ON BEING ONE … AND OF TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR HAPPINESS (PART IV)

happiness

In Part I, we reviewed how feeling in control has a direct correlation to both emotional and physical health. We also reviewed how being over-controlling lowers both your happiness level and the happiness level of those around you. In Part II, we explored why taking personal responsibility for your happiness mitigates the tendency to be over-controlling and, hence, increases your level of happiness. In Part III, we explored why trusting others is important to your happiness level. In Part IV, we explore how the practice of “mindfulness” can help create happiness.

According to numerous studies, much of our “unhappiness” seems to be caused by the fact that we tend to ignore our own source of wisdom and happiness. These same studies conclude that the “key” to happiness is “mindfulness.” But what exactly is “mindfulness”? In simple terms, mindfulness is ignoring external events, the past and/or the future. In other words, mindfulness is being in the moment. However, because our minds evolved to constantly be “thinking”, most of us find ignoring our external environment and not thinking about the past or positing about the future extremely difficult. What’s more, usually, “thinking” means we are constantly building “what if” stories. Because we needed to constantly be on our guard during our evolution as a species, our mind (sometimes called the “monkey mind”) has a built-in fear bias which is constantly looking for danger, most of them perceived rather than real. Hence, we are almost constantly, and most often unconsciously, building negative stories around perceived events. Perhaps these two New Yorker cartoons can best illustrate mindfulness by depicting “unmindfulness.”

Unmindfulness                                Mindfulness

You might be surprised to learn that studies show that, on average, our minds wander almost 50% of the time.

But how do we learn to be mindful, that is to be present in whatever it is we are doing or situation in which we are involved? Well, not surprisingly, it is easiest to be mindful when we are experiencing positive events and hardest when we are feeling stressed out. Both events produce a series of hormones which then control our mood and it takes time for the body to flush these out and for the mind to become “mindful.” Hence, whether you are experiencing positive or negative feelings, you “ruminate”, that is you start to build on those feelings and construct scenarios based on these. The more you focus on those feelings, the more they grow (i.e., you create what you focus on) perpetuating the cascade of hormones and keeping you out of mindfulness. This situation is a consequence of judging events and your feelings about the events as either “good” or “bad.” So the way to be mindful is to be observant rather than judgmental. That is, observe the situation and your feelings without assigning a “good” or “bad” label to them.

Which brings us to the difference between being “uninterested” (i.e., bored) and “disinterested” (i.e., unbiased, neutral). Being disinterested is like being a cow in a pasture watching the cars zoom by while munching on hay (unless you part of Big Food, but that’s another issue). The cow sees events around it, in other words external to it, and appears for all intents and purposes, to be bored.[1] It is then wiser to be the proverbial fly on the wall. In this case, “the wall” is the inside of your head and the fly is merely observing without judging the events that are happening at the present moment. However, the fly is not “bored” as it buzzes around inside the head. It is interested in the events or thoughts, but remains disinterested in that it does not judge the events or thoughts, it merely observes them.

As a fly on the wall (i.e., as you observe the thoughts and emotions they trigger inside your head), you are aware of the goals, actions, thoughts and emotions that you are experiencing. Let’s call these “GATEs”. The GATEs are constantly spinning around in your “monkey mind” as you constantly judge whether something is “good” or “bad.” These judgments, in turn, create a cascade of hormones which themselves create judgement, and on and on the GATEs spin. However, as a disinterested observer, you are noting but not commenting or judging. As you do so, you’ll begin to notice that all the gears inside your head that active those GATEs begin to slow down.

Gears in head

As the gears slow down, you will begin to feel less stress and be able to notice when and which emotion or goal triggered a particular thought. This is known as “response flexibility.” As a result, you’ll be able to choose your reaction to events. That is, mindfulness helps you respond to life events with emotional intelligence.

Which brings us back to the subject of happiness. Interestingly, studies have shown that we are born with a “happiness set point.” This means that, regardless, of what happens to you, you tend to hold the same “happiness” (or “unhappiness”) level. For example, studies show that people who win the lottery experience a boost of happiness but return to their “happiness set point” within a year. Similarly, people involved in accidents that leave them para- or even quadriplegic, experience a significant drop in happiness level, but return to their “happiness set point” within one year. Good news for those who are born with a high “happiness set point”, but what about those born with low “happiness set point”? Well, it turns out that meditation can modify the brain (known as neural plasticity) and increase grey matter density in areas associated with learning, self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy and compassion.

