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The Sounds of Music

Written By: Fiona - Jul• 18•13

I have a confession to make: I play the piano accordion. True story. And tomorrow I have my first ukulele lesson. Ditto.

Are you still with me? Good.

Now that the cat is out of the bag, let me backtrack and give you the full Accordion Story. Way back in the dark ages (around 45 years ago), my birthday wish was for a piano accordion. It must have been a very strange request from a nine year girl old to her parents, but there it was: on my birthday, a 24 bass, shiny and new piano accordion.

Fast forward to today, when I was thinking about how I could use my top strengths in a different way, and my piano accordion sprung to mind. It’s right there, in my office, an ornament on display, gathering cobwebs. Looking at my accordion reminded me that I had, for a while now, wanted to learn to play the ukulele. It’s cheap, cute, small, a little bit funny, and less embarrassing than a piano accordion. So today I took the bull by the horns and booked into a uke class.

And what precipitated me thinking about using my top strengths in different ways? It came from an article I read, Positive education: positive psychology and classroom interventions[1]:

“We believe that students can get more satisfaction out of life if they learn to identify which of these character strengths they possess in abundance and then use them as much as possible in school, in hobbies, with friends and family.”
This doesn’t only apply to students. Anyone wanting more life satisfaction (more vitality, more well-being) can do the same through the intentional use of their top strengths. Given ‘variety is the spice of life’, it made sense to me to do something a bit different with my strengths than I’d normally do, and to go a little outside my comfort zone – but without too much discomfort.

Learning to play the ukulele covers all of my top strengths: love of learning (learning to play different chords to the guitar); creativity (something a little unique); appreciation of beauty and excellence (music, being the ‘excellence’ bit); curiosity (about different ukes with different tones and other uke players); and humour (it’s a bit of a funny-silly instrument, don’t you agree?). That’s a lot of satisfaction.

Back to my accordion days: I had lessons for quite a few years; my little 24 bass was eventually replaced with a bigger 80 bass, followed by the penultimate 120 bass. I loved the challenge of translating and then mastering the little black dots on lined paper; I loved how I could change the tone of the keys, how I could play Italian pieces, Hungarian polkas, French serenades, old-timer tunes, folk tunes and even some contemporary numbers.

Decades later, as my accordion gathered dust and buttons faulted and keys stuck, I learnt an amazing thing. In a conversation with my new-found Uncle Ted, I confessed to him I played the piano accordion. There was a moment’s silence – something I was used to, just prior to hysterical laughter, whenever I’d confessed it in the past to anyone. But Uncle Ted didn’t laugh. He just sighed and said rather sadly, ‘I hate the piano accordion’.

‘Oh,’ I said. ‘That’s okay. Most people do.’

‘But you know why I hate it, don’t you?’ he said.

‘No idea, Uncle Ted. Why?’

‘My father played it incessantly. I hated the bloody thing.’

Uncle Ted’s father was my grandfather. I never knew him; never met him.

‘Really?’ I said. ‘My grandfather played the piano accordion?’

‘Yep,’ said Uncle Ted. ‘He was a professional piano accordionist, in some kind of band.’

My 120 bass, dusty and sad, that I bought a long time ago, has the words ‘Symphony Four’ engraved onto it. Its history is similar to that of my paternal grandfather’s. (I even like to fantasise that it’s one and same.)

The puzzle was solved as to why little nine-year-old Fiona wanted a piano accordion for her birthday. Somewhere, back in the recesses of my genetic memory, a piano accordion played. It played the music of my heritage, of my unknown past.

Right now, I am using another of my top strengths: that of gratitude. I am grateful for my parents buying me a piano accordion, and for my Uncle Ted in divulging my unknown family history to me.

And I am grateful for my piano accordion. Bless its little buttoned heart.



[1] By Seligman, Ernst, Gillham, Reivich and Linkins, in the Oxford Review of Education, Vol. 35, No. 3, June 2009, pp 293-311

 

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ARTY FARTY

Written By: Fiona - Jul• 11•13

I pointed to a picture of a model in a magazine the other day and guffawed out loud to my son: ‘See that? If I wore that, they’d lock me up! But put it on a long-legged model and take snappy shots of her, and it’s very chic!’

