – for peak work performance and enjoyment. At Your Best – Explore how to give your best and play to your strengths for sustained individual success.

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Charles Dickens Quest Quote – The March Choice

“It was one of those March days when the sun shines hot and the wind blows cold: when it is summer in the light, and winter in the shade.” – Charles Dickens This reminds me of being a kid and curling up in those warm spots in the sun amongst dry, old leaves. Then walking home on the shadow side of a hill and picking my way across old snow. The same day, two very different experiences – summer and winter all in one. Today is like that for you and me. Which one will we choose – appreciation or complaint?

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