Book Review-Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality

What does being “a person of integrity” mean? Though most people would immediately think of moral, ethical, or right, there is a deeper meaning to integrity. It’s about wholeness. It’s about being one person and not different people in the same body depending on context. Henry Cloud explains in Integrity: The Courage to Meet the Demands of Reality how integrity is much more than simply ethics and morals – though that’s not a bad place to start.

Context

Before diving into the details of the kind of character that Cloud describes with “integrity,” it’s important to share that I’ve been a fan of his work for years now. Boundaries, which he co-wrote with John Townsend, is a cornerstone of my recommendations for people struggling to find ways to go through life. His books Safe People (also co-written with Townsend) and Changes that Heal, Cloud connects the kinds of people we need to be in relationships to the need for boundaries. His more recent book, The Power of the Other, helps us to understand how others impact us – often without our knowledge.

Integrity isn’t the latest book that Cloud has written (The Power of the Other holds that distinction), so this was a chance for me to go back into the foundations of Cloud’s thinking and writing and look at more basic components of how we get along with one another.

Wholeness

At the heart of Integrity is the understanding that we need wholeness. We need to have what I’ve described as an integrated self-image (see my reviews of Braving the Wilderness, Happiness, Beyond Boundaries, and many more), which circumscribes all that we are instead of carving out only the parts of our identity we want to allow others to see. Many authors have hammered away at this topic, as they’ve sought to capture and relate the sense of completeness that philosophers have struggled to share for ages.

The fundamental problem with wholeness is that it is difficult to explain. It’s like trying to explain a plane to a tribe that has never met modern civilization. Until you’ve seen a plane, it’s hard to make sense of them in your brain. Even after seeing an airplane, that doesn’t mean you can build it. As you’ve stumbled across people who appear to be wholly integrated, you may think to yourself that they’re interesting. But, for the most part, there are barely clues to how they became so whole, complete, and integrated.

Feedback

One of the ways that people become more whole is to see their blind spots, and that comes through feedback from others. There’s a simple truth that you cannot see everything. From the blind spots in our eyes where our optic nerves connect to the fact that we can’t see the soles of our feet when we’re standing, there are limitations to our own perception. (See Incognito for more.) We need others to help us develop a more complete picture of the world and ourselves.

Feedback is often difficult to take. It often highlights an aspect of ourselves that may be true but we conveniently ignore or gloss over. It’s often painful to adjust our self-perceptions to include our limitations and opportunities for improvement.

However, truly whole people invite feedback and seek to better understand themselves and their worlds – even if it’s difficult at times. They’ve figured out how to recognize the value that it brings to them more than the immediate sting, much like the athlete who pushes through their pain in exercise to gain stronger muscles and better endurance.

Connection

Feedback can drive us apart – or it can bring us together. We’re all wired for connection. It’s a fundamental part of the way that we live. Our togetherness has been woven into our very survival since well before our written language. (See Mindreading, The Righteous Mind, and The Evolution of Cooperation for more.) Books (The Dance of Connection, for instance) and entire careers have been made on our need for connection with one another.

A wholly integrated person isn’t incomplete in one sense. They understand who they are and don’t rely on others to complete parts of themselves. Simultaneously, they’re aware of their fundamental need to be connected with others. This paradox of being complete and at the same time acknowledging the need for other people is what makes wholehearted people interesting.

Grace

Whenever there are two people involved in a relationship, there must be some level of grace. Grace is a gift, an unmitigated favor, bestowed upon another person to accept and redeem their faults. Done well, grace is given with the humility of acknowledging that we give grace because we need grace ourselves. We will make mistakes, we’ll be blind to our limitations, and we’ll struggle.

Because we need grace ourselves, others must need it. Though we all suffer from a fundamental attribution error – attributing our setbacks to situations and others’ to their character – we at some level know that we’re not perfect. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on fundamental attribution error.) It would be disingenuous to expect grace from others and offer it to ourselves but then not offer it to others in return.

Trust

Cloud is a bit fuzzy with his use of the word “trust,” sometimes using it to mean trustworthy and other times meaning the giving of trust. I’d offer that I’ve spent a great deal of time learning about trust. While you must be trustworthy and learn to appropriately trust others to be a whole person, I’m not sure that this well understood. (My most recent capstone on trust is at Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy, Revisited if you want a longer explanation about trust and how it works.)

Cloud appropriately flags person of integrity as trustworthy because they are worthy of trust. Persons of integrity also have a greater capacity to give the gift of trust to others. They can see where and how people can be trusted and can extend trust in more situations and to a greater degree than people of lesser integrity.

The Work

While being a person of integrity is a good thing with a host of benefits to yourself and those around you, it’s not easy. Just knowing what needs to happen doesn’t make it happen. People of integrity have typically worked long and hard to become the person of integrity they want to be. It’s hard work, and it take determination and grit. (See Grit for more.) It’s more than the willpower to pass up the chocolate cake. It’s an enduring commitment to seek to become more than they are today.

In the end, a person of integrity is willing to accept the feedback and accept the assignment to make themselves better. Perhaps they’re even willing to take a nudge to read Integrity.

Book Review-Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic

I was in a darkened room listening to two presenters with their different vantage points on opiates in the workplace, and during the talk, they mentioned the book Dreamland: The True Tale of America’s Opiate Epidemic. I disagreed with what seemed to be the presenters’ fundamental premise that drugs are evil, and are to blame for the problems we face as a society, but that made me more interested in reading the book they seemed to be drawing from. Perhaps, in my desire to understand addiction, I had somehow ended up on a side street rather than a main thoroughfare of perspectives on addiction.

As I began to read, I realized that, much like my perspective in my review of The Fearless Organization, there’s a component of the problem related to the coverage in the book – but that there are many factors that have received insufficient coverage. In the case of Dreamland, it’s not just about the morphine molecule but also about people.

Oxycontin

The poppy plant, and the opiates it produces, have been with us since the start of civilization between the Tigress and Euphrates rivers. Morphine may have only been first distilled in 1804, but its history travels back much further than that. However, as recently as 1999, pain management became important to medicine through the work of the American Pain Society. Press Ganey surveys became powerful forces in medicine to assess patients’ satisfaction with their doctors. The lower the pain, the better the scores. Even today, patients are asked whether they feel as if their pain is well-managed.

Though the American Pain Society promoted pain to be the fifth vital sign, it is different than the other four, which can be measured by calibrated instruments. Pain is whatever the patient says it is – and that opens the door for problems.

About the same time, in 1996, in the search for the perfect, non-addicting version of the morphine molecule, Purdue Pharmaceuticals took oxycodone, a synthetic opioid, and packaged it in a time-release pill called OxyContin. The aggressive marketing of OxyContin along with other factors led to a massive increase in the use of opiates – in the form of OxyContin – to treat pain.

Pharmacological Theory of Addiction

At that time, it was believed that high and low feelings created addiction. It was further believed that OxyContin solved this problem by continuous dosing, and therefore it was non-addictive. However, the story has its problems. The first is what was purported as strong evidence that people who were prescribed opiates didn’t get addicted – as was previously believed. The “strong evidence” was a single paragraph written as an editorial about the results of the progression of abuse in inpatient settings – not the outpatient prescriptions OxyContin was being suggested for. The editorial was written based on a database query of those inpatients who developed addiction which as a result of controlled settings was relatively few. In short, OxyContin was sold as non-addictive. An army of drug representatives sold it to doctors this way, who, in turn, prescribed it for patients.

There was another problem, too. OxyContin contains a high dose of oxycodone. It was the time release formula that made this make sense. If you don’t crush the tablet, all is fine. However, like a child who is told not to do something, the cat slipped out of the bag. If you crush the tablets – which you learned not to do by a warning label – you can remove the time-delay of release, resulting in a dose of oxycodone all at once and creating a euphoria.

The understanding of morphine and related opioids is that they overwhelm a receptor in our brains – the mu receptor. In doing so, they are far more powerful than any high that people can get naturally. It’s also understood that, after the influence of opioids, these receptors take some time to recover. In effect, the belief is that no one stands a chance against a morphine-based drug.

Retraining the Brain

Support for the idea that opioids can reprogram a brain comes from Toxoplasma gondii. It’s a parasite that infects cats. It’s excreted in their feces and ingested by rats. T. gondii, Dreamland reports, “reprograms the infected rat to love cat urine, which, to healthy rats, is a predator warning.” There’s a problem with this. When I went to investigate this fascinating idea, it seemed more far-fetched than reality. When humans are infected with T. gondii, they are higher in extraversion and lower in conscientiousness (fear). This is the kind of behavior you might define in rats as loving cat urine: less fear and greater extraversion.

While it’s possible that opioids literally reprogram the addict’s brain (or even the first-time user), it seems like this is more like propaganda than reality. (See Chasing the Scream for more on how drug addiction has been propagandized.) It’s certainly possible that opioids change biases in the brain, and acclimatization happens, meaning higher amounts of natural endorphins are required to activate the same response as was previously possible. But, again, this is a far cry from reprogramming.

The secondary support for the reprogramming idea comes from the fact that addicts will do things that are harmful to them. The problem is that they’re only harmful in the long term. Humans use stress to get a performance boost and pay the long-term consequences. (See Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.) It’s true that our ability to defer gratification and do long-term planning is a large part of our success. But it’s a far cry to say that anyone who eats an extra cookie at the picnic is an addict. (See The Marshmallow Test for more about the positive impacts of delayed gratification.)

Addictive Tendencies

If you rule out that drugs are inherently evil and can reprogram the brain, you’re left with the reality that people are getting addicted, and they’re getting addicted at a very high rate. There’s something going on. It seems to be that “something” is susceptibility to being addicted. Some would argue that we can be genetically predisposed to being addicted. The answer might be a bit more complicated than that.

The Globalization of Addiction shares Bruce Alexander and his colleagues’ work, including a very interesting experiment called “rat park.” The research indicated that rats will continue to drink morphine-laced water until they kill themselves, but Alexander and his colleagues found that’s only true when the rats are bored. If you give the rats a social interaction and playthings, they much prefer that to overusing morphine. In short, when you deprive rats of the kinds of stimulation and community they need, they turn to drugs.

If our addictive tendencies are anything like rats’ tendencies, it’s because of things that are missing in our lives. We see this trend happening today. Robert Putnam has written about how our communities and connections are unraveling in both Bowling Alone and Our Kids. (Each book approaches the problem from a different lens.) Sherry Turkle in Alone Together writes about how technology has changed the way we interact, making us simultaneously more connected and disconnected. In short, the breakdown in our communities is leading to more capacity for addiction.

Interestingly, it may be one of the reasons why successful programs involve communities, such as Delancey Street (see Change or Die and Change Anything for two places where this program is cited) and twelve-step programs (see Why and How 12-Step Groups Work). Even the growth of gangs seems deterred by improving communities, as they tend to be another way people escape their existence. (See Trust: Human Nature and the Reconstitution of Social Order for more.)

Drug Community

Communities may be a way of staying out of drugs – but once you’re in a community that centers around drugs, it becomes harder to get out. When all your friends are users or dealers, they’ll inevitably pull you back in. (There’s a story related in 12 Rules for Life about Satan touring Hell and showing off the cauldrons – including the one with no need for protection, as anytime a Russian starts to get out, the others pull them back in.) So, while community is necessary to avoid addiction, it can, at times, create a safe haven for drug addiction.

That’s what happened when OxyContin gained acceptance in the medical community and at large. It’s not that abuse didn’t happen before – it did. What changed was the constraints that limited addiction were removed, and, as a result, addiction soared. What started with honest primary care physicians prescribing a little more than they should because they’re weren’t well-trained in pain management degenerated in to pill mills.

