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The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want – A BOOK APPRECIATION BY NEENA VERMA

Book Appreciation by Neena Verma

Neena Verma, Ph.D., PCC is a scholar-practitioner of AI-based OD. She is an ICF-PCC credentialed coach, specialising in leadership, systemic and transcendence coaching. An accredited sensitivity trainer and certified AI practitioner, she has developed a number of coaching and OD models. As well as extensive editing experience, including the February 2013 and November 2016 issues of AIP, Neena has authored two books and numerous articles.

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The How of Happiness:
A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want

By Sonja Lyubomirsky

Penguin, 2008

ISBN – 978-0-14-311495-6

Have you tried using Google to search for “happiness”? If not, let me tell you that you can expect over nine hundred million results. And have you tried searching for “happiness” books on Amazon? Let me tell you that you can expect over fifty thousand results.

Searching for a research-grounded, practice-oriented book on the subject, I  found several with an overly simplistic and rosy-eyed approach, but very few with substance. I picked The How of Happiness by Sonja Lyubomirsky because this book offers an authentic guide on “happiness”, substantiated by scientific research, yet speaking to the heart as much as it speaks to the mind. From scholarly explanations, to the significance in the context of everyday life, to the myths muddling the phenomenon of true, abiding “happiness”, to helping the reader learn in simple and practical ways to create and sustain happiness for oneself … this book delves deep into all, and more. It is not often that I begin reading a book at the end. But the postscript on “If you are depressed” did not just evoke my curiosity but also affirmed my own belief that “happiness” and “depression” can be explored in a shared realm.

Core proposition

Happiness, the author suggests, is the “holy grail of life”. She offers a “forty percent solution” proposition, arguing that, while fifty percent of the difference in our happiness can be explained by our genetically determined happiness set-point (one’s innate characteristic potential for happiness) and ten percent by life-circumstances, as much as forty percent of our happiness is for us to create and influence ourselves through conscious and intentional effort – wisely choosing to live such activities that help us create, sustain and enhance our happiness.

Happiness, she argues, is more meaningful and deeper than what is depicted in the “ubiquitous smiley face and the inspirational posters”. As she explains, happiness is about the “experience of joy, contentment, a sense that life is good and worth living”, and an abiding wellbeing that each of us embodies in our own unique ways – whether through cheerfulness, serenity or productivity. The author insists that happiness is not an object out there to be found through a passive pursuit. It is rather an active life-process that we undertake to create and sustain happiness through conscious choice and intentional effort. She emphasizes that while life challenges do stress happy people as much as anyone else, their innate sense of wellbeing helps them cope and work through challenges with poise and strength.

Many readers may not need an elaboration as to why it is important to be happy. But I guess some may be curious to know how happy they are. The author shares a simple subjective happiness scale that she has developed to help one guess one’s happiness set-point. At first glance, this scale appeared simplistic. But as I read, I realized that each of the four simply worded statements is actually an invitation for authentic self-inquiry. If you like being honest with yourself, the scale would help you design a meaningful happiness project for yourself, especially if you also choose to rate yourself on the depression scale that follows immediately.

Delving into myths of happiness, the author explains why life circumstances are given little space on the happiness pie. Citing scientific research, the author clarifies that while genes have a strong influence (as much as fifty percent) on our happiness temperament, life events make little impact because humans tend adapt quickly and remarkably well to hedonic sensory or physiological changes. She assures readers that, though happiness set-points can’t be changed, it is nonetheless very much (forty percent) within an individual’s choice and ability to manoeuvre one’s happiness levels through the intentional effort of investing in undertaking “wisely selected” activities in sync with one’s personal make-up.

Along with the “forty percent solution”, “creation of lasting happiness” and “intentional effort”, a unique offering of this book is the concept of person–activity fit. The author shares a self-diagnostic test that she has developed to help one ascertain what happiness activities would best suit. Pursuing such wisely selected activities that serve one’s goals and strengths, according to the author, helps one stay motivated and make the desired intentional effort.

A treasure house of happiness

Part II of the book is a treasure house of happiness activities that would be a delight to both professionals and individuals interested in self-help alike. The rich platter of various happiness activities is sure to have at least one for each reader. I found several of these activities relevant and valuable for me. However, it is “forgiveness” that sang to my heart. While it is easy to argue why and how forgiveness helps, it is hard to practice forgiveness. The author gives practical and effective ways to practice forgiveness. Apart from practicing “imagine forgiveness” and “charitable attributions” strategies myself, I also used a couple of others with my coaching clients, helping them to not just forgive the transgressor but also seek release from their own emotional hurt.

Combined with the person–activity fit test, are the clustering of various activities, detailing of strategies pertaining each, discussion about timing and variation, and the scientific way to turn happiness-inducing behaviours into lasting habits. The author makes it very simple and easy to start practising these research-evidenced activities in actively creating and enhancing one’s happiness. Appendix 1 offers a quick reckoner of the various mutually supportive happiness-enhancing strategies.

The book’s distinctive appeal

What makes this book stand apart with engaging intellect and evocative appeal is author’s deft and appropriate blending of scholarly explanation and practical wisdom. The author explains profound concepts in simple, jargon-free and easy-to-relate-to language. She cites extensive research, offers practical advice and shares several moving stories. I felt particularly touched and inspired by Judith’s story: she “chose to be happy” and returned to college at age fifty-two despite having lived through difficult life circumstances and a likely low set-point for happiness.

Sometimes endings hide meaningful beginnings. This book’s postscript provokes one to take a fresh view of depression. Affirming a positive psychology proposition, the author makes a case for trying “happiness-increasing activities”, even for severely depressed individuals without necessarily waiting to be first cured of depression. While these activities may not cure depression, there is a strong likelihood that they “lighten the burden and darkness of depression”.

