Since the 1980s, psychology has been the study of stress, relaxation, survival, recovery, and, most recently, the resilience response to life's challenges. Its focus has been on coping with stress more than thriving because of it. In the early 1990s, positive psychologists began focusing on the thriving response; not just getting through life, but nurturing yourself, becoming more consciously awake so that you fully engage with it.
Some people respond to trauma or setbacks in their life by remaining diminished in some way by what happened to them. Others show resilience and return to their prior levels of functioning, but it's possible for people to respond to the worst times in their lives by surpassing their prior levels of functioning, and this is the secret of invincibility I'm discussing in this program.
To thrive through crisis, it's helpful to recognize what researchers now see as the six reactions to life's challenges. To understand these, it's helpful for you right now to think about some of the challenges you're facing in your life at this moment. Maybe you'd like to track yourself through these six reactions to these challenges.
The first reaction is a stress response, and it's essential to our survival and actually good for us in moderation. What would life be like with no stress? How boring. Imagine every day of your life with no surprises, no setbacks, no pressures, no mysteries, no mess-ups; everything perfect every day. It may sound like a good life, and I sort of had it when I had cancer. Aside from my cancer, I was being taken care of, fed, no problems, no hassles, everything was predictable, and life was miserable. A good life can become quickly boring if we're not excited by the very negatives that we so often fear.
When we perceive a life event as going beyond our presently conceived level of a capacity to deal with it, we go into fight-or-flight mode. This response doesn't take any thinking at all. It's done for us. That's how we survived in evolution. We are good fighters and flighters, and it happens immediately.
But several years ago, Dr. Herbert Benson at Harvard University described the opposite of the stress response. He called that the relaxation response. This second response in the series is a more mindful reaction. Perhaps you're thinking about what happens to you. Perhaps it's a mental focus, a meditation, a prayer that calms you down and calms the urgently selfish and hot reacting brain that's always driving you on. So first you're stressed, and then maybe you think about it and calm down, and then comes the third phase.
The third reaction is survival. In this mode, the brain shuts down the body systems that we don't immediately need and activates systems we need just to stay alive. It takes a lot of energy to be a survivor, but you've gone now through stress, a little more relaxation and thoughtfulness, and now you're surviving. We sometimes joke by saying, "How are you doing today," and our answer might be, "Ah, surviving."
The fourth reaction is recovery. The body systems return to balance, and the damage done by stress begins to heal. Living in recovery is, in itself, a mild, but chronic, kind of stress response, because it still takes a lot of energy, and just being in recovery is not necessarily developing and growing, unless you put your consciousness to it.
Then comes a very difficult time, a transitional time. This is when you vacillate back and forth between just recovering and moving up toward resilience. Resilience has received a lot of attention in the research. It's bouncing back. Think of a piece of metal you're able to bend and bend and stretch, and then it goes back to where it was.
Many of us then, after going through all of the stress, a little bit of relaxation, surviving, recovering, then we feel we're back to normal. This is a very nice state, but that's not what this program is about. This program is about the sixth response. This is thriving.
Characteristics of thrivers—here's what we found—they emanate a sense of goodness. Have you ever been around them, and they just seem like good people. A palpable quality of being that others notice and agree upon. Does that make sense to you? There's something good about them, people all agree. Transparency between personal and public life. They walk the walk. You've seen therapists who are great with patients, and with their colleagues you want to slap their head. They're not transparent.
Selflessness shown by a total lack of concern about status, fame, or ego. They have no concern for it. That's what characterized the Dalai Lama when I met him. That's what characterized Mother Teresa. Some of the greatest names in our field, that's what characterized them.
Compelling personal presence that others find nourishing. They want to be around them. Does that make sense to you? "I just want to go stand by you." That's how they work. And they have amazing powers of attentiveness and concentration. Laugh and cry easily. These people are easy. They laugh and laugh hard. Anybody heard that laughter increases your endorphins? Do you know that's not true. It is not true in the research. But it does raise your T-cell count triple for 36 hours after a hard guffaw. That's more than 11 ha's in our research. It's got to be hard enough that water comes out of your eyes and other places.
