Sunday, November 10, 2013

Science of Happiness Applied to Wildlife Watching...Patterns and Progress

Already 13 years ago David Niven published 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People in which he distilled happiness research into "easy-to-digest nuggets of advice". I especially like Advice #92 Know What Makes You Happy or Sad; a Professor Hamler is quoted: "All science is noticing patterns". Patterns come into play when something goes really right or wrong; hopefully you have been paying attention and you realize what happened wasn't random, there was a cause and effect. Niven's take: "People feel worse if they are unhappy but have no idea why."

Studying patterns in 12,000 diary entries from corporate employees led Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer to write a book titled The Progress Principle Using Small Wins to Ignite Joy, Engagement, and Creativity at Work. The authors discovered that small events (basically progress towards a goal or objective) can "trigger big reactions". They cited additional research that found participation in small, regular events (e.g. working out or church attendance) could yield cumulative increases in happiness. To the authors, this reflects on the "inner work life" of a person, their definition: "the confluence of perceptions, emotions, and motivations that individuals experience as they react to and make sense of the events of their workday". They further tease out that just "making progress" on a project or goal doesn't mean it will lead to a good inner work life. The work you do must be "meaningful". Work is meaningful if "you perceive your work as contributing value to something or someone who matters (even your team, yourself, or your family)". Bottom line: employing a checklist or a journal (so you can measure incremental progress) while doing meaningful work ignites joy, engagement and creativity. Amabile and Kramer employ video game playing as an example; you become addicted playing these games because the designers employ a) constant progress indicators and b) achievement markers.

And no, I haven't purposely and knowingly been applying this wisdom for a decade; I just discovered this. It's powerful. I know there have been times when I have discounted (sometimes using stronger terms) "listing" by birders. Now I discover that listing is good (at least on one level) for your joy, engagement and creativity. Below is some of my meaningful work...a video documenting my listing of two uncommon species of dragonflies (Lake Darner and Subarctic Darner) heretofore not seen before September 2013 (I believe my 7th try)! May your patterns and progress intersect with...what floats your wildlife boat :-)