The Secret of Windsurfing

A few years ago we were in Hawaii watching a group of young men windsurfing. It was wonderful to see how they attacked the huge waves, jumping or crashing through them for a thrilling ride.

They seemed to fly, hitting the waves, apparently without ever falling down. This amazed us. Most of the windsurfers we had ever seen spent the majority of the their time falling down, struggling to get back onto their boards, then fighting to stay upright.

It seemed impossible that these young men never fell, so we watched them more closely. What we saw at first seemed like magic, because their movements were so swift and smooth. They did, indeed, fall. In fact, because they weren’t afraid of falling they moved freely, ventured more risk, and fell a lot. Their falls, we saw, were a graceful part of the ride. As they hit the water they swung their big sails toward the sky, and their bodies and boards lifted as if by magic onto the next big wave without missing a beat.

So it seems, the secret in windsurfing is not how to stay up, but mastering the art of getting back up when you are down.

What a great metaphor for mental health! In windsurfing, as in good mental health, no one can stay up all the time. We all have times when we get fragmented or knocked into the water, so to speak.

But the secret in mental health, as in windsurfing, is in knowing how to get up again rapidly. Many people expend most of their energy trying to stay up and that is impossible. Relationships are the same way. Working on them constantly is exhausting; learning how to get back up is much more exciting. With a little practice you can learn to “surf” your own well-being and that of your relationship.

From Jack Rosenberg and Beverly Kitaen-Morse authors of The Intimate Couple

Let It Be

A friend sent this to me, it’s Paul McCartney talking about an meaningful, pivotal experience, from a book called “The Right Words at the Right Time.”

I was going through a really difficult time around the autumn of 1968. It was late in the Beatles’ career and we had begun making a new album, a follow-up to the white album. As a group we were starting to have problems. I think I was sensing that the Beatles were breaking up, so I was staying up too late at night, drinking, doing drugs, clubbing, the way a lot of people were at the time. I was really living hard and playing hard.

The other guys were all living out in the country with their partners, but I was still a bachelor in London with my own house in St. John’s Wood. And that was kind of at the back of my mind also, that maybe it was about time I found someone, because it was before I got together with Linda.

So, I was exhausted! Some nights I’d go to bed and my head would just flop on the pillow; and when I’d wake up I’d have difficulty pulling it off, thinking, “Good job I woke up just then or I might have suffocated.”

Then one night, somewhere between deep sleep and insomnia, I had the most comforting dream about my mother, who had died when I was only fourteen. She had been a nurse, my mum, and very hardworking, because she wanted the best for us. We weren’t a well off family, we didn’t have a car, we just about had a television, so both of my parents went out to work, and mum contributed a good half to the family income. At night when she came home, she would cook, so we didn’t have a lot of time with each other. But she was just a very comforting presence in my life. And when she died, one of the difficulties I had, as the years went by, was that I couldn’t recall her face so easily. That’s how it is for everyone, I think. As each day goes by, you just can’t bring their faces into your mind; you have to use photographs and reminders like that.

So in this dream twelve years later, my mother appeared, and there was her face, completely clear, particularly her eyes; and she said to me very gently, very reassuringly, “Let it be.”

It was lovely. I woke up with a great feeling. It was really like she had visited me at this very difficult point in my life and gave me this message: be gentle, don’t fight things, just try and go with the flow and it will all work out.

So, being a musician, I went right over to the piano and started writing a song: “When I find myself in times of trouble, Mother Mary comes to me”….Mary was my mother’s name…”Speaking words of wisdom, let it be. There will be an answer, let it be.” It didn’t take long. I wrote the main body of it in one go, then the subsequent verses developed from there: “When all the broken-hearted people living in the world agree, there will be an answer, let it be.”

I thought it was special, so I played it to the guys and ’round a lot of people, and later it also became the title of the album, because it had so much value to me, and because it just seemed definitive, those three little syllables. Plus, when something happens like that, as if by magic, I think it has a resonance that other people notice too.

Not very long after the dream, I got together with Linda, which was the saving of me. And it was if my mum had sent her, you could almost say. The song is also one of the first things Linda and I ever did together musically. We went over to Abbey Road studios one day, where the recording sessions were in place. I lived nearby and often used to just drop in when I knew an engineer would be there and do little bits on my own. And I just thought, “Oh, it would be good to try harmony on this.” But I had a high harmony in mind, too high for me, and although Linda wasn’t a professional singer, I’d heard her sing around the house and knew she could hold a note and sing that high. So she tried it, and it worked and it stayed on the record. You can hear it to this day.