One way to achieve mindfulness is through meditation. Some people believe that meditation is a way to shut all thoughts out of one’s mind. But that is impossible as long as the brain is active. Meditation, rather, teaches one to let go of the thoughts that enter one’s mind and not construct a story around the feelings attached to that thought. One way to do this (and there are many ways to practice meditation) is to concentrate on your breath. So, it turns out that practicing happiness by quieting the mind through meditation (i.e., mindfulness) teaches us to be happy (i.e., what we practice becomes stronger). Studies have shown other, and significant, benefits of meditation such as slower aging and improved heart health.

So, as many sages have told us throughout the ages, it turns out that the source of happiness is actually within us and sitting in quiet contemplation of your own breath is one way to achieve happiness.

happiness is an inside job

Let me end with a Ted Talk by Mr. Matt Killingworth about staying in the moment:

https://www.ted.com/talks/matt_killingsworth_want_to_be_happier_stay_in_the_moment?language=en, as well as a quote from Allan Wallace, a well-known mindfulness expert and author of the “The Attention Revolution” who said: “Happiness is the default state of mind.

In Part V (the last in this series), we will dispel certain myths about meditation and explore different ways to meditate.

Until then, mindfully and happily yours,

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[1]       For the record, cows are intelligent animals and we simply do not know whether they are “disinterested”. However, they appear to be and so I use them as an example.

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ON BEING ONE … AND OF TAKING RESPONSIBILITY FOR YOUR HAPPINESS (PART III)

happiness

In Part I, we reviewed how feeling in control has a direct correlation to both emotional and physical health. We also reviewed how being over-controlling lowers both your happiness level and the happiness level of those around you. In Part II, we explored why taking personal responsibility for your happiness mitigates the tendency to be over-controlling and, hence, increases your level of happiness. In Part III, we explore why trusting others is important to your happiness level.

In world-wide surveys, the US ranks 17th in people trusting others, with 41% of the population saying they trust other people.[1] These studies show that there is an almost direct correlation between trust levels and happiness. Of course, economies work best where there is trust. Trust that your suppliers won’t cheat you. Trust that the buyers will pay you. Trust that the legal system provides a just solution to mercantile disputes. But then there is the interpersonal trust. The trust between people in a “tribe.” Imagine that you couldn’t trust your “best friend” to, say, keep a secret. Or you couldn’t trust your next door neighbor from not stealing your mail. Or you couldn’t trust your partner not to cheat on you.

trust_action

From an evolution stand-point, trust was vital to our survival. For example, if your hunting partner didn’t have your back, or ran away when the prey turned predator, you would be doomed. Similarly, if your cave or village “friend” could not be depended upon to protect your children while you were out gathering firewood, your lineage would be doomed. But if you could trust your “tribe”, you knew you could survive. So how do you build trust and get into trusting relationships?

It turns out that most of the time, when you trust someone that trust is returned. There is actually an evolutionary reason for this bias and it is due to the hormone oxytocin.[2] This molecule is better known as the “love molecule” since it is released when two people are in love with each other. Interestingly, it is also released when a mother feeds her baby, perhaps thereby associating it with a feeling of trust.

However, despite the fact that experiments indicate that we could create a community of trustworthiness by being proactively trustworthy, evolution has also hardwired us to be distrusting of others, particularly of strangers. This is logical since, in an example we’ve used before, you were more likely to survive by assuming that there was a tiger behind a bush than not. Similarly, you were more likely to survive by assuming that a stranger walking into your village was dangerous and being prepared to fight or flee, rather than the opposite (see, On Being One … And Of The Negativity Bias). To paraphrase Jonathan Haidt in his book The Happiness Hypothesis: “The cost of missing a cue that signals [safety] is low. The cost of missing the sign of [danger], however, can be catastrophic.” This may also explain why, in the vast percentage of movies, we assume extra-terrestrial aliens will mean us harm. So how do we overcome this build-in program?

Well, every once in a while we encounter someone who is pro-actively trusting and who trusts us thereby providing us with the opportunity to experience what it would be like to be able to trust others. Of course, the best way to live in world of trustworthy people is to be proactively trustworthy. Risky? Yes. You may get hurt. But you need to think whether the potential rewards are worth the risks. After all, we constantly analyze the risk-reward ratio in every decision we make. However, because we do so mostly unconsciously, we may fail to realize the hidden benefits of being proactively trustworthy. Probably the greatest benefit being that you tend to create a circle of trustworthy people… a trustworthy community. That’s because generally (but not always) trust is reciprocated. Remember, a recent study revealed that 95% of people are trustworthy when trusted.[3]

Of course, from a spiritual standpoint, as you expect so shall you receive. Remember also that this is about how to increase your level of happiness. You don’t want to be delusional and trust others when you know you shouldn’t. However, by the same token, you don’t want to distrust others more than you should because that would lower your happiness level. So what is the “smart” thing to do to raise your happiness level? To trust others more than the average person does.

