Happiness & Success in Sports

Howdy, joyful athletes!

I’m feeling frisky. Just published the last of three books completed over the last four years. Check the links in the sidebar for details. You can read the chapters of the new book, Happiness & Success at School online and download a PDF or order the trade paperback book.

As you know if you’ve hung out here, I love ideas that get around. Reproducible studies on the many ways happiness and success are linked together.

It’s a link that goes back at least as far as the feller who stood out under a Middle Eastern night sky, a long time ago, and pondered, “Hm — when I’m happy I grow better crops, my wife and I get along better, I can work harder, and I need less sleep.”

Going further back, we find vestiges of this thought in the so-called “Hindu” religion. Skepti-quotes added because that was the name the English gave to the indigenous religion after they infested the Indian subcontinent.

The native name was Sanaatan Dharma. In Sanscrit, it means “The Eternal Religion.”

In simple terms, Sanaatan Dharma is a catalog of truths that have proved rock-steady and unchanging in all times and cultures, and that lead to happiness and success in every aspect of our lives. Reproducible, scientific tools of the trade for being human and happy and free from suffering.

In the most recent book, Happiness & Success at School, I was able to scour abundant evidence that cultivating expansive feelings helps students perform at the top of their individual capacity in the classroom.

Here’s a taste of the book. I think it has resonance for our experience as athletes, because expansive attitudes boost athletic performance, too.

Happiness & Success at Google

When Sergey Brin and Larry Page founded Google in 1998, they set a policy of hiring only the most brilliant applicants in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and math).

Fifteen years later, Google decided it might be a good idea to evaluate the results of this policy.

A Washington Post article, “The surprising thing Google learned about its employees—and what it means for today’s students” (December 27, 2017), summarized what Google learned from Project Oxygen, the detailed examination of its hiring practices.

Project Oxygen completely overturned the company’s assumptions about the qualities that best predict success in a high-tech business environment. Most notably, among the eight standout qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise was dead last.

The top qualities that augured success at Google were “soft” skills. The researchers found that the most successful Google employees:

  1. Are good coaches
  2. Empower the team and do not micromanage
  3. Express interest in and concern for the other team members’ success and personal well-being
  4. Are productive and results-oriented
  5. Are good communicators—they listen and share information
  6. Help others with their career development
  7. Have a clear vision and strategy for the team
  8. Have key technical skills that help them advise the team

Before continuing, let me briefly interject that expansive feelings have been shown not only to boost efficiency in high-tech business environment, they also boost our ability to think clearly, to handle stress, and to concentrate. And in my own insignificant career as the most ordinary of athletes, I’ve had the experience many times of exercising when my mood was exceptionally upbeat, and noticing that it had a powerful effect on my performance — I was able to run easier, faster, and longer.

Back to Google…

A follow-up study by Google, of the qualities of its most productive research teams (Project Aristotle, 2016), confirmed these results. In the Post article, Cathy N. Davidson, a professor in the graduate school at CUNY, described the findings:

“Project Aristotle shows that the best teams at Google exhibit a range of soft skills: equality, generosity, curiosity toward the ideas of your teammates, empathy, and emotional intelligence. And topping the list: emotional safety. No bullying. To succeed, each and every team member must feel confident speaking up and making mistakes. They must know they are being heard.”

Davidson cited a survey of 260 companies conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers. The study, which included industry giants Chevron and IBM, found that recruiters ranked communication skills among the top three qualities companies look for in job applicants. “They prize both an ability to communicate with one’s workers and an aptitude for conveying the company’s product and mission outside the organization.”

What conclusions can we draw from these studies, about the best way to help our children be successful and happy?

A common feature of the qualities that set the top Google employees apart is that they are “expansive.” That is, they foster a work environment where the employees are free to expand their awareness to include the needs of others.

The qualities that the researchers identified as furthering success at Google and other top companies are qualities that the teachers at Living Wisdom School expend tremendous energy to cultivate in the classroom, considering them essential for creating a safe, nurturing, joyful learning environment for the children.

Some people dismiss these ideas as overly soft and unscientific. At the conclusion of a visit to our school, one parent said, “These kids can’t be learning — they’re too happy.”

Checking the evidence, our kids’ average high school GPA from 2011-2018 despite the terrible handicap of an arts-enriched, highly individualized curriculum, was 3.85.

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