What are your hopes and dreams for the future? When the Gallup Research organization asked this question across 160 countries the unanimous answer in every city was: "A good job and a happy family."
As Sigmund Freud once said: "Work and love, love and work -- that's all there is."
So you can imagine my surprise when I scored the job of my dreams in New York and found myself surrounded by family and friends I adored, only to realize the pace of it all meant I was barely functioning, never mind flourishing. By the conventional definition of success I had it all, but I could barely find the energy to get out bed each morning.
Unfortunately, women all around the world are whispering the same story.
While life is better in many countries for women on almost every measure of health, education, employment, and wealth, most of us are unhappier now than we were 40 years ago.
Where are we going wrong?
"The world every day sends us flashing, insistent, loud messages and sign posts to make more money, to climb up the career ladder, and there are almost no sign posts in the world to tell us to reconnect with the essence of who we are -- to take care of ourselves along the way, to reach out to others who need us. So we need to create our own tribe, our own practices, our own rituals to make sure we find the sign posts in ourselves," observed the formidable Arianna Huffington recently at Wisdom 2.0.
Watching her broadcast live in my living room I stood up and cheered, "Yes, yes, yes." I couldn't agree more wholeheartedly that our current model of success with its emphasis on money and power encourages a burnout lifestyle -- especially in those of us with a healthy dose of ambition.
Surely there has to be more to life than this?
For me the journey of discovery started when I stumbled on the emerging field of positive psychology -- the science of human flourishing. The "aha" moments came thick and fast as I uncovered evidence for our need of:
- Not just accomplishment or good relationships to thrive, but also healthy levels of positive emotion, regular opportunities for engagement and a sense of meaning in order to have well-being.
- Regular practices to maintain a presence of each of these well-being elements in our lives. Just like eating one piece of broccoli wasn't going to suddenly make me healthy, counting my blessings for one night wasn't going to make me happier.
- Variety and novelty in my practices to ensure I didn't adapt too quickly to the good things happening in my life.
Turns out there was nothing wrong with me, I'd just never been taught how to live a life in which I could thrive. Have you?
As I learned how to track my positivity ratio, uncover my strengths, create micro-moments of connection with people, craft a job that had meaning and purpose and cultivate mindsets to pursue and accomplish what mattered to me (rather than what matter to others), I finally felt like I had life truly figured out.
Does it mean every day will now be perfect?
Of course not. I still live in the real world. Just last week I had one of those days -- where despite everything I now know I'd stretched myself too thin -- where every step I took landed me in a mistake, from forgotten school lunches to racing across town only to find I was a day early for a board meeting (doh!).
What's different is the speed from which I can recover from the downward spirals of overwhelm and helplessness that we all experience from time to time. On this particular day it was the tools Huffington recommends as part of her Third Metric crusade that restored my calm and grace.
As I headed home from my wasted trip, I kicked into my mindfulness practice to acknowledge today had gotten a little out of hand. Rather beating myself up with recriminations, I took some slow, deep breaths and spent the next few minutes meditating and practicing some loving kindness for self. Tapping into my practical wisdom I forgave my mistakes and looked for the lessons to be learnt. With renewed appreciation for all the rest of the things that were going right in my life, I accepted it was time to give work a break for a while and picked up my son early for a play in the park.
The Third Metric was just the reminder I needed that I have all the tools I need to navigate my way through the good and bad days every life has.
So now when asked about my hopes and dreams for the future I respond: a good job, a happy family and the wisdom to know when to stop. Then I'll truly be thriving.