Saturday, June 12, 2010

To Be Perfectly Honest...

Pursuit of Perfection

On the surface, the pursuit of perfection sounds ideal. However, the impossible acquisition of perfection can ignite many fires of discord. Tal Ben-Shahar, the New York Times bestselling author of The Pursuit of Perfect (McGraw Hill, 2009) explains as we choose to labor under the view of our own perfect expectations and society's tortuous view of perfection -- to look young, to make huge money, and to find permanent happiness -- we often find the very act of the pursuit of perfect may be the number-one internal obstacle to finding fulfillment.

Tal Ben-Shahar describes the freedom that may be derived from not trying to "do it all right all the time," and he details the real lessons that failure and painful emotions can teach us. As professor of the most popular course in Harvard’s history, he has seen the best and the brightest buckle under the pressures of perfectionism. 

Tal Ben-Shahar's argues that people are unhappy because they’re caught in “The Myth of Perfection,” a dangerous trend fueling society’s obsession with youth, beauty, money, success, and “having it all.” Ben-Shahar believes we need to be more realistic in our goals, and more accepting of ourselves, to live a richer, fuller, happier life. 

Popular Obstacles To Happiness

1. Rejecting Our Failure - not accepting anything short of total goal achievement,

2. Rejecting Our Painful Emotions - not accepting negative feelings that fall short of total happiness,

3. Rejecting Our Success - not allowing time to savor success but almost immediately going onto new, more challenging goals.

Pursuing perfection often creates a real and destructive fear of failure. Elbert Hubbard sums up the fear of failure when he says, "The greatest mistake a man can make is to be afraid of making one." In other words, Ben Shahar echoes Hubbard by saying that we don't have to be perfect to be perfectly happy.

Ben Shahar prefers the term optimalist to define a healthier alternative to perfectionist. Basically facing the same challenges of failure, success, and emotion as the perfectionist, the optimalist employs a more realistic view. The optimalists believe that humans are not perfect and that they can learn from failure. The optimalists accept that their paths to success are not straight but nonlinear and filled with setbacks, obstacles to overcome, and even mid-path changes in direction.
Is failure viewed as a positive learning experience in certain life situations? We might learn from one famous name from American history. Thomas Edison registered more than one-thousand U.S. patents and is acknowledged as one of the most prolific inventors. Yet Edison's first ten-thousand attempts to invent a viable light bulb failed.
Tips To Achieve Happiness
1. The best happiness should contribute to both our pleasure and to meaning and allow us present and future gain.

2. Our actions and attitudes should make us happy. Complete this: "To bring five percent more happiness into my life ...." It may reveal something small but very important.

3. Happiness is something we should see as a lifelong "journey," not as an end "destination" within our lives.

4. Constant happiness is something we shouldn't feel; instead, we should allow ourselves a full range of emotions (even fear, anxiety, and sadness).

5. To experience happiness, we shouldn't do too much, but take time to stop our "time poverty."

6. Physical and mental health come as we benefit from regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating habits.

7. Happiness is most dependent on our state of mind, so our level of well being is determined by what we choose to focus on and by our interpretation of external events.

8. Showing gratitude is something we should do.

Imagine yourself as 110 years old. What advice would you give your younger self? This added perspective will allow you to recognize and eliminate the trivial and negative things from your life.

Conclusions - Finding a Calling

Weather we experience our work as a job (a chore done so we can pay our bills), as a career (work motivated by money, prestige, and advancement),or as a calling (work done as an end in and of itself), we try to find something to make us happy. 

To find a calling, first ask "What gives me meaning?" then ask "What gives me pleasure?" and finally ask yourself "what are my strengths?" Most job-seekers first ask what they're good at, which then generates a list from which they select the option which they perceive will bring them the most pleasure. The question of meaning somehow doesn't make it into the equation. This is why most people end up with a job or a career instead of a calling.  At this point, we should take ten minutes to watch this uplifting video of Tal Ben Shahar's psychology introduction. 

"Attaining lasting happiness requires that we enjoy the journey on our way toward a destination we deem valuable. Happiness, therefore, is not about making it to the peak of the mountain, nor is it about climbing aimlessly around the mountain: happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak"
- Tal Ben-Shahar, PhD.

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