Tag: happiness

Finding Meaning and Purpose

Good day, team.

This week’s challenge is about finding meaning and purpose in our work and how that contributes to our overall happiness and sense of well-being.

Over 60 years ago, the famous Austrian psychologist Viktor Frankl wrote a book called “Man’s Search for Meaning,” cited by the Library of Congress as one of the 10 most significant books ever written. In his book, Frankl wrote that happiness cannot be pursued; it ensues as a result of living a life with meaning and purpose. The more directly you pursue happiness, the less likely you are to achieve it. Although pursuing happiness may result in momentary pleasure, it doesn’t lead to an authentic, soul-satisfying happiness that can come from living a life with meaning and purpose.

Frankl taught that people can discover meaning and purpose in three ways: by doing work that matters, by loving others unconditionally and by finding meaning in their suffering. When I read this, I understood the first two, but understanding the third took some time and thinking. In Frankl’s case, he was interned by the Nazis in 1942 and lived in concentration camps for three years. In reading about his captivity, I realized that he survived this horrible ordeal by believing that his life had a purpose and that all of his suffering was not in vain. His survival had everything to do with how he responded to his circumstances. If we suffer and think it’s because our luck has run out, we didn’t get a fair break or someone else has done us wrong, we feel nothing but despair. But if we choose to find meaning in our suffering, we can change our attitude about our difficult circumstances.

Many of us have heard the phrase, “Attitude is everything.” I think in this context, much of what Frankl wrote about illustrates the phrase. Each of us experiences loss and suffering in our lives, and there are many ways we can deal with it. For example, a few years ago, when my business was suffering because of the economic downturn, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to continue. However, instead of allowing myself to worry, I decided to use my time to study new coaching techniques and take some training courses. When business is good and I’m busy, I don’t have time to take the training that keeps my skills sharp. When I look back now, I realize how smart it was for me to use my time in this way. Instead of allowing depression to creep in and waste my time, I chose to use the time to my advantage. I still worried but not to the extent I would have if I hadn’t chosen to fill my time productively.

What helped me most during this time was the realization that I was able to do some good in the world. I wanted to keep coaching because I could see the value it brings to others. That deeper meaning gives me a sense of purpose. That sense of purpose helps me navigate through the obstacles that always come up when you run your own business and gives me a strong sense of determination to keep going.

This week, ask yourself if the work you do is meaningful? You don’t have to be on a mission to save the world. Each of us does small things every day that contribute to the well-being of others. The trick is to find the meaning in what you do, whatever it is. For example, there’s a dog-walking service down the street from my house and a small park about ½ block in the other direction. Each morning, a woman walks all kinds of dogs past my house down to the park for a run. She always smiles and waves at me when she walks by. One day, I was out on the sidewalk and I asked if I could pet the dog she had on leash. I remarked that I thought she was lucky to have a job working with dogs all day. She told me that she loved it. Although some dogs were pretty challenging, most of them loved going for their daily walks. She said it made her happy to be doing something that brought joy to the dogs. And she was glad to help out their owners, who because of work and other obligations didn’t have time to walk their dogs every day.

I realized that this woman probably doesn’t make much money. But her authentic happiness is easy to see. She loves what she does and finds meaning and purpose in it.

Discover what you do in a day that benefits others. Maybe you work in a financial function for a company and make sure that people get paid every two weeks. Or perhaps you work in a restaurant and enjoy bringing good food to your customers. How about writing computer code that enables others to access better information or redesigning the way something works so it’s easier for others to use? Maybe, like me, you work with people as a coach or a consultant and try to help them maximize their strengths or find better ways to accomplish things.

Stay-at-home parents who spend their days caring for their children, garbage collectors, bank tellers —the work these people do adds value to the lives of others. How we relate to the roles we play in our jobs is up to us. Our attitude toward what we do and our ability to find the meaning and purpose in it determines our happiness.

As Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

2/17/13 “Do What Makes You Happy”

Good day, team.

First, a correction regarding last week’s challenge, “Remarkable Bosses.” The quoted piece was not written by Roy Gardner as I stated but by author Jeff Haden and was published originally in Inc. magazine. The article, titled “9 Hidden Qualities of Remarkable Bosses,” can be found in the Feb. 4, 2013, issue of the magazine. My apologies for the incorrect attribution and to Mr. Haden.