He gave me a look that read ‘Well, yeah, she’s like, 20 and you’re like, 50-something’. He had a point, even if it was unspoken.

Some people, no matter what age, can wear anything and pull it off. Whether it be funky, swish, metro, bohemian, corporate or arty. What they wear, they carry well, and do so with confidence and ease. ‘Oh this old thing? I just threw it on!’

This, to me, is an indication of creativity, marked by individual expression and artistic confidence. Of course, creativity isn’t just about knowing how to wear a blue and green floral retro outfit with long-johns, a tea-cosy hat and ballet slippers.

Most of us attribute creativity to the arena of the arts, but creativity is far more reaching than that: from those with original and innovative ideas, to poets, scientists, inventors, composers and the like.

My husband demonstrated an example of this recently. When I visit schools to talk about Character Strengths, I give each of the children a bookmark and also include a ribbon. This ribbon signifies one of their strengths. I thought this was a lovely idea until it came to the crunch: 2,000 school children = 2,000 ribbons.

So I bought a few kilometres of ribbon, and assigned the task of measuring and cutting to one of my sons as he watched TV. My first request was for 100 ribbons. When he handed me the 100, some 30 minutes later, I took advantage of his agreeableness and requested 100 more. So there I had it: 1 hour, 200 ribbons.

When Steve came home, I proudly told him that my son had spent an entire hour – unpaid hour – cutting me 200 ribbons.

‘An hour?’ Steve asked incredulously. (I wasn’t sure if this was good incredulous or bad incredulous.) ‘How’d he do it?’

I demonstrated, like he was a kindergarten kid. ‘Well, you get a ruler, cut the size you want, cut each piece the same size…’

He interrupted me, mid-kindy lesson. ‘Why didn’t he just wrap it round his hand and cut it down the middle?’

Now it was my turn to look incredulous. (‘You gotta be kidding’ incredulous.) He ignored my look.

‘Where’s the ribbon?’ I threw him a reel.

‘Scissors?’ Threw him those, too. Carefully. Ish.

‘And your book?’

‘My book?’ I said, thinking he’d lost the plot, but passed him a copy anyway.

‘Okay, here we go.’ He wound the ribbon around and around the book, counting as he went: 49, 50, 51… Ten seconds later he’d counted to 100. He picked up the scissors, and ignoring my gasp, snipped the reeled ribbon straight across the middle.

‘Voila! 100 ribbons. Ten seconds.’ He handed me back my book, and the fist full of ribbons. ‘Read it and weep.’

What I’d witnessed was creativity, and not a word that I would have normally associated with my husband. But he is. I have proof.

Here am I, thinking I’m the creative one: the writer, the poet, the musician, the mosaic artist. Yet there’s my husband, swift as a seagull swooping on a hot chip, showing me that creativity isn’t just assigned to the arts. It’s about coming up with new and inventive ways of doing things, thinking outside the square.

However, if he ever turns up in long-johns and a tea cosy, I’ll be calling it something other than creativity…

 

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Laughing Matters

Written By: Fiona - Jun• 27•13

When was the last time you laughed? I mean, really laughed? For me, it was yesterday in yoga.

I started our first balancing pose off on the wrong foot, because as soon as the yoga teacher told us to ‘focus on a spot on the wall in front of you’, I found myself inwardly laughing at such absurdity: for one thing, the wall is pristine white, so there are no spots, and the other thing was I wasn’t wearing my glasses, making focusing on anything impossible.

This is what I was thinking as I half crouched, with my left leg wrapped around my right, wobbling and not focussing, and saw fellow yogi, Cindy, who never wobbles, out of the corner of my eye, wobbling like a toy on a spring. She wobbled first to the left, then way over to the right, then back to the left, then right, and then slowly and indelicately fell onto her side, laughing as she went… which in turn got me laughing. And wobbling. And then also falling. It was a good class.

I had a funny moment the day before, too, as I watched a YouTube clip of a man laughing uncontrollably at something on his phone as he waited for a bus. It wasn’t long before the entire bunch of strangers, all waiting for the same bus, caught the laughing bug as well. And then I caught it, as I watched them, on my phone.