Pill Mills

If you want to tell the difference between a regular doctor’s office and a pill mill, all you have to do is look at the parking lot. Dreamland recounts, “If you see lines of people standing around outside, smoking, people getting pizza delivered, fistfights, and traffic jams – if you see people in pajamas who don’t care what they look like in public – that’s a pill mill.” What’s a pill mill? It’s a cash-only business, where “patients” pay a fee to get a prescription for narcotics. The visits are notoriously short, and the doctors don’t suggest alternative treatments or understanding pain better. It’s a “just take this and it will get better” approach with no thought given to the root cause or how to stop the pain. All that’s hoped for is temporary relief.

These pill mills spawned their own systems. People would get put on disability not for the somewhat trivial monthly amount but because it also gave them Medicaid. And Medicaid would pay the sometimes $1,200 fee for their drugs. The street value of the drugs was often even higher than this. The result is a system where those with a little money would pay for the exam fee at a pill mill and split the pills they got after filling the prescription. The elderly would sell some of their drugs to make a little bit of money. It seemed like anyone addicted to pills would need to support their habit by selling some of them.

Another solution was to steal. Walmart grew in rural America and brought economies of scale and globalization. In turn, it shut down local retailers, who couldn’t compete. In many Walmart stores across rural America, theft is just a part of business. The Walmart greeters aren’t really there to greet people as much as they are there to deter theft. However, addicts weren’t deterred and instead found ways to work around the system.

Dial for Drugs

The socioeconomic system was primed. Many people were hooked on pills they couldn’t afford. They needed a cheaper solution, and it came in the form of a phone number. Mexicans from Xalisco began taking calls and delivering drugs to addicts. Farmers and their children barely subsisted on sugar cane they could grow. However, poppies and the black tar heroin harvested from it was very lucrative in the United States. They created a system of drivers, and selling small amounts made heroin more accessible and cheaper than it had ever been. Some reports are that a one-gram hit of heroin cost roughly the same as a pack of cigarettes.

The Xalisco boys would come into town through an addict who got them connected to the community – usually in exchange for supplying their addiction. They’d find methadone clinics – which were sometimes described as game preserves for addicts. Handing out a phone number and some free samples, they’d quickly develop a clientele. That would be the start of a new drug cell.

Police Presence

The system worked well. Drivers never had much heroin on them and what they did have were in balloons in their mouths. If they were about to be arrested, they’d swallow what they had. Even when that didn’t work, they never had enough to be perceived as a threat, so they either got small sentences or were simply deported. The drivers were mostly illegal immigrants, all from the area of Xalisco.

The Xalisco boys made a point of blending in. Simple cars and apartments were traded in frequently. Just enough for them to run their system. Even after the largest scale drug enforcement action ever executed, there was only a one-day blip in the supply of drugs to most cities. The structure was an organization of individual small business owners, each trying to bring heroin to a place that wanted it.

The Cost

The cost wasn’t measured in dollars. It was measured in lives. It’s tragic. Drug overdoses in some communities outpaced deaths due to automobile accidents. It killed indiscriminately. It was no longer limited to skid-row junkies that no one knew or cared about. It happened to children. It happened to businessmen, politicians, policemen, and the wealthy. Still, it was quiet for a long time. The shame and stigma wouldn’t let go. Slowly, the story changed. Slowly, people began to recognize the truth that had been forgotten and ignored – that treatment is more cost-effective than incarceration. Medical professionals started treating the addicted not as pariahs but instead as people who needed help.

People still die every day of drug addiction. They die directly through overdose and indirectly through the complications of drug use. We haven’t – and cannot – stop it, no more than we can stop the legions of drug dealers from trying to make a profit. However, the tide is slowly changing. We’re recognizing that we need to support and help rather than condemn and confine.

The Road Back

The road back from the path that liberalized the prescription of painkillers and the systems of drug dealers that our police were ill-equipped to fight is long. Those who succumb to addiction are prisoners who need to be set free. They need to understand that their lives can be filled with positive things. They need to understand that they can accomplish something – and that something can lead them to their own Dreamland.

Footnote

There’s so much more to Dreamland that I didn’t share. My point wasn’t to convey the entire length and breadth of the book. Instead, in this review, my hope was to share the core of the very real problem that gripped, then strangled, much of America. My hope has been and always is that anyone struggling with addiction can escape their prison and find their own personal Dreamland.

Book Review-Emotional Intelligence 2.0

There have been many references to Emotional Intelligence 2.0 in my world over the past several years, but they hadn’t managed to break through and cause me to read it. I had read Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence some years ago and it had stuck with me. In the intervening six years much of what I struggled to process became clearer. I added input from others, studied Buddhism, and worked on better understanding neurology. The problem wasn’t that Daniel Goleman didn’t have it right or that he didn’t understand it. The problem was that the content wasn’t very accessible.

Even in my review I commented that I could not fully process all of the content. This is probably the biggest difference between Emotional Intelligence and Emotional Intelligence 2.0. The former is focused on depth and accuracy where the latter is more focused on clarity and understanding.

The EI Model

The fundamentals of emotional intelligence are two dimensions:

  • Self and Other
  • Awareness and Management

These form a 2×2 matrix of self-awareness, self-management, other awareness (called “social awareness”), and other management (called “relationship management,” since you don’t really manage others, you manage your relationship with them). The model is the same one is used in Emotional Intelligence.

The Strategies

Much of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 is spent providing specific strategies to enhance your emotional intelligence in one way or another. There are 15 strategies for self-awareness, and 17 each for the remaining three categories. The 66 strategies move emotional intelligence from something that’s interesting to something that can be tried. One could argue whether the use of a strategy artificially inflates the perception of emotional intelligence or changes it, but the goal is to make it a habit. With continual use, it can become one.

Individually, the strategies are not particularly profound. Most of the strategies we’ve heard before and have implemented at some level. However, what is profound is having a catalog of things to try when you’re trying to get better.

The Test

Much like Strengths Finder 2.0, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 comes with a code, so you can take a free test to evaluate your emotional intelligence. The test has 28 questions, in which you’re asked to rate each statement for whether it happens never, rarely, sometimes, usually, almost always, or always. From this, scores are created in each of the four categories as well as an overall score. Unlike Strengths Finder 2.0, the scoring is relatively trivial to see. There are a handful of reverse-scored items (where never is the best answer), but, mostly, the idea is you would pick always to get your perfect score.

This is a problem for me, since, once you reach a level of self-awareness and maturity, you’ll not rate things as always or never. In my review of Dialogue (speaking of The Inner Game of Dialogue), I recounted a quote from Richard Moon, an aikido master. “It’s not that the great masters of Aikido don’t lose their center, it’s that they discover it sooner and recover it faster than novices.” Even the Dalai Lama admits in his writings and conversations with others that he’s not perfect at his emotional intelligence. His work to be more connected with himself and others is something that most of us couldn’t do – and yet he remains a student and a practitioner. (Practitioner in the sense that he’s still practicing.)

So, while the test may be able to provide you some direction on what strategies you could employ if you find that you struggle with a particular aspect of emotional intelligence, I was frustrated with the lack of precision on the high end of the scale.

Why Emotional Intelligence 2.0?

Why would someone want to read Emotional Intelligence 2.0 instead of the classic Emotional Intelligence? Simply, it’s easier. It’s a simpler, less-nuanced, and biologically-connected view of the need for humans to understand themselves and others. My suggestion is that, if you’re new to emotional intelligence, or you want something with practical tips to get you started with emotional intelligence, start with Emotional Intelligence 2.0. If you’re looking for something deeper, Emotional Intelligence is a great – but difficult – read.

Emotional Appraisal Theory + Zeigarnik Effect => Anxiety

Organizations are struggling to communicate with employees. Reports are consistent in that employees don’t believe their organization communicates effectively. One 2014 About.com survey is summarized in an article titled “Why lack of communication has become the number one reason people quit.” One of the specific findings was that employees don’t feel like change is communicated well. Most corporate communicators believe they’re communicating well, but the employees disagree.

Some of the challenges with communicating are real. We don’t repeat the message, or we don’t use communication channels that reach the employees. Those are misses that, given enough resources, we can address, but even communicators who effectively repeat the message and use multiple communications channels find that their communications still aren’t making it through. Communicators can review their use of best practices like inverted pyramid writing and writing taglines or titles that tease rather than inform.

The problem may be not so much that employees don’t hear the message, but rather they don’t understand what it means to them.

WIII-FM

Everyone listens to one radio station – WIII-FM. That is, in their own head, they always listen to “What is in it – for me?” They always evaluate the news from the perspective of how it impacts them. Sometimes we call it relevance. Sometimes we call it importance. Whatever we call it, employees are trying to understand how what we’re saying impacts their security, opportunity, and day-to-day work.

It’s a challenge to communicate across the organization and simultaneously speak into each person’s world. Good communicators use the primary communication to provide framing and then offer secondary support in the form of manager coaching about how they can – and should – communicate to their team about the specific impacts to them.

The problem is that even when the technical details of a change are communicated well, employees can feel like the change isn’t communicated well, because they don’t have a way to appraise the situation or know how to feel.

Emotional Appraisal Theory

One of the theories about how our emotions are formed includes a step between the reality of the situation, where our brain appraises the situation, and its impact on us. Richard Lazarus, in Emotion and Adaptation, explains that we evaluate our situation primarily from the context of whether it is:

  • Goal Relevant – Whether we believe it matters to me or not. This is the basic “Do I care?” filter.
  • Goal Congruent – Is the information in alignment with my goals – or not?
  • Ego Involvement – Based on my own idiosyncratic background, how does this news threaten what I believe about myself?

He further explains that there’s a secondary set of appraisal criteria, which shame our emotions about a situation:

  • Attribution (Blame/Credit) – Can we assign credit or blame for the situation to an another individual or to ourselves?
  • Coping Potential – Do we believe that we’ve got the capacity to cope with the news?
  • Future Expectancy – Do we expect that the situation will improve or get worse? (In essence, do we have hope?)

The appraisal of our situation based on these criteria shapes how we’ll respond emotionally to the information. The challenge for corporate communicators who hope to help employees feel good about their employment is ensuring that employees can evaluate information – even bad information – in a good light.

One problem that we fall into is that we communicate insufficient, incomplete, and partial information without expecting when more information will come, and, as a result, we accidently stumble onto the Zeigarnik Effect.

Zeigarnik Effect

Simply put, the Zeigarnik Effect says that we remember more strongly things that are incomplete than those that we’ve completed. It’s the reason why the song that is on the radio when you turn your car off can get stuck in your head. It’s the reason why we ruminate over the things that we didn’t get done.

When you communicate incomplete information – or information that can’t be completely processed by the employee – the necessary effect is that the employee will be focused on it. If you communicate ninety-nine things well and one not so well, which one will your fellow employees remember? Because of the Zeigarnik Effect (and perhaps a bit of negative bias), they will remember that one thing. In that one thing, they’ll find frustration.

Frustration because they can’t figure out what it means to them, because the information isn’t available to them. That frustration sets the emotional backdrop for an anxiety-producing situation.

Anxiety

Anxiety is simply a fear that there is an unknown issue that will negatively impact you or your goals. It is fear, but it’s not a fear that can be resolved, because there’s not a specific, known threat. Anxiety is produced when there are real risks that can’t be articulated – or when our brains fill in the gaps in the information that we have, and we fill it in with whatever seems most useful now.

When starting with a frustrated state, the information, ideas, and systems that get filled in can have a negative bias. The result is a set of predictions about things that might happen that would make the situation worse – and thus anxiety.

Changing the Equation

The good news is that, by specifically targeting the emotional appraisals that Lazarus points out, we can limit the degree to which people are unable to resolve how they feel, the Zeigarnik Effect, and, in the end, the anxiety that is produced. Less anxiety in our employees translates into greater psychological safety, more engagement, and lower turnover.

In the end, we want our communicators to be able to lower our turnover.

