John William Tuohy lives in Washington DC

Why the pursuit of happiness is making you unhappy

Sturt and Nordstrom: Why the pursuit of happiness is making you unhappy By DAVID STURT and TODD NORDSTROM O.C. Tanner Institute 

Be honest. Have you ever looked in the mirror and wondered why you’re not happy? You’re not alone.
“Life is not what I expected,” a friend told us last week. “My husband and I both are educated. We both have jobs that pay well. We have nice things and take great trips. But, sometimes we both just want to run away from it all—do something more meaningful.”
Our friend’s comments resonated with us, as it’s not the first time we’ve heard this sentiment. In fact, feeling “not happy” might be more common than you think. A Harris poll of 2,345 U.S. adults used a series of questions to determine Americans’ levels of contentment and life satisfaction.
According to the results, a dismal 33 percent said that they were very happy. A poll by Time showed a slightly better response, reporting that 59 percent of their respondents said they were happy most of the time. That’s a better number, but it still leaves 40 percent of us without a smile.
So, what’s up? Why, in a nation that entitles us to the pursuit of happiness are so many people not feeling that energized spirit? Why aren’t more people feeling the passion for life?
Based on all the research we do on the workplace, we had a hunch when we began discussing the topic of happiness. We wondered how closely feeling happy is connected to the notion of feeling valued and appreciated—at home and at work. Do our efforts, actions and thoughts need to serve a purpose, give us meaning or create an impact in someone else’s life to make us happy?
We recently interviewed best-selling author of Strengths Finder 2.0, Tom Rath, about his brand new book titled "Are You Fully Charged?" Rath mentioned during the interview that the concept of “pursuing happiness” has backfired. That statement made us curious to find out more.
“Most of the people I’ve spoken with personally, do have the opportunity to engage in meaningful pursuits on their own time,” Rath told us. “However, when I asked people about the meaningfulness of their work each day, they struggle. This is concerning, considering the fact that most people spend the majority of their waking hours dedicated to being full-time workers, students, parents or volunteers.”
Recent Gallup research on this topic, makes Rath’s finding even more concerning. The poll asked workers across the United States if their lives were better off because of the organization they worked for. The response, about the organization that feeds your family and puts shoes on your feet, was, without question, shocking.
“A mere 12 percent of respondents claimed that their lives were significantly better due to the company they worked for,” said Rath. And, sadly, the vast majority of employees felt their company was a detriment to their overall health and well-being.”
We then asked Rath, “Don’t these statistics prove that we, as a nation and culture, need to pursue happiness even more?”
“It’s actually the opposite,” says Rath, “if your pursuit of happiness is for yourself. In fact, scientists are still uncovering the reasons why the pursuit of personal happiness backfires.
"Part of the explanation lies in its self-focused nature. Research suggests that the more value you place on your own happiness, the more likely you are to feel lonely on a daily basis. In fact, there’s a strong negative physiological reaction in the body when humans pursue happiness for themselves. When participants in experiments were told to read articles that persuaded them to find happiness, samples of saliva indicated corresponding decreases in progesterone levels, which is a hormonal response associated with loneliness.”
“…and if we pursue happiness for other people?” we asked.
“That’s where you find something magical, called meaning,” Rath replied. “Think about the people you know. The people who seemingly exude joy and happiness are those who seem to put other’s needs, or a bigger purpose above their own needs.”
Rath paused. It was almost as if we could hear him thinking. “Be warned though, putting another person’s needs before your own can feel like a short-term decrease in your own happiness. But, it’s short and eventually your contribution improves the entire environment.”
Interestingly, research from The Great Work study showed similar findings, but with a different outcome. For those of you reading this and wondering if shifting your intention from yourself to others to increase your level of happiness, will impact your productivity or results at work, you can rest easy.
An analysis from 1.7 million cases of award-winning work, throughout various professions and industries, showed that 88 percent of work projects that win awards begin when someone asks the question, “What difference could I make that someone else will love?”
“It’s a mindset shift,” concluded Rath. “A small shift that can improve your life.”
We agree. How does this sound? “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for others.”
David Sturt is Executive Vice President at the organizational research firm O.C. Tanner Institute. His recent book is “Great Work: How to Make a Difference People Love” from McGraw-Hill. Todd Nordstrom is Director of Institute Content. The two consult with leaders and speak at leadership conferences around the world.

