Today we start a new Provision series on the power of appreciation. What kind of person are you? Do you look for problems and pitfalls? If so, then I’m sure you have no trouble finding them. And that is the world you live in: one filled with plenty of things to gripe and complain about. Do you look for possibilities and provisions? If so, then you no doubt find those as well. And that is the world you live in: one filled with plenty of things to celebrate and build on. That’s how appreciation works: what we appreciate, appreciates. So why not appreciate the good stuff?
I had a lot of fun this past week with a simple Tweet. “My next Provision series will focus on The Power of Appreciation,” I wrote, “How does appreciation play out for you, in both life and work?” I received a slew of replies with questions and jabs regarding the distinctions between appreciation, gratitude, gratification, and satisfaction. From there we evolved and devolved into conversation about birthdays, ice cream, and other treats. Even Genghis Khan made it into the mix, with a dastardly quip.
The comment I enjoyed most came from a friend in Chicago who noted, “appreciation plays a large role in my life, but life still gets you…still, appreciation makes a difference in my life.” I agree. What we appreciate, appreciates. So it behooves us to notice and celebrate the good stuff.
That simple idea lies behind the creation over the past decade of an entire branch of psychology, known as “positive psychology”. Founded at the end of the 20th century by Martin Seligman, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, and other psychologists interested in optimal human experience, positive psychology went off in a radically different direction from much of what psychologists had been studying and doing for 50 years. Instead of noticing and ameliorating human dysfunction, Seligman, et. al., proposed that psychology turn its attention to noticing and celebrating human function. What a concept.
Why do some people do so well? What can we learn from them? How can we understand and appreciate their experience? Such questions seem intrinsically relevant to the mission of psychology • the study and strengthening of mental functions and behavior • but they had been largely neglected. Seligman is famous for recounting the story of how, for him, things began to shift through a chance interaction he had with his young daughter:
“The notion of a positive psychology movement began at a moment in time a few months after I had been elected president of the American Psychological Association in 1998. It took place in my garden while I was weeding with my 5-year-old daughter, Nikki.”
“I have to confess that even though I write books about children, I’m really not all that good with them. I am goal-oriented and time-urgent, and when I am weeding in the garden, I am actually trying to get the weeding done. Nikki, however, was throwing weeds into the air and dancing around. I yelled at her. She walked away, came back, and said, ‘Daddy, I want to talk with you.'”
“‘Daddy, do you remember before my fifth birthday? From the time I was three to the time I was five, I was a whiner. I whined every day. When I turned five, I decided not to whine anymore. That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And if I can stop whining, you can stop being such a grouch.'”
“This was for me an epiphany, and nothing less,” Seligman observes. “I learned something about raising kids, something about myself, and a great deal about my profession. First, I realized that raising Nikki was not about correcting whining. Nikki did that herself. Rather, I realized that raising Nikki was about taking this marvelous skill • I call it ‘seeing into the soul’ • and amplifying it, nurturing it, helping her to lead her life around it to buffer against her weaknesses and the storms of life.”
“Raising children, I realized, is more than fixing what is wrong with them. It is about identifying and nurturing their strongest qualities, what they own and are best at, and helping them find niches in which they can best live out these positive qualities.”
“As for my own life, Nikki hit the nail right on the head. I was a grouch. I had spent 50 years mostly enduring wet weather in my soul, and the last 10 years being a nimbus cloud in a household of sunshine. Any good fortune I had was probably not due to my grouchiness but in spite of it. In that moment, I resolved to change.”
“But the broadest implication of Nikki’s lesson was about the science and practice of psychology. Before World War II, psychology had three distinct missions: curing mental illness, making the lives of all people more productive and fulfilling, and identifying and nurturing high talent.”
“Right after the war, two events • both economic • changed the face of psychology. In 1946, the Veterans Administration was founded, and thousands of psychologists found out that they could make a living treating mental illness. At that time, the profession of clinical psychologist came into its own. In 1947, the National Institute of Mental Health (which was based on the American Psychiatric Association’s disease model and is better described as the National Institute of Mental Illness) was founded, and academics found out that they could get grants if their research was described as being about pathology.”
“This arrangement brought many substantial benefits. There have been huge strides in the understanding of and therapy for mental illness: At least 14 disorders, previously intractable, have yielded their secrets to science and can now be either cured or considerably relieved. But the downside was that the other two fundamental missions of psychology • making the lives of all people better and nurturing genius • were all but forgotten.” (M. Seligman, Positive Psychology, Positive Prevention, and Positive Therapy, 2002).
