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BossWoman eNews – February 2005
Combining prosperous work lives and balanced personal lives

Welcome to the February 2005 edition of Susan Robison's free e-mail newsletter for women business owners, executives, and professionals.

Our goal is to bring you news, insights, and information about leading a balanced and prosperous life while making a difference. If you are on this list you have been a client, an advocate, or attended a workshop. Pass this newsletter on to others who might be interested. This e-mail list is not sold or exchanged. Details on subscribing (and unsubscribing) are at the end.

In this issue, you'll find:

  1. Love Makes the World Go ‘Round
  2. BossWoman coaching
  3. Up and coming workshops
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1. Love Makes the World Go ‘Round
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Since I spend some of each work week helping couples have extraordinary relationships, I love Valentine’s Day. It is a great time for couples to celebrate their relationships. I am also aware of what a rough time of year it can be for those who don’t have somebody special in their life to celebrate this holiday designated for lovers. All the ads for hearts and roses and romantic dinners can be a reminder of a life with something missing. However, I propose that Valentine’s Day could be a day for all of to celebrate love even those who are not romantically paired. This proposal is nothing new but an acknowledgment of the original Valentine story.

The Feast of St. Valentine commemorates the life of an early Church hero who, imprisoned for his faith during a persecution, is said to have sent love notes to his fellow believers. His letters were not declarations of romantic love nor even directives to his readers to love others romantically but reminders to love one another in “agape,” the love of kindness and compassion experienced when we reach out to help other human beings. While Valentine’s Day is now synonymous with a day to celebrate “erotic” or romantic love with cards and little candies, it can also be a reminder to extend the love of agape to ourselves and others. In that sense we are all “lovers” with a reason to celebrate the message of St. Valentine.

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Agape for Yourself
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No, it is not selfish to love yourself. Compassion means “to suffer with.” Recognizing your own hardships and meeting your needs enlarges your capacity to have compassion for others. Eating well, getting adequate rest (8-8 ½ hours for adults), and exercising are healthy ways to love yourself. It is hard to care for the rest of the world when we are tired and burnt out. Paradoxically, self-focused individuals seldom take care of themselves; it is their non-meeting of needs that makes them so needy.

Making sure that you are healthy and happy ensures that you have the energy to care for others. Research on the psychobiology of happiness by Dr. Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin is showing that happy individuals have increased activity in particular areas of their brains, specifically, pre-frontal lobes especially the left prefrontal. Those areas are also responsible for planning and looking forward to events in the future. In other words, they could be called the brain’s hope centers. Positive anticipation of events increases the likelihood that the events will be experienced as positive. In addition, happy individuals make more dopamine, a neurotransmitter related to energy. Happy chemicals in your brain give you the energy to help others.

Happiness as defined by the researchers I am referring to in this article does not just mean momentary pleasure like eating a great dinner although pleasure is one path to happiness. Two other paths to happiness are also important, finding interesting involving work and living a life of meaning and purpose. One way of increasing your sense of meaning and therefore of increasing your positive emotions is to add to the available supply of love in the world through your kindness and compassion.

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Agape For Others
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I did my undergraduate work at Loyola University, a Jesuit college where we were required to take eight theology and six philosophy courses in addition to our major and elective courses. That is fourteen or almost half of my thirty-two undergrad course dedicated to assignments of regularly pondering the meaning of life. A favorite discussion at the student union was whether there could be a pure act of kindness or altruism that didn’t also benefit the doer. The students didn’t come to any solid conclusions but returned to the smoke- filled union the next day to pick up the debate where they left off. They could have done their lungs a favor if only they had access to the current happiness research. Now, finally scientific data which settles the philosophical question: It is impossible to be altruistic without receiving benefits as long as the benefits are by-products not goals of the altruism.

The recipients of your kindness do not even need to be people that you know. Sonja Lyubomirsky, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford, tested whether asking people to "commit" five random acts of kindness would reliably increase their level of positive emotion. The good news is that it does. And it is most effective if all five acts are carried out on the same day. Other benefits from altruism include lowering of the stress response, increase of happiness neurotransmitters such as endorphins, relaxation, and lowering your risk of death compared to non-altruistic age mates. However, if you volunteer in the soup kitchen because you have nothing to do, you are not as likely to receive benefits as those who volunteer for the sake of others. You might fool the soup kitchen people but you won’t fool your own psychobiology; your brain knows the difference.

Women may find it easier to be kind when under stress than men. Dr. Shelley Taylor at UCLA found that while men respond to stress with a “flight or fight” pattern, women have more of a tendency to “tend and befriend” others. A response mediated by the secretion of a brain chemical called oxtocin (not to be confused with the addictive pain killer, popular among Hollywood stars). “Tend and befriend” prompts women to care for children and want to hang out with friends when stressed. Reaching out for others in an hour of need seems to fill a need that benefits both the individual as well as the community.