And last week my husband and I watched one of our favourite foreign movies for a second time, The Intouchables. It’s a poignant and very moving movie, and is also very, very funny in parts. We laughed as much the second time around as we did the first.

Laughter is unifying; it’s a leveller, a stress-reliever, a coping strategy, and can make us feel really good. As a character strength, humour and playfulness falls under the virtue of ‘transcendence’. To me, this translates as a strength that can enable us to overcome a difficulty, rise above an occasion, forge connections and provide meaning to our lives. ‘Humor… connects one directly to troubles and contradictions in a way that produce not terror or anger but pleasure.’ (Seligman and Peterson 2004)

I never thought I’d laugh out loud during my reading of the Seligman and Peterson 800 page tome, Character Strengths and Virtues, yet there I was, reading theories and research on humour – in regard to children who can deliberately make others laugh – when I came across this anecdote about Seligman’s eight-year-old son, Darryl:

“As the story goes, he was whooping and hollering while supposedly helping his father rake leaves. His father chastised him, ‘We’re never going to get done.’

‘That’s not an optimistic thing to say,’ retorted Darryl.

Darryl’s mother then chimed in, ‘Now Darryl, you know your father has written books on optimism.’

‘Maybe,’ said Darryl, ‘but they must not be very good.’” (p532)

That’s a funny thing for a kid to say. (Like the time one of my sons asked as he hunched over a piece of paper, crayons clutched in his small, dimpled hands: ‘Do worms have testicles, Mum?’ I told him no, they didn’t, to which he replied, ‘Well mine do!’, and then very deliberately drew tentacles on the worm’s head.)

I relish a good laugh, especially when it gives me respite from what has been or is a very un-funny time.

Today, Cindy’s yoga pose, the Falling Crow, hit the spot.

Literally.

See Bus Stop Laughing Clip Here:

http://www.facebook.com/video/embed?video_id=514373275284206

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Wonder-Happy-Woman

Written By: Fiona - Jun• 13•13

Once upon a time, way back in the 80s when I worked for a computer software company, a fellow-employee greeted me in the elevator on the way up with a cheery ‘Hi Fiona!’. My response must have been less than chirpy, as such were his parting words as he got off at the third floor: ‘Hey, c’mon! What’s wrong with you? You’re always happy! Be happy!’. I continued my unhappy way up to the sixth.

It only took three floors of solitude for me to reflect on what he’d said.  At work I was known as the ‘happy, funny girl’: always up for a laugh, always socialising, entertaining, and cheering others up. So when I was admonished for being other than that, it got me thinking. And I wasn’t very happy about it.

What I wanted to say to this person was: I’m not always happy! I get upset and sad and stressed like the rest of the human race. I’m not Wonder-Happy-Woman!

Professor Tal Ben Shahar, world leader and innovator in bringing Positive Psychology to the mainstream masses, is often accused of ‘not being happy enough’. ‘You teach Positive Psychology? I thought you’d be happier than this!’ he’s often told.

And just last week, someone was telling me that upon meeting Martin Seligman – the ‘father of positive psychology’ – he was surprised to learn that Marty wasn’t an excitable jumping bean.

Yep, he’s human, too.  We all are.

Positive Psychology isn’t happy-ology, it is ‘the scientific study of what makes life most worth living… Positive psychology is psychology – psychology is a science – and science requires checking theories against evidence. (From Pursuing the Good Life, by Christopher Peterson).

Positive psychology:

  • ISN’T untested self-help
  • ISN’T footless affirmation
  • ISN’T secular religion
  • ISN’T a recycled version of the power of positive thinking
  • ISN’T a sequel to The Secret

Even if you were born with ‘happy genes’, this only determines (on average) 50% of your level of happiness. The rest is made up of circumstance (10%) and intentional activities – in other words, choice (40%).

It’s exhausting – and inauthentic – to always ‘put on a happy face’. Life can be hard, tragedies happen, illness strikes and stuff (life) happens. According to Chris Peterson, ‘The good life is hard work, and there are no shortcuts to sustained happiness.’

Being human is about being the whole gamut: happy, sad, joyful, teary, excited, indifferent, loving, confused, exhausted, peaceful, angry, upset, perky…  Part of being human is being happy, and being happy is about living what constitutes a ‘good life’.