What else?

The book’s postscript evokes more than just curiosity. I am filled with respect for the author for her courageous choice of giving space to the very urgent and timely topic of depression in her happiness book. It would have been nice to read in greater detail about how conscious happiness creation and enhancement can help one face and work through depression. That said, I understand that this topic is complex and important enough to deserve a book exclusively devoted to the theme. I would keenly wait for that. Further, it would be interesting to learn if and how various happiness activities as elaborated in this book relate to the famous positive psychology character strengths. The author begins the book with Mary Oliver’s poetry. And I close this book appreciation with the same …

Sometimes I need
only to stand
wherever I am
to be blessed.
Mary Oliver

The book is easily available at online marketplaces and leading bookstores.

Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky is a highly respected positive psychologist and happiness pioneer. She is a distinguished professor and the vice-chair of the Department of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR). She has done extensive research on “happiness” spanning her long career as a scientist and researcher in the field of psychology. She directs the Positive Activities and Well-Being Laboratory at the UCR. She has published numerous scholarly articles on happiness as well as two best-selling books, The How of Happiness and The Myths of Happiness.

Stories that boosted me: Appreciate, celebrate and value what is in you and in front of you, as it is

It was a pleasure to meet Félix Viloria Landaeta at WAIC2019 in Nice, France last year, where he shared his moving and inspirational story which clearly resonated deeply with attendees. His inviting smile reflects the enthusiasm with which he embraces his work in the Appreciative Inquiry (AI) space. Félix is our contributor to Voices from the Field in this Issue of AI Practitioner, where explains his understanding of what it is to be appreciative, his growth as an AI practitioner, and the welcome influence his mother has had on what he eventually chose to do with his life.

Stories that boosted me: Appreciate, celebrate and value what is in you and in front of you, as it is

Félix Viloria Landaeta | Colombia

Félix Viloria Landaeta is a Venezuelan Appreciative Inquiry practitioner based in Colombia. In recent years, he has been dedicated to facilitating dialogues and accompanying leaders and organizations in building a more inclusive and humane vision with their work teams through the construction of an appreciative ethic. He is also an Appreciative Executive and Life Coach and Managing Partner of the firm Cresiendo Consultores.

Since I began in the world of Appreciative Inquiry, I have become aware that I live in a constant internal dialectic. Like any other person, I debate daily between the good or the bad, the beautiful or the ugly, what I like or what I don’t like. And I realize that that’s fine! But, in addition, I have gone a step further and have learned to ask myself, what do I do with that internal dialogue? Which side of the story do I choose to stay with? How do I put it at my service and at the service of the welfare of others?

What to do with the internal dialogue when you have grown up in a ‘think wrong and you’ll get it right’ culture?

I spent much of my corporate career supporting and leading strategic planning processes. I held on to the apparent “truth” that the worst-case scenario always had to be considered and, therefore, I always looked for the flaw in any idea. With the healthy intention of challenging the conversation, I focused on finding what was not right by listening to the negative, the doubts and fears that arose in my mind. This eclipsed the possibility of appreciating any proposal in an integral way. I was trained to identify failure. Even on a personal level, I was always aware of what was wrong or what could potentially fail. I was an expert in “pricking the balloons” of any idea. I measured my success on the number of proposals that did not pass my “filter” or the discussions I won by highlighting the weakness in the approaches of others. The balance of the dialogue was totally inclined towards the negative. While people appreciated the fact that I showed them what was not right in their plans, the way I did it was far from being perceived as good intention.

In March 2019, in a wonderful meeting in Barcelona generously organized by the IDeIA Network, I heard one of the facilitators commenting on how she, over many years, “had lived in the questions”. That phrase “woke up” in my reflection and made me realize that, with the practice of AI, I could learn to challenge ideas in a different way, letting go of the urgency to arrive at the correct answer and win the competition.

I continue to learn to use this negative internal dialogue of doubts and fears, and to put it at the service of asking questions that generate possibilities instead of making judgments, of focusing my intention on how to improve the idea, not how to discard it.

Listening consciously is a daily challenge. It has involved listening to the other from a space of openness and humility in order to identify the possibilities and, in addition, to listen to myself to identify when my internal dialogue moves me away from that purpose and to redirect it to the service of the objective.

Which side of the story do I choose to stay with?

Félix’s mother

By chance, I saw a video of the AQUARIUS IMPARABLE PROGRAM. In it, I heard the phrase “desire is not a matter of age” and I could not help but recall my mother’s life story. She died recently at the age of 82.

Her childhood wasn’t easy. She was the second of thirteen siblings of whom only five survived, which meant she became the older sister. Having lost her father at a very young age and with a widowed mother who was sick, worn down by pain, and without encouragement or enthusiasm meant that, from the age of eight, my mother had to work to help support the family.

Despite growing up in such a harsh environment, my mother told her story with joy, never with resentment or regret. Was there pain in her life story? I believe so. But I am convinced that she chose to keep what made her happy during those rough moments.

During my adolescence and then into my adulthood, she always told me “look at everything you’ve achieved so far, you can do it, you deserve it, go for it!” The life stories that she chose to share inspired me, encouraged me to develop, and convinced me to prosper and live a full life. I realize that, unconsciously and naturally, my mother had embraced the positive and flourished. Her enthusiasm for living, exploring and discovering new things was the driving force to who I am today and my choice to live and work appreciatively.

A little more than a year ago, my good friend Santiago Otero and I were in Argentina philosophizing about what it is to BE APPRECIATIVE and we managed to articulate this statement: “feel, think, talk, act and relate with others from the conscious choice of perceiving, recognizing and amplifying the valuable and meaningful in people, events and things”.

