Happiness, Heavy Weights, and Big Potential
Last week, at the age of 42, I broke my personal record for the bench press. Looking back on that workout I realize I hit 4 of the 5 PERMA pillars for psychological well-being!
This was a cool Accomplishment for me and, as such, I savored some great Positive emotions like elation and pride. Knowing I was going for this achievement I was focused and Engaged in all the warmup lifts leading up to the record breaker.
Lastly, I didn’t accomplish this alone. I had my weight lifting partner by my side the entire time. My wife, Greta, was there to cheer me on, spot me if I needed it, and excitedly give me a big high five afterwards. Without that positive Relationship I wouldn’t have done it.
By the way, she broke her personal record too. 😊
Later that day I got to thinking. If I hadn’t had a spotter with me in the weight room I wouldn’t have even attempted that much weight. With Greta there I felt confident enough to push my limits and even risk failing, knowing full well she’d be with me again the next time and I could try again.
By myself my potential was limited – psychologically and, perhaps, physically. With a partner there to support and spot me, I felt comfortable expanding the heights of my weight lifting ceiling.
Shawn Achor calls this “Big Potential” and I think it applies to our happiness and psychological well-being.
Intuitively we know we can accomplish very little in life alone. I might argue we accomplish nothing without the support of at least one more human being. Diana Nyad is a great example.
Nyad holds the world record for the longest distance swim in open waters having swam 110 miles (!) from Cuba to Florida. As far as individual accomplishments go, this one is beyond huge. But was it truly an “individual” accomplishment? On the surface, it appears so. I mean, it was a solo swim.
What we don’t typically consider is all the human support she needed to overcome this challenge. Between the guides to watch for obstacles, the divers looking for sharks, the NASA experts for guidance on nutrition, and the trainers talking her through the long haul, Diana pushed the boundaries of human ability with the support of 51 other people.
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together” – African proverb
Of course, on some level, we all know this. Want to learn to play the piano? Find a piano teacher. Want to excel at basketball? Get a good coach. Looking for a the best possible diet for your lifestyle? Hire a nutritionist.
The same applies to psychological well-being.
Want to be happier? Find a “Well-being Spotter.”
What in the world is a well-being spotter? Really, it’s whatever you need them to be to help support your journey to unlocking the highest potential of your own happiness. But trust me, cultivating well-being, like any other human accomplishment, is best done with the support of others.
When I am excited to work out, I’ve got Greta to amplify my excitement and celebrate it along side me. When I discover a new positive psychology intervention I feel good about applying it because I’ve got people in my life who get jazzed to hear about it.
When I’m tired and just not feeling like I’ve got the energy to go to the gym Greta is there to help motivate me to do it anyway. We jokingly say to each other, “the only workout you regret is the one you didn’t do!” In the same way I’ve got people in my life who will gently “call me out” when I’m letting my well-being efforts slip.
On the flip side, some days I really don’t have it in me to hit the gym. On those days Greta supports me by helping me see it’s OK to miss a day here and there. Working out is a marathon, not a sprint and well-being is the same way. To that end, I’ve found people who accept that even a positive psychology expert sometimes has less than positive moments and days.
The point here is that growing your well-being requires other human being supporting you along the way.
So I challenge you, define what a good “Well-being Spotter” looks like for you and find them. Heck, find two or four or ten of them if you can! Engage them in different ways if you need and empower them to support you and gently call you out on your bullshit.
Before you know it, you’ll be breaking your own personal record for happiness.
- Written by Josh Vaisman