Book Review-Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be

Behavior change is hard. In Triggers: Creating Behavior that Lasts – Becoming the Person You Want to Be, Marshal Goldsmith and Mark Reiter explain that it may be the hardest thing that any adult does. Goldsmith is no stranger to motivating readers and audiences to change. His previous work was What Got You Here Won’t Get You There. He’s not alone in this space, as dozens of other authors are trying to help you learn what it takes to change.

Who’s on First?

Before delving into Triggers, it’s important to quickly highlight other works that intentionally try to change the behavior of individuals. (I’ll avoid those that are trying to change a specific habit.)

And those are just the selection of books I’ve read that are “directly related” to changing who you are. The point here is that it’s an area of intense attention. It’s so difficult to change that there are many who are trying to find the magic elixir to make it easy – or at least easier.

It doesn’t matter where you start on your journey of self-change. However, according to Goldsmith, you may want to start with the trigger.

Triggers

Goldsmith defines a trigger as “any stimulus that reshapes our thoughts and actions.” The meaning here includes an inflection moment someone can use to change their behaviors and what most others mean when they say “trigger” which is something that triggers emotions.

In recovery circles, triggers are the start of the sequence for a preprogramed response. Triggers are dangerous, because they can lead the addict towards their addictive behavior. Charles Duhigg in The Power of Habit refers to “trigger” in the same way when he defines it as a synonym of his word “cue,” as it begins his cycle of cue, routine, and reward.

The problem that I have with Goldsmith’s definition is that it can be literally anything. The definition is so broad that it doesn’t distinguish between the triggers that kick off the preprogrammed response and those triggers that cause you to evaluate your life choices and potentially make a big change. The former need to be monitored for so that we can elevate our conscious control, as Goldsmith advocates. The latter need to be cultivated, so we can find the learnings inherent in life that can help us make better choices. Despite the shaky start, there’s real value in understanding Triggers.

I’ll Be Happy When

Goldsmith calls “I’ll be happy when” the great Western disease. Finding – and maintaining – happiness has been an aspiration for Americans since the Declaration of Independence. (Happiness wasn’t considered something ordinary folks could hope for before then.) Daniel Gilbert in Stumbling on Happiness makes it clear that we’re very bad at predicting our future happiness though we’re constantly striving to do so.

Phillip Zimbardo in The Time Paradox explains how we all view time differently and how some people are future-oriented. Future-oriented people are most likely to seek happiness in the future. It’s also likely that the children in Mischel’s Marshmallow Test who delayed gratification are future-oriented and willing to defer gratification and happiness now for more happiness later.

At some level, deferring things into the future does allow us to get better results. We owe much of our success as a human species to our capacity to develop agriculture – which required delaying our gratification (if not happiness). We had to plan the seeds and tend them with the expectation that we’d get much more food in the end than spending our time foraging and hunting. This led to a caloric surplus that freed us from the confines of subsistence existence.

While we may not be accepting happiness when it comes as readily as we should, we can’t condemn the idea that making investments for the future is bad.

Environmental Factors

Kurt Lewin said that our behavior was a function of both person and environment. He helped us understand the powerful and unpredictable influence that our environment can have on us. Consider that the research for the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE), which was designed to prevent drug abuse, actually encouraged it in some cases. Instead of scaring students with stories of horror, it normalized the conversation and made drugs a real part of their environment – in ways that it wasn’t before. (See Chasing the Scream and The Globalization of Addiction for more on drugs.)

Goldsmith explains that we like to believe we have control, and the environment doesn’t impact or even influence us. However, this runs counter to what we know about how things work. (For more about our desire to control, see Compelled to Control. For more on our need to feel like we have control, or some measure of control, see The Hope Circuit.)

Fate and Choice

Fate deals us our cards. Choice is how we play them. We exist in an environment that shapes us and sometimes limits our choices – but it almost always leaves us some choices. We can’t change the cards we’re dealt in this hand of life – but we can continue to play our cards well until a better set comes along.

Too often, people bemoan the fact that they didn’t get what they wanted. They focus on how they’ve been wronged or how they deserve a house in victimhood because of what has happened to them. In effect, they’re focused on what fate has done to them. They’re focused on something that cannot be changed. That isn’t to say that there’s not grace in acknowledging one’s fate or admitting that it sucks. However, when we focus too much of our energy on things we can’t change, we waste the energy we need to change the things that we can.

The Distance Between Trigger and Behavior

A small son being scolded by his mother for hitting his sister responds with, “She made me do it,” not realizing that this doesn’t make sense. Adults make similar statements when they say, “What choice did I have?” as a part of an excuse for a bad behavior. “I couldn’t let them get away with that. What choice did I have?” (See The Evolution of Cooperation for more on the need to prevent bad behaviors in others – however, the point here is not the other’s bad behavior but ours.)

The psychological school of behaviorism is all but dead. We realize now that there’s more going on than the behaviors that people exhibit. We acknowledge that there’s a gap between the stimulus and the response, and this gap is filled with the way that we process the stimulus. There are some responses that are reflexive, like the kick that happens when a doctor hits your knee with a rubber mallet. However, for the most part, our responses are mediated by our thoughts.

To choose more effective behaviors – to have a choice – we need to first be able to identify the stimulus when it occurs. The ability to apprehend our thoughts gives us the capacity to make a choice. If we can’t become aware of what is happening to us, we have no hope of changing our choices.

Knowing that we have a choice and that we, as humans, have the capacity to make choices about how we respond, often slowly unlocks our capacity to make choices. After this awareness, we may only recognize one in ten or one in a hundred situations where a stimulus triggers an automatic response. However, if we focus attention on this moment, we can begin to change the ratio to where we find nine out of ten times that we’re being triggered.

Even after we’ve identified the stimulus, we must learn how to change our choices. At first, that can be challenging, because the pull to fall into old ruts and routines is powerful. However, learning to shift the circumstances – rather than directly trying to override the behavior – can be a powerful approach to changing the behaviors.

For instance, let’s say that you’re frustrated by the way that your friends choose to parent their children – or, more accurately, how they don’t parent their children. Rather than communicating your frustration, you can get up and get a drink or go to the restroom. You’re not directly challenging the desire to share your frustration. That will consume a large amount of willpower. (See Willpower for more.) You’re changing the environment so that you don’t have to see as much of it happen.

With practice, you can see the situation coming and learn how to expend a small amount of energy to change the circumstances, so that you get the behaviors that you want – instead of the behaviors that would have happened by default.

Situational Leadership

I’ve persistently sought to define what leadership is. (See Leadership, Leadership in the Twenty-First Century, Servant Leadership, and Heroic Leadership for a quick survey.) It’s for that reason that I resist the label that Goldsmith applies to four styles of “leadership” that his mentor Paul Hershey created. They are:

  • Directing – Providing specific guidance to complete a task.
  • Coaching – For those needing more than average guidance and lots of two-way dialogue.
  • Supporting – Encouraging those that have the skills necessary to complete the task but need encouragement.
  • Delegating – Releasing a task to someone who has the skills, motivation, and confidence to do the task.

I believe that these are more styles of management – getting things done – than leadership – helping people work towards the same overall goals. The types of management are interesting, because they recognize the reality of where those being managed are. It’s much like the process of the apprentice, journeyman, master that we’ve used for centuries to learn trades. Said another way, it’s the progression from following specific instructions to detachment, where what you need is conversation and support to select the right approach, and finally to fluent, where you need no additional supervision. (See Presentation Zen for more on Following, Detaching, Fluent.) The reality, then, is not that one approach to management is better – or worse – it’s that an approach is more relevant to the situation.

Magic Moves

Goldsmith explains that he feels like there are magic moves that can dramatically move relationships forward. They are:

  • Apologizing – Too few people can apologize (and apologize well). See What Got You Here Won’t Get You There for more.
  • Asking for Help – Asking someone for help – and thanking them for giving it – is a powerful way to endear yourself with someone else. Ben Franklin is reported to have asked a man to loan him a rare book from his library. He promptly returned it with a note of thanks and acknowledges how this helped the other person trust Franklin and ask for his help. (See Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) for more on this story.)
  • Optimism – People want to be around people that make them feel better, and demonstrating your optimism does that.
  • Asking Active Questions – When you ask questions that encourage responses that are about things we can change – rather than environmental factors or unchangeable things – you get answers that you can use to make progress.

Daily Evaluation

Goldsmith suggests that you should develop a set of persistent goals – things that you’re working on in life. He further recommends that you do a daily accountability of how you made progress on those goals. A simple scale of 1-10 can track whether you made progress on the goals that you set forth. The argument is that, over time, you can see how you’re making progress on those goals.

This reminds me of Ben Franklin’s struggle to develop virtues in himself and the reality that, as he focused on one virtue, others slipped. (See Immunity to Change and Primal Leadership for more.) We all need to figure out what things we really want to work on. (See The ONE Thing for finding focus on what you’re working on.)

I’m not convinced that Goldsmith’s approach will work for everyone, but if you’re struggling to keep focused on your goals, daily accountability can be a good start. Maybe the first thing to start with is to buy Triggers – and get someone to hold you accountable every day to how much reading you’re doing.

Book Review-Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual

I’m not a clinician. I didn’t play one on TV. I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night. However, I did read Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual. It’s a toolbox for counselors and clinical psychiatrists for want to help clients reach their capacity for positivity in their lives beyond the ailment that may have driven them to seek help in the first place. It’s a recognition that just fixing the problems isn’t enough and the problems that people come in with are more frequently the result of other problems.

Seligman

In an indirect way, Marty Seligman suggested that I read the book. I had read Flourish and was preparing for our work on burnout (see ExtinguishBurnout.com). I wrote Dr. Seligman, and he answered. His brief response confirmed what I already suspected. Learned helplessness, a lack of hope, and burnout had the same root. They were, in imprecise terms, the same thing. I thanked him and eventually asked for places where I could learn more. The response blew me away. It had references and people to reach out to for more information. One of the people I should reach out to was Tayyab Rashid, who had some at the time unpublished guidance for clinicians trying to help patients with psychotherapy.

By the time I reached him (after reading The Hope Circuit), Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual was published, so I bought it.

Clinical Context

While I’m not a clinician, I’m very interested in the topic of psychotherapy and what does and doesn’t work. It was early 2015 when I published my review of The Heart and Soul of Change: Delivering What Works in Therapy. It was 2016 before I returned to the topic of psychotherapy to look at how patients – and the public at large – were assessed in The Cult of Personality Testing. I followed that with a critical view in Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology. Finally, in August of 2016, I got around to House of Cards: Psychology and Psychotherapy Built on Myth, which had an even more critical view of the profession.

Despite the many critical pieces in my reading list, I’m generally very positive on the capacity for someone to be helped through talk therapy. It is my belief that what we make of the world is largely in our head. It’s the reality that we don’t see the world – we see, and then our brain creates the world (see Incognito). Helping refocus thinking can be powerful if done well.

Positive Psychology

Psychology got stuck. The problem was that it was focused on problems and their resolutions. Instead of asking the question about what people could become and how they could thrive, it was stuck in survival mode. Psychology became niched around dealing with the negatives of life’s equation, and it needed a push to get out of the rut. That push came when Marty Seligman took the helm of the American Psychological Association (APA). He made it his mission to drive forward the idea that it was just as important to help people reach their happiness potential as it was to address misery.

Mental health had come to mean a lack of disorders listed in the DSM (currently DSM-V), but health isn’t the same as the absence of illness. Mental health needed to be reframed so that it actually meant health.

Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual is designed to bring the tools that have been discovered and developed into a clinical setting for the benefit of the patients.

Strengths

Central to the practice of positive psychology is a focus on the strengths of an individual rather than their weaknesses. Instead of looking to fill in potholes in the road of the patient’s life, positive psychology builds new roads and bridges to places people never knew they could reach. It builds these on the strengths of the individuals. By helping the person understand their strengths, they can better leverage them. By understanding how to enhance strengths, they can get more benefit from them.

