july spotlight on: the great eight (plus seven more)

Each month I devour my SELF magazine when it arrives in the mail (yes, I still get magazines in the mail, sowhatifIdo!. I am a slave to old-school journalism). July’s issue is light as no one in magazines likes to work during the summer. But there was one sweet article near the back, titled “ENERGY! GRIT! LOVE!” and subtitled this: “Achieving your dream life doesn’t just take smarts or ambition. It also requires these eight traits. Think of them as your happiness list, and use it to get more out of life.”

a little light reading on my fire escape. closest thing I’ve got to outdoor space.

It was one of the best things the magazine has ever published. Seriously. While leading researchers in positive psychology originally came up with a list of 24 character traits that are crucial to success and happiness, the abridged list below is what was published in SELF. “The Great Eight.” Read about how each of these traits contributes to a life rich in meaning and fulfillment here.

GRIT.
SELF-CONTROL.
CURIOSITY.
OPTIMISM.
LOVE.
SOCIAL INTELLIGENCE.
GRATEFULNESS.
ZEST.

Yes. I couldn’t agree more with this list.

I wrote these on a stickie note and posted it to my fridge as a daily reminder. And after a day of REFLECTION (see below) on these traits, I realized some vital ones were missing from the short list. The seven traits below, with explanations, are my own contribution to what I consider a life worth living…

the great eight traits….plus my seven, made it to the fridge.

EMPATHY. Your ability to feel what someone else is feeling, especially in a moment that transcends your understanding, makes you invaluable to your work, your relationships, and society as a whole. Learn to tune in, and listen, listen, listen.

PERSPECTIVE. A lot like EMPATHY, but one step further into action: you take what someone else has said/done, you apply it to your own unique situation, and you gain a wider scope of understanding. No two people on this planet see things the exact same way. Taking on a new perspective keeps your mind fresh, and will feed directly back into your ability to EMPATHIZE, too.

SELF-RESPECT. When I was studying abroad in college, six of us crammed ourselves into an uncomfortable, unheated, filthy two-bed yurt (in February!) to save a few euros on a weekend trip to Venice. The only thing that kept me going all weekend long: knowing never again in my life would I ever, EVER choose a situation like this; it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Never again. Know what you’re willing to do, and what you’re NOT willing to do. When you love and respect yourself, others will love and respect you too.

FAITH. Whether you put your faith in God, Allah, Buddha, Mother Earth, the Universe, yoga, vegetables, or a doorknob, believing and trusting in something (pretty much anything) beyond yourself contributes to your faith and will lengthen your life and happiness. This is almost certain. An added bonus: people with faith naturally have a greater sense of those other great traits mentioned (See: OPTIMISM, LOVE, CURIOSITY, ZEST).

PATIENCE. Have you heard the expression “Anything worth having in life is worth working for?” It’s also worth waiting for. Sometimes the instantaneous answer is not always the right one.

EFFORT & SURRENDER. That’s right, I count this as one trait, because you need both, and there’s not really a single word to encompass the full value of this skill. I’ve talked about effort and surrender before. It means doing the very best of your ability at this moment, and putting it all out there…and then completely detaching from what happens once it’s beyond your scope of control. This is harder than it sounds. You can liken it to surfing: you paddle, paddle, paddle towards your wave, prepare your board and turn to face the beach, paddle some more, and then…that’s it. The rest is not up to you, and nothing you can do beyond this will help you catch (or not catch) a wave. Work hard, then let go.

REFLECTION. Reactive people are always in a state of action and movement. Contemplative people pause and pursue truth through an inventory of what is real, what is reaction, and what is the difference. If you can develop an ability to REFLECT, you can learn from your missteps (and others’). This means getting quiet and alone, which are also precursors to another great trait (can you say MEDITATIVE?).

What about you? Are there any traits you believe are crucial to longterm happiness and fulfillment? Please share! 

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