Speaker and trainer Victor Küppers closed the First Interuniversity Health Week with a talk “Viure amb entusiasme en temps de pandèmia” (Living life to the full during a pandemic).
By Sara Oliver
Taking Mother Teresa of Calcutta’s exhortation, “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier”, as his starting point, Küppers opened his talk aimed at helping listeners recharge their batteries after more than a year overshadowed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“You will hear ideas you have heard 150 times but the problem is you forget them 151 times, because we because have our problems and concerns to deal with in everyday life. It is good to stop, breathe, and remember those things that may be common sense but we risk forgetting from day to day”. Based on this general idea, with the aim of raising awareness of the need to care for our emotional health as well during this pandemic, Küppers, who hails from Camprodon, talked about the danger of becoming demoralized, especially when a bad situation goes on for such a long time.
In this sense, “Positive psychology” means that your mood is what makes the difference between your best and worst self, and this can be worked on. “I was running a session and after five minutes a woman turned on her camera and microphone and said to me, ‘Víctor, get a move on, I signed up for this talk to change my mood and change my life’. I said to her, ‘I’m delighted to meet you, but you should know that I made an agreement with God many years ago that he wouldn’t give talks and I wouldn’t perform miracles'”. It’s not about finding a quick fix or shortcut, but about bringing out the most motivated “you” that we all know we carry inside.
“This is a tunnel, not a hole”
Küppers wanted to stress that he is aware that many bad things happen around us, and sometimes “life is unbearable”, now more than ever. He is critical of the notion that “we will come out of this stronger“, regarding it as demagoguery, bearing in mind that there are people who will come out of it without their father or mother, people who have lost their businesses or their jobs… “Of course we will come out of this, it is a tunnel, not a hole, but we won’t look back in 2037 and see it as an opportunity and we came out of it stronger, it’s not true, these sayings are almost never fulfilled“.
“How are we going to come out of this stronger? Amazon will”
This is why positive psychology says we don’t always have to be happy, sometimes we have to allow ourselves to be sad or angry. “We need to understand that sometimes life is very hard, we can be sad, of course, but we must never be discouraged or lose hope, because then you stop moving forward. And when you stop moving forward it doesn’t matter whether you’re in a tunnel or a hole, you don’t get out“.
The Cherokee Indians and the 3:1 ratio
“A Cherokee tale tells of a grandfather who said to his grandson: ‘inside every one of us there is a battle between two wolves, one representing anger and frustration, and the other optimism, hope, desire. It is very difficult to live with them both because they both want to dominate your spirit‘. The grandson looks at the grandfather and asks ‘which one wins in the end?’ and the grandfather replies ‘the one you decide to feed.'”
The speaker used this old Cherokee tale to explain that we all have these two wolves in our heads and we must ask ourselves which one usually wins, emphasizing the word “usually”, as we can’t always be happy. “Emotionally healthy people have a 3:1 ratio, which means for every negative emotion they have three positive ones“. But, he argues, they were not born with this ratio, it is something we must work on, we must develop the habit: “attitude is a decision, like the decision to lose five kilos, you have to do it yourself, nobody can do it for you. It is immature to expect everything to turn out well, we have to constantly choose our attitude“.
So, inertia means the bad wolf will always win. Being positive and actively keeping up your spirits requires effort.
Four ideas for keeping up your spirits
Victor Küppers concluded his talk with four tips for avoiding discouragement in our everyday lives:
1. Focus on what you can control and don’t waste time on what you can’t control.
For this first tip, Küppers began by explaining that we are caught in a loop that is very hard to get out of as “we have been talking about the same thing” for the last 13 months. “All the pessimists should be locked up”, he said, as “we all know what is going on, there is no need to repeat it 40 times”.
“This is like me asking how much this cup weighs. Some people would say 100 grams, but the weight changes over time. If you have to hold the cup for five seconds, it weighs nothing, if you have to hold it for 27 days running, your arm will drop off”, he argued, comparing this example to the pandemic situation. “It’s normal to have a problem for a day, but a problem that lasts 24 hours a day for 13 months will break your spirit”.
“All the pessimists should be locked up. We all know what is going on, there is no need to repeat it 40 times”
To avoid this loop, we need “serenity“, i.e. An acceptance that, whether we like it or not, things are what they are in life. This does not mean, however, that we have to accept with happiness things we don’t like: “you have to take a deep breath, say ‘this is crap’, and after that keep asking yourself what can I do“.
2. Learn to be grateful.
Here, Victor Küppers emphasizes the importance of asking ourselves every day what is great about our life: “we all have 20 problems, but we also have 10 great things. If we always focus on the 20 problems, we are never aware of the great things”. This idea is behind the popular saying “you don’t know what you have until you lose it”. He tells the story of a man who sits in a bar behind the Sagrada Familia: “Every day, Japanese tourists fly for 23 hours to come and see it, and there are people who sit with their back to it because they are used to it.” “Life is the same, how many wonderful things do we have that we don’t value because we are looking at the things we don’t like“.
“We all have 20 problems, but we also have 10 great things”
He also notes the importance of keeping problems in perspective: “I spend ages complaining because I can’t travel, until I see people queuing for food banks on the news”. This is why you must be aware of what you have got, because there are people who, for example, have lost their jobs and have no hope of finding another one. “Sometimes it is said that we’re all in the same boat, but it isn’t true, we’re all in the same storm but some people have a canoe and others have an ocean-going yacht. We must remember this”.
3. Take care of yourself and give yourself things to look forward to
The third tip starts with the idea that we “look forward” to things, which is why, for example, we are happier on Fridays than on Sundays. For this reason, we need little things to look forward to every day. “I watch a film and I see that there didn’t use to be a curfew, we went to the cinema, we went for a beer, they didn’t make us drink it outside, we hugged… and I think “wasn’t life good then”. We had the same complaints a year ago, that’s human nature, it seems like we must always be angry“.
He also quoted a study from many years ago that asked “what is the most important thing in your life?“. These answers stood out: Our parents, our siblings, our partners, our friends. “And did we need a study to tell us this? We all know that the most important thing in our lives is the people we love, but we know it on a second level because the forefront of our mind is occupied with day-to-day matters, the urgent and the inconsequential“.
“The people we love most have all the faults we tell them about, but they also have the good qualities we are silent about”
Küppers put this idea into practice with his faculty students. One day he told them to leave the classroom and call their mothers to tell them they love them, listen to the answer and come back. “The conclusions were spectacular. Call your mother to tell her you love her and it really upsets her. She will ask you three things in this order: ‘where are you?’, ‘are you all right?’, ‘has something happened?'”. The root of this problem is that we think the people we love will always be there, but we have to realize that one day we won’t have a mother and then it will be too late. “Normal people should call their father 22 times a week to tell him they love him, those of us who have a partner who puts up with us should tell them 22 times a day they are brilliant, and if we have children we are morally obliged to tell them 22 times a second that they are amazing. And we should do this to be fair, because it’s true that they have all the faults we point out, but they also have the good qualities we don’t mention”.
4. Be a good person
The last idea centres on the importance of “being human“. “The people who love you do so because you are you, not because you are good at any one particular thing”. Only you care about your professional successes. Nobody will remember you for your CV, they will remember you for how you are. Also remember that kindness makes you feel better, it makes others feel better, and it costs nothing.
“Nobody will remember you for your CV, they will remember you for how you are”
“Have you never bought a present for someone and not been able to wait for the day to come? Why is it we get more excited about giving a gift than receiving it?” he wondered. “Because it is what makes us human. Bring out your human qualities.”