Can you recall one or more instances in your life when you were pro-actively trusting with someone and the results? What about when some had been pro-actively trusting with you? How did that make you feel and what did you do afterward?

In Part IV (the last part in this series), we’ll explore the concept of “Smart Trust” which will increase the odds that you will trust trustworthy individuals.

[1]       First was Denmark where 68% of the population trust others, followed by Norway where 65% of the population trust others. Correlation between countries and happiness levels: Algan, Y., & Cahuc, P. (2013). Trust, Growth and Well-being: New Evidence and Policy Implications. North Holland, Elsevier, and World Happiness Report; http://unsdsn.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/WorldHappinessReport2013_online.pdf

[2]       Kosfeld, Michael, Markus Heinrichs, Paul J. Zak, Urs Fischbacher, and Ernst Fehr (2005), “Oxytocin increases trust in humans,” Nature, 435: 673 – 676.

[3]       http://www.theguardian.com/science/2012/jul/15/interview-dr-love-paul-zak; Zak, P. J. (2013). The Moral Molecule: new science of what makes us good or evil. Random House; c. For Paul Zak’s TED talk: http://www.ted.com/talks/paul_zak_trust_morality_and_oxytocin?language=en

On Being One … And The Power Of The Word “No”

Everyone has experienced being told “no”.

A lot of times, someone saying “no” can be a good thing. Especially if we just proposed a dangerous or foolhardy idea (like jumping off the roof of our house with a towel cape tied onto our back).

These “no”s are well-intentioned and come from the other person wanting to look out for us.

But other times, a “no” can feel insulting, limiting, and negative:

  • “There’s no way you’ll ever be able to succeed at…”
  • You can’t do ____. Only <insert the blank here> can do that…”
  • You aren’t good enough to…”

These type of “no”s are limiting, self-defeating, and try to make your world a smaller place.

They can shape our minds and our beliefs about our capability (or lack thereof).

But instead of letting these statements define us (negatively), what if we could use them to our advantage and even change the system? We want to show you how to do that.

In this week’s blog post, David Ngo, a Stanford University graduate ’12 who has been admitted to both the Harvard Business School and Stanford Graduate School of Business, shares his experience overcoming the negativity that has always lurked around the edge of his success.

David. No.

I’ve heard the word “No” said after my first name so many times. “David, no you can’t do this” — or “‘David, no’ people just don’t do that.”

Or just — “David. No.”

I’ve heard the word “No” after my name so many times in part because I push the boundaries of what’s conventional, and in part because that’s how you pronounce my last name (Ngo) — “No.”

***Flashback to 2008***

My mom picked up the phone and started talking to a distant relative; we weren’t very close. And it was clear that they was not calling to see how we were doing, but to compare their son with me during high school graduation season.

“So, where’s David applying to college?” this relative innocuously asked.

“Oh, UVA (University of Virginia), William & Mary, and also trying for Stanford. But we’ll see. Who knows what will happen?” my mom replied.

“STANFORD? You need a 2400 to get into Stanford. David, no he can’t do it. That’s impossible.”

My mom relayed that statement to me after the phone conversation; she wasn’t upset — she was even calm when she told me.

But, hearing what my relative had said made me livid. I was pissed.

This is a recap of what went on in my mind for a couple of minutes:

“Who is this distant relative to say that I CAN’T DO IT?

Distant relative don’t know me. Relative called just to *compare*.

Ugh, I hate when that’s their intention of asking.

Wait a minute… If this is their mindset — this limited negative mindset — isn’t that contagious?  Isn’t that the limited lens that their spreading in their family? Their community?  Hm…”

***End flashback***

During college application season, I had procrastinated on writing my Stanford essays.  During that procrastination period, the events above unfolded.  And I realized that it was meant to be shared in my Stanford essays.  Here it is copied below (edited to provide anonymity to my relative’s gender):

Question: Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. What would you want your freshman year roommate to know about you? Tell us something about you that will help your roommate — and us — know you better.

“STANFORD!? It’s REALLY hard to get in. You need a 2400. It’s impossible. David can’t do it.” When Mom told me a relative said this to her, I was furious. Adding oil to the fire, Relative called not to genuinely ask how we were doing. Instead, Relative only called to know about my academics, such as my grades and SAT score, prospective universities, and bragging about Relative’s own child. Then, Relative blatantly told my mom that I could not achieve something!? How negative, pessimistic, and selfish can a person be!?

I have been raised to believe smart-hard work will bring success, and limitations are temporary. This was the first time I have been doubted. Immediately, my anger shadowed my positive reasons of applying to Stanford: I wanted to prove this relative wrong! When my anger disappeared, I started thinking normally–positively.