Now we find that people who are abnormal are generally in pretty good shape. So we're going to see how abnormal you are right now. Would you all please stand up and change seats with the person next to you as quickly as possible. Hurry up. Now sit down. Remain standing if you're having an affair. Feel the warmth of the butt that was in that chair. You just had an okole transplant. You see.
Now this group's easy to do that with. But some people won't stand up, number one; some won't give up their seat. Some, when they do, they think, Well, now my stuff's over there. And look who I got next to. I don't want to be next to this person! I'm stuck with them. But now you're stuck with a new person next to you, whether you like it or not.
Thriving, because you are now more awake, alert, and alive, because you fully engaged with a challenge in your life. In this state, we become stronger, more alert, and the body systems fall into balance. We become more synchronized. This is a very, very human state, a very happy state, a very healthy state. But in a stressful world, we sometimes spend most of our time dancing back and forth in the chaos of the stress, of a little relaxation, and then trying to survive, and then trying to recover, trying to get back to normal. And we don't make enough time in our heart, in our mind, in our consciousness to truly thrive, to thrive beyond just the idea of "Oh, life is great and wonderful," and positive affirmations, but to legitimately, spiritually celebrate, to experience profoundly deep gratitude for the privilege of being alive. I call this a naïve gratitude. That means almost like a child looking at trees for the first time, looking at flowers forth... for the first time, looking into the face of someone you love and seeing their eyes clearly, as if for the first time. Sometimes in our aggressive lifestyle, our hyper-culture, our cynicism, we lose our gracious naiveté, and thrivers have discovered it.
There's a woman I met many years ago who's a perfect example of someone who has discovered the secret of invincibility. In Hawaii, we call her Tutu Mama. She was a 100-year-old Hawaiian lady who just passed away. When I finish this program today, I will be speaking at her funeral. I will never forget her, because she taught me much about the thriving character. This is a woman who knew terrible poverty; hid under the bed during Pearl Harbor here in Hawaii while the bombs destroyed everything around her. People she loved, killed. She saw it all and had every reason to be angry, resentful, and broken, but she was not. I never saw her without a smile.
And I thought I'd share with you something that I've almost memorized in my heart, because she sat with me a while ago. She was the lady who gave me my Hawaiian name, Ka'ikena. It means person charged with sharing the vision. I remember when she gave me the name, because I asked her, "Tutu, you suffered so. How can you be so happy, so giving, so loving? How can you laugh so easily? How can you be so strong when so many bad things have happened?"
She looked at me, smiled, took a hold of my ear and tugged on it playfully and laughed. "Poor Ka'ikena," she said. "You have so much to learn. Let me teach you a simple formula for what you call thriving in your own science research, for we have known for centuries what thriving is. I'll tell you how I do it. It's the words of Aloha, A-L-O-H-A. 'A' stands for the word Ahonui. That's persistent patience. Wait; be patient. That brings happiness. Don't be in such a hurry. The world is such a fast-paced place. I find my joy in just sitting, waiting, and listening."
Ahonui, patience expressed with perseverance. Are you a patient person? For example, I have been given permission today to let this lecture go on to 3 p.m., so be ready to stay. See, some of these guys are saying, "You can go on as long as you want, fool. I'm out of here. Plus, I've got to go to the golf course and kill myself. I've got to go out there. I've got to get out there." Patience. People just hurry when they don't have to hurry.
How was it this morning when you woke up in your room? Did you wake up and say, "Oh, a lovely day in paradise? Maybe we meditate together, sweetheart. Come here." Or was it, "Got to get down there! Come on, move, move, move, move, move! Go." Or are you one of these men who said, "Honey, where are my underpants?" Now I'm making fun of men, but we're finding that in our data, men are a problem; they're a problem. They don't get it! My wife Celeste knows how to handle me, though. She does it Hawaiian style, which is always by a question. Hawaiians, even their language ends with a question. You ever hear... "That's how we talk." So she will say to me, "Hey, is that your underwear on the floor?" Now that question means what? Pick that up. See, the women all said it: Pick it up. And I thought, if it's not mine, I have questions for my wife.
