Why Study Happiness?
I am a student of positive psychology. I took on this journey of study in anticipation of turning 50 and becoming an empty nester with my son leaving for college. I braced myself for many months, thinking I would be thrown into despondency. Alas, I have found quite the opposite!
I plunged head first into my study by listening to Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project on a trip to Kiawah Island with my son four weeks prior to move-in day at UNC-Chapel Hill. The 5 hours each way were enlightened by Gretchen’s easy to listen to best-seller. My 18 year old even thought it was excellent. Her stories were so relatable. One of the benefits of opening up and listening to others is the realization that the issues you face others do too!
If you’d like to start your own Happiness Project group – here’s a starter kit as well as a one page discussion guide if you’d like to read and then discuss Gretchen’s book too. I’d love to hear from you if you do!
While on vacation, I then read What Happy People Know by Dan Baker who shares many stories from his experiences as director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch. Many “successful” entrepreneurs at the peak of their career realize that they are not happy. Why? In my TED talk as well as in the book I am now writing, one of the themes I explore is FEAR and how it impacts both entrepreneurs and those who climb the 7 Summits. Baker points out how research has shown that the root of unhappiness — fear — lies in the older, reptilian part of our brains. We’re literally “hardwired for hard times.” He goes on to share examples of unhappy people, high level executives – the clientele at Canyon Ranch – and how they overcome this primal instinct to achieve happiness in the end.
I then moved on to Dr. Martin Seligman’s works including Authentic Happiness and Flourish which I liked so much, I’m now listening to for the 3rd time. A friend then suggested The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, and I’m lapping up his book right now. And taking the most popular course at Harvard of all time, Positive Psychology by Tal Ben-Shahar, that Shawn was a teaching assistant.
One of my interview subjects for Project Peak suggested The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle, a powerful listen. Psychological fears of something that might happen in the future cause feelings of unease, worry, nervousness – creating an anxiety gap. You can always cope with the present moment, the power of now, but you cannot necessarily cope with something that is only a mind projection of the future. Mountain climbers I’ve interviewed have told me one of the things they love about climbing is they must focus on only the very present moment. Tolle shares that you don’t have to summit Everest to experience the happiness of the power of now!
My own happiness coach has been guiding my work and helping me to increase a level of calm. All while maintaining my high level of passionate energy – what one friend wrapped up my 50th birthday party toasts by concluding is my hallmark strength. To that end, I have added yoga first thing in the morning, even if for just a minute, thanks to advice teacher Carol Krucoff gave me on my 50th birthday.
I am continuing my studies in the coming months under Professor Barbara Fredrickson, world’s leading positive emotions expert, and Sarah Susanka, acclaimed architect and author of Not So Big House and Not So Big Life.
What have I gained thus far from my positive psychology studies?
I am a better coach, consultant, and speaker. I enjoy my roles as Mom, daughter, friend even more than I thought possible. I am more present. I see things in a different light. I am more open to the endless possibilities the future holds. With deepest of gratitude to all my teachers for opening up – more than I could have earlier imagined – my happy journey post age 50!
About Grace Ueng
Ueng is a speaker, executive coach, and management consultant. After working for Bain & Company and Fortune 500 companies in marketing roles, she served on the management teams of five technology ventures before starting Savvy Growth. A graduate of MIT and Harvard Business School, she is author of “Project Peak.” Follow on Twitter @savvygrace.