If Relative is so close-minded, will Relative’s children be strongly influenced as well? Will said children limit their possibilities of colleges and begin a cycle of limited thinking and shrunken dreams? Attending Stanford will feel great to prove this relative wrong, but it will feel even greater to know that I have cracked open a slight hole in this large sphere of limited thinking.

Gratitude is what I have for that relative now.  Gratitude, punctured with spikes of frustration and anger, is what meets my “No”s.  That “No” happened in 2008.

And it didn’t stop there.

I met it again during my time at Stanford from a handful of staff/professors.  I met it again with my own mother during college.  And I meet “No” within myself, almost every single day.

Optimism and positivity has been integrated throughout my being.  But it hasn’t helped me transcend the “No”s from the world, from loved ones, or from myself.

I love my life, myself, and those around me in the past, present, & future.  But, I have yet to consistently meet a “David, no” with full gratitude and love.

And that’s okay.  Because I’m on my way one moment at a time.

 

The bigger the no, the bigger the YES!

It can be scary to say no and yet at the same time so worth it in the end.

After you’ve watched this week’s episode, leave a comment on the blog and declare to me, our community and the Universe who or what you are going to say no to and what bigger yes will come because of your new bold and courageous action!

AND – if you’ve set boundaries, said no, and it’s worked out, leave a comment on the blog and share with us your success story. Your story may be the one thing that someone needs to find the courage to do the same.

Together we can grow into who we’re meant to be.

You can do this. You have the power to change.

Claim your power, today!

Big love from London,

Mastin

P.S. I’m hiring a community manager. If you love social media and Daily Love, click here to apply.

[Begin Transcription]

Hey there, I’m Mastin Kipp, founder of TheDailyLove.com, and author of the book, Daily Love: Growing into Grace. Welcome to this week’s episode of Daily Love TV.

Today, I want to talk to you about one of my favorite words to say, which is the word, “no.” Generally around the age of two or three, we got really good at saying this word, right? Moms and dads out there know what I’m talking about. We got really good at saying the word, “no,” and then somehow, when we got on our spiritual path, we got really bad at saying the word, “no.” Today, I want to talk to you about why it’s important to say “no.” What I’ve noticed is that a lot of people in our community – they’re loving, they’re caring, they’re spiritual, and they equate all of those heart-centered qualities of empathy and compassion and love with being a doormat. It’s like, I just have to say yes. I have no boundaries. It’s not for me.

What we have to realize is that “no” is a complete sentence. “No” can be a very powerful word to say, and the reality is, if there’s an area of your life where you’re stuck, financially, romantically, spiritually, in your business, family, wherever you feel like there’s growth, chances are you’re saying too many “yes’s” and not enough “no’s.”

The thing you got to remember is that, the bigger the no, the bigger the yes. Here’s the thing. There’s a moment when we want to say “no,” right? Can you do this thing this weekend, or will you watch my friend or child, or will you do this for me again? There’s a moment where we don’t want to let someone down. There’s a moment where there’s that awkward moment of setting a boundary that we tend to avoid. What I’d like to encourage you to do is, instead of trying to avoid that awkward moment or worry about letting other people down, listen to your heart, and listen to what’s an authentic “no” for you, and have the courage to say it. The reality is, if you say “no,” and it’s a real, heart-felt “no,” that’s self-care. That’s self-love. What’s interesting is that if you say “yes” to someone else, and you’re scared to let them down, but on the inside you’re feeling a “no,” you’re not letting them down. You’re letting yourself down.

What starts to happen is that over time, if we don’t have that boundary set in place, resentment starts to build up inside of us, and we start to resent and hate people that we love the most. Quite frankly, it’s not their fault. We suck at setting boundaries. If you look at your schedule. If you look at your time that you spend out there serving other people, helping other people, if you want to serve your spiritual mission at the highest level, self-care is necessary. When you take care of yourself, when you set boundaries, when you find time to exercise and eat right, take care of yourself and get sleep, and get water, and meditate, and pray, and do yoga, and work out, whatever it might be for you to take care of yourself, you show up with more passion, more presence, and more energy for life and for those that you need to serve.

The thing is, it can be scary to do that, because we don’t want to let people down, we’re looking for their approval, whatever it might be. The truth is, if you want to learn to live a spiritual life, to live on purpose, when your heart says “no,” that’s the divine, that’s God, that’s the universe saying “no.” Learn to trust it so that you can create that space for what you’re meant to do. It can be scary, because sometimes we fill our calendar and fill our lives up with so much stuff to avoid feeling. We don’t want to feel the feelings of guilt, or shame, or powerlessness, or feel like we’re out of control. We get so busy, but we never do the internal work.

The reality is, life is asking you to slow down. Life is asking you to clear space for the book, for the project, for the launch, for the blog, for the business, for your relationship, for your family, for your kids, whatever it might be, you need to create space for that.

