Tuesday, May 26, 2009

How our temperament affects our ability to perceive

Thanks to Daphne Gray-Grant's latest Power Writing newsletter, I came across The Atlantic's What Makes Us Happy? featured in the June issue.

Fascinating article about a longitudinal study begun in the mid-1940s of 268 "normal" male Harvard grads (primarily from the classes of 1942-1944--including four who would go on to run for the U.S. Senate; one who served in a presidential Cabinet, and one who became president (John F. Kennedy). There was a best-selling novelist, too. . . .

Clearly--and one could guess this simply by knowing they were Harvard grads!--these weren't "average" men. But the longitudinal study revealed--and is continuing to reveal--rather fascinating (and potentially depressing) facts about them.

One that hit me hard: "As early as 1948, 20 members of the group displayed severe psychiatric difficulties. By age 50, almost a third of the men had at one time or another met [the current study director, Dr. George Vaillant]’s criteria for mental illness."

But this is not the primary reason I'm telling you about the story. My primary objective is to share the following:
Vaillant says his hopeful temperament is best summed up by the story of a father who on Christmas Eve puts into one son’s stocking a fine gold watch, and into another son’s, 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 so 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!”
I've heard a version of this story before--though only about the son who got the horse manure.

I'd like to challenge you to think about how you view the things that come your way: Do you tend to see opportunity and possibilities? Or do you tend to see only the risks?

If the latter, may I suggest that you need to learn how to rebalance your perspective. The wise ones are correct: There really is opportunity all around. You "just" need to learn how to see it.

Oh, yes, you (and I) want to be fully aware of the risks. But after evaluating the risks and figuring out how to minimize their potential for damage, it really is good to pursue the opportunities.

That's my philosophy.
blog comments powered by Disqus