It was wonderful to be able to articulate the ability to “appreciate” as concrete actions, but even more wonderful was the fact of declaring it as a “conscious choice”. This gained a total relevance in my professional spectrum and, more deeply, a new perspective in my personal sphere. This conscious choice complements my listening. It invites me to reorient my internal conversation to strengthen my relational capacity; to retrain my brain to identify success.

Progressively, with the practice of AI, I have incorporated the daily choice of staying on the side of the positive, which makes me look at the negative from a different viewpoint and approach it with better energy. From this view, the negative serves as a reference to understand what I do want: to understand the other point of view, to form a criterion, to include, to learn. Only from there have I been able to support others to go through change, to leave behind conversations that lead to separation, and to find a point of convergence.

To exclude the negative is to exclude part of the story. With AI, I have learned to look at and embrace the negative with the intention and purpose of giving voice to the entire system in the organizations with which I work. My challenge has been how to refocus it, how to approach it so that in the end it results in realizing the longings and aspirations of those overwhelmed and seeking to achieve their dreams.

It is undeniable that considering organizational dynamics is just the beginning of working towards a different path in terms of the construction, rather than identification, of business opportunities. Moving from Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) to Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results (SOAR), for example, requires leaders to understand that it is not about concealing or eclipsing the negative, but looking at it from the perspective of opportunity and abundance.

How to put the internal dialogue at my service and at the service of the welfare of others?

One of the exercises I use in my consulting practice with clients, when conflict between parties is present, is designed to unleash the creative potential. This involves mapping the entire relational system and giving voice to each component through the construction of a map of empathy, an extremely helpful way to externalize the dialogues that occur within each team member. At first, they are resistant and afraid to open this space of putting themselves in the place of the other and to answer these questions: “What would they say? How do they feel? What do they think? What do they need? From where are they focusing the situation? What do they see?” Once they engage in this dialogue, they discover possibilities that were not as clear before. Listening to what they deem negative from their counterparts makes it possible to build what they want to happen, to find convergences and move towards the goal.

Inviting us to move from opposition to acceptance, however contrary ideas may be, allows us to recognize that we coexist with others, that their presence is a fact, and they all have a place in the system. This space of coexistence and cohabitation inspires a new look at the reconstruction of relational systems as it encourages listening to and recognizing the aspirations of all.

We have the power to use actions and words to judge and label, or to promote wellbeing. It is a choice that can crucially change the future of organizations and of us as human beings.

The more positive the internal dialogue, the more positive the emotion and, therefore, the more positive the action. The image we make to the world is a product of the oscillation of our thinking between good and bad. Daring to listen and redirect the internal dialogue – about ourselves, about others and about situations – takes us to the space of consciousness and connection.

In addition to loving our neighbours, we also must like and appreciate them. We need, then, to tell ourselves new stories that arouse that admiration. That can only be possible with openness and acceptance.

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By Keith Storace

Keith is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and associate fellow with the Australasian College of Health Service Management (ACHSM). He has designed and implemented health and wellbeing frameworks across the community, health and education sectors. Keith’s current focus is on developing his work in Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) to assist individuals in moving from self-doubt to inspired positive action.

Readers’ Survey

AI Practitioner has not had a readers’ survey in over ten years, so we decided to create one in September/October last year. We had, for the size of readership, a good response and what is even more important, thoughtful replies about what is going well, what readers want more of, and suggestions for future possibilities. All of this is useful data for the upcoming year, and we hope to discuss it at a future board meeting.

The summary of the report can be found here.

CALL FOR ARTICLES Grief & Growth Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner May 2020

Editors: Neena Verma & Robert Neimeyer

Please mail your Proposal-cum-synopsis & query at drneenavermachimes@gmail.com

 

“Give sorrow words … The grief that does not speak
Knits up the over wrought heart … and bids it break”
… William Shakespeare

Grief … a word that for some is even more dreadful than the word ‘death’. It is a natural reaction to loss. It is natural for people to feel sad, angry, fearful, betrayed, abandoned, lonely, sick, confused and more, sometimes for a rather prolonged duration or with acute intensity. That said, deep transformation also unfolds in the wake of loss, trauma and grief. Alongside the angry cries of “Why me”, also appear the invocations like “What does this loss ask me to do/be”, “Where does my life turn from here”, “How do I preserve/cherish deceased’s life/presence”. There are several ways grief and trauma invite one to grow larger and deeper than who one is at the time of loss.

This issue takes a constructivist approach to the complex phenomenon of “Grief”, hoping to offer a generative way to uncover the paradoxical gift of “Growth” beneath the dense layers of difficult emotions associated with grief.

Honouring the promise and potential of Constructivism, Appreciative Inquiry, Positive Psychology, Generative Metaphor, Art Therapy, Self-transcendent healing and all such generative approaches … This issue of AI Practitioner invites you to share your wisdom about “Grief and Growth” in contexts such as family, workplace, caregiving, aging, ambiguous loss, disaster, and in any or a combination of the following forms –Concept; Construct; Application Process; Story. We would encourage you to avoid too much content, and instead focus on the generative lesson and potential.