So give yourself permission to be human – not superhuman – and remember: elevators aren’t the only ones with ups and downs.

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ELEPHANT DREAMING

Written By: Fiona - Jun• 04•13

This week brings good news – good news that’s had a three year gestation period. (That’s one and half elephants!)

You see, three years ago I had a dream: that every teacher and every child in every primary school learned that there was ‘more right with them than there is wrong’, by learning and embracing Positive Psychology’s Character Strength model. That’s a big dream. But that’s okay, because I have a propensity for elephant-sized dreams.

At the end of my whirlwind schools tour in 2010, I realised that, short of cloning myself, there was no way I could visit every school to introduce Character Strengths.. How could one little old me tackle something so big? The same way you’d eat an elephant: one bite at a time. In other words, the best way to accomplish something big is to approach it in smaller pieces.

The first bite in fulfilling this dream was to have one of my school visits professionally filmed.

Bite 1: DVD: The Story of a Book.

The next bite was to write a handbook that enabled teachers to identify theirs and their student’s strengths.

Bite 2: Handbook: What’s Right With Me?

The elephant is big and more bites were needed, so I commissioned my nephew, Aiden May, a talented animator and cartoonist, to design illustrations that depicted each of the 24 character strengths.

Bite 3: Character Strengths Caricatures.

Further inspired by my studies in Positive Psychology, I then designed and implemented a pilot (and very successful) eight-week strengths program at Arthurs Creek Primary School.

Bite 4: ‘From Strength to Strength’ – an Eight Week Program for Years 5 and 6

One bite to go. The only thing missing was music, so I dusted off songs from a children’s album I’d released many years ago, joined forces once again with composer, engineer and musician extraordinaire, Chris Mangan, and recorded two additional songs: ‘I Am Me’ and ’24 Rap’.

Bite 5: Enter the album, ‘Sing to Your Strengths’ – 11 songs and two instrumental tracks.

It was a big elephant, but here we are, three years later, with a five disc, multi-media, strengths-education program for years five and six called ‘From Strength To Strength’.

And on Thursday, June 6, 2013, my elephant-sized dream is being officially launched into educational space at the Positive Schools Conference in Melbourne (www.positiveschools.com.au) and re-appearing at the Happiness and Its Causes Conference two weeks later. (www.happinessanditscauses.com.au)

The elephant is no longer in the room: it’s making its way down the Eastern Freeway, one strong and steady foot in front of the other, marching toward Melbourne Convention Centre.

The elephant is happy – very happy to be a metaphor for big dreams.

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My Big Fat Geek Book

Written By: Fiona - May• 31•13

I’m currently reading a big fat book. It’s 800 pages long, is in hardcover and weighs about a kilo. The name of this book: Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and Classification, by Christopher Peterson and Martin E. P. Seligman.

I started reading this book, in earnest, about three weeks ago. (Prior to that, I’d used it as a reference book that I dipped in and out of, in my studies.) It gets my attention between 8.30 and 9am every weekday morning, and as I read, I underline and notate. It’s no cliff-hanger, but still, I enjoy the challenge and am drinking in the theory, the breadth of research, and the history and processes behind the science and development Character Strengths.

Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and Classification, is to Positive Psychology what the DSM (the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) is to psychiatry. “We hope to do for the domain of moral excellence (character strengths and virtues) what the DSM does well for disorders…”, Peterson and Seligman write, in their introductory chapter, page 8.

For some, the idea of reading such a tome is akin to torture; they’d rather scoop their eyeballs out with a rusty spoon than read something so droll, so fat, so ho-hum boring.

But not this little black duck. I’m an LOL – Love Of Learning – person. I thrive on acquiring knowledge, understanding why something is so (or is not), and then integrating what I’ve learnt. I’ve always been like this: the first non-Enid Blyton book I ever read was My Name Is Asher Lev, by Chaim Potok, curious as I was about Judaism, and my first non-fiction book around about the same time was Asserting Yourself (author unknown/forgettable).  I was innately interested in other cultures, religions, and human nature. Still am.