Strengths are largely defined as the strengths listed in the Values in Action (VIA) test, which is available for free at authentichappiness.org. Everyone has some strengths in the list of 24 in the VIA test. We all, in fact, possess some degree of these strengths. Our combination of strengths represents our ability to get things done.

The clinician manual spends a great deal of time in the session-by-session section, walking clients through what positive psychology is, evaluating their strengths, and confirming those strengths. It is from this firm foundation that other skills are taught.

Dealing with the Negative

It’s important to note that just because the approach is positive psychology doesn’t mean the negative event, barrier, or dysfunction isn’t addressed. Instead of overwhelming the conversation and relationship by focusing on negative aspects, the overall tone is more balanced by recognizing the positives and acknowledging the negative outcomes.

Despite the positive descriptor, psychology, done correctly, is rarely easy. It’s hard for someone to be vulnerable enough to allow themselves to see how they may be contributing to their problems and what changes they may need to make for it to get better.

Consider a physical example. Someone comes to a doctor because of tinnitus (ringing in the ears). The discovery is high blood pressure, and, in addition to a pill that is supposed to help, the doctor explains that weight loss is critical. Weight loss isn’t easy. It’s takes careful management of what and how much food you eat – and how much you exercise. The representing problem was the result of an underlying problem, high blood pressure, which itself was a side effect of being overweight. Losing weight is hard work – and something that not everyone is successful at.

In psychological terms, the hard work still must be done to address the core problems that are causing someone to feel bad.

Attitude of Gratitude

Some of the activities in the sessions aren’t focused around specific strengths but are designed to help change attitudes. Gratitude, whether in the form of a general approach or through the use of a specific gratitude journal, has far-reaching effects and acts as a lubricant for further clinical work. Barbara Fredrickson, another leader in positive psychology, in her book Positivity explains the power of gratitude. A three to one ratio of positive to negative experiences– which can be fueled by gratitude – can powerfully change your relationships.

She’s not alone, as Matthieu Ricard in Happiness explains the role of gratitude in joy. Rick Hansen explains in Hardwiring Happiness how gratitude can be a powerful force to wire happiness into your very being.

Open and Closed Memories

Much of the challenge that we have today is in the hurts encountered in the past that we’ve not yet healed. In the language of the clinician manual, these are open memories. That is, these memories haven’t been fully processed and still cause emotional disturbance or pain. Fully processed memories are said to be closed memories. Closed memories generate neutral or positive emotions. (See Changes that Heal for another perspective on these hurts.)

Here, I struggle not so much in the goal of working to minimize hurts and to address painful memories but in the concept that we can close all memories. There’s plenty of work that says how we feel about something is largely based on how we choose to process it. (For one instance, see How Emotions Are Made.) However, I am not convinced that some memories can ever be fully closed in the sense that they don’t trigger a negative emotion. (See Emotion and Adaptation for more on positive and negative valences to emotion.)

It’s been nearly six years since I lost my brother to an airplane accident. I did a great deal of work, both then and since, to come to terms with what happened, and the result that it had on me personally and on my family. For the most part, I’m OK and have been for some time. However, sometimes, small things will set me into a sense of monumental loss. The pain around the obvious clues are mostly gone. I can see airplanes and even fly without being overwhelmed by it. But, sometimes, it just sneaks up on you, and you feel an overwhelming sense of loss.

For the most part, the memory is closed. It no longer creates pain daily. However, I’m not sure that it will ever be completely closed, nor that it can be.

Post Traumatic Growth

Everyone is familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but few are aware of its mirror image, post-traumatic growth (PTG). Where PTSD debilitates, PTG empowers. Because there’s a focused awareness of PTSD and the pain it brings, few people consider that trauma isn’t always bad. Taleb in Antifragile explains that stress in a certain range can make people less fragile. Like muscles that are torn down in exercise and rebuilt stronger, mental health growth can come through the right kind of struggles.

One of the greatest challenges as a parent is in identifying which stresses to allow for our children so they may grow – and which ones to protect them from that would be too difficult for them to navigate alone. (See The Psychology of Not Holding Children Accountable for one aspect of this.)

Forgiveness

Holding a resentment towards someone is like drinking poison and expecting them to die. Forgiveness relieves you of that poison with no impact – positive or negative – on the other person. Forgiving someone is an important step in healing but is too often misunderstood. Forgiving someone isn’t forgetting the harm they caused nor releasing them of their responsibility to make things right. It is just that you’re no longer holding the harm inside yourself.

While it’s often difficult to accept the power of forgiveness for the fear that you’re somehow making it OK for the other person to have harmed you, it doesn’t mean that. In The Evolution of Cooperation, Robert Axelrod explains that some of the best solutions for modeling behavior seem to echo what we see in life. A Tit-for-Tat program is effective when modeling what happens when two independent actors can choose to work in their own or mutual best interests.

Economists play a game called the ultimatum game, where one person is given ten dollars to split between themselves and another person any way they would like. But the second person gets to decide, based on the split, whether the money is returned, or both get to keep their portions. When the split gets too far out of balance, the second person generally prevents both from getting the money. This makes no sense to economists, because the second person gets something even if it’s small, and turning down the money means they get none, too. In the context of Axelrod’s work, it does make sense.

We’ve evolved with a sense of justice, and when someone takes advantage of us, we want to make them aware that their behavior isn’t socially acceptable. We want them to pay – and that’s part of what has allowed us as a species to develop our social relationships. Even John Gottman in The Science of Trust: Emotional Attunement for Couples makes the point that the Nash equilibrium, where parties are looking for the best overall outcome, instead of the Neumann-Morgenstern equilibrium, just their own interests, is preferred. That is to say that we’re deeply wired so that we keep people in line through consequences. Fighting that urge when it’s not helpful is difficult but there is hope.

Hope

Of all the positive psychology ideas, my favorite concept is hope. Martin Seligman in The Hope Circuit explains that the idea of learned helplessness should be replaced with the idea that we either learn we have control over our environments or we fail to learn that lesson. Hope, as it shows up as the placebo effect in clinical trials, is challenging to get past. Double-blind studies are designed to ensure that hope doesn’t influence the results. (See Acedia & Me and Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health for more on the role of hope as a placebo.)

The value of hope is its ability to hold off the evils of the world – or at least hold off mental maladies like depression.

Depression

Sapolsky in Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers estimates that, by 2020, depression is projected to be the second leading cause of medical disability on Earth. It’s sometimes called “the common cold of mental illness” because of its prevalence. Depression is a big deal in terms of its impact on society and on people individually. Depression robs people of their ability to feel joy. Instead of being filled with a mixture of good and bad, they can only feel the bad.

Part of depression is the expectation is that the situation will remain the same or get worse over time. The result is a fatalistic point of view that denies the person can have any positive influence over the outcomes they get.

Positive psychology teaches, however, that depression isn’t a permanent condition. Through hope, it is possible to conquer depression and to use the values and strengths that the individual has.

Virtues

Though much is made of a person’s individual strengths, these strengths fit into a larger, virtuous framework. The information about these virtues and strengths is reproduced directly below:

  • Virtue: Wisdom & Knowledge—strengths that involve acquiring and using knowledge
  1. Creativity: Thinking of novel and productive ways to do things
  2. Curiosity: Openness to experience; taking an interest in all of ongoing experience
  3. Open-mindedness: Thinking things through and examining them from all sides
  4. Love of learning: Mastering new skills, topics, and bodies of knowledge
  5. Perspective: Being able to provide wise counsel to others
  • Virtue: Courage—emotional strengths which involve exercise of will to accomplish goals in the face of opposition, external or internal
  1. Bravery: Not shrinking from threat, challenge, or pain
  2. Persistence: Finishing what one starts; persisting in a course of action in spite of obstacles
  3. Integrity: Speaking the truth and presenting oneself in a genuine way
  4. Vitality & Zest: Approaching life with excitement and energy; not doing things half-way or halfheartedly; living life as an adventure; feeling alive and activated
  • Virtue: Humanity—interpersonal strengths that involve tending and befriending others
  1. Love: Valuing close relations with others, in particular those in which sharing and caring are reciprocated; being close to people
  2. Kindness: Doing favors and good deeds for others; helping them; taking care of them
  3. Social intelligence: Being aware of the motives and feelings of self and others; knowing what to do to fit into different social situations; knowing what makes other people tick
  • Virtue: Justice—strengths that underlie healthy community life
  1. Citizenship & Teamwork: Working well as member of a group or team; being loyal to the group; doing one’s share
  2. Fairness: Treating all people the same according to notions of fairness and justice; not letting personal feelings bias decisions about others; giving everyone a fair chance
  3. Leadership: Encouraging a group of which one is a member to get things done and at the same time maintain good relations within the group; organizing group activities and seeing that they happen
  • Virtue: Temperance—strengths that protect against excess
  1. Forgiveness & Mercy: Forgiving those who have done wrong; accepting the shortcomings of others; giving people a second chance; not being vengeful
  2. Humility & Modesty: Letting one’s accomplishments speak for themselves; not seeking the spotlight; not regarding oneself as more special than one is
  3. Prudence: Being careful about one’s choices; not taking undue risks; not saying or doing things that might later be regretted
  4. Self-regulation [Self-control]: Regulating what one feels and does; being disciplined; controlling one’s appetites and emotions
  • Virtue: Transcendence—strengths that forge connections to the larger universe and provide meaning
  1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence: Noticing and appreciating beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to arts to mathematics to science
  2. Gratitude: Being aware of and thankful for the good things; taking time to express thanks
  3. Hope & Optimism: Expecting the best in the future and working to achieve it; believing that a good future is something that can be brought about
  4. Humor & Playfulness: Liking to laugh and tease; bringing smiles to other people, seeing the light side; making (not necessarily telling) jokes
  5. Spirituality: Knowing where one fits within the larger scheme; having coherent beliefs about the higher purpose and meaning of life that shape conduct and provide comfort

Framework of Understanding

Learning about one’s strengths provides a mechanism to create understanding. By understanding zest as a strength, you can understand why you may sometimes be prone to jumping into things with too much energy. Unlike the Enneagram, the ViA assessment doesn’t speak of how your strengths can be overused. (For more on the Enneagram, see Personality Types: Using the Enneagram for Self-Discovery.) However, Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual makes a point to explain how you can over- or underuse your signature strengths and there by get less than optimal results.

The key is that, as humans, we are always trying to make sense of the world around us. The more tools we have to make sense in a positive way, the more possibilities we have to see the world as a positive place. Investigating our strengths gives us both a way to build on what we have and a way to understand how we may not have been successful as we would like. In a way, it helps our sense of trust in ourselves.

Trust

Trust is a critical concept for humans. It allows us to move to vulnerability and the intimacy that we crave. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more.) It also provides the framework for our societies. (See Trust: Human Nature and The Reconstitution of Social Order for more.) Positive psychology doesn’t discount the reality that sometimes trust is violated, but it builds upon our need to trust ourselves.

I trust that if you read Positive Psychotherapy: Clinician Manual, you’ll find something valuable, whether you’re a clinician or not.

Book Review-The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit

Why is addiction of all types on the rise in our society today? If the pharmacological theory of addiction is true – that demon drugs take over the minds of users after only one use – then why is it that there are other, non-drug addictions? How does that explain alcohol enslaving some people but not others? The answers, according to Bruce Alexander, are found in the fact that society is increasingly psychologically dislocated. In The Globalization of Addiction: A Study in Poverty of the Spirit, Alexander convincingly explains how we’re more disconnected from each other and our communities than we’ve ever been and how the chief actor in this play is the free market capitalism that most of the world has adopted.

