Being a realistic optimist!

There are two kinds of people that feel nothing: The dead and the psychopaths. If you are neither one of these, this blog post is for you 😃 Building meaningful organizations requires a shift in mindsets and behaviours. Lately, the field of positive psychology, the scientific study of what makes life worth living, has really inspired me. It certainly provides a fertile ground to create a meaningful momentum. It offers simple and practical techniques to reach higher level of happiness and engagement. So are you ready to become a realistic optimist?

In Search of Flow


There is  happiness and there is happiness. Positive psychology deals with the latter 🙂 or what is called eudaemonia. Literally good spirit or human flourishing in a more articulated sense. So not only basic pleasures but a degree of empowerment as well.  It is based on academic research of scholars like Martin Seligman or Mihály Csíkszentmihályi . What has got my attention while exploring this field is that overall for 20 studies on depression you got 1 on positive psychology. So we are very concerned of getting people from bad to ok. But much less from ok to great. Not that the first part is not important but the second is equally vital to build meaningful organizations.

So positive psychology helps us to become realistic optimist. People who can make the best of things that happen. Realistic optimists take actions to cope with events happening (good or bad). They define tasks challenging enough and stretch their skills to achieve what Csíkszentmihályi calls flow.
Ultimately, they are able to reshape their behaviours, emotions and thoughts (in other words their cognitive engine) to reach higher level of engagement and happiness. For instance when a bad event happens, a realistic optimist will make it an exception and define circumstances when it happens. A pessimist will make it a permanent state that will happen under any circumstances. 
Good event
Bad event
Optimist interpretation
Pessimist interpretation

Self-concordance goals

When working with leaders on building meaningful organizations, I am always amazed about the high level of self awareness that most of them have. They know what drives them and where they want to go.  It is one of the pillars of positive psychology.  To truly know yourself and being able to define: 
  • What is meaningful to you? What is important?
  • What is pleasurable? What do you enjoy doing?
  • What are your strengths? What are you good at?
So a strong focus on strength finding and the pursue of goals fitting one’s underlying values and interests aka self-concordance goals (in the line of the Japanese Ikigai). Sounds simple? That is what a lot of people believe. Consequently, the importance of self-concordance goals is often underestimated. But one cannot help others, if one cannot help one’s self…

Unconditional self-esteem

Related to knowing yourself, the notion of self esteem and its various levels as described by Tal Ben Shahar are extremely helpful. After having your goals defined, while realizing them, you could either:
  • Look for feedback from others and compared yourself to others while performing. This is called dependent self-esteem. Too much of it often ends up in a rat race where you are defined via the perception of others.
  • Find an appreciation based on your prior performances, so according to your own standards, and hence developing independent self esteem.
  • Not being at all interested in evaluation and comparaison. This unconditional self esteem is surely what we all seek.
We all have these 3 types of self esteem within us. By developing more unconditional self esteem, higher level of happiness and flow could be achieved. 
Overall in positive psychology, I am amazed by the simplicity of the techniques validated by science… And how little it is implemented in practice. By giving ourselves the permission to be human, by looking at the opportunity in adversity and by changing our perspective into the now, higher level of base happiness can be achieved. We all can rewire our brains and our cognitive capacity. This is a great opportunity for all of us to become realistic optimist !!!
“Live not for battles won
Live not for the end of the song
Live of the along”
Gwendolyn Brooks

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