What a shame, then, that I didn’t feel confident enough to go to university until I was 35 years old. Up until that time, I didn’t think I was smart enough. (The legacy of my prep teacher, who told me – in no uncertain terms and with the flat slap of a ruler – I was dumb and stupid.)  But once at university I stayed for 10 years, finally calling it quits three years into a PhD. If I could, I’d still be there, learning more about linguistics, philosophy, sociology and literature, just for the heck of it and not for funny hats and paper-bits with red seals.

For the past three years, up until I graduated in April, I’ve been studying Positive Psychology. Now that has come to an end, I continue to study informally, further increasing my knowledge of Positive Psych… hence, my big, fat book. The acquisition of information, facts and data fills me up each morning as I sit in my favourite café, hunched over my orange juice and coffee, felt tip pen in hand, a studious look upon my face, open tome before me.

My big, fat geek book and I are in for the long haul. At the current rate of reading (five pages/day), it will be this side of Christmas before I get to the end.

By then, it will be an air conditioner and not a wood heater that contributes to the café’s ambiance, and Character Strengths and Virtues, A Handbook and Classification will be well notated, well-loved, full of coffee stains, exclamation marks, black ink and the occasional flick and smudge of orange.

All hail the Big Fat Geek Book!

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NOW IS THE WINTER OF OUR DISCONNECT

Written By: Fiona - May• 24•13

There’s a great cartoon floating around Facebook at the moment, with a man wearing a plastic Queen Anne collar (the kind a dog wears after surgery), designed to keep him from incessantly checking his phone.

The past twenty years has seen a mad-paced technological invasion into our already full-packed and full-paced lives. Our generation of children don’t know a life without mobile phones, without the internet. To them it is the norm. Look at their thumbs go!

It has been an incredibly exciting time to live in, with portals of communication opening that were only ever imagined as futuristic, and ‘not in my time’. Famous last words.

Although I do remember a world pre-computers, pre-mobile phones, pre-internet, it has become such the norm, I now don’t know how we ever managed without it! Like today:  I placed my on-line shopping order at Coles, saving me at least an hour and a half; my son was able to text me while he was out; I sent and received emails at the speed of light, I did some on-line banking and I took cash out of an ATM. Pretty incredible, really.

That’s the up side. On the down side, the list is also long, but the most shocking of all is that recent studies showed that this generation of children is 40% less empathic than two generations ago. Part of the reason for the empathy-disconnect is being attributed to the constant distraction by of mobile/smart phones, ipads, laptops, computers, televisions, video games etc.

So in amongst all of that, where do we put real, live, human interaction on our children’s (and our own) already full plates? (It’s not just the children who are disconnected from being connected, it’s us adults, too. )

That 40% figure worries me. One of these worries is the seemingly lost art of conversation – the art of actually listening – is being lost. Perhaps, when I cut my finger recently, if I’d taken a shot of the bloody mess and put it on facebook, would I have received a large amount of ‘likes’ and empathic written postings?  I say this, because bleeding all over the kitchen bench barely raised an eyebrow, because nobody was actually looking in any direction other than down at the time.

So what to do? How can our strengths bring that 40% figure down?  There are ways:

  • The strength of social intelligence comes into play here. If yours is on the lower end of your strengths scale, it’s time to intervene and begin using that muscle a little. Lift your face up, look at the world, look at the people, read their faces, watch their body language, ask questions and listen – truly listen – before you take your phone out and post a status of indifference.
  • The strength of self-control is also useful in this instance.  (Those with higher levels of self-control are better able to regulate and monitor their behaviour, delay gratification, and reap the benefits by living happier, more fulfilling lives.) Monitor and even limit your phone usage. Put it aside. Save it for later.
  •  The strength of kindness is another one to bring to the fore. Sure, we can be nice on facebook, liking and cheering our friends (real, close, artificial or otherwise), but what about being in the world and (shock horror!) saying to a stranger ‘Nice shoes!’, or ‘Can I give you a hand with that?’, or ‘What a beautiful baby you have’, or ‘Great coffee!’.

When we only look down at our phones, and not out and up, it takes us away from others – face-to-face, heart-to-heart. If instead we only post, like, check-in and have our phone as our best friend, we lose real, live, connections with friends and family and loves we value the most.

