published Sunday, March 17th, 2013

Shavin: Don't hate me because I'm happy — or no

By Dana Shavin

Recently it occurred to me that I might actually be happier than I think.

If you are a diehard pessimist, this makes you want to gag. Let me qualify it by saying I also have a firm affection for well-placed pessimism. In fact, I kind of squealed with delight when I learned that retired Indiana basketball coach Bobby Knight's new book is called "The Power of Negative Thinking."

In general I don't claim Knight as my hero. In fact, before the "CBS This Morning" episode, I could have told you exactly one thing about him: He was a coach. Of what and for whom I had no idea. But his great title piqued my interest. Knight's point about negative thinking is not so much to think negatively as it is to think clearly about negative possibilities. Only by doing so, he argues, do you increase your chances of success.

"Things don't always work out for the best, in spite of what many people want to believe," he said on the show. It's also a fallacy to believe that we can do anything we want if we just try hard enough. "If you climb a tree and flap your arms like a bird, you won't fly."

Knight went on to say that while it's good to think positively, it's important to also pay attention to what isn't working. (And I suspect he would argue that blanket pessimism is as facile -- and as annoying -- as blanket optimism.)

Which brings me to my recent thought that I may actually be happier than I realize. It seems I simply woke up one morning and realized I truly enjoy -- dare I say "love"? -- most of what I do. From painting to life coaching to revising the book yet again to late afternoon walks with my husband to seeing friends, my days are interesting, artistically unpredictable and engaging on many levels.

Then, on a coaching friend's recommendation, I read "Positive Intelligence" by Shirzad Chamine. Positive intelligence is defined as the degree to which your own brain is working for or against you -- that is, the extent to which you're able to think creatively, problem solve effectively and work efficiently. There's a quick test to determine what your Positive Intelligence quotient (PQ) is. This is a number from one to 100, with a PQ of 75 considered ideal.

Positive Intelligence also offers the clearest explanation of our self-sabotaging thinking habits that I've ever read. Chamine postulates that there are 10 primary saboteurs -- harsh voices in our heads that interfere with our thinking and creativity. Everyone, he says, suffers from one he calls The Judge but, in addition, we each have one or more saboteurs that act as The Judge's accomplice.

It turns out I may actually be more miserable than I think. According to my Positive Intelligence test results, I have a PQ of 50. This means my brain is working for and against me in equal amounts. If I do the math here, it's obvious that I'm in deep trouble.

There was more bad news on the next page. My most problematic saboteur happens to be The Hyper-achieve, which, despite its hopeful name, doesn't mean I'm the sort who works really hard and goes to Harvard. It means I'm externally focused, intimacy avoidant and status conscious, and that I hate feelings, introspection, rest and being peaceful -- in short, that I have no time or patience for the soft, spiritual aspects of existence because these are unwelcome distractions from my furiously pressing on to the next goal.

Which is unfortunate. Because with my need to "meet goals or die" powered by a brain working both for and against me in exactly equal amounts, there can be no forward movement. If there's anything positive about this unfortunate realization, it's that I'm at least thinking clearly about it. Fifty percent of the time anyway.

Contact Dana Shavin at danalise@juno.com.

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