What I do is, I go to my calendar, and I look two, three, four weeks out, and I put in the necessary, mandatory things: exercise, food times, times with my girlfriend, times for my business, times for writing my book. That creates the majority of my schedule, and guess what? It doesn’t leave a heck of a lot of time for anything else, and I’ve gotten really good at saying “no,” to protect my time because I need to stay mission focused on the Daily Love mission, relationship focused on my relationship with my girlfriend, Jenna, and it has to be able to create time.

It’s very easy to have your time and your schedule just wiped away with other people and commitments. This is not about not serving others. This is not about being selfish. It’s about filling yourself up, and having the courage to go by that awkward moment or two where it’s weird to say “no,” and you’ll create more space, and people will respect you. The other thing is, resentment will decrease. You’ll be able to keep your commitments when you really want to do that, and, on top of that, other people are going to respect you more for taking care of yourself.

My question for you is, “Where do you need to say ‘no’ in your life?” As you’ve been watching this video, chances are you’ve already been thinking about the people, the situations that you need to say “no” to. What do you got to say “yes” to? Because “no” is a complete sentence. Remember, I’ve already said this, I’m going to say it again. The bigger the “no,” the bigger the “yes.” When you say “no,” and you set that boundary, you’re saying “yes” to the purpose of your life. You’re saying “yes” to your heart, “yes” to spirituality, “yes” to self-care. Life will respond differently when you do so.

On Being One … And Of Being In Control Of Your Happiness (Part II)

Stay+in+Control (1)In Part I, we reviewed how feeling in control has a direct correlation to both emotional and physical health. This explains why we generally seek to be in control our life, our partner, our friends and our environment. This is referred to as “external control.” We also reviewed how being over-controlling lowers happiness level and the happiness level of those around us. We then began to examine how taking responsibility for our own happiness was an antidote to being over-controlling and ended with two “tests” to determine how over-controlling you are. In Part II, we explore why taking personal responsibility for our happiness mitigates the tendency to be over-controlling and, hence, increases our level of happiness.

In simple terms, when you take personal responsibility for your own happiness, you take what is referred to as “internal control.” That is, control over your thoughts and feelings. Once you control your thoughts and feelings, you’ll discover that you don’t need to exercise much external control. In other words, controlling your thoughts and feelings lowers your desire and/or need to control other people and circumstances. But how do you gain that internal control?

Internal-Control-Key

There are two main ways you can gain internal control. Specifically, emotional regulation and leading a healthy lifestyle.

The term “emotional regulation” includes 4 tactics. The first is learning simple emotional regulation tactics. This includes avoiding situation likely to evoke unwanted or negative emotions. For example, if you know a particular co-worker gets on your nerves, then avoid running into this person as much as possible while at the office. Obviously this is an avoidance tactic. Of course, sometimes we can’t avoid these types of situations like, for example, spending time with family members we don’t particularly like during the holidays. In this case, you can label your emotions. This is self-explanatory. That is, just tell yourself what emotion you are experiencing. Studies show that merely labeling your emotions lowers their intensity. This is different from, and should not be confusing with, discussing or analyzing your emotions which raise their intensity. For example, if you and friend are stuck in a traffic jam and getting increasingly frustrated, tell yourself that you are frustrated but do not discuss it with your friend nor analyze why you are feeling frustrated. The third tactic is called attention deployment. That is, turning your attention to things that evoke positive thoughts or away from negative thoughts. This seems similar to situational avoidance. The difference is that you use attention deployment when you haven’t been able to avoid the situation or person and the emotion has already been triggered. In this case, it is important not to engage in self-serving biases in order to make yourself feel good. Self-serving biases involves taking credit for successes and blaming others or bad luck for failures. For example, if you win a tennis match, you tell yourself that you did so because you are such a good player, but if you lose the game you blame it on bad line calls, uncomfortable shoes or improperly stringed racket. While this can make you feel good in the moment, studies show that it will work against you in the long run. Nor is it advisable to suppress your emotions. Finally, you can practice cognitive reappraisal which means putting things in perspective. For example, if your relationship just ended, tell yourself that you have family and friends who love you and will support you; that there are other women/men who will find you attractive and will want to date you; etc. In other words, if you don’t like what you see, change the way you’re looking at it.

suppressed-emotions-and-your-health

It is also important not to suppress your emotions. Merely suppressing the emotion doesn’t make it go away. In fact, your limbic system gets and stays activated even if you suppress your emotions. Suppressing emotions also takes effort and brain capacity that would be better used focusing on the task at hand. Finally, people around you will sense that you are suppressing your emotions and their blood pressure actually increases as a result. Of course, this does not give you the liberty to express your feelings at any time to anyone. But it is important to know that suppressing your emotions will not make you feel happier. From a spiritual point of view, what we resist persists.

