Live Well Between Your Ears
Healthy Living Column
His column appears regularly in Fine Lifestyles Magazine and a number of newspapers in Western Canada. He has written for American Psychologist and Journal of Practical Approaches to Developmental Handicap. His column brings a light fresh and humorous approach to healthy living, touching on the most sensitive of subjects.
"Live Well Between Your Ears" is great food for thought and healthier living. Take a look at the samples attached and call us if you want to run a trial in your newspaper.
Live Well Between Your Ears
Sample Column 1
What’s happening to happy? by Doug Spencer, Ph.D.
Isn’t it great when you’re happy—smiling, humming, content, and brimming over with a life-is-good feeling. In an ideal world these are everyday feelings, or at least once in a while feelings, but not distant memories. Nearly everyone complains that happy is harder to find these days. A 2005 British survey found only 36 percent of the people were “very happy” compared with 52 percent back in 1957. This downward trend is similar in other developed countries. Why does the average person report being less happy? Does it have to do with money, stress, relationships, or what?
For the very poor money does buy a bit of happiness since it assures food in their belly and a roof over head. But once those survival needs are met, money has little effect on happiness. In fact, polls tell us that since the fifties we’ve seen a three-fold increase in wealth but only static or even declining happiness.
Maybe stress caused by change and a hurried, complicated world contributes to unhappiness? It must be part of the answer since research indicates that many of the things that reduce stress also promote happiness, such as exercise, rewarding work, and creative activities. Another British study found that 48 percent of respondents said having good friends contributed most to happiness followed by health at 24 percent.
OK, assume the research is valid; that some of us are not as happy and that happy is harder to find. How do we reverse the trend and increase happiness? We can make more friends and get rid of all the stress in our lives, two things much easier said than done, but no doubt they would help. However, there is current research putting the spot light somewhere else; saying that happiness is closely tied to personal virtues, character strengths, and how we live our daily lives.
This most recent and comprehensive research on happiness comes from Martin Seligman and his colleagues working in the field of Positive Psychology. With over twenty books and hundreds of research articles, he is highly regarded in his field. Not long ago I heard him speak about happiness at a conference in San Francisco. He defined three distinct routes to happiness. The first is what he calls the “pleasant life” in which we really only manage to “fidget till we die”, searching for happiness in new toys, warm sandy beaches, and whatever else we believe provides some fleeting joy. This happiness vanishes like smoke. The second route is through the “engaged life” producing the type of happiness you feel when you’re in the zone with a sense of flow. Characterized as more intense, it’s when time stands still and you are totally absorbed. Third, the “meaningful life” leads to more persistent happiness achieved not with things, but by a life focused on service to others. These three paths to happiness redefine the meaning of happy. We are happiest when we direct our pursuits to all three, with the last two carrying the most weight. But how do we do that? What else is involved?
In 2005 Seligman, Steen, Park, and Peterson identified six important virtues and the character strengths found in each. These virtues and strengths move us toward the engaged and meaningful life, where happiness comes from how we live and not the latest gadget or vacation. Wisdom, the first virtue they talk about, includes the character strengths of creativity, curiosity, open mindedness, love of learning, and a sense of perspective. Courage, the second virtue, has authenticity, zest, bravery, and persistence listed. A third virtue they called humanity is comprised of kindness, love, and social intelligence. Justice, the fourth virtue, includes fairness, teamwork, and leadership. Their fifth virtue, temperance, lists forgiveness, modesty, prudence, and self-regulation as the character strengths. Finally, the sixth virtue, transcendence, includes appreciation of beauty and excellence, gratitude, hope, humour, and religiousness. An impressive list! To possess all of them in abundance seems a tall order. But then again, who said being happy is easy? When all is said and done, deep down happiness is what our hearts desire most. So build those character strengths, hunt for the routes that work for you, and live well between your ears.
Sample Column 2
Live Well Between Your Ears
Here come the women! Doug Spencer, Ph.D.
March is women’s month. What about men’s month? Some would argue it’s been men’s month for centuries. Throughout history men and women developed different skills and values appropriate for their roles: men to provide food and safety; women to give birth and nurture families. Right or wrong these historical roles have resulted in more men than women in leadership positions.
Women have been on the short end of the leadership stick for quite a while. In places like Afghanistan where education, political voice, and freedom are still denied, women certainly need a month, if not several generations, just to experience the good life, let alone leadership. Canadian women in Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba couldn’t vote until 1916, followed by Ontario and BC (1917), Nova Scotia (1918), New Brunswick and the Yukon (1919), Prince Edward Island (1922), Newfoundland and Labrador (1925), Quebec (1940), and the North West Territories in 1951. But much has changed.
In the last few decades men and women’s roles have blurred. More women occupy positions once held only by men and vice versa. In fact, on March 14, British Columbia’s Christy Clark became Canada’s first female premier. And there are other signs of women taking the lead. In September, 2010 the Wall Street Journal reported that 53 percent of women graduate from university vs. 38 percent of men. Among recent business graduates, the earning power of single women is 8 percent greater than for comparable men. But the average income for women is still 20 percent less than for men doing the same jobs. And while women now occupy 50 percent of the jobs in management, only 15 percent of top management positions are held by women (Dencker, 2008). Still, these numbers reflect greater equality today than twenty years ago and the gap continues to close.
