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.
Studies 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.
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