The Life-Changing Effects of Optimism

We desire two things in the way we live our lives — to be effective and to be happy. To be effective is to have higher batting average in achieving our goals. To be happy is to be happy, no explanation needed.

Many years ago, I was surprised to learn how optimism makes a difference in attaining both. It was a quality that I had ignored because I had the impression that some people seem to be naturally optimistic and others pessimistic.

What is optimism? It is, says the dictionary, “a tendency to look on the more favorable side of events or conditions and to expect the most favorable outcome.” Its opposite is pessimism, which means “the tendency to see, anticipate, or emphasize only bad or undesirable outcomes, results, conditions, problems, etc.” (dictionary.com).

Suppose I am scheduled for a job interview. An optimist is upbeat, excited and feeling that he will impress the interviewer. The pessimist on the other will be apprehensive, thinking of the worst scenario, and already feeling a bit depressive at the thought that he will be rejected. A realist, on the other hand, will perhaps just prepare and do his best, not too excited and not so apprehensive, ready to accept whatever is the outcome of the interview.

Normally, we will say that the realist is more correct in his outlook. But after learning about the effects of optimism, I am no longer so sure that realism is necessarily the best disposition. I realize that optimists (as well as pessimists) create part of their own future due to their attitudes. Thus the optimist has certain advantages not found among the realists and much less the pessimists.

The famous psychologist, Dr. Martin Seligman, wrote in his book Learned Optimism:

“Hundreds of studies show that pessimists give up more easily and get de-pressed more often. These experiments also show that optimists do much better in school and college, at work and on the playing field . They regularly exceed the predictions of aptitude tests. When optimists run for office, they are more apt to be elected than pessimists are. Their health is unusually good. They age well, much freer than most of us from the usual physical ills of middle age. Evidence suggests they may even live longer” (p. 5).

A pessimistic person will easily give up, while an optimistic person will keep on trying even when defeat looks certain. One of the largest insurance companies in the world is Metropolitan Life. Every year it selects thousands of qualified applicants to become new salespeople to sell life insurance. The applicants had to pass exams and interviews. After they were hired, the company would spend a lot of money training these new employees. The company, however, felt very frustrated because a high percentage of these hirees would give up and resign. They consulted psychologist Martin Seligman who suggested to them that he was going to give applicants a test on optimism. He hired those who scored high in optimism even if they flunked the standard tests of Metropolitan. The results were surprising. Those who scored high in optimism stayed more years in the company, and outperformed the pessimists in sales by up to 88%.

Studies were made in other industries, such as banking, real estate, and automotive sales, and the results were the same. Author Steven Kotler wrote: “No matter their industry, the hopeful outsold the hopeless by 20 to 40%. . . . On the job, they are better at handling pressure, overcoming adversity and have a higher degree of ‘employee engagement.’”

More important, optimism leads to a happier life. Dr. Betty Phillips wrote: “Optimism and pessimism are explanatory styles of thinking about life events which predict a positive vs. negative mood and expansive vs. Inhibited behavior. People with optimistic explanations of life generally feel happier and more energized to cope with obstacles, seeing them as challenges rather than failure experiences. Optimists are more likely to analyze whether setbacks are situational, then are able to develop plans to remove obstacles to their goals. Pessimists are more likely to view life problems as personal failures, blame themselves, feel unhappy and give up trying to change.” (bettyphillipspsychology.com)

Next time, don’t reproach yourself for being pollyanish. That attitude may spell the difference.

What’s the Most Important Thing in Life?

If you only have a month to live, how would you spend that one month?

One Saturday, this question suddenly popped into my mind while I was on my way to a christening of a one-year-old boy. Later on I googled this question and found a lot of people tried to answer the question online. The bottom line is that almost all of them said that would spend the last one month with people close to them, especially with their family. None of them said that they will spend more time in their work. One said he would like to travel but with the company of his family and close friends.

On that Saturday, I was attending the christening of my grandson, after which we would go for a family lunch, and thence I had to proceed to moderate a strategic planning meeting of a foundation, and then have visitors at the house. I was also trying to write articles on that day. I had so many appointments and things-to-do, but I realized as I was walking towards the church that when the chips are down, one thing stands out as more important than all the rest: the family and loved ones.