GUIDELINES FOR SUBMISSION

Please submit a proposal-cum-synopsis for what you want to write about. It should

be MAX 250 words long, and outline following –

  • Proposed Title & Form (Concept; Construct; Application Process; Story)
  • Abstracts of what you want to share through the proposed article; and Keywords
  • Proposed length (1500-2000 words, excluding references)

Please mention on the cover page – Corresponding Author name & contact details; and Authors’ Bio (MAX 60 words each)

Please convey your willingness to:

  • declare originality of your article, and acknowledge/credit the quotes, citations &
  • art-work, with due consent, as & how applicable
  • improve/modify the article (including length) as per editors’ feedback
  • sign an agreement for publication with the ‘AI PRACTITIONER’ Management, once your full-length article is accepted for publication

TIMELINE

  • 10th Jan 2020 Proposal-cum-synopsis (as per guidelines above) submission
  • 25th Jan 2020 Editors’ notification of accepted proposals
  • 25th Feb 2020 Submission of Full-length article
  • 10th Mar 2020 Editors’ notification of accepted articles
  • 25th Mar 2020 Submission of Final Articles (modified as per Editors’ feedback & suggestions) along with tables/graphics/images, if any; and Authors’ bio (MAX 60 words each) & photo

AI PRACTIONER is a scholarly, non-commercial journal that seeks to generate and disseminate learning on strength-based approaches to change, with special emphasis on Appreciative Inquiry. The quarterly issues are mostly theme-based. May 2020 is designed on the special theme of “Grief & Growth”. The journal offers a platform for articles, case studies, research work, focussing on what gives ‘life’ to a person, a system, an organisation, a community when it is most alive, most effective and most constructively capable. The authors make voluntary, non-remunerative contributions. Please discover more about journal at – https://aipractitioner.com

May 2020 Issue Editors

Apart from being researchers and practitioners of constructivist grief care, both the editors have meaningfully reconstructed their lives, transcending own grief, and taking it up as their life mission to help those in loss and trauma emerge wiser and stronger.

Neena Verma, PhD is a scholarly practitioner and educator of Appreciative Inquiry (AI). She specializes in Leadership, Team & Transcendence Coaching. She is passionate about developing process frameworks that promote application of AI, Positive Psychology and Jungian Depth Psychology for individual, group & organizational development. Apart from Coaching & Consulting for deep, generative & systemic change, Neena is acknowledged for her service as “Transcendence Coach” and “Grief & Growth Apostle”. Neena has served on International Advisory Council of successive World AI Conferences 2019, 2015 & 2012. She is ICF-PCC credential Executive Coach; NTL Professional Member; Certified MBTI & HOGAN Professional. She serves on the Editorial Board of ‘AI Practitioner’ (AIP – International Journal of Appreciative Inquiry). Apart from contributing articles & appreciative book reviews at the journal, Neena has designed & lead-edited Feb 2013 & Nov 2016 issues of AIP.

Robert Neimeyer, PhD is a Professor of Psychology, University of Memphis, where he maintains an active clinical practice. He also directs the Portland Institute for Loss and Transition, which provides training internationally in grief therapy. Neimeyer has published 30 books, including “Techniques of Grief Therapy: Assessment and Intervention”; and “Grief and the Expressive Arts: Practices for Creating Meaning”, the latter with Barbara Thompson. He serves as Editor of the journal ‘Death Studies’. The author of over 500 articles and book chapters and a frequent workshop presenter, he is currently working to advance a more adequate theory of grieving as a meaningmaking process. Neimeyer served as President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC) and Chair of the International Work Group for Death, Dying, & Bereavement. In recognition of his scholarly contributions, he has been granted the Eminent Faculty Award by the University of Memphis, made a Fellow of the Clinical Psychology Division of the American Psychological Association, and given Lifetime Achievement Awards by both the Association for Death Education and Counseling, and the International Network on Personal Meaning.

We look forward to co-creating a rich & insightful May 2020 issue of AI Practitioner on the theme ‘Grief & Growth’.

In appreciative anticipation

Neena Verma & Robert Neimeyer

Snippets from WAIC2019

We invited those at WAIC2019 to share their thoughts and experiences in the form of short snippets, woven together below.

What did you learn or became aware of you didn’t know?

There were so many positive incitements to fresh ways of thinking, seeing and being.

I became aware of the transformation stories of many people, of the impact issuing from AI which these processes have around the world. I also liked the recognition given to the strides emerging in Latin America.

So many positive incitements to fresh ways of thinking, seeing and being.

The K5 keynote helped me see the potential for networking in the UK.

What is possible for you now that wasn’t possible before the 2019 WAIC?

I can re- think and strengthen my network and relationships based on the multiculturality.

I have discovered accelerated learning on new paths. The speed with which I was able to obtain breadth of knowledge in just four days is something that is rarely obtained in everyday spaces.

The opportunity to get to know different perspectives voices, and dreams coming from different hearts in different places, as well as the scope and ways of life from AI, have led me to make an important decision regarding my personal and professional life: I have decided to fully dedicate myself to enable processes from AI, adding to these processes elements of plastic expression. It is thus that I offer my services to those communities with whom I develop proposals for Appreciative Inquiry and Dialogues.

Gervase Bushe’s keynote gave me resources that I can pass on to a key person I work with because it will help them understand the difference between problem-solving and generative questions.

I learned a comprehensive new map of applications for AI; and addressing my concern about new and different ways to address and promote sustainable change, beyond the 5D cycle, in different areas.

What changed because of what you experienced at the conference to allow that to happen?

My confidence level increased as I shared the work I carried out with those communities affected by the 2017 earthquake in Mexico. It allowed me to receive feedback from several appreciative co-creators. As well, going into other AI action areas, for example: being able to offer civil organisms, foundations and schools, different approaches regarding community development. [Looking at] other ways to revalue relations and that recognize all possibilities before focusing on the problems allows for sizing their scope and growth.

I have gained so many new ideas and insights that I will use in my life in all its aspects.

I was able to get in touch with practitioners of great experience and with different idiosyncrasies. Through them, I could discover the singularities and similarities in what we do, both in organizations and with people.

What particular story that happened to you during the WAIC would you like to share ?

The most superb story from WAIC2019 for me is about my own awakening, my self-awareness, that is, the people, the stories, as well as valuing and understanding what being appreciative means. It is taking the whole and giving it other ways of living the experiences and taking from them the best in order to co-create my own story and inspiring myself from the best, and thus being able to expand this way of being.

