The Lizard Who Wouldn’t Eat

A life of leisure and pleasure might sound good when you’re under the gun, stressed and pressured with all the demands of work and life. But too much easy liv’n may not be as gratifying as you think.

Don’t take my word for it. Take Martin Seligman’s word (author of Authentic Happiness and founder of the positive psychology movement). He makes a very explicit distinction between “pleasure” and “gratification’. While both have a place in the ‘the good life’, they have different roles. The former is the stuff in life that we enjoy but doesn’t necessarily require ‘work’ or effort. E.g. eating bon bons (or other yummies), hammock naps, passive TV watching, etc. All good for you in the right doses — but not necessarily what in themselves lead to a gratifying life (work included).

Easy street is nice for a bit but gratification — in work and life — comes when we employ our Signature Strengths. We each have our own unique list of Signature Strengths and the idea is to use them as often as possible in our work and daily lives.

Don’t take my word for it (or shall I say Martin Seligman’s word) — Just ask the Lizard!

(photo courtesy of Konaboy on Flickr)

In his book, Seligman tells a story of one of his teachers (Julian Jaynes) who got an exotic lizard as a little pet to have at the office. Upon arrival, that darn lizard wouldn’t eat — no matter what he was fed. The poor lizard seemed depressed and was withering away. That is until one happy accident a couple weeks later — Julian mindlessly placed a newspaper over the sandwich that was meant to be the lizard’s lunch (but had been ignored by the lizard as with all other food offered).  Within seconds , the lizard started to shred up the newspaper and made its way to the sandwich and gobbled it up.

Go figure! The lizard needed to work….to express its own instinctual signature strengths…which in this case, was shredding. Once he gratified that need, his appetite came back.

This happens with us ‘non-lizard’ types (people!). We need to exercise our Signature Strengths to experience gratification. It’s what leads to a meaningful life (and work-life).

So think about your own situation.

  • Do you know what your Signature Strengths are? If not, find by taking the Via Signature Strengths online assessment.
  • What energy and inspiration do you feel when you do something that engages some of your strengths?
  • What happens when you don’t engage these strengths – ever get that lethargic, stuck-in-the mud kind of feeling….?
  • How can you start engaging more of your strengths right away – at work and elsewhere in your life?
  • Notice what happens….

Now if you’ll s’cuse me – this writing has made me hungry. Having worked some of my strengths – I’m feeling a bit more ‘gratified’ and am ready for some pleasure….it is lunchtime afterall and Seligman says we need both pleasure and gratification for our ‘good life’.

Hope to hear from you!

Eileen

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2 Responses to “The Lizard Who Wouldn’t Eat”

  1. Les Miscampbell Says:

    Hello Eileen,

    Interestingly, I have observed this lizard type phenomenon with students.

    It is easily evident to a teacher which students have paid their own tuition and which students have had their tuition paid for by their parents. The commitment to their studies, their interest in classwork and their engagement as students seems much less for the students with tuition paid for them. It reminds me of the story about the breakfast of ham and eggs. The chicken was involved but the pig was commited.

  2. Eileen Chadnick Says:

    Interesting! I think earned accomplishments and pursuits can be more gratifying when we have personally invested in them vs. simply received them.

    Thanks for the share Les!

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