There was an angle to this insight that was striking. I had “known” before about how important people are. I had spoken about it often in my talks. But I never saw it from this angle. Our final choice in devoting the rest of our earthly life to a small group of people speaks volumes about our philosophy of life and the meaning of our lives.

When Steve Jobs decided to seclude himself with his family when he was told he had a very short time to live, the reaction of people I know was one of approval, sympathy and agreement. They would do the same thing if they were in the same situation.

The good news is that giving importance to positive relationships has been empirically found to be the most important ingredient towards the attainment to some of the most important goals in human life: happiness, health and long life.

In 1938, Harvard University launched a ground-breaking research that is still ongoing till today, 80 years later. Called the Harvard Study of Adult Development, they studied 724 people, some of whom were sophomores from Harvard and others from the poorer areas of Boston. The research tracked their health, marriage, career, relationships, income and other personal factors with interviews every other year. Three books have been written on this study by its first Director, Dr. George Vaillant. He made the following conclusion: “Warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction’ . . . Happiness is love. Full stop.”

The current director of the study, Dr. Robert Waldinger, after reviewing the tens of thousands of pages of data, expanded the conclusion: “People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.”

Dr. David Myers, an internationally famous author of textbooks on psychology and the author of the book The Pursuit of Happiness, wrote down what he considered as the “Ten Commandments Of Happiness.” The first one was that materials success does not necessarily make people happy. The second was that close relationships with people around you contributes a lot to happiness.

Next time that we find yourself so busy that you hardly have time for anything else, pause for twenty seconds and ask yourself what are the most important things in life. Then from deep in your heart, act accordingly.

Competence: A Crucial Quality of a Young Adult

 

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People get stressed when they are faced with a problem that is quite beyond their competency to solve, but which they are expected to solve. They know that they have to solve it, but they are unsure on how to go about it. As unsolved problems mount, the greater is the stress and unhappiness of the person.

Stress levels rise proportionately to the magnitude of the gap between expected competence and actual competence. A graduate of a good university is expected to perform well in a job that they applied for, while an employee who did not even finish college will not be expected to meet such standards. Farmers can live a happy life even if they did not go to school. No one expects them to know more than farming. But if even in farming, they don’t seem to do the job well, then they will feel the pressure of their wives and the criticism of their neighbors. Stress and distress begin.

There are two kinds of competency: technical competency and personal competency. It is the second one that is more important.

Technical competency means that an electrical engineer knows the job of an electrical engineer and possesses the requisite knowledge of the profession. An accountant knows how to complete financial statements and do all the ledgers, accrual basis, bank reconciliation and other things an accountant should know. When one is an accountant and has inadequate knowledge and skills about accounting, the person will feel stressed because he or she knows that the expectation is valid, but he or she is unable to deliver that which he implicitly promised to deliver.

Young people therefore must realize at a young age what it means to be professionally competent and to have the initiative to attain this regardless of the educational standard of the school they find themselves in. With Youtube, Khan Academy, Wikipedia, and a host of free resources in the internet, anyone can learn practically anything on a sufficiently high level.

But it is the second competency that is truly important — personal competency. This covers a host of qualities that are truly valuable in a person: self-confidence, self-esteem, initiative, curiosity, willingness to learn, stick-to-it-iveness, resourcefulness, perseverance, result-orientedness, emotional intelligence, leadership, unselfishness, trustworthiness, volunteerism and similar qualities. If it is overlaid with cheerfulness, optimism, and compassion, then you have someone who is destined for success in any field that they get into. A person who has these qualities can learn almost any skill or technical competency.

Personal competency is a quality that is nurtured from early childhood. When children are not put down (“idiot,” “dumb,” “useless”), frequently criticized or humiliated, then they do not develop low self-esteem, a factor that drags personal competency down to a very low level even if they are actually intelligent. On the other hand, when they feel accepted as they are, receive sincere praises when deserving, and feel that they are loved, then they are developing a personality foundation that will be solid and stable, and which can sustain them even during times of trial, adversity and setback. They will grow up not fearing failure or making mistakes. They are willing to take measured risks. They are ready to apologize when it is due. The world to them will not be a hellish or oppressive place, and life will be a positive adventure and a happy experience.