It opened a new level of trust that reinforced my intention to position AI in Latin America as a philosophy to build kinder relationships and dialogues.

I now see AI not only as a platform for change through dialogue, but a very high-level strategic platform for re-design reality.

What came alive for you at WAIC2019?

I left feeling more confident to find more opportunities to use AI after WAIC.

We all are together to achieve a world mission, all together for great goals.

I am thinking of holding things more lightly, of coming from a fun place, when facilitating.

It really empowered me to keep going on creating a much more appreciative world. You can see how the community is real, in the sense of applying a methodology, and the values underlying that methodology.

It became much clearer to me that we are biography – individual as well as a collective story – narrative and the living out of our discoveries!

Awakening Compassion at Work by Monica C. Worline and Jane E. Dutton – A BOOK APPRECIATION BY NEENA VERMA

Book Appreciation by Neena Verma

Neena Verma, Ph.D., PCC is a scholar-practitioner of AI-based OD. She is an ICF-PCC credentialed coach, specialising in leadership, systemic and transcendence coaching. An accredited sensitivity trainer and certified AI practitioner, she has developed a number of coaching and OD models. As well as extensive editing experience, including the February 2013 and November 2016 issues of AIP, Neena has authored two books and numerous articles.

DOWNLOAD THE FULL ARTICLE OF THE NOVEMBER 2019 ISSUE

I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness
Mother Teresa

From the soulful poetry of Rumi, to the joyful the Dalai Lama’s joyful implorations, and the existential prose of Nietzsche to just about any human being, I am always seeking inspiration and guidance to learn, embody and practice compassion. That said, on the practical (not my strength) grounds of the organizational realm, I sometimes find myself struggling because my compassionate endeavour is influenced by what Mother Teresa says – unwavering if naïve – yet always so deeply fulfilling and humbling.

An emotion, value or act, whatever be one’s construct of this phenomenon, compassion is a fundamental human reality, as much as suffering is. But do we talk of the two in the cold, professional organizational realm of business mandates and performance agendas? The atmosphere just does not seem conducive. One doesn’t talk of suffering at workplace, more so if it relates to personal life –illnesses, losses, traumas, relationship breakdowns, and definitely not grief. But what of the hurts and suffering one collects at workplace? We don’t talk of that either. We are expected to be stoic, professional and to “act strong”. Maybe sometimes we shouldn’t. We are expected to not “act weak” by allowing expression to our suffering. Maybe sometimes we should, because vulnerability is not the opposite of strength. Often an authentic expression of vulnerability allows unfolding of real strength.

It was thus with such faith that compassion has a sure and sacred space in organizational realm, that I was searching for a book on compassion at work that would combine scholarly rigour with practical knowledge. And I found this amazing one by co-authors Worline and Dutton.

What an ‘AWAKENING’ Title

What does a courageous book with an evocative title like this do? It invokes and awakens.

In their one-page introduction, the authors set the tone of their deep and powerful work by making a simple assertion – “suffering at work is a hidden cost to human capability” – and that to work with “full human effectiveness” organizations need to “awaken compassion at work”. Simple but not simplistic. It must have been a challenging task for authors to make a case for compassion in the organizational context. It seems apt thus that they begin by presenting the so-to-say abstract phenomenon as a four-part concrete process of – noticing the presence of suffering at workplace, interpreting and making sense of the experience, feeling empathic concern and acting to alleviate suffering.

The authors call for a break in the silence around suffering at work before explaining the why and the how of compassion at work. Making a compelling case for the strategic advantage of compassion at work, the authors walk you through a gamut of organizational contexts where compassion enables a sense of human aliveness, such as innovation, collaboration, talent, learning, quality, engagement. The explanations make a logical appeal, but it is a simple affirmation – “human ingenuity” that organizations need to enable various things, asks for acknowledgment of “human pain” – that calls you to the deeper layers of the book.

At its heart

The four-aspect phenomenon of compassion at work is what sits at the core of this book. The process begins with noticing – a deep act and process of inquiry, an essential “portal to compassion”, but hard to practice. There are subtle clues to be discerned and acknowledged, for which a supportive organizational climate is just as essential as individual members’ perceptiveness. Clues that need to be recognized, brought out of the closet, allowed space and expression, and made sense of. The authors share a stirring “Found Poem” that they have composed from the interviewees’ description of compassion at work, uncovering assumptions about suffering at work …

There was a real norm in our department of modesty and
always presenting a good face.
Keep your skeletons at home.
You’re not supposed to have a personal life.
You are supposed to take care of business.

Interpreting or making sense, in authors’ view, is about making generous interpretations about others’ suffering – about “withholding blame” that other people’s suffering is of their own doing, about offering space with “dignity and worth” for alleviation of their pain, and about coming with presence – just “being there” if nothing else. Interpreting calls for the “positive default assumption” that people are basically good, whole and worthy of compassion. The authors call you to maintain “fierce compassion”, an unwavering commitment to making generous interpretations, so as to be able to take the path of empathy.

Feeling empathic concern, the authors contend, is a choice – a conscious act of perceptive engagement, attunement into other’s world of pain while still maintaining one’s own capacity for empathic listening with mindfulness. And then comes the part that sets this book apart – “compassion moves”, the real-time improvisational acts that enable alleviation of suffering.

There is no naïve assertion that these compassionate actions are without existential dilemmas. There are downsizings and lay-offs that organizations must hand down with stoic professionalism. And there are dark underbellies of organizations where the unnoticed employees who sweep, make copies and do other such menial jobs, quietly keep an organization well-oiled. What about noticing the suffering they silently endure and rise above to keep serving the organization, whether or not any one stops for a moment, exchanges greetings, gives them a warm look that says they matter and asks “Is everything OK”? The acts of compassion must extend to this invisible, steadfast human force at work, if an organization is sincere in its intent to awaken compassion at work. This is what makes the authors assert that “compassion competence” is must.