Or pretty soon we’ll all be wearing Queen Anne collars as we suffer acute phoneoutofsightis.

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Go ahead, make my (mother’s) day

Written By: Fiona - May• 16•13

Once a month I am a guest on ABC Radio’s Overnights program, where Trevor Chappell and I chew the fat and chat about random topics that we hope entertain and engage our listeners. Sometimes the topics are light and fluffy and fun (ie, ‘Do you have a hidden super power?’; ‘What useless gadgets do you own?’) and other times they are quite philosophical and thought-provoking, like this week’s topic: ‘Wisdom from our elders’.

The idea for this topic was an offshoot of Mother’s Day, when I wrote a letter to my mum as part of her Mother’s Day gift. In writing this letter, I realised Mum had taught me many things that have shaped and guided me, such as, to be kind, considerate and compassionate, to name a few.

The phone lines went red hot that night at the ABC, with wisdom bites flying fast and furious. Here are a few favourites:

  •  ‘Be kind to the lift man, ‘cause he’s the one who brings you back down.’ (In other words, be careful who you step on, on the way up.)
  • ‘What, are your arms drawn on?’ (Aimed specifically at teenagers, I think)
  • ‘Are you trying to heat the world?’ (Translated: shut the door!)
  • ‘If you don’t have something nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.’

One of the biggest wishes I have for my children is that they at least aspire to live by my dished-out wisdom, if not now, at least at some point in their lives. I’d hate to forever be relegated to an eye-roll!

Besides, it would be nice to be known as a little bit wise, and as someone to be called upon for advice or occasional counsel. It is, after all, a high compliment, plus it feeds my innate desire to be helpful and kind. (Thanks, Mum!)

My husband Steve has written a letter to each of his six children on their 18th birthday. I’ve never read these letters, but from what I gather they are full of love and fond memories, with slices of wisdom and sprinkles of advice.

This year I decided to do the same for my twin boys when they turned 18. I wrote each of them a letter with specific and detailed memories about them growing up, and letting them know how much I loved and respected them. I also took the opportunity to give them a list of Mum-isms. Here’s that list:

  1. Be kind. (There is not enough of it in the world.)
  2. Readily apologise (It’s a small word with a huge impact.)
  3. Wear sunscreen (Even if your friends don’t.)
  4. Support your friends (In their victories and their heartbreaks.)
  5. Forgive your foes (Festering grudges is bad for your health.)
  6. Love openly (Vulnerability is a strength, not a weakness.)
  7. Dance. (Let the music move you.)
  8. Live your dreams (Yet know your limitations.)
  9. Know you are loved. Always. (This is one thing you can be sure of.)
  10. Be grateful (Every single day.)
  11. Trust, as a first reflex. (It keeps your heart open.)
  12. Keep your promises. (It’s a long, hard road back to trust.)
  13. Never hurt your children (Not with word, nor with a hand.)

Does this list make me wise? I’m not sure, but when I read this list out on the radio yesterday, listeners called, texted and emailed, asking for a copy. I felt very humbled and pleased that what I’d written had impacted others.

Wouldn’t it be nice if one day, when my boys are grown men, they look back on their mother’s life and say, ‘Geez, Mum was pretty wise, wasn’t she?’

That would make this mother’s day, for sure.

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UNREAL BANANA PEEL!

Written By: Fiona - May• 09•13

I read an interesting, albeit brief, article on ‘authenticity’ today by Gretel Killeen, who is appearing in the up-coming Happiness Conference here in Melbourne. (http://www.happinessanditscauses.com.au)

…Which got me thinking: what exactly, is ‘authenticity’? Authenticity is about being genuine, being real, and having congruence between who you say you are and who you really are.

It’s no surprise then that authenticity comes under the character strength category of Integrity: ‘Integrity, authenticity, and honesty capture a character trait in which people are true to themselves, accurately representing – privately and publicly – their internal states, intentions and commitments.’ (Seligman and Peterson, 2004)

For some, this is easy – and such ease would be indicative on their strengths profile – but for others, not so easy.

So why is it so hard for most of us to be truly authentic? Killeen says it is because we are prescribed roles by others: work, family, society etc, and in order to become more real ‘requires contemplation and consideration’.

