Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. Howard Thurman
We are each unique. Our fingerprints, our personalities, our talents and our dreams. It’s not surprising, then, that there is no one-size-fits-all roadmap for a happy and successful life. Each person’s path to fulfilment is also unique.
Even if the specifics of a flourishing life will vary for each person, there is a very simple piece of advice that crops up again and again in philosophy, psychology and popular wisdom. ‘Follow your Bliss’ is how Joseph Campbell worded it and you can see the same message phrased differently in the Howard Thurman quotation above. Through a positive psychology lens, we might say, ‘Get to know your strengths – then craft a life that gives you the opportunity to play to them as much as possible’.
Our strengths are those things we do that energise us, that we enjoy doing and have a natural capacity for. For example, we may have a strength around empathising with others, around solving problems creatively or being able to focus on a task until it’s completed. If it’s a strength, it won’t drain us and we’d happily spend a good chunk of our time using it. People who know their strengths and play to them regularly have been shown to be more engaged in work and life than people who don’t.
I want to share an exercise that I’ve found simple and profound in terms of deepening understanding of personal strengths and knowing specifically how to lead a more engaged life.
It’s very simple. At the end of each day write down your favourite moment(s) of that day in a journal, preferably adding a little information about why that was a favourite moment. Our favourite moments tend to be those times we are in our element and hence playing to our strengths more than usual. By recording favourite moments for a couple of months or more and then reviewing what you’ve written, you’ll notice patterns emerge and this offers insights into your strengths.
When I did this, I had a lot of data to draw upon, as I’ve recorded my favourite moments in a gratitude journal since 2011. I found the review process illuminating and fascinating and it’s helped me get a much more specific understanding of my strengths.
For example, I used to say that one of my core strengths was the ‘love of learning’, of developing new skills and acquiring new knowledge. However, when reviewing my journal, there were not so many moments directly linked to this. Far more of my top moments were simply about novel experiences – meeting new people, seeing new places, trying new foods, exploring new ideas or finding a new, fresh perspective on a familiar situation. I use the word ‘explorer’ to describe this which feels far more authentic and resonant to me as a core strength than ‘love of learning’.
After the exercise, I started experimenting with including more exploration in my day-to-day life – for example, going to different places or eating different foods for lunch. Or dipping into random books from our psychology bookshelf, exploring a concept and finding novel ways to apply it to whatever I’m currently working on. It worked! I felt more engaged, had more experiences of flow (deep, enjoyable absorption in activities) and a deeper sense of satisfaction that I was genuinely crafting a life that aligned with the best in me.
If you’d like to try it yourself, here are suggested steps to follow:
1. Write down your favourite moment(s) of each day in a diary.
2. After a month or more, group them into themes, noticing patterns that emerge.
3. Use this information to choose five or so words for your core strengths.
4. Make little or large changes to your work and life so you are playing to your strengths more often.
5. Enjoy more flow, engagement and success.
Bailey & French are a team passionate about creating the simple, positive platforms and practical tools that support people to get a better understanding of their strengths and know how to craft work and life around them. We know everyone is busy at work so make sure our interventions are easy to apply, high impact and often self-facilitating. If you are interested in finding out more about how we work with individuals, teams and whole organisations to be more engaged, successful and positive, we’d love to hear from you.
This article on Engagement is one of a sequence based on Martin Seligman’s PERMA model of wellbeing. Click here for our article on Positive Emotions.