The architecture of compassion

For organizations to awaken compassion at a systemic level, they must shape compassion competence as a collective emergent pattern of noticing, interpreting, feeling and acting that leverages positive deviances and spreads like a positive contagion. The authors outline factors like speed, timing, immediacy, breadth and the magnitude of customized resources as contributive towards compassion competence.

They explain the what and the how of the social architecture of compassion – the structures, the processes, the human networks – that must come into place to enable compassionate actions. They elucidate the power of organizational culture to clarify, declare and foster humanistic values, and of organizational designs to enable greater compassion competence. Not one, two, three or ten – there are as many as twenty-eight (I hope I counted right) design principles to enable compassion competence across a wide spectrum of organizational life.

The authors help leaders interested in cultivating compassion competence with a skill set for generic scenarios, and some nuanced capabilities for leading with compassion in crisis situations. The authors culminate their offer with a grounded explanation of what comes in the way of living and enabling compassion in organizational contexts – obstacles of all kinds and levels – of people, leaders, structures, processes and cultures.

I must pause here to say that the last section of the book took me most by surprise. I was happy enough to read the authors make a research-based yet realistically convincing case for compassion at work. Part IV of the book is an even richer gift – pragmatic personal and organizational blueprints of compassion. Chapters 11 and 12 are treasure-houses for HR and OD professionals, coaches and just anyone interested in cultivating and enhancing compassion competence at individual and systemic levels. There are assessment scales, design principles, change frameworks and more.

There is an abundance of case studies and stories, rich with meaning and moral, something that may not be easy to find, articulate or practice in organizational realm. The book warms its way to the reader’s heart and then convinces the mind that an emotion as deep and layered as “compassion” is for real, even in the unlikely context of workplace. Via a narrative of action words (notic-ing, interpret-ing, feel-ing, act-ing), the authors inspire compassion pursuit at various levels – from “feeling compassion” to “actioning” it. The active voice of the narrative influences one to move beyond abstractions of compassion towards its tangible practice at work.

In my view, it is neither fair nor feasible to make a critical commentary just so a book review is deemed objective and complete. And I wouldn’t do that. That said, I hope to learn from an expanded edition or subsequent work more about how to work with the emergent pattern of collective noticing, interpreting and feeling, and what role systems can/should play to facilitate growth of human capacity to notice suffering, feel compassion and act upon it. Given the times we are living in, not just in organizational context, but also at societal level, it would be an amazing contribution to help human beings and systems learn to collectively notice and make sense of suffering, and extend the emergent pattern of compassionate action from the individual to the systemic level.

I close this book appreciation with one of the many touching compassion invocations that the authors make through the expansive traverse of their work:

At times when we think there’s nothing we can “do”
We can cultivate ability to “be”

Monica C. Worline (left)

Monica Worline is the founder and CEO of EnlivenWork, an innovation organization that teaches businesses and others how to tap into courageous thinking, compassionate leadership, and the curiosity to bring their best work to life. Monica Worline is a research scientist at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education and Executive Director of CompassionLab, the world’s leading research collaboratory focused on compassion at work. She holds a lectureship at the Ross School of Business, University of Michigan, and is affiliate faculty at the Center for Positive Organizations.

Jane E. Dutton (right)

Robert L. Kahn Distinguished University Professor of Business Administration and Psychology at the Ross School of Business. Jane Dutton is a co-founder of the Center for Positive Organizations and passionate about cultivating human flourishing at work. Her research focuses on compassion, job crafting, high quality connections, and meaning making at work.

awakeningcompassionatwork.com/about/

 

Voices from the Field WAIC 2019

Keith Storace is a registered psychologist with the Psychology Board of Australia (PsyBA) and associate fellow with the Australasian College of Health Service Management (ACHSM). He has designed and implemented health and wellbeing frameworks across the community, health and education sectors. Keith’s current focus is on developing his work in Appreciative Dialogue (ApDi) to assist individuals in moving from self-doubt to inspired positive action.

Having attended the World Appreciative Inquiry Conference (WAIC) in Nice, France in March this year, I was left with the thought that the more we understand our own story and the things that stir our curiosity, the more likely we will recognise all that emerges to liberate who we truly are. Every conference attendee I met reflected this and keen to talk about how they came to embrace Appreciative Inquiry. Voices from the Field for this special Issue of AI Practitioner presents the stories of three attendees: Gwendal Marrec (France), Andrea Kane Frank (USA) and Wendy Gain (Australia).

Read Gwendal Marrec’s story Appreciative Inquiry: A Real Accelerator for Commitment!

Read Andrea Kane’s story Appreciative Inquiry: RaisingHuman•Kind

Read Wendy Gain’s story Appreciative Inquiry: Compassionate Communities and Palliative Care

Appreciative Inquiry: Compassionate Communities and Palliative Care

Wendy Gain is an independent consultant, facilitating workshops for developing partnerships and compassionate communities. She is also an Appreciative Inquiry facilitator, partnership broker and ISO9001 Quality Management Systems Auditor. She has been a registered nurse in palliative care, a health bureaucrat and project officer in health and academic projects.

The first time I was really conscious of anything about Appreciative Inquiry (AI) was in western Queensland in the middle of the heat of a long, hot, humid summer. We were a group of people that were gathering to form a partnership looking to improve the way we do things across the community. The person facilitating the workshop had asked us all to close our eyes for a moment and to dream about what that community might look like if we were to sleep for two years and then wake up. I was nervous about closing my eyes because I was so hot, bothered and tired, and felt that I might not wake up!

