Live long and prosper in horse manure

150668050_0a55ed8b3aPhoto by Rikki_

My friend Jonathan sent me a link to an article writing in the subject of the email: “long, physiologic and fascinating”.  The article, from “The Atlantic Online”, bears the very promising headline: “What makes us happy?“. Although I don’t think it actually answers this question, it sure does give you a very interesting journey of trying to understand it.

In a nut shell, the article describes the writer impressions from spending one month in the file room of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the longest running – and probably the most exhaustive – longitudinal studies of mental and physical well-being in history. It begun in 1937 as a study of healthy, well adjusted Harvard sophomores (all males) and it has followed these subjects for more than 70 years. I will leave the work of reading the article and answering the question “what makes us happy?” to you, but I do want to quote and comment shortly on two quotes I liked in particular.

The first quote is a very short story the manager of the research, Dr. George Vaillant, gives as an answer to one of the questions:

… [T]he story of a father who on Christmas Eve puts into one son’s stocking a fine gold watch, and into another son, a pile of horse manure. The next morning, the first boy comes to his father and says glumly, “Dad, I just don’t know what I’ll do with this watch. It’s do fragile, it could break.” The other boy runs to him and says, “Daddy! Daddy! Santa left me a pony, if only I can just find it!”

We always hear the importance of looking on the part of the glass that is half full, and not the one that is half empty (link in Hebrew). As I mention in my e-book, In Randy Pausch ‘s last lecture he said: “We cannot change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand“. When is the last time you woke up to see horse manure on your table and thought to yourself – this is an opportunity. They say that times of depression are times when people get rich. It is the people who can see the opportunity in the horse manure. The following thought is self evident. When you are assembling your team – are you looking for people who opportunities in horse manure?

This is the second quote:

In fact, Vaillant went on, positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs – protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections – but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak

I talk a lot about short-term versus long-term thinking in this blog. And about the fact that short-term thinking is to be blamed for a lot of the problems this world is facing.  Actually, my last post was about this subject. I also mentioned, a couple of times, that I believe the most important challenge of a leader is the dissipate people fear’s about the future. This outlook on the subject, gives another explanation, why long term view is so important and why it is so hard to reach. This also explains why the talent of leadership is so important and why we need to create processes that help us overcome out behavioural tendencies 

Elad

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2 Responses to “Live long and prosper in horse manure”

  1. Tommer Says:

    To start off – sorry i didn’t get a chance to wish you a good trip.

    To business – I like the viewpoint expressed in the second quote. I like it because it helps me explain a notion I had pretty much forever – that intelligent people are inherently nice (well, for the most part anyway).
    Assuming that our behavior in daily interaction is motivated by our self interests, and taking into account that nice behavior pays off in the long run (and more than unpleasant behavior, which pays off in the short term), it’s easy to conclude that intelligent people would choose the behavior that will pay off better i.e. being nice.

    Any way, nice post.

  2. sherfelad Says:

    Hey Tommer,
    Thank you for your comment. Insightful as ever!
    I am not sure if completely following your argument. Are you claiming that intelligent people are less prone to irrationality? If that is you argument, I am not sure I agree. And I reference my argument with this (http://www.predictablyirrational.com/?p=409).
    Elad


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