These days, the song has become almost like a hymn. We sang it at Linda’s memorial service. And after September 11th, the radio played it a lot, which made it the obvious choice for me to sing when I did the benefit concert in New York City. Even before September 11th, people used to lean out of cars and trucks and say, “Yo, Paul, let it be.”

So those words are really very special to me, because not only did my mum come to me in a dream and reassure me with them at a very difficult time in my life-and sure enough, things did get better after that-but also, in putting them into a song and recording it with the Beatles, it became a reassuring, healing statement for other people too.

You Have Within You the Fuel to Thrive and Flourish

Dr. Barbara Fredrickson studies the science of happiness. Negative emotions, she says, are necessary for us to flourish, and positive emotions are by nature subtle and fleeting; the secret is not to deny their transience but to find ways to increase their quantity. Rather than trying to eliminate negativity, she recommends we balance negative feelings with positive ones. Apparently, if we fall below a certain ratio of positive to negative feelings, we risk getting pulled into downward spirals, behavior becomes rigid and predictable, and we begin to feel burdened and lifeless.

This is how she defined positive emotions: If we look at a whole range of positive emotions—from amusement, to awe, to interest, to gratitude, to inspiration—what they all have in common is that they are reactions to current circumstances. They aren’t a permanent state; they’re feelings that come and go. That’s true of all emotions, but positive emotions tend to be more fleeting.

They are also “desirable” states. They not only feel good, but we want to feel them. Some people might say it feels good to be angry, that anger can sometimes be useful or productive, but people don’t want to feel angry. Positive emotions have a kind of alluring glitter dust on them. You want to rearrange your day to get more of those sparkling moments.

Benefits of positive emotions: When people increase their daily diets of positive emotions, they find more meaning and purpose in life. They also find that they receive more social support—or perhaps they just notice it more, because they’re more attuned to the give-and-take between people. They report fewer aches and pains, headaches, and other physical symptoms. They show mindful awareness of the present moment and increased positive relations with others. They feel more effective at what they do. They’re better able to savor the good things in life and can see more possible solutions to problems. And they sleep better.

In general the research shows that only 20 percent of Americans are flourishing. The rest are either languishing or just getting by. Maybe they remember a time in their lives when things were coming together easily; there wasn’t a lot of self-concern, self-scrutiny, or self-loathing because they were focused outward and contributing to the world. But now they’re just doing the minimum necessary to get by. This “just getting by” mode is not depression or mental illness. It’s merely people living lives of quiet despair. According to this research, upwards of 60 percent of the adult population feel like they’re going through the motions.

Dr Fredrickson goes on to describe a ratio that was discovered where 3 positive events to 1 negative event is the tipping point to balancing out negative emotions and that ideally the healthiest thing would be to aim above that—four to one, five to one positive to negative emotions.

So what are some ways to increase positivity? One way is to be aware of the present moment, because, again, most moments are positive. We miss opportunities to experience the positive now by thinking too much about the past or worrying about the future. It’s about being open to what is.

Another way is to pay attention to human kindness—not only what others have done for you, which helps us unlock feelings of gratitude, but also what you can do for other people, how you can make somebody’s day. We found that even just paying attention to when you are kind—not necessarily increasing how often you’re kind, but just paying attention to the times when you are—can make you more positive.

Another simple technique is going outside in good weather. People who spend even thirty minutes outside when the weather is good show an improvement in their mood. You can also work to rearrange your life around your strengths. Ask yourself: Am I really doing what I do best? Being employed at a job that uses your skills is a great source of enduring positive emotions.

Paraphrased and quoted from an article written by Angela Winter in The Sun magazine (May 09) which features Dr. Fredrickson’s research on positive emotions. Dr. Fredrickson is the Kenan Distinguished Professor of Psychology and Principal Investigator of the Positive Emotions Lab at the University of North Carolina. Her theory of how positive emotions have functioned in human evolution was recognized with the 2000 American Psychological Association’s Templeton Prize in Positive Psychology.
Read more about her work here.