Okay, let me start by saying I hate the idea of Happiness. There are a million different ways to define it and I think the word is used too much as a sales tool. So let me explain.
When I was on the faculty at the University of Virginia School of Medicine, I came across an article by Malcolm Gladwell called The Physical Genius. I wish EVERYONE would read this article. It basically confirmed what I heard in my interviews of world class performers. Tucked near the end of the article, Gladwell wrote:
A better explanation is that, for some mysterious and wonderful reason, Wilson finds the act of surgery irresistible, in the way that musicians find pleasure in the sounds they produce on their instruments, or in the way Tony Gwynn gets a thrill every time he strokes a ball cleanly through the infield. Before he was two years old, it is said, Wayne Gretzky watched hockey games on television, enraptured, and slid his stockinged feet on the linoleum in imitation of the players, then cried when the game was over, because he could not understand how something so sublime should have to come to an end. This was long before Gretzky was any good at the game itself, or was skilled in any of its aspects, or could create even the smallest of chunks. But what he had was what the physical genius must have before any of the other layers of expertise fall into place: he had stumbled onto the one thing that, on some profound aesthetic level, made him happy.
Yesterday I wrote that what I do when I work with someone is to help turn their energy into power.
How do I do that? I ask them questions. I teach them how to ask themselves questions. These questions are part wonder, part intelligence aimed at their personal data. I teach them to feel and add that information to their decision making process.
But I do what I do because I went and asked people who seemed to be headed where they want to go how they did it. I think Gladwell interviewed the people he did for this article because he wanted to understand what he calls the physical genius. But in the end we both came to this same conclusion about these people. They found something that made them happy when they did it.
What I find so surprising is how hard it is to get regular everyday folks to listen to this. People fight me on this. People who are not on the path to where they want to be. People who are stuck in their lives, who tell me they are stuck in their lives. I don’t judge people. I listen and observe.
It goes back to what I wrote about yesterday. There is a part of us that is programmed not to listen to this. But there is also a part of us that is programmed to do exactly what I am talking about.
Nike had a slogan for years that said “Just do it.” What if we changed that to “Just try it.” What if you decided that every week you were going to try something new until something felt good to you to do. What if you defined success simply as you wanted to do something again. Then after you tried these things, you took a step further and asked “What did it cost me to try that?”
If the consequences were too high (like you ate a killer chocolate cake), then you would know not to do it again or maybe you would learn to do something a bit smarter. The first time I went snowboarding I knocked myself cold. So I kept doing it, but went a little slower. Now I love it. I once broke my wrist when I was 35 playing crack the whip behind a bike wearing rollerblades. I loved it, but decided I probably shouldn’t do it again.
The job I recently left was all about this. We got people who had not done things for years to come in and try new things. Yoga, Kinesis, shooting hoops, etc. This led us to drastically increase the membership and member retention of the facility.
We had one rule. Have fun. I think maybe, though, we were actually putting into practice what Gladwell wrote about the Physical Genius. We helped people find something that made them happy while they were doing it. We created a safe place for them to do it, free of judgment. The only measure of success was that they came back. They did.
One of the funny things we heard over and over again were how many of the people who came in looking for something new did so because they did not have the energy they wanted. My own take after watching them, though, was that they had plenty of energy. It just did not know what to do. Once it knew what to do, their energy was hard to contain…and all of us could feel it. That made the building electric. As we often said to each other “it’s hoppin’.”
So “Just try it!” Try something new each week until you find something that feels good with no consequences. I know some of you will say you don’t have time. My bet is if you try this you will find something you like and then you will find the time.
Most of all, you will send a great message to your children to try things. You will show them that it is okay to “like” something.
When I was a kid I liked a lot of things. I never felt pressure to “love” anything or to find my passion. I played every sport pretty successfully until my freshman year of high school when I found basketball. Maybe I loved it, I can’t say. But it was what I wanted to do everyday. And I got pretty good at it. I got a B. A., an M. Ed. and a Ph. D. because of it. Ask my mom and she’ll tell you I would never have gone to college otherwise. I only tried out for the freshman team because a friend of mine did not want to go alone. He said “C’mon just try it.”
When I was in grad school, a heart surgeon came to our Sport Psychology program and asked the director if anyone would like to study how surgeons trained, to see if there were any overlaps between athletes and surgeons. I said “I’ll try it.” I ended up on their faculty for fifteen years.
So go ahead and try something. Like it. Maybe you’ll find something that in some profound aesthetic way makes you happy.