It was when we opened our eyes and started talking about what we saw was possible across the community and what we would be able to achieve through that community partnership that I saw the true brilliance and potential of the dream sequence for Appreciative Inquiry. I have no memory of any other part of the 5D platform for AI from that day in western Queensland. However, the experience resonated with me so much that I pursued AI facilitator training with the Centre for Appreciative Inquiry in Las Vegas.

My certification report for facilitator training focused on working with a team of health providers to improve the palliative care outcomes for Aboriginal people in rural Victoria. What was truly fascinating about this AI experience was the use of the local Aboriginal totem as the visual representation of their provocative statement.

Currently I use AI in my work with compassionate communities and palliative care as a fundamental component of one-day workshops forming community partnerships. In these workshops I get to blend my AI skills with my partnership-broker skills to guide a group of people to form their provocative statements for their vision for their own compassionate communities. Starting the workshops inquiring into experiences with compassionate connections and developing their vision for what their compassionate community will look like is a very high-energy experience.

Using bottle tops to build visions

I use bottle tops as the medium for them to build the picture of what their provocative statement looks like. Lots of bottle tops in different shapes, sizes and colours enables attendees to demonstrate all sorts of things. Nobody has a PhD or degree in bottle tops, so giving people a collection of different coloured, sized and shaped tops is a non-challenging medium for which they can come together and build their vision statement. People are innovative in their use of bottle tops. When a provocative statement talks about scaling through the five principles of partnership, they can use tops of different sizes and colours to show visually what scaling might look like. Another group have used the phrase “empowerment” and actually built a tower of empowerment using tops of multiple colours and sizes to show the start from a solid base and then the build-up in order to have a tower of empowerment for the people of their community.

Using AI, I am able to highlight the positive in those strengths-based experiences in genuine connection and in compassionate connection. The 5D platform of Appreciative Inquiry lends itself well to groups of people who do not know each other. I’ve had success in using AI to galvanise groups of people who, prior to the moment that they sat down, had not known each other, had not worked together and who worked in vastly different areas in their working lives.

Identifying principles of care

I have also used AI to work with community members to build a model for palliative and end-of-life care for people with dementia, another high energy experience for me. I am struck by the passion with which community members tell their stories and their high-point themes. I find people rarely dwell on the things that are missing, but totally focus on the good points and the things that they want to see more of in their community. Throughout the development of the provocative statement, the community groups were also able to identify the principles of care they believed necessary for them to realise their vision.

Earlier this year Positivity Strategist, Robyn Stratton-Berkessel interviewed me for her appreciative podcast series Collaborations in Healthcare.

I have presented at conferences on my use of Appreciative Inquiry and I recently presented at the sixth Public Health Palliative Care International Conference, Compassionate Communities in Action: Reclaiming ageing, dying and grieving, 13 – 16th October 2019.

 

Appreciative Inquiry: RaisingHuman•Kind

Andrea Kane Frank is a licensed mental health therapist in Maryland, USA who has worked in private practice, on police-based teams, in homes, schools, hospitals and corporations. She is the founder of RaisingHuman•Kind (andreakanefrank.com).

RaisingHuman•Kind is a platform I’ve created to design systems with a kindness lens. In essence, it’s a way of approaching the energy we bring to any situation so that we can maximise the amount of kindness we bring forward in our families, at school, at work and at play. It’s a micro and macro approach. The more self-compassion we have and the more open we are to receiving from others, the more we will want to share from a place of equilibrium from within, focusing on our internal climate to maximise what we can bring forward externally. My goal is to educate people using Appreciative Inquiry tools to realise we have every possibility to bring more kindness forward for ourselves and for others with simple questions for our maximum impact.

Discovering

In my own exploration of the topic I have learned that people have preferences on how they like to incorporate kindness into their everyday experiences. Some view it as an effort in inclusion, others see it as being of service to others, some feel it best expressed through random acts of kindness. All kinds of personalities have preferences including direct interaction, informal interaction or anonymity.

Inspiring

As a child I always leaned more toward the spiritual side and, as the youngest of six, I carved my own path that didn’t reflect the tracks of my older siblings. I relied heavily on my spiritual and intuitive instincts to guide me and they have never let me down. Kindness was a natural way of being until it wasn’t.

Six years ago I suffered many losses of significant front line people in my life in one year’s time. My work in the crisis and trauma field combined with caregiving for my young family and my parents simultaneously led to a breakdown in my health and to my own inquiry. It wasn’t until I was completely sidelined by this health challenge and overwhelming grief that I started asking questions to lead me to the right healing professionals who could restore me to good health.

I met with many doctors and was blessed to be cared for in the most loving of environments. My Lyme disease doctor thankfully was able to diagnose the problem. He had also done research about how to curate environments for maximum healing. He selectively hires patient-centred, loving staff and pays special heed to environmental factors. He and his staff were a huge part of my inquiry and recovery. I could feel the loving atmosphere he took such care in creating. My weekly treatments and visits to the office became a resting place.

My spiritual side led me to Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, NY where I studied for four days with Pema Chodrin and to Washington, DC to learn with Tara Brach. I cultivated the importance of self-compassion, allowing all parts of me to be acknowledged and integrated into my being.

More Dreaming and Discovering

Further questions allowed me to just let the path unfold. I participated in a business immersion program focused on creating a good life, pursued a certification in positive psychology, studied with the world’s leading expert on trauma healing, and attended my first Canadian Positive Psychology Conference where I heard David Cooperrider speak for the first time. I knew he would be part of what was next for me but I didn’t know how.

Through further exploration I realised that while I was still sidelined by my health challenge, there were things I could do. I could continue to rest, read, and to discover and identify my gifts and how to use them while I was healing. I also pursued body-based therapies to help move trauma from grief and losses of my own and those that I witnessed in my work. I meditated and still do. I learned how much it takes to care for yourself so that you can be present and kind to others. I had a lot of catching up to do. I learned that trauma creates an environment for disease to develop and thrive, and the importance of caring for my body on a soulful level.

