Get your “Optimistic October” Calendar from Action for Happiness

Only three months left for 2019. Where has summer gone? But at least, our friends at Action for Happiness help to spread some warmth and light via their new Positive Psychology-infused calendar for October. You can get your high-resolution version here.

Optimistic October - Action for Happiness

10 essential Research Articles on Meaningful Work

rawpixel-395551-unsplashOut of the letters of the PERMA acronym that comprises the essential building blocks of Positive Psychology, for the last years, I´ve been first and foremost intruiged by the letter M for meaning. Getting to (and helping others to get to) a deeper understanding of the nature and mechanics of meaningful work has been one of the cornerstones of my endeavors in Positive Psychology – and also the backbone of my own research.

Here are those ten research articles that have helped me the most while trying to wrap my head around meaningful work:

 

Do you Want to Make your Work more Meaningful? Aim for the S.P.I.R.E.!

SPIRE_StegerI´m a big fan of the work of Professor Michael F. Steger (Colorado State University), one of the world´s foremost scholars on the subject of meaning in life and meaning in work (see his TEDx Talk here).

In fact, he´s not only a top-notch scientist, but at the same time he´s able to turn his research (plus other people´s scholarly work) into actionable insights for business leaders. Accordingly, I was more than thrilled when Michael agreed to work with me on a paper that showcases some research on the question of how leaders can help to make the work of their subordinates more meaningful. While the original paper was written in German, there´s a neat summary of that research (CAARMA leadership) available via Positive Psychology News Daily.

Today, I´d like to introduce you to another framework that has been described by Michael, precisely via this book chapter. Where CAARMA leadership focuses on the role of the leader in creating (more) meaningful work for employees, the acronym S.P.I.R.E. points us towards all those resources and pathways to meaning that employees control unmediatedly. The building blocks of this acronym have been synthesized by Steger based on some 40 years of extant research on meaningful work.

Strengths

In Steger´s words: Know your unique strengths and talents, and use them in executing your work, even if that means going above and beyond your basic job duties.

Now obviously, in order to make this recommendation work, you´ll have to find out what your strengths are in the first place. A good place to start would be taking the VIA survey, a test that was developed based on a framework of 24 character strengths first described by Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman. Or, you could create your Reflected Best Self™ portrait, a method developed at the Center for Positive Organizations (Ross School of Business). In this LinkedIn article, I explain how you can do that.

Personalization

In Steger´s words: Bring more of yourself to work, align work with your values, take responsibility and adopt an ownership mentality for your work and your organization.

A rewarding pathway to tackling the challenge of (increased) ownership could be practicing what Professor Amy Wrzesniewski (Yale) calls job crafting – which is defined as ‘‘the physical and cognitive changes individuals make in the task or relational boundaries of their work’’. Basically, via job crafting employees progressively turn the job they currently have into the one they really want to be in. Here´s a nice description of fellow Penn MAPPster Paula Davis-Laack via Psychology Today.

Integration

In Steger´s words: Integrate the motivation of and execution of your job with other elements of your life, work in ways that bring meaning to the rest of your life.

Now, that is obviously a task which cannot be executed just like 1…2…3. Finding the right balance (or rather: blend) to me seems to be an ongoing internal exploration and negotiation between the different selves that comprise the “whole person” over the span of a lifetime. Nevertheless, I recently stumbled upon this beautiful article in the Harvard Business Review crafted by Brianna Caza, Lakshmi Ramarajan, Erin Reid, and Stephanie Creary that might point you towards some meaningful pathways: How to Make Room in Your Work Life for the Rest of Your Self.

Resonance

In Steger´s words: Learn your organization’s core values and mission, find ways in which it resonates with your personal mission and meaning through everyday work.

As with the aspect of strengths, this pathway will not come to life without a fair amount of soul-searching and self-discovery. Aligning our personal mission with that of our organization requires discovering (or rather: building and exploring over time?) our life´s mission in the first place. Now personally, I´ve wrangled with the concept of a personal mission for several years, especially when being contrasted to a similar, but somewhat different matter, a personal purpose statement. Even though the following article by Disney Institute´s Bruce Warner covers this topic on the level of the organization, it helped me tremendously to clarify my mission and my purpose (at least in their current versions) – that´s why I´m recommending it to you here: The Difference Between Purpose and Mission.

Expansion

In Steger´s words: Seek ways in which your work can be grown to benefit some greater good, expand your concerns to embrace broader interests beyond your self.

I figure there are countless opportunities to achieve this goal. To start, you might find some inspiration in this New York Times article covering research by Wharton professor Adam Grant (described in his seminal book Give and Take) written by Susan Dominus.

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Following these recommendations can help you to propel your work life onto a more meaningful trajectory. Quite naturally, it´s not a good idea to tackle all of these different pathways at the same time. I´d start with those one or two drivers that resonate the most with you for the time being.

Enjoy!

Foto Credit

Get Your “Meaningful May” Calendar from Action for Happiness now

Another month, another beautifully crafted calendar by our friends from Action for Happiness, full of suggestions for a happier and more meaningful life – based on Positive Psychology. You can download a version in high-resolution here.

Meaningful May | Action for Happiness

 

Positive Psychology News Digest | No. 04/2017

mappalicious_news_digest_2017My favorite news and blog articles covering Positive Psychology and adjacent topics from (roughly) the last seven days.

