Soren Kierkegaard wrote, If I were to wish for anything, I should not wish for wealth and power, but for the passionate sense of the potential, for the eye which, ever young and ardent, sees the possible… What wine is so sparkling, so fragrant, so intoxicating as possibility! This quote sums up the difference between sinking and swimming during divorce.
At first glance there seems to be little in divorce that is sparkling and fragrant. Hopes and dreams are crashing and burning, the financial future is uncertain, and angry words are often flung in an effort to protect tender hearts. But if you can only lift your eyes above the immediacy of the moment, you might be able to recognize that the brushfire that is currently destroying many aspects of your life is clearing the path for new growth. A field that has been ravaged by fire has the capability to sprout new plants that may be stronger, healthier, and more diverse than those that previously existed, leading to a rich, sustainable ecosystem. It’s hard to see that in the charred wasteland that is the immediate after-effect of a fire, but come back a few short months later and you will witness a miracle as new growth is already emerging.
After a divorce, life continues in ways that prove this point. We all come to answers to many of our most distressing questions, such as, “How will I support myself financially?” and the intensity of grief gradually fades in time. But there’s a critical difference between simply surviving the process and truly flourishing through it. What creates the difference between the lush ecosystem I have described above and a field that is sparsely littered with hardy indigenous plants is the eye of the beholder.
Tojo Thatchenkery and Carol Metzker describe a distinctive way of looking at the world that they call Appreciative Intelligence: “the ability to perceive the positive inherent generative potential within the present.” Everyone possesses appreciative intelligence to one degree or another, and when they are using it they exhibit the following qualities:
- Conviction that one’s actions matter
- Tolerance for uncertainty
- Irrepressible resilience
You can see how these qualities would lead to success following and during divorce. A tolerance for uncertainty – and there is a lot of uncertainty during divorce – coupled with the conviction that one’s actions matter, for example, would lead a person to make smart choices about behavior and to persist in them even when times get tough. Irrepressible resilience, the ability to bounce back higher from challenges than the original starting point, is a natural consequence of the other three qualities, and it also feeds back into them.
The authors recommend four tools for cultivating appreciative intelligence.
Tool 1: Change Your Stories
Fill your mind with success stories. Talk to people who have navigated divorce and are now thriving. Seek out stories of people who have achieved great things, even in the face of tremendous obstacles. And reframe your own negative stories as either closed chapters (if you are not still in the midst of their unfolding) or as necessary chapters in the eventual successful conclusion of your own book.
Tool 2: Change Your Reflections
Consciously choose the thoughts that fill your mind as you go through your day. Practice looking for new and positive possibilities in people and situations, and you will begin to see potential in your surroundings.
Tool 3: Change Your Questions
Find areas in your life where you are feeling strong and successful, focus on those, and fill your mind with questions about those situations. What are the circumstances that lead to my feeling strong here? What meaning am I finding in this situation? What’s possible now?
Tool 4: Talk to Someone Different
We can easily become stuck in our own patterns of thought, and by seeking the perspectives of those who are outside our situation, preferably those who themselves possess a mindset of growth and possibility, we open ourselves to new solutions and a wider view of reality.
What Sparkles to Your Eye?
Appreciative Intelligence, then, is a way of traveling through life – in good times and bad. With the eye trained for possibility, your life will be rich with meaning and purpose, and you will recognize creative ways to use the resources that are available to you to rise to new heights.
Thatchenkery, T. & Metzker, C. (2006). Appreciative Intelligence: Seeing the Mighty Oak in the Acorn. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler.
Smiling in Pink courtesy of D. Sharon Pruitt
Thanks – I had forgotten the appreciative intelligence meme.
I’m passing on the link to the founder of the first ‘divorce fair’ in the UK @suzymiller
I am so enjoying your series of articles. It’s not a topic you would expect would be the first application of positive psychology, and yet I read each of your articles and am convinced that positive psychology was pretty much made to deal with divorce in a productive way. Kudos for your many angles on this topic.
LOVE the picture of the girl!
This is a really good article. I’ll share it with a couple of my friens.
I specially enjoyed the part of “With the eye trained for possibility…” To succeed one has to train the eye and learn from anything that happens to be in front of us.
Great article! Really good and concrete ideas. And awesome/adorable picture!
I’m glad I was able to remind you of appreciative intelligence. Isn’t it a great, universally-applicable idea?
I wasn’t quite sure from your posting where I can find specifics on the divorce fair in the UK. I’d be interested in looking it up.
Thanks, Senia, for your comment about my articles.
I know that pos psych typically looks at what is going right and ways to improve on that, but the way I look at divorce – as an opportunity to grow and flourish – certainly opens up many possiblities for the application of PP!
And thanks, MarieJ and Nikki, for your comments also. Please do feel free to pass the article along to anyone who might benefit!
Your perspective certainly rings true to me. My parents divorced 10 years ago, when I was 19. I hit the ground running, financing and finishing up my honours degree in Philosophy and heading off to East Asia to teach ESL, pay back my student loan and travel the world. During those three years, I grew tremendously and though I’m still struggling financially to get through post-graduate work, I know that I would not have grown into the strong, compassionate, independent woman I am today had I not been forced to grow in the mud. My parents have a warm, solid relationship now and we are still a family. My brothers have grown into responsible, contented go-getters who appreciate life as it unfolds. My parent’s marriage ended; their relationship changed and healed, and our family transformed beautifully. It is possible to grow stronger, wiser, and happier from such an experience. I’m glad you remind people that there is hope during such a difficult and painful transition.
Thanks so much for sharing your experience. You are a great example of just the spirit of hope and strength that I want to bring to the world. My vision does not deny the pain that exists along the way, but it holds out the message that life does not stop there – especially if you have certain things in place, like a good support network. I really appreciate your comment.
Well worth the read, it’s inspirational.