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Agape for Lovers
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Romantic love ebbs and flows across the history of romantic relationships. Longly weds (the opposite of newly weds) report falling in and out of love in cycles across their lives together often without any obvious cause and effect. One constant over which you do have control is how kind and responsive you are to your partner over time. Whether your partner is appreciative of your efforts or not, you build your own psychological capital or good return on your investment from your own actions. In other words, you build self-esteem about your handling of your half of the marriage.

Appreciation is good for you. Subjects in happiness studies that kept “gratitude logs” increased their positive emotions. Couples who express appreciation regularly reap benefits of better mood management and lower stress. Acts of appreciation about our relationship serve to remind us that we have pretty good relationships. Even if that conclusion is an illusion, research by Dr. Sandra Murray from the University of Buffalo shows that people who engage in positive illusions about their partner’s assets enjoy their relationships more than those who are more reality-based in their perceptions of their partners.

Marriage studies by Dr. John Gottman and his associates at the University of Washington have found that couples who are kind and caring towards their partners are more likely to report feeling happy and in love than those who are contemptuous or withdrawn.

While it seems like common sense that good partners should be supportive of each other in difficult times, Dr. Shelly Gable at UCLA has found that how you respond to another’s good news is also important. She and her colleagues observed four classes of responses partners can use when good news has been announced. They are:

  • Passive destructive – Person B responds to Person A’s good news by changing the subject. “Did you see my keys?”
  • Passive constructive - Person B responds to Person A’s good news with an uninvolved positive response. “Oh, that’s nice.”
  • Active destructive - Person B responds to Person A’s good news by putting down the news. “That sounds like a lot of work. Are you sure you want the promotion?”
  • Active constructive - Person B responds to Person A’s good news with involved positive response. “That’s great! You must be so pleased. How shall we celebrate?”
Couples whose partners responded with active constructive responses report feeling closer and more intimate than the other three responses.
  • When someone important to you reports good news, pay attention with your best dose of “agape.”
  • If you can’t give your full attention, say so. Don’t try to fake interest when you are distracted. You will say dumb things like, “Yeh, yeh, that’s nice.”
  • What you do during a period of falling out of love with your partner may determine how fast the relationship recaptures those loving feelings. Increase your efforts at agape or kindness for your partner and you may find that the endorphins released may cause you to fall back in love.
Love requires action other than sitting around wondering if this is the right person for you. Love (as the popular poster says) is a verb.

Happy Valentine’ Day!

Susan Robison

References:
To find out more about happiness research see:

  • Martin Seligman Authentic Happiness.
  • Time magazine, January 17, 2005
  • Psychology Today, November 2004
  • The website with assessment tools and research on happiness, www.authentichappiness.com. Last year I was part of an international group of coaches trained by Dr. Martin Seligman on the instruments on that site and how to coach to increase happiness. Take the Virtues in Action questionnaire and request a coaching session with me on its interpretation and I will give you a month of complementary coaching on how you can increase your own happiness. Deadline: contact me by the end of February.
  • Read “Love Notes,” the ezine published quarterly by the Center for Extraordinary Marriages. Just send me an email requesting the latest issue (Susan@BossWoman.org). Topic: “Living with an ADHA Spouse.”
  • For my readers who don’t have a sweetheart this Valentine, but would like to find one, don’t despair. One of my colleague friends, Kathryn Lord, coaches people who want to find a sweetheart. Visit her informative and helpful website at www.Find-A-Sweetheart.com
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2. BossWoman coaching
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About the publisher: Susan Robison, Ph.D. is a professional coach, speaker, author and seminar leader. She loves to coach women who want improvement in:
  • work-life balance,
  • career transitions,
  • building your business or practice,
  • time management,
  • increasing productivity.
If you are feeling stuck on the way to your ideal life, give Susan a call for a complementary half-hour coaching session.

She provides keynotes and seminars to business and organizations on the topics of:

  • leadership strategies for women,
  • relationships,
  • work-life balance,
  • change.
She offers her audiences a follow-up coaching session because she knows that workshops don’t work.

Contact Susan for your coaching, speaking, or seminar needs at Susan@BossWoman.org or at 410-465-5892.

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3. Up and coming workshops
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Topic: Happiness Is An Inside Job: Creating Lives of Joy, Hope and Grace.
Date: February 25, 2005 6:00 dinner, 7:15 Presentation
Place: St. Joseph Parish, Sykesville, MD
Contact: Andrea Springer, 410-552-5402 or 410-795-7838.

Topic: Permanent Whitewater: Dealing with Change and Transitions
Date: March 29, 2005, Part of an all day conference for women in federal government

Topic: Working Successfully with Couple Clients: Staying Sane in Insane Places. Date: May 12, 2005; Part of an all day conference for financial planners.

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BossWoman e-Newsletter is intended for informational and educational purposes only. Coaching should not be construed as a form of, or substitute for, counseling, psychotherapy, legal, or financial services.

© Copyright 2005 Susan Robison. All rights reserved. The above material is copyrighted but you may retransmit or distribute it to whomever you wish as long as not a single word is changed, added or deleted, including the contact information. However, you may not copy it to a web site without the publisher’s permission.

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