Growing up, my father was notorious for his Heading Out the Door one-liner: “Do you have to go to the bathroom?” Immediately followed (no chance of answering) with, “Go anyway!”
The phrase continued well into my college years and then beyond with the arrival of my two children.
It didn’t matter where we were going and it certainly didn’t matter how old we were or whether or not we actually HAD a legitimate answer. His statement was always the same:“Do you have to go to the bathroom? Go anyway.” (which could easily be said in one hyphenated phrase)
I have not read (sheepish embarrassment) Jack Kerouac’s book, On the Road. I’m getting there, it is on the top 10 of my wanting to read list. Recently I read a quote by Kerouac that elevated even more my desire to read about his journey – “Be in love with your life. Every detail of it.”
Thing is this, though. Not EVERY detail of my life is worth being so much in love with it. Some parts kind of really suck. Most parts are great. Fabulous, really. I’m in love with a lot of my life!! But every detail of it?…not so much.
Last week I read an article from Whole Living simply called Flourish. Based on work done by psychologist, Martin Seligman (former president of the American Psychological Association) who began his career talking about authentic happiness but has since adapted it to happiness elements he refers to as PERMA which consist of 5 pillars that support a well-lived life. Each element is important and independent: positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and accomplishment (PERMA).
Positive emotion (P) is the energizing force that drives us toward the sweeter things in life, like friendship and romance, and probably keeps us healthier and living longer.
Engagement (E) – When we are truly engaged in a task that demands our attention, our sense of self recedes and time feels as if it has slowed or even stopped. Easy pleasures are fleeting but hard-won gratifications can buoy you a long time.
Seligman found that what separated the most content from the least was a fulfilling social life. Human beings are built for relationships (R).
A sense of belonging to and serving something that you believe is bigger than the self gives meaning (M) to our life. Things such as religious beliefs or political causes.
Accomplishment (A) is somewhat obvious, but it is the success and mastery of whatever we are attempting to accomplish that is part of our well-lived life support structures.
Approximately 50% of our temperament, whether it’s cheerful, melancholy, or somewhere in between, is inherited which could make us feel that chasing after pleasures is a fool’s errand. However, making sure all elements of PERMA are being tended to, allows us to get to the well-lived life regardless of one’s default disposition.
“If you feel like you’re stuck or stagnating or find yourself sad, anxious, or angry out of proportion to the reality of your world”, Seligman says, using PERMA as a dashboard (or smorgasbord) of elements in which to evaluate is your key to getting back on track. Practice PERMA exercises to help silence the persistent negative thoughts genetics have given you. Learn how to argue back with those thoughts. Develop skills that you can use to counter the deficits you bring to life.
Probably my favorite line in the article: Well-being is compelling, but less about enjoying life when it’s going well and more about marshaling emotional reserves when it’s not. (ie: Lincoln and Churchill – well-known depressives that learned to overcome their deficits and rise above their low moods to reshape the world.)
All of this brings me back to Dad’s words: “Go anyway.” The frustrating part of life is that when we least want to concentrate on elements such as ‘meaning’ or ‘relationships’ or ‘positive emotion’ is usually when we need them the most. There have been a number of occasions when I didn’t want to go to some event or participate in some get-together, but needed to straighten my back and “Enjoy it anyway.” Half the battle (or maybe I would argue a higher percentage than even 50%) is your mindset going into it.
Fake it till you make it. Sometimes this is necessary.
When life gets unbalanced and you’re feeling more dread than the reality of the situation, look at PERMA and see which element is out of whack. Do you need to hone in and concentrate on one or two of the PERMA elements in order to bring them back into line with the others? The development of the element takes exercise and work. But the first step of heading into that exercise might take a strong slap on the back of “Go anyway!” then lower your shoulders and head straight into it.
We all need to learn how to most successfully marshal emotional reserves when life is not going as it should. Perhaps after being spin around and around and around by a life situation, PERMA (and Dad’s rallying cry) can help head us into the pinata of life – attacking with purpose, even when our balance has been spun off kilter.
I’m wishing for you a day that not only is bearable – but a day in which you find moments of well-lived flourishment. Take note of them.
Enjoy your day.