The second main way one can gain internal control is by leading a healthy lifestyle, a main topic of discussion at the beginning of every new year as we make a number of promises to ourselves to get in shape by working out and eating better. There are 3 aspects to a healthy lifestyle. Not surprisingly, they are: 1) eating right; 2) moving more; and 3) sleeping better. There are an almost infinite number of studies, scientific and otherwise, that show how important each of these aspects is to keeping our emotional and physical stress levels as low as possible. For an excellent overview, I recommend Tom Rath’s Eat,Move, Sleep.

self-compassion

Furthermore, you multiply the positive effects of the two main ways to gain internal control by exercising self-compassion. Listen to that little voice in your head constantly berating you. Become aware of it and replace it with what you would tell your best friend or, if you have a pet, how you talk to your pet. There is a world of difference between these two voices. Be kind and gentle with and to yourself, particularly when the going gets tough. Remember that every one, no matter how famous or “successful” they are or appear to be, struggles, has self-doubts and experiences frustration.

So why does the ability to regulate emotions enhance happiness levels? First, retaining control over your feelings means that you retain the keys to your happiness rather than abdicating them to external circumstances or other people. It also fulfills the desire for personal mastery since, by taking internal control, you are developing mastery over your own mind. Finally, it allows you to react in a more mature way to other people such that they are more likely to like and cooperate with you.

In Part III, we’ll discuss how distrusting others lowers your happiness levels and we’ll conclude this series with Part IV where we’ll discuss how distrusting life also lowers your happiness levels. Of course, we’ll discuss antidotes to both.

I look forward to your comments and, as always, I remain in love,

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On Being One… And Of Being In Control Of Your Happiness (Part I)

Stay+in+Control (1)

Control! We all want it. Some of us, particularly those running for political office, crave it. The same could be said for happiness… we all want it and some of us crave it. In fact, many studies have shown that the perception of being in control is crucial for happiness. Long-Term Effects of a Control-Relevant Intervention with the Institutionalized Aged on this subject was conducted with residents of an old age home. These residents, all of an advanced age, felt better and lived longer when they were given control over even trivial decisions. One example is whether they could have a plant in their room and, if so, which plant and whether they were allowed to take care of the plant. Another example is control of which movies to watch. Trivial decisions perhaps, but it goes to show just how important it is for most us to feel like we are in control.

So, our feeling of being in control has a direct correlation to both our emotional and physical health. Little wonder then that we seek to be in control. As it turns out, seeking some degree of control is actually beneficial. Studies show that those with a higher desire for control tend to have higher goals in life and accomplish more. Problems arise, however, when we overdo it. When we try to control everything and everyone.

overcontrolStudies show that being over-controlling not only lowers our own happiness level, but also the happiness level of those around us… after all, who likes to be around someone who wants to control us? More importantly, studies show that it also lowers our ability to make good decisions. So what do you do if you’re overly control-seeking a la Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump and many others.

An antidote to this tendency has been shown to be taking responsibility for your own happiness.  But what does this mean? Well, it means that you never blame others for how you feel. While simple in concept, it is definitely not easy in practice mainly because we all carry internal obstacles for doing so.  The most important of these obstacles is being unable to imagine being in control of our feelings if something extreme was to happen to us. For example, how could we remain “happy” if we broke a leg, lost a job, became homeless, ended a long-term relationship, etc. So we feel that we are not capable of taking personal responsibility for our happiness. Another important obstacle is the feeling that we may be taken advantage of by those around us. However, neither of these two obstacles is valid if you can remember that you cannot gain the ability to control your feelings overnight or in a few sessions of mediation. Like all skills, this one will take time and practice. Start by imagining that you can remain happy when everyday occurrences happen such as being late for a meeting, stubbing your toe in the middle of the night, or running out of milk for your cereal. As you discover that you can retain your peace of mind in such events, you’ll be able to take on ever bigger “challenges” (remember, challenges are opportunities by another name), a la Nelson Mandela (RIP) or Mahatma Gandhi (RIP). Similarly, just because you won’t hold others responsible for how you feel, it doesn’t mean you can’t or won’t hold them accountable for the outcome of their actions or inactions. In fact, according to studies, this is likely to make others respect you more. Best of all, because you will be in control of your emotions, you are likely to make better decisions.

If you want to know whether you’re overly control-seeking, there are two “tests” you can take. The first is named the “desirability of control scale” and the second is named the “maximer scale (the “test” is on page 4). “ Feel free to take both and let us know how you came out and whether you’ll try to correct this tendency.

In Part II of this post, we’ll explore why taking personal responsibility for your happiness mitigates the tendency to be overly controlling.