Why is the gap closing? Is it driven by the immorality of inequality or do female leaders bring more of what society needs to the table? Are we coming to a point in history where we need understanding and nurturance more than muscle?
A massive program of research on leadership begun in the 60’s by psychologist Fred Fiedler sheds some light on why women are destined for more positions of leadership. Among other things he found that people with a social-emotional style of leadership were most effective when the goals and challenges were complex. But when the goals were clear and straight forward a task-specialist or drill-sergeant type of leader was most effective.
More recent research indicates the social emotional leaders have several characteristics found more commonly in women. In 2008 Schmitt and his colleagues studied personality differences in 17,637 men and women from 55 different countries. They found that women were rated slightly more anxious, temperamental, emotional, and vulnerable than men. While these aren’t characteristics associated with leaders, others are. For example, they were rated harder working, more organized, and persevering than were the men. The women were also described as soft hearted, trusting, generous, lenient, affectionate, talkative, and passionate. Similar results were obtained in a 2005 study of people from 70 countries. Psychologists Schwartz and Rubel confirmed that men in almost all cultures place a higher value on authority, wealth, controlling others, social power, success, ambition, and admiration for one’s abilities. Women on the other hand place a higher value on social justice, equality, wisdom, world peace, protecting the environment, and being helpful, caring, loyal, and supportive.
These two studies indicate that women more than men resemble Fiedler’s description of social-emotional leaders. The research indicates that women are more effective leaders especially in a complex world. If the research on leadership is correct, and if you believe today’s challenges are more complex than ever, then women bring more to the table. So get ready—here come the women—and live well between your ears.
Sample Column 3
Live Well Between Your Ears
Beer cans, good times, and gadgets. Doug Spencer Ph.D.
Peter Mansbridge, Charlie Rose, Fareed Zakaria, and George Stroumboulopoulos are impressive guys. While they may not be happy (who really knows?) it isn’t due to lack of money, influence, or opportunity. They’ve created plenty of each. Peter is chief correspondent for CBC news and anchor of CBC’s National News. Charlie hosts a talk show on public television in the USA. Fareed, a prolific journalist and very bright guy, hosts Global Public Square on CNN Sunday mornings, and George hosts his nightly show on CBC. They are thoughtful, well-educated, complex people who, one day at a time, shape beliefs. Two were born in North America and two were not, but unlike many North American men in particular, if you peeled back their skull and looked inside you’d find much more than beer cans, good times, and gadgets.
Not to be critical, there’s nothing wrong with beer cans, good times, and gadgets. You’d find a few under my skull too. But these days there needs to be much more. If we don’t pay attention to world affairs and start valuing education and the interconnected nature of the world, our culture will lose its place near the front of the line. We cannot remain at the forefront of technology, development, and most things good if we don’t crawl out of our cocoon and pursue knowledge, excellence, and understanding more successfully.
It’s not just these four. Many talented men and women make their mark in many fields every day. Do they have anything in common? Google them or others you have in mind and find out. Whoever they are I’ll bet their road to success is long and they’ve shown great tenacity. They are competitors. Yes they have talent but they weren’t necessarily born with more than you. Do they work harder at their craft? Probably. Do they pay closer attention? Probably. Are they better educated? Probably. Are they smarter? Maybe, but it’s not likely the difference maker. What accounts for their success? Don’t say it’s who they know. Yes, at some point it may have helped but more importantly it’s what they know and why. As you watch these four it is easy to believe that what got them to the top and keeps them there is more perseverance, curiosity, and global interest than blind luck or happenstance.
For the benefit of future generations and to assure the good life as we know it, we need to somehow create family, educational, and cultural environments where talent like theirs can take root and flourish. Pay attention to the news anchors, producers, editors, talk show hosts, politicians, documentary guests, sports casters, weather women, and leaders of any sort who create, broadcast, govern, manage, or one way or another determine what we see and hear and thus shape our culture.
Who are they? Where are they from? Are they first or second generation immigrants? Somewhere along the line they were encouraged to be creative, open to ideas, tolerant, and to hold high standards for their work. They value education, do not settle for the status quo, and become citizens of the world as much as citizens of their local community and country. No doubt there are young people in your community who fit the description. But there could be many more. With awareness we can move our children in that direction. Are your kids on pace now to compete with the Peters, Charlies, Fareeds, and Piers of the world? If not, why not? Don’t say it’s not important. In your heart you know it is. Do we help our children think big enough and make them aware of their many options?
Regardless of race, religion, or background, if the majority of North Americans don’t trade in our OK-is-good-enough attitude for one which stresses challenge and excellence, the up-coming generation of kids and grandkids will experience less fulfilling lives, a lower standard of living, and resentment for feeling left out. We see it now and it’s accelerating. The world is more competitive than it was a few years ago. The spoils will go to the tolerant, complex, well educated, and worldly children. Home court advantage is disappearing. Make sure their world is more than beer cans, good times, and gadgets, and live well between your ears.