June 30, 2023

Reclaiming our Gifts

The more I walk this path, the more I am convinced we have got the equation for happiness entirely wrong.

From very early on we are trained to seek pleasure and a sense of fulfilment outside of ourselves. We are constantly asking our parents, teachers, employers, spiritual leaders and even God- have I pleased you?

Every system we have created as humans in the ‘developed’ world is top down, which I believe is what stabilises this phenomenon. We do not see this in our planet’s ecosystems, which are symbiotic by nature.

We are all born with innate gifts, which are unique to us, it should be our birth right to explore and express these gifts freely in our own time and in our own way. If a flower does not come into bloom, we do not blame the flower but the environment, we are the same. This philosophy is what underpins humanistic psychology and is what the founder of this modality Carl Rogers referred to as self-actualising. Yet our education system shoehorns us into limited and homogenized categories of intelligence and if we deviate from these we are deemed as ‘failing’. This stunts many of us in the process of self-actualising. The celebrated educationalist Ken Robinson gave an excellent TED talk on this topic, which I will share below.

In my opinion this approach to education is causing vast amounts of collateral damage and mental health problems, not only to our children and young people but as adults as well. It is generating an overwhelming collective sense of lack and of constantly falling short of the mark. This sets the stage for a life filled with stress and people pleasing. The false equation of working to tick a box and please someone else to achieve fulfilment is highly addictive, often leading to burn out. We are a society profoundly suffering from this addiction and many iterations of it and I believe passionately that to heal and evolve as a society and planet addressing this needs to be our number one priority. Our ecological break down mirrors this internal crisis, as we live unsustainably grasping outside of ourselves in a way that never truly delivers.

So how can we flip this equation around and live more balanced, sustainable and happier lives? This is obviously a complex question which has many systemic elements to it. But reclaiming our unique gifts and learning to find pleasure in these is at the heart of it. This is a radical act and one that to the majority may seem foreign and even frightening. Being in a ‘growth mindset’ hugely supports this shift. It is a term often used in schools but seldom modelled. It is an approach to learning based on the idea that mistakes are not something to fear but opportunities to grow and evolve. However very often in our competitive and results-based education systems we are shamed for not having delivered. Shame is an extremely powerful and debilitating emotion which can prevent us from taking risks and exploring our gifts for fear of ridicule.

Expression and play are fundamental to the human condition. If we grow up in spaces where we feel safe to explore, make mistakes and learn through experience we can work out on our own terms what we derive fulfilment and pleasure from. Ideally, we would learn this early on and feel empowered to step out into the world knowing our gifts and savouring them. Unfortunately, this is not commonly the case, but it is never too late to learn to cultivate this safe space both internally and externally and reconnect with our inner children. Play should not just be the domain of children but should permeate our lives, the writer Alan Watts describes this beautifully in the video below.

So, this summer I would encourage you to go out and play! Smell the roses, swing on the monkey bars, dance under the stars, gather with play mates in whatever way feels good. But prioritising play wherever possible is key to blossoming health on all levels. Social prescribing is now often being used as an alternative to medication to treat mental health problems, this is a clear sign of the importance of play and connection to wellbeing.

If you would like any support in reconnecting to this state and developing more of it in your life, I would be very happy hear from you.


Ken Ronsinson- Do Schools Kill Creativity?


Alan Watts- Music and Life