On June 12, a standing-room-only crowd of 1,000 people gathered at the illustrious Streicker Center at the Temple Emanu-El on Fifth Avenue in New York City for a talk by world-renowned happiness expert, Tal Ben-Shahar. Tal is deeply humble, but he mesmerized an audience that hung on his every word, eager to learn about the science and practical steps necessary to experience greater well-being. At the end of his presentation, Julie Rice, WeWork’s Chief Marketing Officer, interviewed Tal in a riveting discussion of happiness. I shall cover 3 out of his 5 major points in this article and return on Thursday with the rest.
1. Be Open to Negative Emotions
Tal opened his talk with a paradox: when we suppress or reject painful emotions, it actually hurts us because we internalize the trauma. Tal recommends a middle ground where we do not deny painful emotions, but we also do not give in to despair.
Instead, he recommends active acceptance: experiencing the painful emotions, then letting them flow out of us and dissipate, thereby allowing us, in time, to have room to experience more positive emotions.
We allow ourselves to be human when we experience the full gamut of emotions. In this way we can truly appreciate the good, and then the good grows.
Tal quoted Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel who said, “Those who don’t know how to weep with their whole heart don’t know how to laugh either.”
2. Never Let a Good Crisis Go to Waste!
According to David Schnarch, world-renowned sex and marital therapist, the most common causes of relationship gridlock are things that won’t surprise you. The deepest conflicts ensue from four areas: The Kids/Education, Sex, Money, In-laws.
According to Tal, when couples reach an impasse, there are three common ways to respond:
- The partners separate.
- The partners stay together, but they are not really emotionally together.
- The partners separate.
- The partners stay together and things are bumpy, it feels hard, and it hurts. With time, the difficult emotions pass, and the relationship is stronger because it endured the difficulty. The best relationships are those where the people work through conflict together. They follow Winston Churchill’s advice:
“Don’t let a good crisis go to waste.”
Things do not always happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen. The most successful learn from the challenging circumstances.
This is true in other arenas besides personal relationships. Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas concluded that adversity brings out the best in real leaders.
“Even when battered by experience, leaders do not see themselves as helpless or find themselves paralyzed. They look at the same events that unstring those less capable and fortunate and see something useful, and often a plan of action as well.” ~ Warren Bennis and Robert Thomas
3. Stress is Here to Stay. It’s All About Recovery.
Everyone appreciates that life today is full of stress. Wherever we turn, stressors abound. It’s naïve to imagine that you can avoid stress, so the operative question is, “How can you best recover from stress?” Tal posits that ability to recover distinguishes those who experience well-being from those who experience burn-out.
Tal presented a three-tiered approach to recovery that is easy to implement in any stressful situation, as long as you remember to pause and detach for a moment.
It only takes 30 seconds to 2 minutes to experience a Micro-level Recovery Break. Close your eyes, and take three deep breaths. This puts the brakes on your amygdala flooding your brain with stress hormones. Your mind and body can come back to balance.
Tal recommends setting an alarm or building this practice into your schedule four times each day. This practice can make an enormous difference in your well-being.
Tal expounds the necessity of getting a good night’s sleep (eight hours) and taking a Sabbath or mini-vacation for one day each week. Tal is a sabra born in Israel, so he appreciates the practice of observing a day of rest. The country of Israel officially slows down on the Jewish Sabbath so that people can spend time relaxing and being with family and friends.
It’s no coincidence that the words creation and recreation are similar. J.P. Morgan, one of the most successful business leaders of all time alluded to the need for recharge and step away from the daily grind by saying, “I can do the work of a year in nine months, but not in twelve.”
To read Part 2 of Permission to be Happy click here.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2009) The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life. New York: McGraw Hill.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007). Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. McGraw-Hill Professional.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2016, June 23). Relationship gridlock. Happier TV.
Bennis, W. G., & Thomas, R. J. (2002), Geeks and Geezers: How era, values, and defining moments shape leaders – How tough times shap good leaders.. Harvard Business Review.
Snarch, D. (2009). Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships. W. W. Norton.