For example, let’s say you’re a talented artist, sitting behind a desk crunching numbers into a computer day after day. Lately you find yourself anxiety-ridden and depressed. You’re feeling totally unfulfilled. Positive psychology will tell you that no amount of pills or psychotherapy will help you, without addressing the root cause of your unhappiness, which is that you’re ignoring your innate genius (which in this case, happens to be a more right-brain creative outlet).
I’ve been at a point in my work, suffering burn-out from twenty years spent in the field of veterinary medicine where I became so depressed I found myself under the care of a psychologist and psychiatrist. Neither one of them asked me to evaluate the roll my work may have been playing on my anxiety. In fact, the psychiatrist spent more time talking about himself (while writing me prescription after prescription) than addressing my psychiatric needs. Turns out when I quit my vet job, changed my life, refocused completely – *poof* – no more depression.
The field of Positive Psychology doesn’t so much focus on treating psychiatric disorders through medications and analysis of the past as it does in finding the individual’s hidden talent and passion which is being neglected. Through this process, they say happiness is achieved and mental illness is circumnavigated.
In 1995 Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi interviewed 90 leading figures in several fields of study. Each participant was world-famous for their creative success in areas such as business, art, education, government, writing, physics, mathematics… you name it. His study revealed some commonalities among these highly talented, self-actualized people who all lived life true to themselves, satisfied, happy, and highly fulfilled. I thought it was a great study and figured I’d share their list of shared values.
1.) Try to be surprised by something every day. Embrace the atypical! Be open to what the the world is showing you. Life is a stream of experiences. Swim widely and deeply in it, and your life will be richer.
2.) Try to surprise someone every day. Don’t always be predictable and patterned. Embrace the unconventional.
3.) Each evening, write down what most surprised you that day, and your response to it. What was your most surprising action, and what was a person’s response to it? After a few days of notes, go back and reread them. In a few weeks you’ll likely see a pattern of interest developing, waiting to be explored in greater depth.
4.) When something sparks your interest, follow it. Oftentimes we’ll find something curious or interesting and tell ourselves we’ll do some Internet research on it later. We then let it slide because we’re too busy with other things, and simply forget about it. If you can’t drop everything to follow your interest at any given moment, then carry a small notebook around with you. Write down those things which demand exploration.
5.) Wake up in the morning with a specific goal to look forward to. Creative people start each day with the feeling that there is something meaningful to accomplish, no matter how seemingly small.
6.) Spend time in settings that stimulate your creativity. Physical activity is important. The most profound sparks of creativity & intuition generally happen when a person is jogging, swimming, walking, or even just traveling somewhere in the car. Sitting in a natural setting, enjoying a sparkling stream or a sunset is beneficial. And the half-asleep / half-awake state we find ourselves in when we’re deeply relaxed or barely awake is a powerful state for the reception of novel ideas.
What gets you in the flow? What causes time to seemingly stop for you? Have you experienced that? You plan to sit down for just a few minutes and three hours later you look at the clock, wondering where the time went? I love that! Because to me, it means I’ve been living in my heart-space, where there are no limitations.