It is unfortunate that many schools do not teach this second kind of competency as systematically as they teach mathematics and grammar. Unfortunate too is the fact that many parents are the primary demolisher of such personal competency.

These then are what parents and schools should look at: the development of technical competency and personal competency, and to remember that the second one is more important than the first.

Never Lie to Children

Children, starting from the moment that they begin to understand words, have no concept about lying or untruthfulness. Whatever is told to them is taken as fact. The parents or elders are the absolute authorities about understanding the world. When this authoritativeness is not destroyed by lying, then parents will have no problem about making their children follow what they are told. But the moment the children discover that their parents lie to them, then this image of credibility is shattered. The parents’ authority is eroded. Every time that the parents say anything to the children, the kids will wonder whether it is true or not. In effect, respect for one’s parents is lost, and the consequences can be tragic, both to the family and to the child. During times that the parents truthfully and wisely tell their child not to do something, the child may no longer believe them and thus may fall into disastrous circumstances.

Some parents think that it is not possible to be always truthful to their children. So in seminars that I conduct, I ask people to give me examples where they find it difficult to be truthful to their children.

For example, when six or seven-year-old kids ask where they came from or how they were born, many parents would give them fantastic but untruthful explanations. One mother told her child, “Anak, hulog ka ng langit” (You fell from heaven or the sky.) How would a child take this? That he or she actually fell from the sky and caught by the mother? Why can’t parents say the simple biological facts about reproduction even if the child does not understand half of it? They find it difficult to explain truthfully because many parents think that it is taboo to talk about these things. But children will not be scandalized by any such truth. They would not think that there is anything wrong with facts. It’s the adults’ minds that have this problem.

How about stories about Santa Claus?

My strong suggestion is that parents should not lie to children about Santa Claus. One teacher told me about her experience. When she was a child, her father told her that if she wrote a letter to Santa Claus before Christmas, Santa would bring what she asked for on Christmas Eve. She believed this unquestioningly. Then one Christmas Eve, she wanted to see Santa Claus so she hid herself in the living room and waited for Santa to bring the gift. Indeed, the gifts arrived, but who brought them? It was her father.

The next day, she deliberately told a big lie to her father expecting that it would be discovered. When the father found about the lie, he scolded her and asked her why she lied to him. Then she looked at his father and said angrily, “Why did you lie to me about Santa Claus?” The reason why she was so angry was because, a few days before, she was told by her classmate that Santa Claus did not exist and that it was her parents who brought the gifts. But since her father told her that Santa Claus really brought the gifts, she quarreled with her classmate and defended her father. It was a costly lie by the father, and the daughter never forgot about it.

How about children who were adopted? Should parents tell them about it?

It is very difficult to hide from a child the fact that he or she was adopted. Many people usually know about it — uncles, aunties, neighbors and family friends — and they cannot be prevented from talking about it. So my view is that the parents should tell the child at some point, but on one condition: that the child should feel that he or she is loved by their adoptive parents before saying it. If the child feels loved, then the child would not mind very much if he or she adopted. If such children don’t feel loved, then telling them will be like a double rejection: that the reason why they are not loved is because they are adopted, and that they were also rejected by their biological parents. In addition, they would feel that they were deceived by their adoptive parents.

Parents usually find it difficult to tell the truth because they did not learn how to make truthful but assertive communication. Suppose a child is asking money from the mother to buy something unimportant, and the mother does not think that they should buy it. Some parents will just say, “I don’t have money” hoping that it will quickly end the discussion. But when the child discovers that the mother actually has money, then the child will feel deceived. Instead of lying, let the mother discuss about priorities in expenses and why it is not advisable to spend money on things unimportant. When the child has a high level of trust towards the parent, the child will accept it. The child may feel disappointed, but will not be resentful. It is alright for children to be disappointed, but it is dangerous when they begin to resent the parents.

