Tag Archives: Martin Seligman

The Benefits Of Honest Praise

One of the counsellors that I spoke about clergy wellbeing to said that it is really important to talk to lay people about encouraging the clergy. I slightly ignored what she said – I guess I wondered who might talk to the lay people – is it the clergy? How would that sound?Praise me… Encourage me… I’m not needy, honestly! Mmmm.

Two things have made me come back to the words that she said that I discounted. The first is an article entitled, ‘Appreciation: A Pastor’s Emotional Fuel’, in it the author says:

For some strange reason, people tend to be silent about positive changes in the church until something goes against their grain. In many cases the result is that the pastor becomes tentative, uncertain, and feels overworked and underappreciated.

Gary Gonzales

The article is worth reading in full – he talks about two issues ‘The Omnipotent Pastor’ when he was trying to live up to impossible expectations and ‘The Invisible Man’ where he was working really hard but people in the congregation were complaining that they didn’t see him and there was the hurt of rumours circulating. He got to the end of himself ans then this happened:

It was hard, but finally I brought the issue before our board: “I can’t do everything people seem to expect. I am a limited human resource. I need your encouragement, counsel, and help—and everyone else’s, for that matter—if this ministry is going to function as it should.”

That frank admission prompted several months of positive, productive dialogue with the board. We discussed my role, but also the unique strengths and weaknesses of each board member. We sought specific ways to nurture one another’s personal growth. Each elder ended up with a terse, well-written job description that was the product of group process, and hence, we all sensed we were part of the ministry.

It made me realise that often we struggle on without seeing the help of the PCC (in the case of Anglican Churches).

The second thing that made me think about appreciation is a book I’m reading at the moment by Martin Seligman called ‘Flourish‘ who finds that you can tell which companies will succeed depending on the ratio of positive words to negative. He says that that ratio needs to be about 3:1 in business but in marriages it needs to be much higher – 5:1. The numbers don’t really matter, but it got me thinking about how we all can cause each other to flourish in churches – how kind words and loving attitudes make such a difference. And clergy are simply not immune to this. Perhaps we need to talk frankly about the needs of our clergy – or to be even more direct, perhaps as clergy we need to be much more willing to be vulnerable.

What on Earth is WellBeing Anyway?

A question that first needs to be addressed is the definition of wellbeing. It is more than happiness or life satisfaction and is actually very difficult to define. Dodge et al (2012) write:

In essence, stable wellbeing is when individuals have the psychological, social and physical resources they need to meet a particular psychological, social and/or physical challenge. When individuals have more challenges than resources, the see-saw dips, along with their wellbeing, and vice-versa.

This is represented by a see-saw with our resources on one side and the challenges on the other:

Representation of Wellbeing (Dodge et al, 2012)

It is interesting, the idea that to have a good level of wellbeing we need resources or support but we also need challenge. The problem with clergy is more often the challenges outweigh the resources. Also, times of transition are particularly difficult because the challenges increase and the support reduces. For example at the end of curacy a priest may move to a new area, losing many of the relationships that have been built and at the same time finding they are shouldering more responsibility and encountering unfamiliar situations.

Martin Seligman, developed a model of psychological wellbeing in his book Flourish (Seligman, 2011). He believes that the below five elements can help people work towards a life of fulfilment, happiness, and meaning. The elements are:

P – Positive Emotion

This is the pleasant life – warmth, good food, comforts, luxury items, travel. They make you happy while you are experiencing them but don’t have any long term impact on happiness.

E – Engagement

This is when we are absorbed in something and time disappears or ‘flies by’. Athletes refer to this as ‘flow’. It occurs when our highest strengths are matched with highest challenges in that moment. Consequently, it is really important that we find our greatest strengths and use them. We are so in the moment that only afterwards do we say ‘that was fun’ or ‘that was wonderful’.

R – Relationships

Relationships and social connections are crucial to meaningful lives. It is not very often that we value things alone – we want to share a sunset with someone else. We long for intimacy and love, we feel pain when we experience isolation. Strong relationships provide support in difficult times that require resilience.

M – Meaning

Belonging to and serving something that is bigger than ourselves gives us meaning. Religion and spirituality provide many people with meaning, as can working for a good company, raising children, volunteering for a greater cause, and expressing ourselves creatively. 

A – Accomplishments

Having goals and ambition in life can help us to achieve things that can give us a sense of accomplishment. Having accomplishments in life is important to push ourselves to thrive and flourish.