Aren Cohen, MBA, MAPP '07 is a learning specialist working with academically, motivationally and emotionally challenged students in the leading private schools in New York City. As shown in her website and blog, Strengths for Students, Aren uses the tenets of positive psychology to teach her students to use their strengths of character to change educational challenges into educational triumphs. Full bio. Aren's articles are here.
Lately I have been thinking a lot about relationships and their role in positive psychology. My definition of relationships is broad, encompassing not only romantic relationships, but friendships, familial relationships, and professional relationships. Professor Chris Peterson often tells us that a key tenet of positive psychology is “other people matter.” But where does this live in the framework of the full life? Currently, as defined by Martin Seligman in Authentic Happiness, the three branches of the full life are the pleasant life, the engaged life and the meaningful life. These three branches of the full life all operate within the psyche of one person, and while interactions with other people might all participate in aspects of these three lives, none of these lives is specifically focused on the life we live with other people.I believe there is a fourth life, which I am going to call the minding life, which is the life we live because our lives are lived with other people. I am borrowing the term “minding” from a paper by Harvey, Pauwels & Zickmund called “Relationship Connection: The Role of Minding in the Enhancement of Closeness.” Specifically, the authors define minding as “a reciprocal knowing process involving the nonstop, interrelated thoughts, feelings and behaviors of persons in a relationship.”
While this paper focuses primarily upon romantic relationships, they bring up some very good points about what minding means. Partners in a minding relationship try to know and be known to each other, they are careful as to how they make attributions about each others’ behaviors; they base their minding on acceptance and respect. Minding is both reciprocal in nature and continuous in aspect.
At first blush, it is easy to see how all of these things are ideal in a romantic relationship. But, in truth, they are the positive ideal for relationships of all natures. We want to mind the people we care about, and we want to be minded by the people we care about.
Minding is very clearly closely related to the strengths of humanity listed in Peterson and Seligman’s Character Strengths and Virtues. The three strengths of humanity: love, kindness and social intelligence, all relate to how we mind other people. However, minding is more important than just humanity. When we mind others we put them into our consciousness and our memory. We extend them beyond the life they lead, and when they mind us they give us life beyond ourselves. So, in a sense, minding is in fact not just a strength of humanity but a strength of transcendence. When we mind, we are practicing a strength of humanity in thinking well of another person. However, when we are being minded, we are being allowed to live outside ourselves in the same way hope or spirituality or gratitude and awe exists. I would contend that “being minded” is, in fact, a strength of transcendence. While we do not have control over how we are minded, our positive interactions with people on a daily basis will form how they remember us and mind us, and will shape how this strength of transcendence takes shape for us.
Perhaps my challenge with the full life is purely semantics, but I would like to put this question to you: If the meaningful life is defined as “using your signature strengths and virtues in the service of something much larger than you are” (Authentic Happiness, p. 263), then what is the “something much larger?”
For some it might be a belief in God, for another it might be work in a homeless shelter, for another it might be passion for the environment. Yet somehow this doesn’t seem to comfortably accommodate all the things that happen in relationships. And yet it is our relationships, and particularly our positive relationships, that allow us to broaden, build and extend ourselves beyond our physical limitations. Once the words I have said make a difference in another person’s life, I have transcended myself.To give a concrete example, I had a friend who had a bad habit of biting her nails. I gave her a strategy to stop her from biting her nails, a dual strategy that allowed her to use an anchor and a mantra. Two weeks later I got an email from this friend that I have changed her hands, and that she is ready to go get a manicure with me. At first this all seems small, but in truth the interaction is larger. When my friend told me her problem, I used my strengths of humanity to listen and offer words of love and kindness.
Yet the real reward for me was the email I received two weeks later. Clearly my friend had been mindful of the advice I had given her, but more importantly to me, in her letting me know that my words had made a difference to her, she minded me. The impact that I had on my friend shows me that I have the capacity to transcend myself and make a difference in another person’s life. I found the minding life by minding my friend and allowing her to mind me. Because “other people matter,” I highly recommend taking the time to cultivate the minding life, both in yourself and in others…… I think you will agree with me it is extremely rewarding.
Harvey, J. H. , Pauwels, B. G. & Zickmund, S. (2005). Relationship connection: the role of minding in the enhancement of closeness. In Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (Eds.), Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 423-433). New York: Oxford University Press.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character strengths and virtues: A handbook and classification. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Seligman, Martin (2004), Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. New York: Free Press.