When someone calls by phone looking for a parent, and the parent does not want to talk with that person, the parent may whisper: “Tell her that I am not around.” When children witness this, then they may think that deception is acceptable, and later will do such lying towards their parents and other people. In such cases, trust at home will gradually disintegrate. Instead of lying, tell the child, “I will just call later”; or answer the phone and assertively turn down what is being requested; or if there had been hurt feelings on a previous day, the parent may tell the child, “Please tell her that, sorry, I am not yet ready to talk; perhaps later.”

Never lie to children, under any circumstance. The consequences are not worth the convenience gained from lying. On the other hand, there is so much advantage when children retain high trust on the parents.

One World Government

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After the end of World War II, Albert Einstein said: “In my opinion the only salvation for civilization and the human race lies in the creation of a world government, with security of nations founded upon law. As long as sovereign states continue to have separate armaments and armament secrets, new world wars will be inevitable.”

This idea of one world government is not a new one. It has been espoused by many thinkers such as Immanuel Kant, Victor Hugo, Ulysses Grant, H. G. Wells, etc. It is the solution to wars. The world will be governed by basic international laws, but nations do not give up their autonomy. The basic idea is that there will only be one global police force or army under the world government. There will perhaps be a global currency. Nations can continue to function as autonomous states; they can impose their own taxes, set their own internal laws such as on divorce, immigration laws, education, etc., so long as these do not contravene international laws. It is similar to the government of the United States, where the states are free to exercise their own legislative and executive powers as well as have their own judiciary system, but at the same time there are federal legislative bodies, executive officers and the Supreme Court that deal with federal matters.

The United Nations is an early experiment towards a global rule of law. It has its inevitable imperfections because the powers who formed the backbone of the UN were not willing to make the UN a democratic institution. They retained their veto power in the Security Council. It will take generations, or perhaps centuries, before the next step towards a world government will be taken. It took a world war before the UN became a reality. We hope that it will not require another global war before a world government is formed.

US President Harry Truman said: “We must make the United Nations continue to work, and to be a going concern, to see that difficulties between nations may be settled just as we settle difficulties between States here in the United States. When Kansas and Colorado fall out over the waters in the Arkansas River, they don’t go to war over it; they go to the Supreme Court of the United States, and the matter is settled in a just and honorable way. There is not a difficulty in the whole world that cannot be settled in exactly the same way in a world court.”

Some people may think that the idea of a world government is too idealistic but not very practical. But it looks too idealistic for those who desire military control over their subjects, or are insecure with their neighbors. The truth is that this idealistic view is actually the most practical measure to ensure world peace in the long run. There will be no more wars because no nation is allowed to maintain armed forces except for the police. Poverty and hunger can be wiped out by rechanneling the funds formerly used to sustain millions of soldiers doing almost nothing or spent in the development and maintenance of huge stockpile of weaponry from guns to warships to nuclear bombs.

Education must bring about the acceleration of the popularization of this idea of a world brotherhood and sisterhood, one world government, and the widespread recognition of a single human family. When this idea has taken in the psyche of young future leaders, then perhaps we don’t have to wait for a thousand years to achieve lasting peace.

The Art of Effective Parenting

The citizens of the next generations will be molded by three factors: parenting, education and media. When these three fail to develop the values and character of children and youth, then we cannot expect our world to improve in terms of peace and harmony.

Parenting potentially is the most powerful influence in the life of an individual. When it fails, however, then the other two will become the dominant influences in their growing up process, whether for good or for ill.

How can parents be effective in molding children to become well-adjusted, responsible, ethical and happy?

1. Express your love to your children. This is the most powerful factor in influencing our children. Please note that it is not just to love your children but to let the children feel your love. Learn about the five languages of love: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, touching, and gift-giving. Among these, quality time is the most important. Spend time together where you both enjoy, whether it is a chat, doing homework, shopping, or other activities. Love needs to be expressed otherwise it cannot be felt by the other person. Whenever you encounter your children, try to be positive most of the time. Do not criticize, scold or reprimand more than five percent of the time. If you are positive and criticize rarely, then your reprimand will be more effective.

2. Be firm and consistent in your house rules. Love should be accompanied by firmness. If there is no firmness, a loving parent will spoil the child. Be prepared to say “no” when a request or a behavior is unwholesome. They will not be resentful if they feel your love. But if they don’t feel your love, they will resent your “no” and begin to be rebellious.