This week’s challenge has emerged from a book I just finished reading, “Short Night of the Shadow Catcher: The Epic Life and Immortal Photographs of Edward Curtis” by Timothy Egan. It’s a wonderful book about how the famous photographer Edward Curtis grew up in the Midwest, how he started taking pictures and eventually became the premiere portrait photographer in Seattle, and how he found his life’s mission in photographing and recording the dialects and cultural details of the American Indian.

He did most of his work in the Indians’ natural settings, and although disease and forced relocation reduced native populations to almost nothing, Curtis managed to produce an astounding 20-volume set of books called “The North American Indian,” which has become a national treasure. Somehow Curtis knew that he was photographing and recording a race of people that would possibly be gone forever, and it gave him a sense of urgency that caused him to focus his entire life on this project.

The dedication Curtis had to his project and the love and respect he experienced for the Indians inspires me.

What is it that captures a person so totally that they become completely devoted to a design, a project, an idea? What caused Thomas Edison to create 400 patented product designs within an eight-year period? What makes a professional dancer such as Rudolf Nureyev practice ballet six to eight hours a day, seven days a week to perfect his technique? How does this kind of dedication emerge and take hold of someone so that he or she gives up almost everything else? What drives the dedication?

In Curtis’ case, it started with the faces he saw through the lens of his camera. In the first few portraits of Indians he produced, he saw expressions of pride but also resignation in the faces of his subjects. He saw a wisdom and emotional depth that he didn’t understand but was drawn to. He saw a deep anger and resentment that he would only understand some years later after he had lived with the Indians in their diminished surroundings. He wanted to know more about these people, and because he knew they were disappearing, he knew he had a limited window of time.

Curtis was re-energized each time he arrived at an Indian camp, often after a weeks-long, perilous journey. I knew this was why he kept doing it, even at the expense of his family and financial resources. He loved their ceremonies and rituals, their spiritual beliefs and deep connection to nature, their familial ways and artifacts. They filled his heart in a way that no life in Seattle could, and he felt a deep devotion to making sure the things he loved about their culture would be shared forever.

In reading about Curtis, I began to understand that his happiness came not from dedication to his life’s purpose of recording a dying race of people but from doing what made him most happy. Even if Curtis hadn’t produced “The Native American Indian,” I’m sure he would have found a way to live and work with the Indians he grew to love and respect. Fortunately, the project continued to allow him to do what he loved.

Somehow, all this took me off the hook, so to speak, from having to have a life’s purpose. It’s kind of like being asked when you’re a kid, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” When you’re a kid, you often don’t have a clue and can feel like a real dummy when you reply, “I dunno.

There’s so much talk nowadays, particularly in coaching circles, about needing to have a life’s purpose. I see many of my clients struggling with the big question, “Why am I doing this when it doesn’t seem important?” This attitude fosters scarcity thinking. We focus on what’s missing rather than on an appreciation for what we already have or what we are already doing, which instead fosters an attitude of abundance. When I study people who were so devoted to what they were doing and who, in many cases, had a huge impact on the world around them, I see people who often didn’t start out knowing what their great mission in life would be. They simply stumbled onto something they grew to love and kept doing it. So the real devotion is not to some external purpose but to whatever it is that enriches our heart and feeds our soul.

I feel fortunate that the work I do has meaning and brings me joy. Of course, this doesn’t happen every day, but most days, in one of my meetings with a client, there will be a moment of understanding or a connection made that reminds me of why I do what I do. I get the most joy from getting to the heart of the matter and helping someone find what’s important and then learn to make decisions from that place of clarity. Each time this happens, I feel more renewed and invigorated. I love helping others find paths where they think there are none, illuminate dark places to see what comes to light, maximize strengths, reconnect with the people and activities that bring them joy, and try out different ways of doing things to be more successful. If this makes for a purposeful life, then so be it. But, it’s not the reason I do it. I do it because it makes me happy.

This week, find what makes you happy in your work and do more of it. First, identify the activities that you’re passionate about and that give you energy. Then, look to see how much time you’re doing those things versus the things that feel like drudgery and take energy from you. There’s always a balance between these two, but find ways to restructure your responsibilities so you’re doing more of what makes you happy.

If you’re beating yourself up for not knowing what your life’s purpose is, just stop. Stop long enough to look out of your eyes and be present to what you’re doing right now. Does it make you happy? Does it give you energy? Do you want to do more of it? It may seem small and insignificant, but some of the smallest moments create the most memory due to their poignancy and our presence.