What may have been true in 1998 is certainly not true in 2009. Indeed, Seligman’s 2002 prediction has rapidly come true: “I believe that a psychology of positive human functioning will arise that achieves a scientific understanding and effective interventions to build thriving individuals, families, and communities.” Search Google for “positive psychology” and you end up with more than 1.6 million results. Search Amazon and you end up with more than 2,500 books. The study of human thriving is no longer an afterthought; it is a mainstream and growing enterprise that has much to teach us about the power of appreciation.
In weeks to come we will focus on this power, we will learn what positive psychologists have to teach us, and we will • hopefully • resolve, with Seligman, to stop being grouches. Search Google for “The Grinch Who Stole Christmas”, based on a 1957 book by Dr. Seuss, and you end up with more than 4 million results. Positive psychologists are not the only ones interested in the power of appreciation. Perhaps you remember the plot:
The Grinch, a bitter, cave-dwelling, catlike creature with a heart “two sizes too small,” lives on snowy Mount Crumpit, a steep, 3,000-foot (910-meter) high mountain just north of Whoville, home of the merry and warm-hearted Whos. His only companion is his faithful dog, Max. From his perch high atop Mount Crumpit, the Grinch can hear the noisy Christmas festivities that take place in Whoville. Envious of the Whos’ happiness, he makes plans to descend on the town and, by means of burglary, deprive them of their Christmas presents and decorations and thus “prevent Christmas from coming”. (Wikipedia).
But Christmas still came and the Whos were still singing, which was viewed by the Grinch as a shocking surprise. To quote the inimical Dr. Seuss himself:
And the Grinch, with his grinch-feet ice-cold in the snow,
Stood puzzling and puzzling: “How could it be so?
Christmas came without ribbons! It came without tags!
“It came without packages, boxes or bags!”
And he puzzled three hours, `till his puzzler was sore.
Then the Grinch thought of something he hadn’t before!
“Maybe Christmas,” he thought, “doesn’t come from a store.
“Maybe Christmas…perhaps…means a little bit more!”
And what happened then…?
Well…in Who-ville they say
That the Grinch’s small heart
Grew three sizes that day!
And the minute his heart didn’t feel quite so tight,
He whizzed with his load through the bright morning light
And he brought back the toys! And the food for the feast!
The Grinch carved the roast beast!
Here’s to hearts that don’t feel quite so tight! What we appreciate, appreciates • so let’s focus on the good stuff and appreciate that.
Coaching Inquiries: What would get you to loosen up your heart? What resolutions would you like to make regarding your attitude? How could you make appreciation a more integral part of your life? Why not celebrate what’s right with the world instead of complaining about what’s wrong with it? Who could become your appreciation buddy in life and work?
PS • No sooner did I reprint Seligman’s story about the founding of positive psychology (above), than we get this comic from Brian Crane. Enjoy!
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Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob..
Good Article by David Bumbaugh on “God, humanity, and the nature of the universe“. I enjoyed and agreed with much. An observation (not a criticism) how humans want it all to make sense, and God is replaced • with mystery yes, and “patterns.” Patterns are a deviation from “the mystery.” We cannot accept the unknown, the possibility of no ultimate pattern, or truly comprehend infinity.
Wow! My head is spinning. I LOVE that you shared Bumbaugh’s message as your Provision and I am continually grateful to be connected to you. Bumbaugh’s words are extremely insightful, thought provoking, and I really appreciate his illustrations of the mitochondria.
I read Bumbaugh’s article but somewhere along the way I just slipped off the road. I have a question that sits with me • How do we help people move out of poverty? I listen continually with folks who do not just have one hole in their boats but there are holes everywhere and water is pouring in. Since you served this population when you were in Chicago, I am asking for your wisdom as I journey now. (Ed. Note: At Chautauqua, Tony Campolo said that the statement, “the poor you will always have with you” is really a question as to whether or not we will always be with the poor. It’s a hard place to be, and I appreciate both your question and your witness.)
This is my first week with LifeTrek. As a professional coach who is passionate about including Jehovah God in all areas of my life, I frequently find it challenging to sort through the many coaching services that demonstrate a “universal – spiritual” mindset. That is not my thinking at all.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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