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Happiness to all in this coming new year as I leave you with a little ditty to remind us all to take life with a grain of salt as change is constant: The duck song

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On Being One… And Of The Illusion Of Communication

Illusion of communication

Researchers at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business recently tested whether, in general, we are as good communicators as we tend to think we are. Their research, published in Journal of Experimental Social Psychology[1], provided some startling results. In essence, most of us think we’re much better at communicating than we actually are. Even those of us who deem ourselves as “good” communicators are, in actuality, poor communicators. It turns out that we’re even worse communicators when it comes to communicating with people we know well!

The researchers paired people who knew each other well and again with people who didn’t know each other. Results showed that neither group understood each other any better. In fact, people who knew each other well tended to overestimate their ability to communicate. According to researcher Nicholas Epley, that’s because “Our problem in communicating with friends is that we have an illusion of insight [which] appears to create the illusion of understanding more than actual understanding.”

As I am fond of saying: “What I say is often not what you hear.” That’s because we all listen through our filters and we are busy listening so that we can reply with our own thoughts. This is exacerbated when we communicate, or attempt to, with people we know well make we make assumptions about what they understand, something we don’t do with people we don’t know. Of course, the tendency to overestimate how well we communicate leads us to overestimate how well we’re understood. This tendency is so well known among psychologist that they named it “Closeness-communication bias.”

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To communicate effectively, it is important not to assume what the person who’s listening  knows. Or, as study lead Kenneth Savitsky stated: “’What I know is different from what you know’ is essential for effective communication.” We fail to communicate effectively because we “get rushed and preoccupied, and [] stop taking the perspective of the other person.”

This tendency is also exacerbated by differences in gender. Men and women have evolved to communicate very differently (see, On Being One… And Of The Genetic Evolution Of Men-Women Communication, Part 1). Man evolved as a hunter-gatherer without much need for the spoken word. Hence, for example, men view silence as a reward. Women evolved as nest protectors, caring for the dwellings, the young ones and gathering berries, fruits, etc. Time was spent among the young, the elderly and other women. Verbal communication was very important and silence was a form of punishment. Yet, it takes a man an average of 9 minutes of silence from his partner to being to think there could be a problem. During that time, the woman has been seething “knowing” that the man is being punished and “couldn’t care less.”

So how are we to communicate so we are understood?

Well, beyond the usual “cliché” that you have two ears and one mouth so use them in the same proportion, and to listen like you want to hear, there are few things to keep in mind.

Listen without interruption. Ooooh, that’s a hard one as we want to put our 2 cents in. But when you’re listening in order to express your thoughts, you’re not listening at all. This can quickly become a frustrating exercise in communication as each person interrupts to other to express their own thoughts. After all, we all want to be heard.

Listen so others will talk. Communication is a two-way street. So, picking up on the same theme as above, we all want to be heard and that includes the person you are speaking with (not “to”). Give him/her the opportunity to express their thoughts, to speak their minds. Try not to have the last word in a conversation… or at least, not all the time.

Remember that listening involves more than hearing. Actually, most of our communication is non-verbal. Scientist believe that some 70-80% of our communication is actually done through body language; 10-20% through voice tonality; and the rest are the words. So, when you listen, pay attention to the other person’s, don’t just strive to hear the words.

Remember that what is not being said may also be important. This really requires intent listening skills for you are now paying attention to what is not being said. What is the message that is not being conveyed? But you can’t hear what is not being said, if you’re focusing on how you will respond.

Stop multi-tasking. The efficiency of multi-tasking is a myth. Experiment after experiment has proved time and again that, while women are more efficient at multi-tasking than men, neither gender is very good at it. Our brains simply don’t have the capacity to process that much information simultaneously. So, when you’re speaking with (not “to”) someone stop whatever else you’re doing and whatever other distractions could be interrupting you (e.g., close the door and sit next to the person so you can focus; don’t speak on the phone and type an email at the same time; etc.)

Connect emotionally. Maya Angelou said it best: “People will forget what you said and did, but they will never forget how you made them feel.” Effective communication requires emotional connection. That requires you to be vulnerable… a very difficult task for most men who don’t understand that vulnerability requires strength.

Remember that you can agree to disagree.  Intelligent people can disagree on how they view events, facts, etc. Intelligent people understand and accept the fact that everyone is entitled to their opinions and beliefs and can agree to disagree.

Remember that you can both be right. Because your reality is what you chose to believe, you can both be right in your opinion. This is a difficult concept to accept. But, once you do, communication and life become much, much easier.

Don’t assume you understood. We go through life making assumptions. For example, we assume that drivers will stop at a red light, or that other drivers are paying attention (i.e., not multi-tasking), etc. Sometimes when these assumptions prove to be erroneous, the results can be catastrophic. Communication is no different. Don’t assume you understood what was said. Ask a question if you’re not sure. Better, reframe what the other person said.

