Add Vantage Points — When I find myself getting stuck in my thinking, I know it’s time to add some new vantage points in my life. Sometimes this means picking up my laptop and moving to a different room and other times, it means literally traveling to a place outside of my normal environment. And I’m not alone — 89% of Americans believe changing their work environment gives them a positive boost.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Amy Blankson. Amy Blankson is the only person to receive a Point of Light from two US Presidents. After graduating from Harvard College and Yale School of Management, she co-founded GoodThink to bring the science of happiness to life for others. Amy has since focused her work on understanding how to cultivate happiness in a digital era. She is a member of the UN Global Happiness Council, a Fellow of the World Innovation Organization, and is working with the IEEE to create standards for well-being in artificial intelligence. Amy is a regular contributor for Forbes and author of the bestselling book The Future of Happiness.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My father was a neuroscientist at Baylor University who studied sensation and perception. I grew up spending school holidays and summer breaks in his lab, and more than once, I remember my dad hooking my brother and me up to electrodes to study our brain waves (I don’t remember signing a consent form, Dad!). Given this upbringing, perhaps it was no surprise that my brother and I both went into the field of positive psychology. In 2007, Shawn and I joined forces to create GoodThink, to bring the science of positive psychology to life for others using research-backed principles and strategies. Since starting our company, we have now traveled to over fifty countries, sharing this research with farmers in Zimbabwe, school children in Soweto, South Africa, bankers on Wall Street, and even leaders in the White House.
In the past three years, however, I noticed that the questions we heard at our talks began to change. Instead of uncertainty about the economic health of the world, we began to hear concern about our how technology is shaping our lives and those of future generations:
“Can happiness keep pace with innovation?”
“Would we be happier without tech?”
“How do we find happiness in spite of all this distraction?”
“How can we teach our kids appropriate tech boundaries?”
I decided to focus my research specifically on how to find balance in this era of digital distraction. I don’t think I’m overstating it to say that the answers to these questions will define our time. These are the questions that undergird the modern family dynamic, that shape workplace efficiency and engagement, and that set the baseline for our interactions and communications with friends both today and in the future.
What does it mean for you to live “on purpose”? Can you explain? How can one achieve that?
Living on purpose means living with intention. It means planning ahead to ensure that the things that matter to us are actually a part of our design for the day. For instance, I travel a lot to speak to audiences around the globe and of course, when I’m traveling there are many unknowns. However, one thing I do know is that if I’m going to be my best self, I need a solid night of sleep and I need to exercise regularly. So to the best of my ability, I book flights that give me some buffer time to get a regular night of sleep and I choose a hotel where I have ample space to do yoga or some basic cardio. A recent survey by Embassy Suites by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton found that 70% of travelers feel stressed when there isn’t enough space to keep up with their routine. However, when travelers do have space, they feel more creative (31%), happier (34%), calmer (40%), and more productive (49%).
Do you have an example or story in your own life of how your pain helped to guide you to finding your life’s purpose?
Yes, in 2005 my husband and I were stationed in Biloxi, Mississippi with the Air Force. We were newly married and so excited to embark on our lives together. We bought our first home, got a little puppy, and started making friends in the neighborhood. We had lived there for all of three months before Hurricane Katrina hit. In the span of just three days, we lost our puppy, our house, and our community. For years after that tragic event, I wondered why did this happen? It took me a long time crawl out of that dark place of hopelessness. Little did I know that just two years later, I would be co-founding a positive psychology organization called GoodThink that would help people navigate uncertainty and stress in their lives. Since then, I’ve had the opportunity to share emerging research with audiences across the globe to help them to realize that there is life beyond the immediate pain and suffering.
The United States is currently rated at #18 in the World Happiness Report. Can you share a few reasons why you think the ranking is so low?
I think there are several reasons why the ranking is so low (lack of social support, lack of access to basic resources, and over-prioritization of personal success), but one of the more fascinating (and fixable) reasons is that Americans think that taking personal time equates to taking a paycut because a vacation might reflect negatively on their productivity. It turns out that the opposite is true. The US Travel Association found that people who take all of their vacation time not only feel more productive when they get back but also have a 6.5% higher chance of getting a promotion or a raise. Participants in the recent Hilton #BRINGIT survey expressed that having time away actually makes them feel more energized (56%), friendlier (53%), funnier (23%) and smarter (22%). Having time away helps people to recharge and boosts their overall happiness.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My mother always said, “to whom much is given, much is expected.” I do feel like I’ve been blessed with an incredible community of family and friends who have supported me through many of my ideas to make the world better, from a Kids for Saving the Earth club in elementary school to my campaign in graduate school to rethink how philanthropic resources are allocated. My most recent passion has been helping organizations and individuals find greater balance in our current environment of digital distraction. While these sound like disparate efforts, the common thread is that I love helping to connect people with resources that will empower them to be their best selves.
What are your 6 strategies to help you face your day with exuberance, “Joie De Vivre” and a “ravenous thirst for life”? Can you please give a story or example for each?
Do you have any favorite books, podcasts, or resources that most inspired you to live with a thirst for life?
I love Liz Gilbert’s book Big Magic. With humor and poignant prose, Gilbert helped me to realize that I need to seize inspiration when it strikes and act upon it. Too often, we let good ideas slip away because we either feel like we are not the right person for the job or we don’t have the capacity to take it on. But when we see someone else who has acted upon that idea, we think “That was my idea!” or “I could have done that.” If I believe in an idea strongly enough, then I need to own it and do something about it.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote” that relates to having a Joie De Vivre? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Bloom where you are planted. You may not always get to pick your circumstances, but you can always do something with what you are given. This quote became my mantra during the years when my husband was in the military. So many choices were out of our control, but I learned that I could always choose my attitude in the midst of the circumstances.
Are you working on any exciting new projects now? How do you think that will help people?
Most recently, I’ve been working with Wakefield Research on behalf of Embassy Suites by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton to understand #ThePowerofSpace on mood and mindset. Often, we feel like space is a luxury rather than a necessity. Yet our behavior shows the opposite. 71% of parents admit to doing whatever it takes to get alone time, including running a faux errand (28%), feigning sickness (20%), making an imaginary call (16%), or lying about needing to work earlier or later (15%). Yet after getting alone time, 93% of respondents felt like they were more lively or energetic, nicer, funnier, or wittier/cleverer and 69% expressed feeling renewed (as opposed to guilty). My hope is that this research will give individuals better insight into their own behavior and encourage them to take the time and space they need to be their best selves.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I would love to see the world develop a practice of mindfulness, moving from a place of inattention to full intention. When we are more aware of our mental and physical needs, we will begin to prioritize creating space for the most important things in our lives.