How Vulnerability Holds the Key to Your Happiness

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I have to share with you something I am currently reading. Well I say 'reading' but actually it's listening - to an audio book of lectures by Brene Brown, 'The Power of Vulnerability: Teachings of Authenticity, Connection and Courage'. This amazing lady is a Texan social researcher specialising in Shame and Vulnerability.

Rather gloomy subjects, you might think, but bear with me. What I want to share with you is a recent snippet about why some people are more resistant to tragedy and difficulty than others. What makes one person resilient under terrible times while others fall apart when they break a nail?

 how to be happy, life coaching, international coaching directory

She asks her audience to consider a scenario. Elaborate it how you will, but it is basically a happy family group of devoted parents and young children, driving down the motorway on their way to spend Christmas with a loving family, singing silly songs, playing games and generally being really happy and content together. A wonderful scene of harmony and bliss. She invites the audience to think, what happens next?

What would YOU put next in the story?

Well, a very significant number of the audience thought there would be a car crash and this idyllic scenario would be plunged into grief, terror and loss. 

Recognising this, she tells us that her research shows that you cannot 'practice' for tragedy. You cannot 'get ready' for it by armouring yourself against the terrible feelings it will engender. In a memorable phrase, she says something along the lines of 'in the absence of vulnerability, joy becomes foreboding'.

'Joy becomes foreboding'. Sounds terrible, doesn't it?

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She goes on to relate this to her studies of 'happy' people and found that without exception, all of them had the habit, even the explicit practice, of gratitude, for small things, for all things.

In the scenario above, they would be rejoicing in the perfection of that moment and not thinking that they would have to 'pay for it'. Furthermore, such people who are open to love and joy do in fact weather terrible times with more resilience. 

So I suppose the thought for the day is that the habit of gratitude really is good for you. Martin Seligman says so in 'Flourish', and now we have Brene Brown backing this up.

You can start to get into this habit by writing down each day three things you are grateful for, and then later looking back over it. Her research suggests that this will make a big difference in your life. 

Recently I have also signed up for a series of webinars about new developments in neuroscience, because it has a bearing on the coaching I do and anyway it is endlessly fascinating to me. What could be more miraculous than the human brain, in its unimaginable complexity, efficiency and beauty? And we all have one, free, all of our very own!

These webinars are organised by the National Institute for the Clinical Application of Behavioral Medicine, based near New York (as you can probably tell from the spelling), and it describes itself as 'a pioneer and leader in the field of mind-body-spirit medicine', providing the latest discoveries in the field and how they can be practically applied.

It's one of these recent webinars that I want to share with you. This was run by Dr Rick Hanson, based on his book 'Hardwiring Happiness: The Practical Science of Reshaping Your Brain - and Your Life'. In it he describes how the brain has a ‘negativity bias’, suggesting that this may be explained in evolutionary terms in that the brain is always looking out for threats to our survival, anything that may be dangerous to us.

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This was fine in the Stone Age when life really was physically dangerous for most people - you either got away and then relaxed in blessed relief, or you were something's dinner. Now, the threats are not physical for many people, but more psychological, yet we still have this negativity bias, which tends to make negative experiences stick and positive ones slide off. 

He tells us that it is possible to 'rewire' our brains so that we keep more of the benefits of positive experience, and downplay the negativity bias.

The acronym he uses is HEAL:  

  • H for Having a positive experience (this could be something as simple as mindfully eating a raisin, enjoying the company of friends, marvelling at a beautiful sunset).
  • E for Enrich that experience, by dwelling on it, becoming more conscious of all the ways it engages all your senses
  • A for Absorb it into yourself, think of it ‘sinking into’ your whole being. The last step ... 
  • L for Link, is, as he says, optional but powerful. It is to do with linking these positives to ‘soothe, reduce and potentially replace negative ones’.

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments!


Barbara Bates (4 reviews ) Business Coach, Career Coach, Love & Relationships Coach, Life Coach

I work with Professionals to increase their effectiveness, well-being & resilience, particularly in health care & education. I know what it's like to work, juggle family responsibilities & still flour... Read more