So, let me hear from you. How do you communicate effectively? Is it different, and if so how, when you’re speaking with your friends, significant other, co-workers, parents, in-laws, etc.? What great/terrible communication experiences can you share?

 

With love,

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[1] The closeness-communication bias: Increased egocentrism among friends versus strangers, Savitsky, K., Boaz, K., Epley, N., Carter, T., Swanson, A. – Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, Vol. 47, Issue 1, Jan. 2011, p. 269-273.

On Being One… And Of Women And Compliments

Compliments, or rather the way we accept them, are a reflection of our sense of self-worth. Paradoxically, while most of us like hearing praise, we have difficulty accepting compliments. because both are at the core of our self-estee, women have difficulty accepting compliments about their looks, whereas men have difficulty accepting compliments about their skills .

Today, I would like to review women and compliments. Let me start by inviting you to view one of Amy Schuman short video which is perhaps a hilarious example of this (Warning: Graphic language).

From an evolutionary standpoint, women evolved to be “givers.” This makes sense since women were, and continue to be, the ones to become pregnant and have to nurture their progeniture, not just for the 9 months of pregnancy, but up to the time the child was of an age when s/he could fend for him/herself. In general, givers have a difficult time accepting things, whether it be a compliment, a gift or even attention from other people and particularly their mate.

Because we can only define ourselves when compared to others, compliments have a way to get to the heart of our discomfort, our sense of insecurity about who we are, and our place in the world. So rather than accepting a compliment, women (and to a great extent men) have been conditioned/programmed to reject the message that she is worthy.

Part of the responsibility lies with the media, social and otherwise, which does its best to destroy a woman’s self-esteem in order to make sales. Perhaps too many women believe they won’t be “beautiful” unless they wear a certain brand of make-up (for the record, the cosmetics industry is a $230 billion a year industry!), carry a certain brand of purse, wear a certain brand of shoes, or are a certain body type (for the record, the weight loss industry is a $60 billion a year industry!). From Madison Avenue’s perspective this approach makes sense since if advertisers can convince you of their message you will buy their products.

Family is also responsible inasmuch as girls are usually taught to be modest. However, I would encourage all women (and men) to stop blaming their parents for who they are and to take responsibility for who they choose to be.

Of course, we men don’t make easier since we are evolutionary programmed to be visual. Because we evolved as hunter-gatherers we developed a very keen sense of imagery. Of course, Madison Avenue has also done a “good” job of convincing us that we are “worthy” if we have the “right” looking mate on our arms. But Madison Avenue is not solely to blame. Most movies brand “winning” men as the one who is the toughest and always gets the pretty girl. Even less than “macho” movies carry the same message. Perhaps the “guiltiest” party here is Disney where the fair (and usually helpless) maiden falls in love with prince charming (or other hero-type). Seldom do the characters exchange any semblance of an intelligent dialogue (Shrek being, for example, an exception). Rather, they look into each others’ eyes and walk into the proverbial sunset to live happily ever-after. Really?

Circling back to our evolutionary process, because women evolved to be nurturers, they also evolved to be conflict-avoiders. Receiving a compliment can be perceived as becoming the center of attention and creating tension with others around you. Women then tend to deflect the compliment back to the person who offered it as a means to make others feel more comfortable since you then believe you will not be perceived as superior to the rest of the group.

Perhaps hardest of all is accepting a compliment from your partner. This is interesting insomuch as your partner, perhaps even more than your parents, knows (or should) you intimately and is best placed to offer a compliment. Yet, most women find it difficult because, if they have a low self-esteem, they will feel obligated to live up to the expectation offered through the compliment and fear, of course, that they will not measure up. Exacerbating the problem may be the belief that your partner will leave (i.e., stop loving you) if you fail to live up to the compliment (i.e., your partner’s love is conditional). In fact, by rejecting your partner’s compliment(s) you are more likely to cause the relationship to end, either because of the stress you feel over having to live up to the assumed expectations or because your partner begins to either resent the way you reject the compliments or stops complimenting you all together since you won’t accept them.

However much difficult it may be, I would encourage all women to gracefully accept sincere compliments (i.e., no cat-calls or fake compliments meant to get into your pants), whether offered by men or other women, with a simple “thank you” and a smile. Accept the fact that you are “good enough” or “pretty enough.” In fact, even if it is an insincere or back-handed compliment, simply say “thank you” and smile and let it roll off your back for an insincere or back-handed compliment speaks more about the person who uttered it than it does about you. Cut yourselves some slack. Try it… you may be surprised at how it affects your self-esteem.

With love,

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