As I reflect on what I’ve learned, there are three life insights that seem paramount to keeping me on a path of satisfaction, happiness, contentment, and productivity—my goals in life. These are:
- Loving Unconditionally
- Being Grateful
- Using My Strengths
As I reflect on what I have learned in this lifetime—especially the “epiphany” insights—the role of unconditional love sticks out as the most important and useful contributor to my life. I shouldn’t have to specify unconditional love, just the word love itself should be enough.
Sadly, it isn’t. Love with conditions isn’t love at all. It’s control.
Yet very few relationships seem to be built around unconditional acceptance of others. Why do we have difficulty loving without conditions?
The epiphany for me was when I realized loving without conditions was simply a decision I could make. I chose to make it. And my life got better and better. I no longer had to keep score in my relationships. I love my close family and friends no matter what they do, and I make sure they know that. With casual acquaintances and strangers, I express my love with an inner mindset of total acceptance (work in progress, not always successful).
The way to win at the game of love is to not keep score. ~source unknown
Now, about this point someone will raise the issue of what if someone you love abuses you, or doesn’t love unconditionally in return. Self-love requires that I not submit to behaviors harmful and hurtful. I give myself permission to leave the relationship. In my mind, I can justify loving unconditionally a person who treats me badly while still separating myself from the person.
Love with conditions isn’t love at all. It’s control. And no one likes to be controlled.
You might try loving unconditionally. You might be surprised at the benefits. I was.
One of the very easiest practices to follow, but one with huge benefits is the daily practice of gratitude.
If you don’t have what you want, want what you have. ~source unknown
My daily practice of gratitude is to reflect each night before going to sleep on the three things in my life for which I’m grateful. Some find this difficult because they’re focused on big things, but anything in my life that contributes to my well-being and happiness is something worthy of gratitude.
For example, a warm, dry home on a cold winter day. The morning’s yoga class that was fun. The lawnmower that started and ran flawlessly. The paycheck or pension check that arrived. Once I start focusing on everything that’s going well it’s easy to come up with three.
Research shows that being grateful contributes to a person’s happiness. I can attest to that benefit.
Using My Strengths
Everyone is very good at some things. Research confirms that focusing on what we do well, and using these strengths as often as possible contributes to happiness, productivity, and creativity. The old practice of focusing on weaknesses, trying to make them stronger, is actually counter-productive.
I first came across the concept of core strengths from Martin Seligman’s book, Authentic Happiness. Though it was published fifteen years ago, it’s still a good foundation book for the concepts of identification of core strengths.
Growing out of Seligman’s book, the VIA Questionnaire online is free and available to anyone. I recommend it as a quick way to focus on and identify strengths.
Consistent with the research, my own experience is that I’m at my best when I use my strengths. I’m happiest, productive, and creative when I apply one or more strengths to everyday tasks. If you reflect on past accomplishments of which you’ve been very proud you’ll probably find you were using one or more of your strengths
This blog is one of those applications, allowing me to focus on my strengths of insight/evaluation to express myself creatively.
If you find the material on strengths useful, I recommend taking the next step with another view of strengths from positive psychology researcher Alex Linley and his book, Average to A+.
- Feature image (Insights) courtesy Flickr user Mike Mozart, CC Attr. Lic.
- Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman, Ph.D.
- Average to A+, Alex Linley, Ph.D.