Return to Rat Park

I called out, in Chasing the Scream, how a set of studies illuminated that rats would not overuse morphine added to a water dispenser if those rats had other rats and playthings to make their environment comfortable. That research, called “Rat Park,” was by Alexander and his team. They found that, even in rats, there was a big contrast between happy rats with the socialization and stimulation they needed and rats that didn’t.

This is a big part of the mystery. If morphine is inherently addictive, then how should the cage the rat is in matter? It shouldn’t, but it does. To answer the question of what the factors are that cause addiction, Alexander researched history, including the views of addiction.

Addiction as Illness or Moral Defect

Throughout modern history, addiction in its various forms has been viewed from either the lens that it is an illness – a disease – that should be treated, or from the perspective that it’s a moral defect, and the person should develop a greater constitution. Sometimes addiction seemed to take both forms at once.

There are several reasons to view addiction as an illness. Twelve-step groups teach that it’s not a moral defect but an illness that can be managed but not solved. (See Why and How 12-Step Groups Work for more.) It doesn’t help that DSM-V (the manual for psychological dysfunction) lists various forms of substance addiction as official diagnoses. It seems as if established psychological care groups and addicts themselves have accepted the labeling of addiction as a disease.

At the same time, society has frequently shunned those with addiction for fear that they might somehow draw more people into their downward spiral. It’s as if the addict has the capacity to create a whirlpool that will bring down others.

However, before we get too deeply into Alexander’s research and how addiction has manifested itself across history, we’ve got to stop to define what we mean by addiction.

Alexander’s Four Definitions of Addiction

Robert Palmer sang the song “Addicted to Love,” and in doing so compared love to an addiction. The truth is that neuroimaging confirms infatuation-type love and addiction are virtually indistinguishable. But, in drawing this connection, he illuminated the problem we have with the word addiction. It doesn’t mean one thing; it means multiple. Alexander defines four types of addiction:

  • Addiction1 – Overwhelming involvement with drugs or alcohol that is harmful to the addicted person, to society, or both.
  • Addiction2 – Encompasses Addiction1
    and non-overwhelming involvements with drugs or alcohol that are problematic to the addicted person, society, or both.
  • Addiction3 – Overwhelming involvement with any pursuit whatsoever (including, but not limited to, drugs or alcohol) that is harmful to the addicted person, society, or both.
  • Addiction4 – Overwhelming involvement with any pursuit whatsoever that is not harmful to the addicted person or society.

The problem with these four definitions of addiction is that it becomes unclear what we mean when we’re speaking of addiction. While, sometimes, people are speaking of drug and alcohol use (Addiction1 and Addiction2), they could just as easily be speaking of dependence on a substance or activity (Addiction3 or Addiction4). While we socially make a difference between those addictions that are good for society (Addiction4) and those that are harmful (Addiction3), these distinctions are largely arbitrary.

Workaholic

Using the above definitions, it might be easy to categorize workaholics into category 4. After all, famous workaholics are great creators and people who have moved society forward. However, as you peer through the whitewashed veneer placed on their historical accounts, you often find places of inner turmoil and struggle that reveal a more complex existence. While, on the whole, workaholics may benefit society, the impact to their lives and the lives of those they love may be only slightly better than if they have a more recognized drug or alcohol problem.

An important underpinning of Alexander’s discussion is the need to recognize every addicted person as first a person. Trying to sort people and situations into differing kinds of addiction is necessary for discussion, but it runs the risk of failing to recognize the reality of the individual people who are suffering in ways that are both small and large.

Devoted

Another translation for the original Greek word from which we get addiction is “devoted.” In our modern use of the word, we fail to capture the attachment that exists between the person and the object of their devotion. While understanding addiction as devotion makes the neurological scans make sense, it does little in the way of helping us to sort through addiction and help those that are suffering.

A different definition of addiction, and one that I am particularly fond of, is a coping skill that someone becomes enslaved to. Instead of the coping skill being useful to cope with life, it becomes necessary for survival. Instead of the position of helper, this new behavior or substance becomes the jail master. It’s that transition that isn’t captured well in addiction or devoted. However, it can be captured in another word: slavery.

Voluntary Slavery

Another way to think of addiction, one which probably comes the closest to capturing the mechanisms at work, is to think of addiction as voluntary slavery. This is paradoxical. Why would someone become a slave to someone or something else? The answer is that what the person gets seems more valuable than their freedom.

Consider for a moment the biblical story of the prodigal son. While the ending is well known to us now, it wasn’t for the son. He had disgraced his father by asking for his inheritance in advance and then blown it. He was scavenging for food and knew that his father took care of his hired hands well. His decision to come back wasn’t to come back into slavery but a difficult decision to walk back to the things he had done and suffer any consequences his father might dole out.

In short, he was willing to accept whatever the consequences were for the promise of regular food and shelter. This would be the same story if the father had taken the son as a slave. While slavery is an awful concept and demoralizes the slaves, it can provide some stability.

The Bargain

So, what’s the bargain that would lead someone to believe that slavery is the right answer? In the case of addiction, it’s the quelling of the pain. Though Alexander is very focused on psychosocial dislocation, in my experience, it’s broader than that. Psychosocial integration is the antidote to addiction, but the lack of it doesn’t cause addiction. Alexander himself acknowledges that the greatest limitation in his theory is the lack of ability to predict those who will become addicted and those who will not.

If you look at psychosocial integration as the way to smooth all the hurts and pains that we naturally get through life, a more complete story emerges. Psychosocial integration then functions like the antibodies that we produce. The lack of antibodies isn’t the direct cause of death. The lack of antibodies allows us to succumb to the bacteria that we encounter in going through life.

The addiction is a replacement for the psychosocial integration. It temporarily stands in for the connection that we all need. However, the object of the addiction is a poor stand-in for what we really need – connection to others.

The Pain

The pains that lead to addiction are many. It could be not being accepted by your family. (See How to Be an Adult in Relationships for more on the role of acceptance.) It could be feelings of fear. (See Find Your Courage is a good place to start to work on overcoming fear.) It could be a confusion between shame and guilt – and believing you are bad when you’ve only done something bad. (See I Thought It Was Just Me as a start on the journey for differentiating these two.) It can be the harmful things that were done to you. Whether you believe you should have “known better,” prevented them, or just realized that bad things happen, these hurts can become wedged in our minds and bring back repeated trauma.

Addiction makes the pain go away – at least for a while. Medications like ibuprofen (Advil), acetaminophen (Tylenol), and aspirin can help you relieve a hurt for a while, but, ultimately, the effects wear off, and you need more. Addictions quiet the pain for a time, but they ultimately don’t provide healing.

Healing

What Alexander is describing with psychosocial integration isn’t just covering up the pain but providing real healing for the hurting. While the temporary relief from the pain may be appropriate, without the work to protect the broken bone and realign it so it can heal over time, the pain will simply continue – and will probably get worse over time, requiring pain medication in greater doses. That’s addiction. It’s failing to recognize and resolve the root problem and instead focusing on pain symptom relief.

From the Scottish Highlands

It’s an interesting theory, but where’s the support for the idea that dislocation leads to addiction? Let’s start in the Highlands of Scotland. In the early 1700s, Scotland was relatively isolated from Great Britain and the benefits of modern English society. They lived together in relatively stable communities. However, transformation began in the latter half of the 18th century, as the Scottish could no longer ignore the growing influence of the English. Cattle and grain were replaced with hearty sheep that were more profitable to the landholders. They needed fewer people to tend the lands, and their communities ruptured. There was great displacement of people who no longer had roles in the community.

It was at this point that the Scottish discovered the alcohol that Christian monks brought with them three centuries prior. While alcoholism was relatively unheard of in their communities prior to the second half of the 1700s, it seemed to explode overnight.

To China’s Opium Dens

China had access to opium since the Ming Dynasty, and it managed to remain relatively productive until the losses in 1839 and 1858 to the British Empire. Suddenly, Chinese ports were open to the full commerce of the Empire, and the Chinese market was radically changed. As with the Scottish Highlands, the disruption in the market from a relatively stable communal relationship to a more free-market approach displaced members of communities whose services were no longer effective or necessary.

It’s here that it starts to become apparent that there is a cause of psychosocial dislocation. The free market system seems to destabilize communities and countries as it marches on towards efficiency, production, and, in some cases, greed. However, any kind of dislocation has the same impact.

To Native American Indian Displacement

A little closer to home in the United States (where I live) and Canada (where Alexander lives) is the displacement of Native American Indians as their lands were taken as property. Whether it was seized or negotiated for as a part of as a treaty makes little difference to the outcome. Natives, whose ancestors had always roamed the same land, were forced to move, and the disruption of their culture could not be more profound.

Children were trained only in English and were “encouraged” to forget their heritage. The resulting disintegration of culture left many adrift. Firewater, or alcohol, was an all-too-easy way to forget the suffering of having lost their way of life.

Warnings from Australia

Alexander didn’t mention the challenges of introducing change that Everett Rogers uses as a cautionary tone at the end of his work, Diffusion of Innovations. The real problem with change – any change – is that you cannot predict all the effects. In Rogers’ case, he referred to the impact of missionaries on aboriginal Australian people. In a culture where stone axe heads were a prized tool owned by the elders and lent through a ceremonial request, the missionaries introduced steel axe heads. The steel axe heads were, of course, more efficient than the traditional stone axe heads. However, more critically, the axe heads were given without the cultural underpinnings of respect. Missionaries offered them to women and young men who would never be able to own a stone axe head.

The intended result was, of course, to elevate the people and improve their standard of living. It seemed obvious that the introduction of the improved axe heads should increase the capacity of the tribe to create value for its members. However, the unraveling of society that came from the introduction couldn’t be predicted. Instead of greater productivity, the Aborigines slept more. The desire for the new power of the steel axe head caused at least some cases of husbands prostituting their wife to near total strangers in return for a steel axe head.

A simple introduction of one good – the steel axe head – seemed capable of collapsing an entire culture to near ruin. To be fair, the source article that Rogers refers to, “Steel Axes for Stone-Age Australians,” admits that, while the axe heads had primary influence, there were other influences coming in from Europeans. There was no way to say that the steel axe heads by themselves were causal for the breakdown. However, in the context here of explaining the introduction of free market and how it impacts the stabilization of a community, it makes little difference whether it was the axe head or some other disruptive, free market influence.

Poverty of the Spirit

The subtitle explains that Alexander’s work is a study in the poverty of the spirit. However, what does that mean? What does it mean to be poor in spirit? Reviewing the beatitudes from Mathew 5:3 in the New Testament of the Christian Bible doesn’t help. Alexander only says that he believes that dislocation is a poverty of spirit. He contrasts this with a material poverty.

It’s an important distinction. Is material poverty a mitigating factor for addiction directly, or is dislocation, or poverty of the spirit, the mitigating factor? Looking at celebrity addiction, it’s relatively easy to isolate material poverty as not being a mitigating factor. And so, it seems that, though those with addiction often find themselves in material poverty, this is more the outcome than the cause.

A deeper look into what it means to be poor of spirit is, however, warranted.

Poor in Spirit

There are context clues scattered throughout, which lead to an image of the emptiness and feeling of being lost or set adrift that are at the heart of the poverty of the spirit. To be full of spirit is to be full of life and zest. A compelling purpose sucks a person forward into the vastness of their potential impact. To be poor in spirit it to be without this light.

For some, it is possible that the light never shone. It’s possible that their very earliest memories had nothing lighthearted or fun. For most, however, there would be some light that burned or at least flickered before being snuffed out by life’s circumstances. Without the psychological integration that can nurture this flame and even relight it if necessary, those who are poor in spirit must remain this way.

Need for Purpose

Atul Gawande explains in Being Mortal that seniors in living facilities live longer if they have something to take care of – even if that something is simply a plant. It seems that we’re hardwired to need to take care of something. When we become disconnected from others, we have nothing to care for except ourselves. This is not a natural state for us as humans, and most find this to be a painful experience.