Like so many others, I was focused on my output rather than my input, which isn’t sustainable for any system. My vision for RaisingHuman•Kind followed the inquiry into my own health recovery and how I was using these tools with my children and family to create upward spirals of experiences as soon as any one of us stepped out the front door. I wanted everyone’s first touch of the day to be a good one, knowing we came from a rested place, caring for one another and ourselves. I envisioned the first encounters we each had after having left home on a positive note and knew that if we were intentional, our first encounters could be positive and inspire more of the same. When I notice we need a “start over” if our morning isn’t measuring up to this intention, we state that and start again, giving ourselves permission to be human.

We continue to experiment. I asked my sons how they liked to share kindness. We put a large vase in the centre of the table and at dinner in the evenings we’d share a story of how we brought kindness forward and we’d add a bean to the jar to see our kindness growing.

We also did our own family summit, which led to a change in their school and gave them a voice in their educational needs. It was all coming together.

I’ve conducted SOAR (Strengths, Opportunities, Aspirations, Results) sessions at aviation and athletic companies while also assisting with implementation from the data derived from those sessions. I am grateful for Jackie Stavros’ work in this area. Kindness as a lens allowed for the whole system to have a voice in systemic change.

Designing and Delivering what’s to come

Right now, the platform is in its infancy, with a podcast launch planned, speaking, online learning and in-person training being developed. Again, I am allowing the universe to lead me as I continue to explore the constant of change and transition.

Imagining

I can imagine organisations and families making kindness practices the cornerstone for their wellbeing creating a positive contagion. I can see more compassionate systems and a kinder, more connected world.

Collaborating

So far my appreciative beginnings and journey have lead me to meeting amazing humans and to present for the first time internationally in Nice at WAIC 2019. Together with Marge Schiller and Allen Keitz we created a workshop entitled Amplifying Kindness in the Family Using Appreciative Inquiry. It’s been a springboard for me to know that people were interested and wanted topics and explorations in this area. I was able to become an AI-certified practitioner and serve on the global steering committee for Positive Education.

Listening to the nudges

Just like the words in the Cat Stevens song, “I listen to the wind of my soul”, all of these experiences unfolded from allowing the quiet to bring me answers and direction and to gently ask my spirit what it most needed in the moment. I’ve learned that kindness can’t be sustainable unless we’ve taken good care to continuously prime our internal environment and it needs to be freely given and received for it to be genuine.

I’m ready to use what I am learning to be of service to the world. Something touched me deeply hearing David Cooperridder’s journey of global service. I want to be a part of that and hope you will join me in RaisingHuman•Kind together, in caring so deeply for one another and ourselves that the result is a global rising by lifting one another. Our world is calling out for it and I’m thankful to have found this amazing community of soulful people to share the journey with me.

Appreciative Inquiry: A Real Accelerator for Commitment!

Based near Bordeaux, France, Gwendal Marrec is an organisational consultant and facilitator. This generalist engineer, mainly active in companies for the “pretexts” of environmental certifications, quality or social responsibility, makes it a point of honour to offer human-centered accompaniments, during which he includes AI and Lego® Seriousplay®.

It was quite recently, at the end of 2016, that I first heard about Appreciative Inquiry.

During my training to become a Lego® Seriousplay® facilitator, one of the participants in the internship presented herself as an AI practitioner. When I asked about Appreciative Inquiry, she explained the basics of the approach and the different stages that make up it. A few months later, I signed up for the French Institute of Appreciative Inquiry (IFai) training in Paris to discover how dialogues based on the strengths could contribute to a profound transformation of organisations.

As an engineer specialising in quality management systems, I was trained to improve on the basis of failures. Convinced that lasting changes are achieved by getting the company’s players to collaborate by making them autonomous, I already had a style of participatory accompaniment. But deep down, I was not satisfied in my job as a consultant; I was faced with a lack of commitment from the teams and the frustration of trying to force change.

The transformation of my own work came during advanced training with Ron Fry, again in Paris, in 2018, when he presented the principles of business as an agent of world benefit (BAWB). The evidence was before my eyes! Of course, organisations and companies are the actors in the paradigm shift!

Since then, I have made several interventions in the educational and corporate worlds.

First, in a school with a class of thirty-six students I had the chance to experiment with a two-hour workshop to allow the children, aged eleven, to discover how to give the best of themselves, without stress. We began with an appreciative discussion on strengths and then a second one to imagine a college in which everyone would be fulfilled. This was followed by a sharing in subgroups of nine children each before modeling the elements that would allow this dream to come true in the near future. Then each table had to present, to the whole class and the teacher, what they discovered! The effect of solidarity and mutual aid was striking, while very concrete actions were carried out by the class and its teacher.

At the moment, I am supporting a wine company in the implementation of its corporate social responsibility (CSR) approach. The choice of management was to launch the project in appreciative mode. After discovering the strengths and the aspiration of the company during appreciative dialogues, a LEGO® SERIOUSPLAY® workshop identified three main strategic priorities defined as: strong ambition, truly desirable and shared by employees. The next step will be the exploration of these three themes during an appreciative seminar that will undoubtedly lead to proposals with high impact!

These two examples are very encouraging for me in a complex societal context, as they each require mobilising such creativity and a commitment. The first pointed out that youth are able to deal with serious subjects such as the conditions for the development of college students. The group has also proposed actions that go beyond the school. In particular, they want to contribute to a better world by collaborating with other generations. This form of wisdom is simply striking!

The second allows a change in the management of the company, focused on humanistic values shared by its employees. The launch of a project with Appreciative Inquiry is a real accelerator for commitment!

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