Being our authentic self could start with knowing your strengths. After all, the strength survey is really about how you see yourself – not how others see you. It is supposed to represent the real you, the authentic you, the you that thrives, that feels vitalised (and not drained) by different aspects of your character.

Just yesterday I had the privilege of seeing my step-son’s character strength profile. What it showed me was not only his self-perception, but aspects of his character that make him feel more energized, more vital. More authentic. (There’s that word again.)

I didn’t know that my stepson and I shared two top strengths of Humour and Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence. Suddenly, I ‘got him’. I saw him more who he really is, rather than my story of who I thought he was. (That’s a very big difference!)  It makes a lot of sense to me now, why he loves movies and music so much (appreciation of beauty and excellence) and comedy (humour). Me too.

Sometimes we are blind to our partner’s/children’s/parent’s/friend’s positive traits because we have too much story going on in our history-head for them to be anything other than how we perceive them to be. Who they really are may be hidden from our view: either we don’t see it or it’s not (as Gretel would concur) safe for them to show it.

So yes, I agree with Gretel, that’s it’s a tough gig to be authentic – 100% – but once we begin to contemplate and consider who we – and others –  really are, the layers can begin to be peeled away, making for a more authentic self.

Like Gretel says: “…Unless you have some need to hide your identity, like you’re under police protection or a spy, not being yourself is plain bloody ludicrous.”

Too right, vegemite!

Visit www.viacharacter.org to find out your authentic self!

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Home. Sweet, sweet home.

Written By: Fiona - Apr• 24•13

If I ever want a dose of perspective, I go to my friend Sam.

Here’s what she wrote in 2011 in an article on homelessness for an inner-city Melbourne newspaper: ‘Being homeless is draining, dreary, tedious and boring. It is also terrifying, isolating, depressing, dangerous and soul-destroying.’

Sam knows the topic well: from the ages of 13 through to 35, she was homeless ‘dozens of times’.

She wrote the article in defence of the homeless people she encountered daily on her commute into the city to work, and the often intolerant and sweeping generalisations made by others fortunate enough to never have experienced such a plight.

At the time of the article, Sam lived in a small bungalow at the back of a house in a non-descript soulless suburb. At Christmas time she’d house-sit for us – the house, the kids, the dogs – and dreamed of one day owning her own little place out amongst the gumtrees, where kangaroos graze, kookaburras sing and roads are long and steep.

Sam always assumed that owning her own home would forever remain a fantasy. She dreamt big though, and battled her demons on a sometimes-daily basis.

Well, the Happy Gods must have heard her laughing and so sent gentle rain upon her seeds of determination, because less than a year later her dream came true. They even gave her a great street name – ‘Sunnyside’ – and magicked an affordable apartment less than a kilometre from our kangaroo-ed home.

I have two wonderful photos of Sam: one, handing over her hard-earned and etched out deposit to the Real Estate Agent on the day she signed the contract, and the other of her and her little dog Lou, sitting fully clothed, in their new bath in their new home on settlement day.

Sam is an incredible woman. She’s survived hardships that I’m not sure I could; she picks herself up when she falls; she devours books; she has incredible wisdom and insight; and best of all, she loves my family, and especially our dogs. She also has the World’s Biggest Heart and wears gratitude like a well-worn glove. Plus, she’s the Perspective Queen.

When Sam wrote that article on homelessness, her life was far from ideal. But she still felt lucky; privileged even. She wrote:

‘As for me, life is better than I ever dreamed it could be. I love doing laundry, because clean clothes were often a luxury. And while, like everyone, I have days when I wish I didn’t have to go to work, every morning of waking up in my own bed, with clean sheets and my own pyjamas, is an absolute blessing’.

Sam continues to count here blessings on a day-to-day basis. She exudes gratitude and love. She lives life out loud. And yes, she still battles her demons. She is, as I said, an incredible woman. Here’s the final paragraph in the article:

‘And the next time a homeless person crosses your path as you’re heading home, even if you can’t find it in your heart to part with a $2 coin or a cigarette, at least acknowledge how blessed you are to be going home.’

I just got perspective-ised!

Thank you, Sam.

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