Stopping Addiction

While there may not be any sure-fire way of preventing the spread of addiction or helping those recover from addiction, it’s possible that we can learn more about the factors that increase the likelihood of addiction and try to understand what we might do to make things better. We can’t stop The Globalization of Addiction individually, but perhaps we can work together to make it better.

Book Review-Emotion and Adaptation

Everyone feels emotions. Even those who seek to suppress their emotions through stuffing or addiction still feel them. However, most of the time, we don’t consider how our emotions come to be or how they’re threaded through our evolution. Shining a light and focusing our attention on our emotions is what Emotion and Adaptation seeks to do.

I came to this book through a very winding route. Some years ago, I read Destructive Emotions, which is a conversation including both the Dalai Lama and Paul Ekman. Since then, I had read more of Paul Ekman’s work in Telling Lies and Cracking the Code. I’ve read much of the Dalai Lama’s work in An Appeal to the World and My Spiritual Journey. I also read Emotional Awareness, which shares some of the continuing conversations of Dr. Ekman and the Dalai Lama. However, it was the challenge put forth in How Emotions Are Made that caused me to dig back through my notes and to discover a comment that Dr. Ekman made to the Dalai Lama about the book Emotion and Adaptation.

The challenge is whether emotions are universally formed and have a singular physiological signature that defines them or whether emotions are the result of a set of forces that don’t cause them to end up in predictable patterns as much as they create clusters of related feelings. Where How Emotions are Made criticizes the established thinking about emotions, Emotion and Adaptation takes the long view and mostly affirms the existing thinking while indicating, in places, that what we know about emotions is incomplete.

Appraisal

At the heart of the question is how emotions are formed and Lazarus’ assertion in Emotion and Adaptation is that emotions are formed based on the appraisal of the environment. That is that emotions are our response to what we believe the impact of the situation will be to us. We’re constantly scanning the environment to assess it for threats and opportunities. These assessments – whether correct or not – become the basis for our emotions.

Lazarus believes that emotions come from a primary appraisal of the relevance of the environment to our goals. The first part of the appraisal is a filter as to whether the environment is relevant to any goal. If it is relevant, then the next step is the evaluation of whether the current environment is congruent or incongruent. That is, the environment is appraised to whether it helps move us forward in our goals or backwards. Finally, we consider how important this goal is to our self-identification.

There is a secondary appraisal that is engaged to assess attribution of the environment – whether we’ll receive credit or blame for the situation, our coping potential, and whether we expect that the situation will get better or worse.

The coping potential component of the secondary assessment is very much like willpower (see Willpower) and hope (see The Psychology of Hope). The secondary assessment isn’t an assessment of the person-environment relationship. Instead, it’s an assessment of our personal capacity. It’s about whether or not we can rise to the challenge.

Emotional Intensity

Where our assessment of the relationship between the environment and our goals drives us towards an emotion, the intensity of the emotion is created by the level of threat or opportunity with relationship to the goal and our commitment to the goal. The more committed to the goal we are, the more intense our emotions will be when there is a threat or opportunity towards it.

When we feel strong emotions, we would do well to consider how committed we are to the goal – and why we feel the goal is threatened or strengthened by the situation.

Hidden Goals

One of the key challenges that people face with their emotions is that they feel opaque. It’s not possible for most people to peer into the construction of their emotions – a point discussed at length in How Emotions Are Made. Because emotions just seem to happen, it’s difficult to even determine what caused the emotion to erupt in the first place.

When viewing emotions as the response to our assessment of the impact of the environment on our goals, it’s important to recognize that not all goals are the same for everyone. Still, some goals are universal. Survival is, generally, one such goal. The other class of goals are unique to us and our perceptions of ourselves.

Some of our personal goals are apparent in our explicit understanding of ourselves and what we want. Another set of personal goals are not explicit and are tacit things that we want but cannot articulate. (See Lost Knowledge for more on tacit vs. explicit.)

In seeking a better relationship with our emotions, it’s relatively easy to disassemble the factors leading to our emotional responses by evaluating the common or explicit personal goal impacted and the way that we feel that goal is impacted. While the connection we make unconsciously may be faster and richer than our conscious awareness, we can with work generally expose the components that led to the emotional reaction.

However, uncovering the cause of emotions which are driven by tacit goals is substantially harder. This is both because tacit goals are necessarily unconscious and because they don’t always make rational sense. Often, the tacit goals that provoke emotion are goals to protect ourselves – from hurts that we’ve previously felt.

Historic Hurts

There’s a bit of recursion going on to say that some of our emotions are based on previous emotions. However, there is lots of loops in nature, history, and evolution. The assessment of the environment is heavily biased towards the things that have harmed us in the past. So, at one level, we have a goal to not be harmed that is universal. In fact, Jonathan Haidt spoke of care/harm as a foundation for morality in The Righteous Mind.

At a more detailed level, we’re working to prevent the specific hurts that we’ve felt. If we’ve been hurt by someone close to us in a romantic relationship, we may find ways to protect ourselves from this pain. Sometimes, in this case, we’ll seek to isolate ourselves and to prevent intimacy. (See Intimacy Anorexia.) John Gottman’s word is “stonewalling,” which expresses the defensive nature. (See The Science of Trust.)

The fact that people respond based on their history is a fact. The question is what we do with that knowledge. Do we ignore our history and accept that there are hidden hurts that will drive us, or do we seek to acknowledge the past hurts and learn to adjust our assessments of our probability of being hurt that way again, so that we’re willing to take appropriate risks? (For more on the topic of trust, see Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy.)

So often, our emotions that rise to the surface like a geyser are stirred in our history of hurts that we aren’t even conscious of. We are, in many ways, still assessing the situation like a child – or younger adult – who has been harmed deeply and is positioning to prevent the hurt from happening again.

States and Traits

It’s in the processing of these hurts that we land ourselves in the murky land between emotional states – that is, our moment to moment emotions – and emotional traits – our predisposition or characteristic emotions. One can be happy or generally happy. Typically grumpy or just grumpy in the moment. How is it that these are related?

There’s an intervening stop between the state and the trait that may be helpful in enhancing our understanding. We can have an emotional state of happiness or we can have a general mood of happiness. A mood is a continuance or predisposition towards an emotion over time – but not as a permanent state of the individual. A mood then is the first extension of an emotional state over time.

Moods are like the emotional record getting stuck in a groove. The same emotions seem to keep reoccurring until someone bumps the table and causes the record to jump into a new groove. That is, someone in a mood seems to have the same emotional states more frequently than others.

Extending this across time, what if an emotional trait is simply a magnet that pulls emotional states back towards a set of states that are familiar, common, and comfortable?

If we consider this in the context of hidden hurts, we can see that sometimes the environment is assessed positively or negatively for a while until something substantial changes the assessment, and thus we get a mood. Hidden hurts, which aren’t dealt with, can keep pulling a person back to an assessment that leads them to have the same emotional states across time.

The more we can address the hidden hurts, the less pull they have to keep us in a mood or even develop an emotional trait. The more that we can help ourselves feel safe in the recognition of these hurts, the more we can help ourselves feel safe.

Startle vs. Emotion

With any definition, the challenges are always at the edges. What is an emotion and what is not? When it comes to this question, the challenge is often defining what it is to be startled. If your view is that emotions are caused by appraisal of the environment, what sort of appraisal can be made in the milliseconds between a loud noise and the resulting jump? The answer is – of course – not much. Thus, it makes sense that Lazarus might define startle as a reaction rather than an emotion.

Largely this makes sense. The startle itself doesn’t influence mood, and though it forces the reticular activating system (RAS) to turn the attention dial up to 12, it doesn’t directly seem to have an emotional component. (See Change or Die for more on the RAS.) The physiological impact of adrenaline release seems to increase the tendencies for anxiety and fear – but these can easily be explained by the endocrine system without need to ascribe direct emotive qualities.

So just like moods or emotional traits aren’t necessarily emotions but rather are factors that influence emotion, so, too, are there physiological and neurological events like the startle response that are not emotions either.

Feeling Safe

Safety is an illusion. We believe that we are safe when we are only relatively safe – or unsafe. Our technology has limited the devastation that Mother Nature can unleash. We’ve found ways to reliably provide shelter and warmth for most humans. We’ve learned how to avoid food borne diseases and we eliminate harmful bacteria from our water. In many ways, our lives are safer than they have ever been – and yet we’re still not objectively, completely safe.

A car or plane crash can still into our homes, killing us. For all that matters, we don’t know that there’s not an invisible, asteroid-sized object on a collision course with Earth right now. There is no way that we can guarantee that we are actually safe. We can only say that we feel safe – or not.

Our emotions are not driven by our actual safety. Our emotions are driven by our perception of our safety. We can walk within feet of a lion and feel safe – if we’re in a zoo. It isn’t the lion itself that creates our fear. It’s the possibility that the lion might eat us. We evaluate the probability and even possibility that we might be harmed – and decide whether we should be afraid or not.

The key opportunity in Lazarus’ work is the opportunity to create the perception of safety to change the appraisals that people make and therefore their emotions. Albert Bandura’s work demonstrated that even those people with strong phobias can be relieved of the phobia through progressive introduction of safety. (See some of his work in Moral Disengagement. I covered my book review about the mechanisms and the cases.)

Adaptive and Maladaptive

One of the interesting questions that arise with emotions is whether they’re adaptive or maladaptive. That is, would most people believe that the response was proportional to the situation? In the context of our hidden hurts, this is problematic. If we recoil from a touch and get anxious, is that adaptive or maladaptive? With no history of pain, one would say that such an emotional reaction would be maladaptive. However, put in the context of someone who has been physically abused, the anxiety is a reasonable response.

A better way to view adaptive and maladaptive may be to view the response in the context of whether the response moves someone forward to their collective goals. So, is the emotion itself and the corresponding behaviors congruent with moving someone forward towards their goals or moving them further away? Adaptive behaviors move us closer to our goals and maladaptive ones move us further away. When our emotions are adaptive, they encourage adaptive behaviors.

Afflictive or Non-Afflictive

Where Western psychology uses the measurement of adaptive and maladaptive, Buddhism uses afflictive and non-afflictive. Rather than measuring the behaviors that result from the emotion, Buddhism acknowledges that the emotion itself can be helpful or harmful. Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers explains the profound and multifaceted impact of stress on our bodies and minds (see my reviews regarding the physical impact, the psychology and neurology, and the causes and cures of stress). Nelson Mandela wrote, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” Resentment is a poison – an emotion that would be easily described as afflictive, because it harms you but not the other person. Conversely, caring for others seems to have positive physical and psychological benefits.

While we can’t directly control our emotions, we can look for opportunities to shape them by encouraging non-afflictive, adaptive responses and discouraging emotions that cause us emotional distress.

Emotional Distress

If you were to look through DSM-5 for diagnosis criteria for the various psychological problems that are cataloged, you’d find a common thread. That thread is the fact that the diagnostic criteria almost uniformly include some form of emotional distress. Emotional distress is the key to psychopathology. However, emotional distress in and of itself isn’t psychopathology. Even with the definition of depression, there is care taken to avoid short-term negative mood. Depression is reserved for when the feelings are persistent over a longer period of time.

Coping Skills

Your car breaks down or, more precisely, catches on fire while you’re driving it, resulting in a total loss. You’re in the position of needing to get a new car immediately. Your emotional reaction isn’t going to be positive, but it will be very different if you’ve got the money saved up to buy the new car you want with cash vs. having to accept something you don’t want and still being concerned about the car payment if you don’t have the money to replace it. The difference in how you feel has very little to do with the actual event and has more to do with your capacity to cope with it.