But there's that subtle question. "Oh, are you really going…" Men, ever have to live with that? "You're not wearing that, are you?" What do we say? "No, I wouldn't wear this. I was just taking it out for a little walk and then I'll..." The top-level executives in this company, the most highly productive sales people, will sit on that bed and will wait to be dressed. And they'll deny it. Patience. Very important to have patience.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from email. Patience! You're not that important. I am so tired of hearing these answering machines. "Hi, I'm not here, but your call is very important to me." Sure it's important to you. Then why the hell aren't you there if it's so important!
My answering machine says this. "Hello." (I then include a phrase in Hawaiian). And then they usually hang up. Or, the next question. "This is not an answering machine; this is a questioning machine. It asks, What do you want? Which is a very important existential question. So reflect carefully before responding." What I hear, usually hear, is, that's it, click, it's gone. That gets rid of a lot of unwanted calls.
I'm so sick of cell phones going off and buzzers going off and beepers in people's pockets, buzzing, buzzz... That's crazy. Very crazy. I was in the airport the other day and a guy next to me was saying, "When I get home I am going to make love to you." I thought he was talking to me. He was talking to his wife on the phone. What's the matter with this man?
So please, people, pick on these people. Don't be a hyper-croniac. Are you a re-button-izer? How many people here push elevator buttons that are already lit? That's stupid! I saw you guys the other night. You walk up to the elevator, they're both lit, 10 people are standing there, you go in front and go pghgh, There, I am the top producer. Ha ha! I will push this elevator... Man. Have you seen the elevator button that says, close door? I spoke to the Otis Elevator company. That is a placebo. That button doesn't work. It's there to quiet you down so you can... push it. Crazy. Now the cynics are going to go out in the elevator, let me just test what he said, cause I don't believe it, okay.
Are you a lane counter? How many people here count the number of items in a person's grocery cart in the express lane to be sure it belongs there? That's sick! Very sick. Are you a lane leaper? Do you see several lines and you tell people, "I'm in all of these. I'm in any one of these." Very sick. Or you go to work and you've been at that traffic light every day of your life, and you think it's broken so you keep going, come on. phghghg. Try to move it. Or do you get in buffet lines, and are you a pelvic pusher? Do you do this? "Come on, lady. Come on." Or escalator hopper, hopping down escalators, they're not fast enough for me. I've got to get down here faster than this. I see people on airplanes, the plane's coming in and they're already standing up bent over like this waiting to get off. What is that about? Why don't you set your okole down and count quarters or something. Now you're all going to be more patient, right?
So never forget the first "A" in Aloha, Ahonui, persistent patience. That will help you thrive.
She said, "You also ask how I stay so happy and smile so often. It's because of the second letter, 'L,' the second word: Lo Kahi. Lo Kahi means harmonious connection." It means staying connected not only with your family, but with your ancestors, the land, and a higher power, and being aware of that connection every day. "Then there's the 'O,' Ka'ikena, Olu'olu. That means pleasantly agreeable." We have to stop fighting. We have to stop the arguing, the cynical negativity. What's happened to us? Please remember; it's very important to choose peace over always trying to be right. "Then comes the 'H' in Aloha, A-L-O-H, Ha'aha'a. That means humbly modest. I think you modern people are too concerned with your self-esteem." What about other regards? What about realizing that it's important sometimes just to shut up and learn from others, not to always be assertive, not always try to get your way, not to be so demanding? Have a good sense of humor; laugh. Never forget laughter.
Now you know the "A," the "L," the "O", and the "H." "Now, Ka'ikena," she said to me, "Never forget Akahai; that means gentle, tender kindness. When you walk, when you talk, when you listen, when you look at a child, when you look at an older person, do you look with kindness? Do you feel kindness? Therein I find my strength. I find it in Aloha.