As someone in the business of exhilaration, I was pleased to be reminded that one of the the top two strengths for producing happiness both at home and at work is “zest,” defined as a state of mind where we have passion and enthusiasm for life. (If you’d like to find out your top character strengths, check out the VIA survey)

Although it might be good for branding to tell you that zest was my top strength, it came in at #14 out of 24, down from #8 when I took the inventory 3 years ago. The suggestion is that by knowing your top or “signature strengths,” you can use them to increase your happiness. (You can find some of the top research results here .)

What gets in the way of us using our top strengths? I think I got part of my answer today in an unexpected place. In a great TED talk on The Power of Vulnerability, Brené Brown described how businesses wanted her to speak, but without mentioning “vulnerability” or part of her research specialty, “shame.” She said they wanted her to talk about creativity, innovation, and change. Here’s the line that hit me: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of creativity, innovation, and change.”

My top strength revolves around creativity, ingenuity, and originality. Clearly I need to embrace my vulnerability to live this strength. It takes courage (defined by Brown as “being willing to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart”) to be true to a desire not to be content with doing something the conventional way when a better way seems possible. There is risk in bringing forward innovation.

Yet we numb vulnerability. We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in history. We cannot selectively numb emotion. We can’t numb “hard feelings” without numbing joy, gratitude, and happiness … and creativity.

Along with showing the essential importance of vulnerability, Brown showed how we are stopped by shame. (Guilt is I did something wrong. Shame is I am wrong.) This led to an eye-opener about parenting.  Our job as parents is not to make our kids perfect –they are hard-wired for struggle. Our job is to look and say you are imperfect, but you are wired for struggle, and you are worthy of love and belonging.

It seems our collective goal needs to be to let ourselves be seen and to love with whole hearts even though there’s no guarantee. We can practice gratitude and joy (particularly in those moments of fear and vulnerability). We can let go of the little voices in our heads and believe we are enough. Then we are kinder and gentler both to ourselves and the people around us.

Shame has power in the darkness. It loses its grip when it is seen. We have to step into shame. Empathy is the antidote to shame. “If we are going to find our way back to each other, vulnerability is that path.” I feel like I have my work cut out for me.

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