While this is a practical example, the same holds true for the loss of a friend when you have many friends as compared to you have few friends or you find it hard to make new friends. You’ll react differently to job loss if you feel like you’ll have no trouble finding a new position when compared to if you’re concerned that you’ll find anything – or that you won’t be able to make enough to live with what you can find.

Our emotional response is driven by our belief in ourselves and our capacity to overcome. Martin Seligman and his colleagues once believed that you could learn helplessness. However, more recent research by his colleagues teaches us that we actually learn control or the illusion of control. (See Compelled to Control for more on the illusion of control, and The Hope Circuit for learning control vs. learning helplessness.)

When we teach ourselves and others that we have more control of our world, we minimize the intensity of emotions and generally make them more positive.

The Relationship Between Cognition and Emotion

It may be apparent at this point that there is a relationship between cognition and emotion. In fact, I’ve been encouraging the thought that our cognition can shape our emotion. By subtly shifting and changing our appraisals, we can shift our emotions. We can do this by changing our goals or exposing conflicting goals that balance out the appraisal as not good in some respects and good in others. However, I’ve largely ignored the impact that emotion has on cognition.

Drive explains that time pressure focuses thinking in a way that limits the development of alternate solutions. Thinking, Fast and Slow explains how negative confirmation bias can send us into a downward spiral. Our emotion has the greatest influence on our cognition by shaping what options we’re able to consider. This is one of the reasons why having a community of supportive, authentic people can be a powerful forward force in your life.

Depression and Grief

Depression is a critical topic for today’s world. It’s moving into the position of being the world’s largest health concern. It’s been the subject of Choice Theory, Warning: Psychiatry Can be Hazardous to Your Mental Health, and scores of other books. Depression is the reaction to loss, whether that be a tangible or a psychological loss. Grief, on the other hand, is related but different in that it is focused on the activation of resources for coping with the loss. Where depression appears to just happen to someone, grief is the process of recovery.

If you were to point to one thing that we could do to relieve human suffering, it would be to help people move from a focus on the losses that they’ve experienced and towards the capacity that they have to recover. In other words, it would be moving people from depression to grief. Instead of being victims of the loss, they become reactionary to it. (See Boundaries, Beyond Boundaries, Daring Greatly, and Change or Die for more on victimhood.)

The Necessity of Emotions

While emotions may at times be unpleasant and unwanted, they’re necessary for life, happiness, and joy. In my experience, I’ve seen the severe psychological distress created by people who are not able to express their emotions, because they’ve been told that emotions are scary or unsafe. The resulting misery and sometimes catastrophic breaks in reality are tragic.

Perhaps if you can understand where emotions come from and how they form, you can remove the fear of emotions and instead harness them to help move you to a place of happiness and joy. It’s not possible to blunt out the negative feelings without blunting the joy that life can bring, and most of us can’t live without some joy. Maybe that’s why there’s Emotion and Adaptation.

Book Review-A Fearless Heart: How the Courage to Be Compassionate Can Transform Our Lives

Individually, compassion and courage make sense. Compassion is the awareness of the suffering of others and the desire to minimize it. Courage isn’t the absence of fear but the willingness to overcome it. Putting these together, we discover a subtle fear in being compassionate and what can be done to develop the courage to do so. That’s what A Fearless Heart is about – developing the courage to be compassionate in the face of circumstances, thoughts, and feelings that make that difficult.

Magic Penny

It was years ago now when I heard the song for the first time. I was in a grade school choir room, and the song was our next learning. It was an odd song. It was about giving something away and getting more. The first part of the lyrics of this Malvina Reynolds song begin:

“Love is something if you give it away,
Give it away, give it away.
Love is something if you give it away,
You end up having more.

“It’s just like a magic penny,
Hold it tight and you won’t have any.
Lend it, spend it, and you’ll have so many
They’ll roll all over the floor.”

Most things in life, if you give it away you have less. However, this magic penny – and, more importantly, love – is something you get more of the more you give away. I’ve mentioned before (see The Art of Loving) that there are three Greek words for the word we call “love” in the English language: eros, romantic love; philos, or brotherly love; and agape, which is God’s love or global love. I’ve also mentioned that agape and compassion are essentially the same thing. (See The Book of Joy.) So, what we have in this little song is the truism that, when you demonstrate your compassion for others, you become more compassionate – not less.

In the zero-sum game that most of us live with daily (if someone else wins, then we lose), it’s hard to understand how compassion begets compassion and how our worlds are enriched when we enrich the lives of others. The more that we live our lives for others, the more we get out of it for ourselves.

The Paradox of Happiness

I’ve mentioned before the two goddesses of wisdom (Lakshmi) and wealth (Sarawati). If you pursue wealth, it will run from you; but if you pursue wisdom, wealth will be attracted to you. (I covered the story in my review of The Heretic’s Guide to Management.) A similar thing happens with happiness. When we stop worrying about our own happiness, and we’re focused instead on the needs and happiness of others, we find that happiness comes our way.

Hedonistic happiness is a treadmill requiring increasingly greater amounts of pleasure to feed the same level of happiness (see Thinking, Fast and Slow for more on this). However, value-based happiness driven by our love (compassion) for our fellow man becomes an enduring characteristic of joy. To become happy, we then need to not worry about our happiness and instead focus on the happiness of others.

The Pit of Loneliness

If happiness defines one side of a continuum, loneliness sits on the opposite side. Loneliness is a painful form of suffering where we feel separate and apart from the others that we share this planet with. (See Loneliness for more.) Our compassion for one another helps to bridge the gap that loneliness creates by connecting us.

Empathy means that I understand this about you. Compassion, as mentioned above, is awareness of another’s suffering and the desire to minimize it. Thus, empathy connects us through understanding, and compassion connects us through action. Empathy’s near enemy (explained momentarily) is sympathy. Sympathy is based in understanding but separates by pity. Instead of being, I understand this about you, it’s an understanding that you don’t want to be where the other person is. (See Sympathy, Empathy, Compassion, and Altruism for more.)

Near Enemies

Near enemies is the idea that there are two concepts where one is bad but seems to be the same as a virtuous one. The two seem similar but really operate very differently. A Fearless Heart claims that the near enemy of compassion is pity, but I would refine this, as stated above, to say that sympathy is the near enemy of empathy, and pity leads to sympathy instead. Because I believe that compassion is built on empathy, this is a distinction of degree. Fundamentally, I believe that the presence of pity prevents the connection necessary for true compassion.

Near enemies are responsible for people not desiring a desirable state. Compassion is confused with submissiveness, weakness, or sentimentality. People fear compassion, because compassion isn’t seen as innate part of all of us (see Spiritual Evolution) or as a necessary trait.

Fear of Compassion

On some level, it’s difficult to conceive of someone who would be afraid of compassion. At another, it’s all too easy to see subtle forms of fear in our ability to give and receive compassion. Whether it’s an aversion to feeling indebted to someone else or the queasy feeling that we’re not enough if we need someone else’s compassion, we realize that there are times that both giving and receiving compassion can be difficult.

Paul Gilbert was the first to schematize fear of compassion, defining it as three different categories of fear: fear of compassion for others, from others, and to oneself. He defined this in more detail by articulating statements that we could rate how much we identify each.

  • Compassion for others:
    • People will take advantage of me if I am too compassionate and forgiving.
    • If I am too compassionate, others will become dependent on me.
      • I can’t tolerate others’ distress.
    • People should help themselves rather than waiting for others to help them.
    • There are some people in life who don’t deserve compassion.
  • Fear of compassion from others:
    • I am afraid that if I need other people to be kind they will not be so.
    • I worry that people are only kind and compassionate when they want something from me.
    • If I think someone is being kind and caring toward me, I put up a barrier.
  • Fear of compassion for oneself:
    • I fear that if I develop compassion for myself, I will become someone I don’t want to be.
    • I fear that if I am more self-compassionate, I will become weak.
    • I fear that if I start to feel compassion for myself, I will be overcome with sadness and grief.

Just because you’re afraid of compassion doesn’t make it any less the right approach. By identifying what the fears are, it’s possible to make them smaller.

Teaching Fishing

The cliché is you should teach a man to fish rather than give him a fish. Teaching him can feed him for a lifetime and giving him a fish feeds him for a day. However, this is substantially easier to say than it is to do in many cases. Compassion is a place where our best and highest work creates solutions for the other person that allows them to be self-sustaining in the future and not need any additional help to relieve their own suffering.

This aspect of helping people be more self-sufficient is both critical and often lacking. People who have psychological issues are often prescribed drugs that they’ll be on all their lives, making them dependent and never fully healing. (See Warning: Psychiatry Can Be Hazardous to Your Mental Health for more on the problems with these prescriptions.) Even counselors and psychologists who try to resolve problems with their patients often fail. (See The Heart and Soul of Change and Science and Pseudoscience in Clinical Psychology for more about effective and ineffective counseling.)

A different approach to psychology – and helping people to thrive – is what has been called “positive psychology.” It’s a movement founded by Martin Seligman and one he continues to champion today. Instead of focusing on deficits and gaps, positive psychology helps the patient to see that they already possess the things they need to be happy and to thrive. (See Martin Seligman’s book Flourish and Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity for more.) As we’re helping others, we should simultaneously be helping them to see the capacities they have within themselves. (See Motivational Interviewing for some more ideas on how to affirm people in their strengths.)

The Only Way Out Is Through

There’s a belief that people who are calm are in control of their emotions. The belief is that they can keep them at bay and constrain them even in the toughest times. This is a false belief. Emotions that are repressed and denied have a way of oozing their way to the surface and causing havoc. It’s a truer statement to say that people who are good at controlling their emotions just have a better awareness and acceptance of their emotions.

It’s not possible for the rational self (the rider in the elephant-rider-path model discussed in The Happiness Hypothesis) to restrain the emotions permanently. However, with a better relationship – driven by acceptance – there will be fewer times when the emotions will fight to have control. It’s acceptance of the emotions that are being felt, that our rationality can properly assess that we’re not in much real danger – and therefore dramatic actions are not called for.

It can be true that we’re threatened, but, to some degree, we choose what is a threat and what is a challenge to be overcome.

Challenging the Threat

There are two key components of ego-resiliency – which is a goal that everyone has. One of those is the ability to perceive difficulty as a challenge rather than a threat. Instead of looking at the lack of knowledge to do something, you can view it as an opportunity to learn or a challenge to be able to demonstrate that you can do things.

It’s cliché to describe problems as opportunities, but that really is the case. Edison’s work to find the incandescent lightbulb is similarly cliché, but in it rings a bit of truth. Edison’s work wasn’t always a commercial success. From his first patent for a voting machine to his extensive work trying to find alternative sources for natural rubber, it wasn’t that Edison was uniquely gifted to never fail. His unique gift was in his perspective that the things that he faced were challenges and not threats.

Adversity and the Rubber Ball

The other component to ego-resiliency and effective recovery from hardship is the capacity to bounce back from adversity. The agrarian saying is, “If the horse throws you off, get back on.” It’s simple to say, but harder to do – both physically in case of a horse and proverbially in the face of adversity causing a defeat. However, for the most part failure isn’t fatal.

What that means is that, though we may get knocked down and feel like we’re losing or failing, it isn’t permanent. The ability to recognize that the problems aren’t persistent – that they’re temporary and not pervasive – but are localized to one or a few small areas of our life can allow us to understand that adversity can get us down, it just can’t keep us down.

Vulnerability

There’s a bit of vulnerability in accepting that we’re going to get knocked down from time to time. There’s a bit of acceptance in our imperfect and often frail nature to know that we aren’t invincible. While we all intuitively know we’re not perfect, and we’re going to die, and vulnerability is a cloak that we’ll always wear, we seek to deny it from ourselves and from others.

The paradox of vulnerability is that to allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we must feel safe – we may not need to be safe, we just need to feel it. To admit our vulnerability, we must accept ourselves non-judgmentally. To be vulnerable with others, we’ve got to trust that they don’t intend us harm. (See Trust=>Vulnerability=>Intimacy for more.)

