When 92 year old Arnett Hartsfield looked back on his life, he recalled dark and disappointing times. Chief among them was dealing with the realities of segregated life in the 1940’s as a black man. Even with an engineering degree and later a law degree from UCLA his opportunities were severely limited. You can read about some of the dehumanizing experiences he had working as an LA Firefighter while going to law school in the LA Times November 14 new article at http://lat.ms/9ClCir
His reflections on this life experience, as he was awarded the Fire Department’s first Lifetime Achievement Award, are profound. “Back then, when I was working, I was bitterly complaining all the time. As long as I was busy complaining, all I saw was the dark side: I can’t promote (to a higher level job). ” Hartsfield’s insight about only seeing the negative has been shown by positive psychology researcher Barbara Frederickson to be in fact true. If we get on a negative track, our brain literally can’t get off it and that is all that we can see. Of course the opposite turns out to be also true.
Hartsfield says that now he appreciates what went right in his life. “In three years in the infantry , I never was even shot at, thanks to prejudice and segregation.” Taking a moment to appreciate what is right in life has been shown to be a powerful antidote for the many challenges and stresses that we all face. And by appreciating what is right in life, you can literally shift your brain over to that positive track and experience what Frederickson describes as the “upward spiral” of positivity. Appreciating what is right is the foundation of Appreciative Inquiry, an approach I use in my coaching and consulting practice.
It is never too late to start appreciating what is right with your life. Hartsfield says, “A puppy’s eyes open in seven days. It took me 50 years to finally figure out I’ve been blessed.”
p.s. I always am interested in what you think about these discussions. Please post your thoughts…your constructive criticism and support is appreciated! Sign up for my newsletter here.
Dr. Lynn K. Jones, Certified Personal and Executive Coach
Dr. Lynn K. Jones is a Certified Personal and Executive Coach. Her doctoral work completed at the Wurzweiler School of Social Work, Yeshiva University concerned organizational culture; she coaches, consults and trains organizations on what they need to do to create organizational cultures that are aligned with their vision and values.