We all know people who live purposeful lives. It gives them energy to think about how they can continue to do good and help improve the lives of others in this world. I respect their efforts and admire their fortitude. I also know that when asked how they can sacrifice so much to help others, they often say, “It may look like they get all the benefits, but in fact, I’m the one who gets the most out of this.” It’s because what they’re doing makes them happy. And fortunately for us, it’s helping all of us as well.

Have a good week!


© Copyright 2013 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

7/15/12 “The Science of Happiness”

Good day, team.
This week’s challenge is a rerun from 2009 about happiness and being positive. I was recently reminded of the important work being done on the science of happiness and thought I’d share this piece again.
Last week I re-read a great article in The Sun magazine, “The Science of Happiness” by Barbara Fredrickson. Fredrickson is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She has spent more than 20 years investigating the relatively uncharted terrain of positive emotions, which she says can make us healthier and happier if we take time to cultivate them. She has recently published a book called “Positivity” about many of her findings.
I have long been interested in understanding group dynamics in business teams. I’ve spent many years observing the behavior that occurs when teams work together and often wondered why some teams are successful while others are not. What factors create high-performing teams? What factors create teams that spiral down to a dead end?
In her work, Fredrickson was introduced to Marcial Losada, a well-known business consultant who has developed mathematical models of people’s ability to broaden and build their capacities, resources and resilience. In many years of studying 60 business teams during their annual strategic planning sessions, Losada ranked their success based on the number of positive and negative statements made during the meetings.
People on high-performing teams had a 6:1 ratio of positive to negative statements, whereas the low-performing teams had ratios of less than 1:1, meaning that more than half of what was said was negative. The high-performing teams had an even balance between asking questions and advocating for their own points of view, and also an equal measure of focusing outward (for example, on customers) and focusing within the group. The low-performing groups asked almost no questions and almost never focused outside the group. They exhibited a self-absorbed advocacy: Nobody was listening to anyone else; they were all just waiting to talk.
Ultimately, Losada took his behavioral data and wrote algebraic equations that reflected how each stream — asking questions, being positive and having an outward vs. inward focus — related to each other. He learned that his equations matched a set of existing equations called the Lorenz System, which is famous in nonlinear dynamics because it, in turn, led to the discovery of chaos theory, sometimes called “the butterfly effect” — the idea that the flap of a butterfly’s wings in one location can set in motion a series of events that causes a hurricane on the other side of the globe.
Underneath the dynamics of high-performing teams is what physicists call a “complex chaotic attractor,” which produces unpredictable or novel outcomes. So high-performing teams produce novel creative results. Underneath the structure of low-performing teams is a “fixed-point attractor” that causes the teams to nosedive. What’s interesting is that negativity always arose within the realm of self-absorbed advocacy and not asking any questions. That’s where the fixed-point attractor lies.
Ultimately, using the Lorenz equations, Fredrickson was able to predict that a ratio of three positive events to one negative event is the tipping point where things become chaotic, which is a good thing, since it’s only in this environment that people can be truly interactive and creative. In her study, as a team interacted more and experienced more creativity, positivity spiraled upward.
Fredrickson tested this 3:1 ratio over the next few years to see if it was actually true. In each case, the theory held. She also applied it to her own life in raising her second child and found it to be a much better method of child-rearing. If she could balance the number of times she said, “No” to her son with three times as much positivity, his ability to express himself and pursue his creative interests was much higher, and he was happier. She found this to be true in marriages as well. Research suggests that married couples who express about a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative emotions have much more solid marriages than couples who exchange greater amounts of negativity.
So what’s the challenge here? This week, try seeing how much negativity grabs your attention and how often you express it. Then take a look at how often you express positivity and what tends to draw you in more. Fredrickson’s research shows that negative experiences tend to demand our attention more, and it takes self-discipline, will power and practice not to focus solely on them and to choose a positive outlook instead. So negativity tends to happen to us, whereas we need to intentionally choose positivity.
Observe what’s happening in your team meetings. Do the negative comments far outweigh the positive? Do people seem disengaged? Do they ask questions and share new ideas, or do they just sit there and choose not to participate? When they do speak, is it to protect their territory or is it because they want to share an insight or encourage creativity within the group?
If you see a lot of negativity in your life, here are some simple suggestions from the article for experiencing more positivity:
Be aware of the present moment, because most moments are positive. We miss many opportunities to be positive because we’re thinking about the past and worrying about the future rather than being open to what is happening now.
Pay attention to human kindness — not just what others do for you but what you can do for other people.
Go outside in good weather.
Practice mindfulness or loving kindness meditation.
Arrange your life around your strengths. Ask yourself: Am I really doing what I do best? Being employed in a job that suits your strengths is a great source of enduring positive emotions.
Check out the amount of positivity you experience in your life, both personally and at work. Try injecting more of it into your life this week, and see if it makes you happier. As Robert Ingersoll wrote, “My creed is this: Happiness is the only good. The place to be happy is here. The time to be happy is now. The way to be happy is to make others so.”
Have a good week!
Kathleen Doyle-White
Pathfinders Coaching
(503) 296-9249
© Copyright 2012 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search Inc., all rights reserved.