Scientific American: Power of a Meaningful Life by Gareth Cook


New York Magazine: What Makes Your Life Meaningful? by Melissa Dahl & Allyson Young


Times HigherEd: Happiness expert advises UK’s first ‘positive university’ by Jack Grove


Center for Positive Organizations: Soft Skills Training Boosts Productivity by Greta Guest


BBC: How to be wiser by Claudia Hammond


Guardian: Quick steps to mindfulness: the running Treatment by William Pullen


The Positive Organization: Living on the Upward Spiral by Robert Quinn


The Federalist: These New Yorkers Rediscovered Meaning By Serving Their Neighbors by Emily Esfahani Smith


The Economist: Walk in your own shoes: The case for compassion, not empathy, no author


Science Daily: Where belief in free will is linked to happiness, no author

3 Questions for Emily Esfahani Smith, Author of “The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters”

emily_esfahani_smithEmily Esfahani Smith is a writer and fellow Penn MAPP alum. She writes about culture, relationships, and psychology. Her writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, The Atlantic, and other publications. A few days ago her first book, The Power of Meaning: Crafting a Life That Matters, was published. Today, she took some time to talk about her work on Mappalicious.

Emily, in your book, you propose there are four pillars of a meaningful life: belonging, purpose, transcendence, and storytelling. I´ve already come across the first three while studying Positive Psychology, the last one seems to be a very unique angle. So what´s the story with storytelling?

When people say their lives are meaningful, it’s because three conditions have been satisfied, according to psychologists—they feel their lives matter and have worth; they feel their lives are driven by a sense of purpose; and they believe their lives are coherent or comprehensible. Storytelling relates to that third prong of meaning, coherence. Storytelling is the act of taking our disparate experiences and weaving them into a whole. Rather than seeing their experiences as random or disconnected, people who feel their lives are meaningful see their experiences as part of a narrative that explains who they are and how they got to be that way. Another word for storytelling is sense-making—when we tell stories, we’re really trying to make sense of our experiences.

One of the people I interviewed for my book, for example, told me that experiencing adversity as a child ultimately made him a more compassionate person—that’s the story he tells about his adversity; that’s how he makes sense of it. But storytelling isn’t just about understanding ourselves more deeply, it’s also about understanding others. When we watch movies or read novels or listen to a friend’s story, we’re ultimately gaining more wisdom and perspective about what it means to be human.

power_meaning_esfahaniIn my day job, I´m heading a department in a multinational corporation. Therefore, I take special interest in the application of Positive Psychology in organizations. Do those four pillars you describe also apply to meaning in work – or are there additional aspects leaders should consider when thinking about their employees´ experience?

One of the most exciting trends of the last few decades has been the emergence of what I call “cultures of meaning” in institutions like corporations. Many companies are actively building cultures of meaning for their consumers and employees by relying on the four pillars of meaning.

A great example is the apparel brand Life Is Good, which sees its purpose as spreading hope and optimism around the world. It does this with its apparel, which has the words Life Is Good emblazoned on it. Many consumers have written to the company saying that its elevating message has helped them get through adversities and tragedies like cancer and losing loved ones. The leaders at Life Is Good have shared those stories with their employees, to show them that their work is making a positive impact on others. Life Is Good also has a non-profit arm that helps children facing adversities. When I spoke to several of the employees at the company—from a receptionist to a designer—they all told me that they are driven by the good that their company is doing in the world. So here, I see Life Is Good relying on the pillars of purpose and storytelling to create cultures of meaning.

It’s important for leaders to be aware of whether employees are experiencing their work as meaningful. Nothing engages or motivates employees quite like meaningful work—and research by Adam Grant suggests that doing meaningful work makes employees more productive, too (Adam´s interview on Mappalicious can be found here).

I feel my life is already pretty meaningful. I´m happily married and have two beautiful kids. Additionally, I can spend a lot of my time working on things I deeply care about and help other people. But I´m not so sure about the storytelling part. What are some steps I could take to enhance my experience of meaning in life via this pillar?

Storytelling requires reflection. I would recommend setting aside some time—maybe 15 minutes a day a few times a week—to either think or write about your life story. That may sound daunting or vague, but here are some specific things you can reflect on during that time.

1. Try dividing your life into chapters. How many chapters are there? What is the title or theme of each chapter? What makes each chapter unique? What chapters are yet to come? How many future chapters are there? What do you want the final chapter to say?

2. When you look back on your life, what were the turning points? What were the high points and the low points? How did those experiences change you? What did you learn from them? Are you still working to process them?

3. Reflect on the places in your life that played a formative role in your development—like where you grew up, perhaps, or where you went to college, or where you first met your husband or wife. While you’re thinking about these places, ask yourself: why were your experiences there so meaningful? How did they change you? What would your life have been life if you had grown up somewhere else or gone to a different school? What does it feel like being back in those places?

I’d like to add that storytelling is a pillar that takes work—sometimes we have to go over and over an experience hundreds of time before we can begin to make sense of it and understand how it fits into the broader arc of our lives. But it’s ultimately worth it, because that sense-making process brings us wisdom, resolution, and even a measure of peace.

Thank you, Emily, and best of luck with your book!

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For more info on Emily and her work, please check out her The Psychology Podcast, or recent features on The Psychology Podcast, Heleo and Virgin.