O.C. Tanner maintains a regional office in Tulsa. This article originally appeared in forbes.com

A letter to Big Soda

Dear Big Soda:

You have not beaten us, because the fight for a healthier Vermont will continue.
While your supersized spending — more than $500,000 in just three months — succeeded in soaking the airwaves and newspapers with deceptive advertising, most Vermonters were not fooled. In fact, a Castleton State College poll found 57 percent of Vermonters supported our proposal to tax your unhealthy products to raise money for affordable health care programs.
Sadly, Vermont is not immune to the costly epidemic of obesity and diet-related illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, stroke and many forms of cancer that, thanks in part to big jumps in sugary drink sales over the last 50 years, has made our nation one of the least healthy in the industrialized world. These diseases cause great suffering and impose substantial costs on our health care system. Though we may be the “second healthiest state” in America, when it comes to obesity rates, we are just the best of the worst. One in four Vermont adults is now obese, and 30 percent of our children are overweight or obese. These rates have more than doubled since 1990.
Annually, the cost of treating obesity-related health problems in Vermont, just among adults, is at least $200 million and may be as high as $600 million when factoring in childhood obesity. As a result, health researchers now predict this will be the first generation of American children to live shorter lives than their parents.
The obesity epidemic has many causes, but the overwhelming consensus of independent researchers — those who aren’t on your industry payroll — is that your sugar-loaded, low- or no-nutrition drinks are a major factor. The U.S. Dietary Guidelines Advisory Council recently warned that heavy doses of added sugars in the American diet are to blame for spikes in type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and other illnesses linked to obesity. The council also confirmed that sugary drinks are the largest source of added sugars in the average American diet, surpassing milk in the 1990s as the largest source of calories for our kids.
Vermont doctors, nurses, dentists and dental hygienists see this story play out with their patients whose habits of drinking multiple sugary drinks each day have given rise to a range of diet-driven diseases. That is why the Alliance for a Healthier Vermont’s sugary drink excise tax proposal enjoyed the support of every major health care provider organization in the state, along with public health organizations including the American Heart Association, the American Cancer Society and many others.
Unlike the Vermont doctors who supported an excise tax on sugary drinks, your highly paid spin doctors say that better education is the solution. Yet your industry spends nearly a billion dollars each year to drown out public health education about the risks of drinking too many sugary drinks. Your ads often target children with cartoon characters, computer games and use misleading claims about the health benefits of the liquid sugar you sell. You know that public educational efforts about the health risks of drinking too many sugary drinks don’t stand a chance when they stand alone.
It appears that you’ve learned a lot from Big Tobacco when it comes to deceptive advertising, denying accountability for the health risks your products pose and scaring elected officials who might support policies that would curb unhealthy consumption levels. We’ve learned something, too.
We’ve learned that, as with tobacco, a substantial excise tax that increases the shelf price on sugary drinks and funds effective health care and nutrition programs will help reduce unhealthy levels of consumption. We’ve also learned that it takes time for elected officials to find the courage to take on your powerful, wealthy industry. Though we fell short this legislative session, we helped more legislators find that courage this time around.
You may have won this latest round, but we want you to know that the struggle for a healthier Vermont is far from over.
Anthony Iarrapino is the director of the Alliance for a Healthier Vermont.

Inner Truth: Simple Happiness
Dimple Mishra

We all yearn to be happy, but since what we think happiness is always linked to some distant future event or achievement or our hearts are filled with pain from yesterday – are we ever truly happy?
Happiness is the gentle breeze blowing through the branches of a tree, where the leaves seem to sway with joy. Birds’ chirping around the bird bath someone kindly put up in their little garden in the sultry summer heat. A drive on a beautiful road in a foreign land, a phone call from a loved one, the red roses you got yourself for no particular reason, the moment you have just finished doing up your room exactly how you like it, the candles flickering on your well-set dining table, a kind word from someone, the lyrics of an achingly romantic song, a job completed successfully at the right time. It’s an endless list.
We all yearn to be happy, but since what we think happiness is always linked to some distant future event or achievement or our hearts are filled with pain from yesterday – are we ever truly happy?
The present moment is the perfect moment for it is not heavy with the past and hasn’t seen the uncertainty of the future, a simple answer to the quest for happiness.

“I would like to tell you that I wrote my book to push back artistic boundaries. But I didn’t. I wrote it to impress a girl.” Gideon Defoe

“Studies suggest that petting dogs produces hormonal changes. This helps people cope with depression and certain stress-related disorders. Additionally, it decreases levels of the primary stress hormone cortisol, which regulates appetite and carbohydrates cravings. (Blascovich, 2002)”

“I am reading six books at once, the only way of reading; since, as you will agree, one book is only a single unaccompanied note, and to get the full sound, one needs ten others at the same time.” Virginia Woolf 

When you are attracted to people, it’s because of the details. Their kindness. Their eyes. The fact that they can get you to laugh when you need it the most.” Jodi Picoult, Sing You Home

 Jane Kenyon, 1947 - 1995

 I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

 “Julius Caesar” (Act 5, Scene 3)

“The sun of Rome is set. Our day is gone;
Clouds, dews, and dangers come; our deeds are done.”

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