12/6/10 “Being Present”

Good day, team,

Years ago, when I first learned about being present, I had some vague
intellectual idea of what the phrase meant. I had heard that it was the key to
self-awareness and becoming more conscious, so I asked a number of gurus,
meditation teachers and people who claimed to know a lot about awareness, “How
do you do this, I mean, how do you be present?” I received answers like “You
just be in the moment” or “Just allow yourself to be where you are” or “It’s
your natural state, just allow it to happen” that frankly didn’t give me any
specific help. It wasn’t until someone suggested that I try to feel my breath or
feel my feet that I began to experience my attention in my body, which brought
me into the moment.

This week’s challenge is about the experience of being present and some good
reasons and suggestions for doing it. A client* of mine sent me this recent
article from ‘The Huffington Post’ that addresses some of the benefits of being
present. It’s written by Soren Gordhamer, the author of ‘Wisdom 2.0’. Take a look:

“Researchers are slowly coming to the same conclusion. Harvard researchers, in a
study of over 2,200 people, asked them how they were doing at various random
times. The researchers found, as reported in ‘The New York Times’
, that
what mattered more was not /what /people were doing but rather the degree of
attention that they were bringing to what they were doing. According to the
article, ‘Whatever people were doing, whether it was having sex or reading or
shopping, they tended to be happier if they focused on the activity instead of
thinking about something else. In fact, whether and where their minds wandered
was a better predictor of happiness than what they were doing.’”

We’re used to thinking that sitting on a beach in the Bahamas is much better
than sitting in rush-hour traffic in New York City. And while there may be some
truth to the fact that is easier to pay full attention while in a relaxed
environment, according to the researchers, “The location of the body is much
less important than the location of the mind, and the former has surprisingly
little influence on the latter.”

But where is our attention during most of the day? It is generally lost in
thought. According to the researchers, “On average throughout all the
quarter-million responses, minds were wandering 47 percent of the time.” But we
do not need researchers to tell us that our mind wanders just about all the
time: We can watch and see for ourselves. As Eckhart Tolle has said, “Compulsive
thinking has become a collective disease.”

And now we have all kinds of gadgets that, essentially, help us stay in our
minds, disconnected from our bodies and actual experiences in a given moment.
Walk down the street of any major city and you’ll notice that most people are
essentially somewhere else, either because they are on their phone or are
daydreaming about some future moment or reliving a past one. This moment, the
one we are living now, is often missed.

As Ram Dass used to say, “We become human doings instead of human beings.” How
do we connect with being? For Eckhart Tolle and others, one simple way is to
“focus your attention away from thinking and direct it into the body, where
being can be felt.”

Even now, reading these words, can you bring attention to your body and see
thoughts arise and pass without riding the train of associated thoughts that
take you away from this moment?

Try this: for today, whenever you notice your mind wandering, invite attention
back into your body. Focus less on doing and more on being, and see if the
actions you do take come more often from that place of ease and focus, what in
sports they call “the zone.” Prioritize not what you are doing as much as the
quality of attention you bring to what you are doing, as if what you are doing
right now deserves your full attention.

This week, see what the experience of being present is like and if it makes a
positive difference in your life.

Have a good week,


Kathleen Doyle-White

Pathfinders Coaching

(503) 296-9249

© Copyright 2010 Pathfinders Coaching, Scout Search, Inc., all rights reserved.

* Many thanks to Mark DeWald from Move Inc. who forwarded this article to me
while he was feeling his feet!