3. Do not do what you do not like to see in your children. Children and youth copy the elders. When parents shout, curse, smoke, drink or are violent, they tend to do the same things, unless they receive contrary examples from other elders. When parents are fearful, insecure or vindictive, the children tend to adopt these same qualities.

4. Never lie to your children. Whenever children discover that their parents lie to them, the parent’s credibility goes down. Then their authority diminishes. This is true even of “white lies.” This is the reason why I do not encourage parents to tell children about Santa Claus as if they are real, with reindeers and gifts. Children will eventually discover the truth about this and the disappointment and doubt may sink deep into their subconscious. Children tend to obey parents whom they trust.

5. Be your child’s first teacher. The future intelligence and competency of your children depend upon their growth process before they go to school. Even while the mother is pregnant, it is very helpful that the parents talk to the baby in the womb and read to him or her. Children who were given such stimuli have been known to be precocious. After they are born, talk to them often. It does not matter if they do not understand yet what you say. What is happening is that you are stimulating the brain of the child and the neural network of the brain becomes more and more complex. This is the basis of intelligence. Answer their questions by being knowledgeable yourself.

6. Do not be too busy that you don’t have time for your children. This is a tragedy of modern life. Money will bring security but not love and happiness. And it is love and happiness that is more important in our lives. Be willing to give up financial advantages or higher pay if it will mean that you will have a happier family.

A happy and loving family is one of the greatest sources of happiness. It can be cultivated through understanding the art and science of marriage and parenting, and taking the effort to prepare oneself to become a worthy and happy father or mother.

The Five Languages of Love

Henry works very hard for his family because he loves them. He works up to late at night in the office and does overtime during Sundays and holidays. When someone tells his son how much Henry loves the family, the son says that “My father loves his office more than us. He is always there and he has no time for us.” When Henry hears this comment, he feels very hurt because he has been doing all this hard work because he cares for the family. But the son did not feel the love.

What went wrong? Why did his son misunderstand him?

Henry did not realize that his way of expressing his love for the family is something that may not be understood by his son because they speak different languages of love.

An American psychologist, Dr. Gary Chapman, in his more than 20 years of counseling families, found that people express and understand love in five different ways. He calls these the “five languages of love.” If a father shows his love by working hard, his children may not feel that love because they speak a different language of love. Many of us have read of cases when teenagers tell their parents: “I don’t need your money! I need your presence!”

Here, according to Dr. Chapman, are the five languages of love:

1. Words of affirmation – these are words that affirm the worth and importance of another person. It may be “I love you,” “Thank you,” “I am so glad that you are here,” “You are so skillful, how did you do that?” “I like your t-shirt,” etc.

2. Quality time – this is one on one conversation or interaction with the person in a way that is meaningful or enjoyable for them. It is to give someone your undivided caring attention.

3. Touching – If you tell babies that you love them, it does not mean anything to them. But if you cuddle and hug them, they will feel it. Many adults feel the same way. When they are hugged, or you hold their hands or put your arms on their shoulders, then they feel that you care for them.

4. Acts of Service – this is to do something for them, such as helping them in finish something. To them, “action speaks louder than words.”

5. Gift-giving – Some people appreciate receiving gifts from others as a sign of caring. Some children may come home from school with a small gift to a mother. It can even be a flower. Their love language may be gift-giving and receiving. It is not they are greedy or selfish. It is just that this is how they understand how people care.

In the example given at the beginning of this article, Henry’s language of love was acts of service, while his son’s love language was quality time. Thus Henry’s way of expressing love is not appreciated by the son.

Dr. Chapman says that some people may express love in two languages but may not appreciate the other languages. Some people will go out of their way to look for a nice gift to a special person, but that person may just put it aside and not feel the love that is expressed in that gift. It is thus helpful for a person to understand the languages of love of other members of his family, so that he can better express love in their languages. Dr. Chapman designed a survey with 50 questions which can reveal which are the primary love languages of an individual. This questionnaire can be downloaded from the internet.

It is best that parents should be able to express their love to the members of the family in more languages than what they are used to. Then their relationships will become deeper and happier.