Sunday, March 20, 2016

Women 'Beyond Happy'

Review by Bill Doughty

Why do women hold themselves back? Nature or nurture? What does research say about gender differences? How can you stay positive?

These are some of the questions presented in "Beyond Happy: Women, Work and Well-Being" (ATD Press, 2015) by Dr. Beth Cabrera, a deceptively simple easy-to-read guide for women who want to achieve balance on and off the job, with how-to strategies and self-assessment tools.

Cabrera takes the reader on "journey toward a more joyful, meaningful life." Women and men can take the journey.

She examines how "feeling good" and "doing good" overlap to create well-being. Anyone can thrive if they know their work is making a difference, either for their family or for the world.

For women and men serving in the Department of Navy "doing good" and making a difference is easy to see: Sailors and civilians work together every day to defend the nation, Sailors forward deployed to protect freedom on the seas.

But service in the military can take its toll on families. 

We can see how Cabrera's insights apply: 
"The extreme hours and relentless travel [such as deployments] that are often requirements for success in many jobs make it impossible for women to perform their various roles. Men often can't help because they put their jobs at risk if they ask for flexibility. This leaves women feeling pressured to choose between work and family."
Views of traditional roles have changed in society, there is more access to affordable childcare, and the general culture respecting work-life balance has improved. Still it can be difficult for people to achieve happiness on their journey to joy and meaning.

Cabrera analyzes what comprises happiness, moving from coping and striving to hoping and thriving.

To achieve meaning in their lives, people have four needs, according to researchers: purpose or a "life aim" with goals and objectives; values (as in the Navy's Core Values of honor, courage and commitment); "a feeling of self-efficacy" or control over one's life and "can choose to make a difference"; and self-worth, that they are good and deserving of success.

Cabrera shows various ways some women hold themselves back, but then she examines how women and men can rewire, especially by moving from negative to positive thinking.
"This means that intentionally saving what is good, holding positive experiences in your awareness a bit longer, can train your brain to focus on the good so that gratitude becomes part of your everyday thinking pattern. As you push yourself to look for what is positive and ignore small negative annoyances, you will replace your brain's natural tendency to focus on the negative with a preference for noticing the good. Over time, this will create new pathways, rewiring your brain to scan the environment for positives rather than negatives."
And it's not just about being mindful, grateful, hopeful and positive. Building on strengths, including natural talents, helps achieve and perpetuate success at work and at home. Smart leaders build to the strengths of the individuals on their teams, providing opportunities for their workforce to gravitate to what they enjoy doing at work. Smart parents encourage their children to excel in what they enjoy studying. A job is not work when it's something we enjoy.

More workplace advice in this small but packed book: sharing and trusting builds more trust, strengthening relationships creates a supportive network, and accepting mentors and sponsors can smooth a path for the journey upward. Yes, it's deceptively simple, but Dr. Cabrera provides the research to make these revelations more than just common sense.

Reading about the power of encouraging the team to take credit for individual achievements, I was reminded of a mentor and friend, former Command Master Chief Bill Holz, who likes this quote that's credited to President and Commander in Chief Ronald Reagan: “There is no limit to the amount of good you can do if you don't care who gets the credit.”

As with many self-help books, there are personal and third-party examples here applying the advice. Some names in quotes or anecdotes include Oprah Winfrey, Lennon and McCartney, Viktor Frankl, Rachel Ray, Meryl Streep, Roy Disney, Tina Fey, Winston Churchill and Aristotle. Fey and Adelle share a common trait, "imposter syndrome," or a feeling of unworthiness, discussed in more detail on Cabrera's blog, Cabrera Insights.

Reading "Being Happy" I enjoyed discovering a "found haiku" in a quote from the Dalai Lama that introduces Part 2, Feeling Good:

happiness is not
something ready made; it comes
from your own actions

The whole "power of positive thinking" is made palatable for a new millennial generation, with specific, almost Zen-like, advice on how to stay positive:
"Clear benefits are associated with positive interactions, both for your personal relationships and for your success at work. So it is in your best interest to try to keep your interactions with others positive. Use supportive, affirmative language as often as you can. Give more compliments and limit your criticism. Don't nag. Look for what is good and mention that instead. Respond to people when they initiate a conversation. Ask to hear more and then listen with empathy. It takes a conscious effort to keep the balance of your interactions with others positive, but the effort can greatly enhance the quality of your relationships."
At just 149 pages, this well-written paperback is easy to read, and the advice is easy to apply at home and work. Although she doesn't do so here, we can see how her advice can help women and men in the military. The author, an organizational psychologist and senior scholar at George Mason University's Center for the Advancement of Well-Being, backs up her advice with more than 150 references to research, texts and journals.

This is a good and gentle guidebook for the journey toward a more joyful and meaningful life.

160313-N-HD670-076 VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. (March 13, 2016) Builder 2nd Class Gafayat Moradeyo, assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion (NMCB) 3, greets her son and daughter on the flight line at Naval Base Ventura County following her return from deployment. The Seabees are returning following a regularly scheduled six-month deployment to the U.S. Pacific Command area of operations. While deployed, NMCB 3 conducted maintenance and infrastructure improvements at U.S. military facilities, provided exercise support, and employed construction civic action details in support of theater security and cooperation efforts. (U.S. Navy photo by Utilitiesman 3rd Class Stephen Sisler/Released)

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