This is a speech I gave at a high school commencement recently. I thought you might enjoy it!
Positive Psychology, or How to Consciously Create a Successful and Happy Life
John Schinnerer, Ph.D.
Welcome graduates, faculty, parents, friends and family.
My name is Dr. John Schinnerer. For the past 7 years, I have been speaking, writing and teaching about a new branch of science called Positive Psychology which is the science of happiness, positive emotions, creativity, forgiveness, mindfulness, curiosity, and meaning and purpose in life.
And one of my favorite positive emotions is amusement – that which you feel after a good joke. So here is a joke for your amusement…
Driving along on a sunny day with her young granddaughter by her side, my aunt was on top of the world.
“Grandma,” said the young girl “is Grandpa a lot older than you?”
“Yes, a few years,” she said. Then fishing for a compliment, Grandma asked “Why do you ask, dear?”
“Well, his mustache is a lot bigger than yours.”
Positive psychology is discovering signs pointing to a happier life.
When I first came to present here, I was anxious, excited, and uncertain as to how you would receive the info I had to share. After all, I thought, how many teenagers want to hear about positive psychology?
Apparently, you did.
And I praise you for your open-mindedness, your courage, your resiliency.
You are some of the most courageous individuals I know. For courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is overcoming fear. Without fear, there is no courage. You face your fears daily which makes you brave. It makes you courageous.
You are also among the most resilient people whom I know. And for that you have my respect and my admiration.
Resiliency is the ability to bounce back from challenging, difficult situations. You guys are among the… bounciest… people I know. Many of you have had multiple chances of giving up, of throwing in the towel, and you refused. You kept going.
Being able to bounce, being able to persevere, despite negative events is not due to luck. It’s due to resiliency. Resilience means you effectively cope despite inevitable loss, hardship, or adversity. Resilience has been compared to flexibility in metals. For example, cast iron is hard, brittle, and breaks easily, that is it is not resilient, whereas wrought iron is soft and bends without breaking – it is resilient.
In most cases, successful people have overcome many more difficulties than those who are less successful. While everyone encounters failure and trouble, it is what you do AFTER failure that is critical.
Highly successful individuals have tenacity, a stick-to-it-iveness. They view failure as a learning experience. They don’t give up. They don’t throw in the towel. They try again. From Barack Obama to the president of FedEx to Eminem, successful individuals fail repeatedly …but they learn from their experiences and they keep going. They keep on walking in the direction of their values and their dreams.
As you keep walking in the direction of your dreams, of your values, continually remind yourself of your own resiliency. You have overcome great odds to be here today. You have proven to be an inspiration for me and for many of the people with whom I talk. There is a ripple effect. I share my experiences with you with others and the stories have a positive impact on people whom have never even met you.
For instance, when I first came, I shared the ‘Free Hugs’ video with you. And after that presentation, several students wrote up pieces of paper that read ‘Free Hugs’ and taped them to your chests. Then you went around hugging classmates. To me, that is inspirational.
The letter the English class wrote to defend the name of the high school against mindless stereotypes after a tragic homicide was another instance where your actions inspired hope, passion and courage in others. Your positive actions are felt by more people than you realize. You may not realize it, but you inspire others.
What Do Influential People Add to Our Lives?
One of the corporate leaders in the positive psychology movement, The Gallup Corporation, recently asked over 10,000 people what the most influential leaders contribute to their lives. Their answers boiled down to 4 essential areas – compassion, trust, stability and hope. Keep those in the forefront of your mind for just a moment.
The great African American tennis player, Arthur Ashe, once said…
“Success is a journey, not a destination. The doing is more important than the outcome.”
Many of us believe that success leads to happiness. A number of studies now show that happiness actually brings success as well. People like to be around happy, supportive, optimistic people. This, in turn, increases the likelihood of success for happy folks.
What Does the Positive Psychology Research Show?
When asked about happiness, Tal Ben-Sahar, a positive psychology professor at Harvard says “Happiness is not making it to the peak of the mountain; happiness is the experience of climbing toward the peak.” Apparently, success is a lot like happiness. It’s about learning to savor the journey.
When asked what the top three components of success are, Tal Ben-Sahar replied
Passion (love what you do)
Effectiveness (belief in one’s self)
Hard work (persistence and dedication)
I want to draw your attention to the pattern here.
In business, the most effective leaders create trust, stability, compassion and hope in their followers.
As individuals, the necessary components for success are passion, persistence and a belief in one’s effectiveness.
All of these competencies are rooted in the emotional mind. Success starts in your mind.
And you are well-suited to share each and every one of these strengths with the world. Thanks to your principal and teachers you have been schooled in the new competencies necessary for success. As you head out into this new world, you are familiar with all you need to succeed – trust, perseverance, compassion, resiliency, curiosity and passion.
Allow me to wrap up with a short quote from the great Renaissance artist Michelangelo who said…
“The greater danger for most of us is not that our aim is too high and we miss it, but that it is too low and we reach it.”
So when you set your goals – aim high, my friends, aim high.
John Schinnerer Ph.D.
Positive psychology coach
Founder Guide to Self