Self-Pity

Like anything, there can be too much of a good thing. Being vulnerable often leads to humility. (See Humilitas for more.) However, if we don’t non-judgmentally accept our vulnerability, we may find ourselves in the pit of self-pity. We may discover that we’re self-absorbed with only our limitations and our faults. We become so focused on ourselves that we can’t see that others have vulnerabilities too.

Self-pity is a form of self-absorption, where our fear and lack of self-compassion have limited our view of the outside world. It’s natural and normal that our focus is pulled towards intense and immediate threats; however, it’s not natural when those threats aren’t real and when they persistently prevent us from seeing the real world. (See The Anatomy of Peace for boxes that distort our perspective.)

Dysfunctional Relationships

It takes two to tango, they say. Relationships necessarily involve two people. While we may believe that we’re the root cause of everything that is wrong in a relationship or lament our poor decision-making that led us to be a part of a dysfunctional relationship, the reality is that one or even a few bad decisions does not poor judgement make. Every relationship has its dysfunction. The real question is what your role is in removing the dysfunction, either by changing your responses or exiting the relationship.

More than any other aspect of our world, relationships is key. Research supports our need for social connection, intimacy, and closeness – and in many areas of the world, it’s getting harder and harder to maintain and build connections. Having self-pity because we don’t have enough relationships or have too many dysfunctional relationships doesn’t help us.

Checking In

Whether it’s alone in a room or with a group of people, one way to be present and shape the future of your relationships with others – and with yourself – is to perform a check-in process. The process is simple but often overlooked. Whatever specific approach you take to get there, checking in has two goals. The first goal is to acknowledge your reality, including your thoughts and feelings, whether they seem reasonable or not. The second goal is to recognize your desire for the conversation, for the relationship, or for yourself.

The process of checking in helps you to reach clarity about where you really are and where you really want to go. Collectively, this makes finding the path between the two much easier to find even if the path itself isn’t easy. If the path doesn’t seem easy, maybe you need A Fearless Heart to guide you.

Book Review-Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill

Is happiness a skill? Most folks are looking for happiness – like searching for the lost city of Atlantis or the fountain of youth. However, few people look at happiness as a skill that can be cultivated. However, that’s the central idea behind Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill. Matthieu Ricard is a scientist turned Buddhist scholar who believes that happiness isn’t something that you find, but it’s something that you develop.

Wiring in Happiness

Ricard isn’t the only one who believes that happiness comes from changing the patterns of our thoughts. It’s not that our external circumstances don’t matter when it comes to happiness, it’s just that it matters much less than we believe. We’ve heard stories of the lottery winners who, after a short time of happiness, return to their normal sense of happiness – or, rather, being unhappy. While we can’t change the circumstances around us, as much as we might like to, we can change our responses to the circumstances.

It was 2007 when a flight out of LaGuardia was cancelled, causing me to route through Regan National in Washington, DC. I mentioned that experience in my review of Stumbling on Happiness. I’m far from being able to say that I’ve got it all figured out, but, in that post, I share how different responses to a flight being cancelled could lead to anger and frustration or gratitude for the opportunity to read a book about happiness.

It wasn’t the external circumstances that changed – both passengers faced the same problem of a cancelled flight – but the responses are very different.

Rick Hansen in Hardwiring Happiness believes that it’s possible to change the way we think and thereby develop more happiness. It might be more accurate to say that Hansen encourages us to savor the happiness that we do have and remain grateful, so that we can be happier with our everyday life.

Healthy Mind

What Daniel Gilbert called a psychological immune system (in Stumbling on Happiness), Ricard would call a healthy mind. Instead of resisting the negative circumstances, Ricard encourages us to have our thoughts be healthy all the time. It’s not an antibody that your immune system releases in response to an attack, but is instead a natural part of daily living.

A healthy mind is free from troublesome internal conflicts. A healthy mind apprehends reality clearly – for the most part – and adapts quickly when a gap is discovered between perception and reality. The way that the person perceives themselves is also grounded in the way that they actually act. They aren’t always “minding the gap” between who they say they are and the way they actually behave. There’s a sense of peace that the way that they live their life is the way they want to be.

The Illusion of Control

Much of the reason why people aren’t happy is because they believe in the illusion of control. Those people afflicted with depression can apprehend the fact that they have no control more readily than the optimists among us who continue to believe that they have control even when they have none. (See The Hope Circuit for more on this.) The illusion of control helps us cling onto hope even when the chances are very slim. Snyder in The Psychology of Hope explained that there are two components to hope – willpower and waypower. Waypower is basically the belief that you know how to affect change. (Willpower has a more or less classical definition; you can find out more about this in the book titled Willpower.)

The illusion of control may give us hope – but, as Miller explains in Compelled to Control, it’s all too easy for us to believe that we have control of other people. The result is dysfunctional relationships that aren’t helpful in leading us towards happiness.

Pleasure and Joy

I read in Building Trust: In Business, Politics, Relationships and Life that many people know what trust is until you ask them to define it. When you do, you’ll invariably hear a definition of trustworthy and not a definition of trust. I believe a similar thing happens when you ask someone to define joy. Rarely would someone respond with a clear definition to this question. Even in The Book of Joy, definitions for joy are hard to come by. What is most frequently shared for joy is something shallower, more incidental, and fickle – pleasure. Pleasure may not have the lasting value that joy has, but it’s much easier to articulate.

Where pleasure is about the moment, joy is about the enduring characteristics of a person or situation. That’s great but how do you develop joy? Ricard explains that joy is the outward expression of the happiness that a person feels inside. It is happiness radiated on to others.

Integrated Self Image

We are quite literally and figuratively the center of our universes. We see everything from our eyes and construct reality through our senses. Our brain is designed to make leaps of inference. (This is the System 1 of Daniel Kahneman’s systems model in Thinking, Fast and Slow.) We’re designed to jump to conclusions. We use everything that we “know” to guide our predictions about what will happen next. The ability for us to predict what will be next is a remarkable feat of evolutionary engineering.

Evolution even equipped us with tools to help us adjust our prediction failures – to refine the efficacy. Jokes, it seems, are designed to test our predictive capacity. Laughter is the response to a failure to correctly predict – at least in a comedy club. (See Inside Jokes for more.) However, the correction mechanisms for our predictive capacity are hampered by the ego’s defenses and our need to be perceived as perfect to the outside world. (See Change or Die for more on our ego defenses.)

When we see ourselves in a distorted way – by failing to accept all of ourselves – we perceive the world in a distorted way. If we’re looking through ourselves through wavy lenses, we see the rest of the world in the same way. As a result, it’s critical that we learn how to see ourselves clearly so that we can see the world clearly. We won’t really end up with a perfect perception of the world – but at least we can work without any core distortions that are hard to find – and fix.

Constructing Happiness

If happiness is a skill, then how do we develop it? In other words, how do we construct happiness. The answer is a sort of side-step. I mentioned in my review of The Heretic’s Guide to Management that A Philosopher’s Notes spoke of two Hindu goddesses:

Lakshmi is the traditional Goddess of Wealth. The problem is, if you go straight after her (by constantly chasing the bling) she’ll tend to avoid you. Saraswati’s the Goddess of Knowledge. If you go after her (by pursuing self-knowledge, wisdom and all that goodness), an interesting thing happens. Apparently, Lakshmi’s a jealous Goddess. If she sees you flirting with Saraswati she’ll chase after you.

It turns out that happiness may be naturally attracted to wisdom in the same way that wealth is attracted to knowledge. Happiness has relatively consistently been related positively to age – you’re happier as you get older. There’s a peak in our 70s – when our bodies tend to start failing to a greater degree.

A different way of thinking about this, and the approach that Ricard takes is that if a wise man can be happy, then happiness must be possible. In other words, he solves the belief that happiness – sustained happiness – is unattainable. If there are wise men who were previously not happy but now are, then our ability to reach happiness is a measure of our willingness to pursue the wisdom that leads to it.

Obtaining wisdom is not necessarily a straight path either. However, it is a known path. It’s one that people have pursued for centuries. Hard work and dedicated practice can make anything possible – even wisdom and happiness. (See Peak for more on how to reach the pinnacle of any endeavor.)

Emotional Regulation

From the outside looking in, it appears that people who are happiest have overcome their negative emotions and have controlled their emotions into a channel of only positive experiences. However, this view is not correct – at least for those that I know. It’s more accurate to say that the people who I know who are the happiest are more in touch and in alignment with their emotions. They’re not transcending their emotions as much as they’re accepting and shaping them – what Ricard calls regulating them. Daniel Goleman – who wrote the foreword for Ricard – would likely agree, as this aligns with his beliefs about the development of Emotional Intelligence.

Looking at Jonathan Haidt’s Elephant-Rider-Path model from The Happiness Hypothesis, it’s not that the rider has usurped control from the elephant, rather that the elephant and rider have developed the kind of relationship that the elephant accepts the gentle hand of the rider even when it would have other ideas. That is the person is so integrated in their thoughts and feelings that they play together rather than as separate ideas.

Lisa Feldman Barrett argues in How Emotions Are Made that the separation that we’ve created between emotional areas of the brain and non-emotional areas are fiction and that we find that the neural circuitry that drives our thoughts is interconnected with the circuitry associated with emotion. Ricard notes, “The traditional languages of Buddhism have no word for emotion as such. That may be because according to Buddhism all types of mental activity, including rational thought, are associated with some kind of feeling, be it one of pleasure, pain, or indifference.” In short, our emotions may not be separable from our thoughts.

It’s more accurate to say that those who have happiness haven’t learned to transcend their emotions but rather have come to find a way of accepting them as a part of themselves.

Controlling but Not Repressing

Another way to think about this process is the idea of controlling emotions without repressing them. In the practice of meditation, we learn to accept our feelings and then gently guide our thoughts back to the object of meditation. The same approach is useful with our emotions.

When we gently recognize our emotions without reaction or judgement, we create a space where they can develop completely. Allowing them to develop completely doesn’t mean acting on them, it only means that they’re not shunned, judged, or repressed. Emotions, like thoughts, are subject to the Zeigarnik effect. That is, incomplete thoughts or emotions are given greater weight in our minds. (See The Science of Trust for more on the Zeigarnik effect.) So, repressing an emotion may drive it underground, but it will also strengthen it at the same time.

When we repress emotions, we believe they are shameful or that we shouldn’t be having them. This judgement separates the ability to control our emotions from repressing them. Acceptance is necessary for us to work with our emotions, rather than trying to repress them.

Loneliness and Depression

The striking statement “Fifteen percent of Americans report experiencing an intense feeling of loneliness once a week” captures part of the problem with trying to develop happiness. That statement is a scary contrast to the happiness that Ricard is speaking about. In my review of Loneliness, I explained that loneliness has nothing to do with being alone. It’s about feeling alone and disconnected. We cannot completely quiet our yearning to be with other people. It’s wired into our very being. (See Spiritual Evolution for more.) However, curing loneliness isn’t as easy as placing someone in a room full of people. It’s much harder for people to develop the trust necessary to be really seen and understood so that they can be vulnerable and thereby in a real relationship with others. (See Trust => Vulnerability => Intimacy for more on this.)

Accompanying loneliness at the other end of the happiness continuum is depression. It’s clinically recognized and too often medicated. Depression is like trying to fill a tub when the drain is open. It’s like having all the energy sucked out of you. It drains away your happiness. While there are chemical and clinical causes for which treatment is essential, there are also interesting perspectives, including Dr. Glasser’s, who suggests in Choice Theory that we may have more choices to make than we realize even when it comes to depression.

If depression is a choice, then perhaps happiness is a choice too. Perhaps to be happy, we must choose to do the things that we know will lead to happiness. One of those might be to read about Happiness.