What Happy People Do Differently

November 12, 2013

“One of life’s sharpest paradoxes is that the key to satisfaction is doing things that are risky, uncomfortable, and downright unhappy!”

group-of-happy-people-2            The question “How can I be happy?” is a source of continuous pondering and countless research studies.  One of the latest compilations and statistical analysis of data on this topic appeared in the August 2013 issue of Psychology Today, “What Happy People Do Differently” (by Todd B. Kashdan, George Mason University and Robert Biswas-Diener, author of The Courage Quotient).

The pursuit of happiness is a billion dollar industry, and for good reason.  In a recent study by Ed Diener (University of Illinois) and Shieghiro Oishi (University of Virginia)—that included a whopping 10,000+ participants, from 48 countries—Diener and Oishi concluded that being happy ranks higher, as a desirable personal outcome, than other “old fashioned” measures of well-being, such as: feeling that you have true meaning in your life, finding your way to prosperity, and even getting into heaven!

Happiness is a State of Mind (not just an emotion)

            The authors of this Psychology Today article assume, like most contemporary psychologists, that true happiness is more than a mere emotion – it is, instead, a state of mind.  As such, happiness can be cultivated by intentional and strategic acts and thoughts, much like changing a habit.

In other words, only a small portion of what most of us consider “happiness” has to do with how we feel at any given moment.  Instead, the sense of being a “happy person” has to do with a person’s cognitive reflections, expectations, ideals, and acceptance of what you cannot change”.

40% of our capacity for happiness is within our power to change.

— Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of CA, Riverside

            Most striking is Diener and Oishi’s finding that the unique habits of those that are happiest in life point toward engagement in activities that lead people to feel uncertain, discomforted, and even guilty!  “Happy people, it seems, engage in a wide range of counterintuitive habits that seem, well, downright unhappy.”


            “Truly happy people seem to have an intuitive grasp of the fact that sustained happiness is not just about doing things that you like.  It also requires growth and adventuring beyond the boundaries of your comfort zone.  Happy people are, simply put, curious”.

Happy people tend not to view being uncomfortable and vulnerable as the end of the world.  Instead, they see such feelings as temporary and a sure-fire way to becoming stronger and wiser.  “Curious people, it seems, invest in activities that cause them discomfort as a springboard to higher psychological peaks”. (Based on a 2007 study by Todd B. Kashdan, George Mason University and Michael Stegger, Colorado State Psychologist).

Blissfully Inattentive

            I have always thought that teenage boys are some of the happiest people on the planet.  Now I know why!  Your chances of being happy are greater when you are somewhat “out of it”!

Happy people tend not to pick apart other people and situations.  They are less skeptical than their more unhappy counterparts. The most bliss-filled among us tend, also, to be uncritically open toward strangers and may even appear naïve. (Based on a study led by Joseph Forgas (University of New South Wales)).

Happy folks are less likely to be analytical and detail-oriented. Depressed people, however, are more likely to reflect on and process (over and over again) their experiences – for which they pay a big emotional price. (Paul Andrews, Virginia Commonwealth University).

At school, work, and in relationships, too, the happiest among us, say Oishi and Diener, are not the A students, the best performers on the job, or the individuals who strive for smooth sailing in their relationships.  Strict expectations of ourselves or others do not, apparently, bode well for a happy state of being.

“Sweating the details seems to be a job for the miserable . . . and they better get to it . . . because all of the happy people already went home!”

Be a Cheerleader 

            The happiest people among us are the ones who are present when things go right (not just wrong) for others.  This is because we are actually buoyed by others’ good fortunes.  After all, don’t we all know that two positives make a positive?

“When romantic partners fail to make a big deal out of each other’s success, the couple is more likely to break up.  On the flipside, when partners celebrate each other’s accomplishments, they’re more likely to be satisfied and committed to their relationships, enjoying greater love and happiness”.

                  — Shelly Gable, University of California, Santa Barbara

Feelings as Radar

            The most psychologically healthy people recognize that “emotions serve as excellent feedback – an internal radar system providing information about what’s happening (and about to happen) in our social world”.  (Kashdan and Biswas-Diener) Hiding from negative emotions is not where it’s at, in terms of attaining and sustaining a sense of well-being.  Instead, acknowledging emotions and being able to intuitively utilize that information to better your situation (as opposed to allowing those same emotions to exhaust you), and balancing your emotional reaction, depending on the circumstances, is what will put you on the fast track to developing positive happiness habits.

Thick Skin

            Happy people tend to be pretty thick-skinned.  Though some people are born this way, even the thin-skinned among us can learn to toughen up a bit.  The authors of this article suggest that those of us with thin skin should practice simply tolerating an emotionally challenging feeling for a little bit. No judgment.  No acting out. No numbing. No ramping up. Just deal with it.  Over time, your ability to withstand day-to-day negative emotions will expand and, since you cannot avoid them, your “skin will thicken” and you will have the emotional energy to shift it to the positive!

Balancing Pleasure with Purpose

People who are happiest, says Steger, tend to be “superior at sacrificing short-term pleasures when there is a good opportunity to make progress toward what they aspire to become in life”.

Further, making advances toward achievement of our goals causes us to feel more engaged while, at the same time, helps us tolerate any negative emotions that arise on the journey. (Richard Davidson, University of Wisconsin, Madison).

Happiness is not a goal…it’s a by-product of a life well lived.

                                                               – Eleanor Roosevelt

Posted by Elizabeth Revell, Mediation Assistant and Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Help in Moving On: When Others Misperceive You and It Makes you Want to Scream!

July 2, 2013

Positive-ThinkingMy mother is one of the smartest people that I know.  I have gone to her for every problem I have ever suffered through.  Over the years I have come to see my mom as one the world’s greatest advocates of “turning the other cheek”.  She is not a fan of putting one’s head in the sand, but feels that staying true to oneself – even when others have nasty things to say about you – is, in the end, the best way of pushing through life and coming out the other end as a happy, well-adjusted person.

So, for those of you who are suffering under the oppression of other people’s negativity towards you, here is some advice that my brother and I were raised with and that, in turn, we both rely on when raising our children.  I asked my mom to write up her philosophy on this topic.

The Question:

When your spouse, ex-spouse, friend, or former friend personifies you in a way that is demeaning, hurtful and incorrect, how can you avoid the personal pain that is caused by such misconception?

The Answer:

First off, you must know that the image portrayed and accepted by these persons may be permanently installed in the folklore of their family (friends), and is NOT you.  Think of this image as an invention of someone else’s imagination shared at your expense.

What to do?  You must rise above it all BECAUSE you know who you are and this image built around one single version of you is not you.   You also know that you are being pushed down so that those pushing you down can appear higher (right, superior, the winner, whatever).

You must know yourself and who you are so well that nothing can shake you (otherwise you won’t survive.)  You must feel so right about decisions you make and things you choose to do that it does not matter what those around you say.  You are as entitled to an opinion as they are.

Do not worry that former friends now taunt you.  They are no longer friends.  They were friends not worth having.  It may worry you that they do not like you, but plenty of people do like you.  Shift your attention to those people.  Remember, no one is liked by everyone.

And remember, also, when you are put down by a friend or former friend, spouse or ex spouse, despite what they may think, they do not run the world.  They are just one voice and not necessarily the voice of wisdom and reason that they may think themselves to be. Treat them with the same type of respect as you would accord a next door neighbor that you weren’t really close with, but had to deal with occasionally (or even often).  Don’t expect anything gratuitous from them and then you won’t be disappointed when they say hurtful things to you or about it.  It will just be business as usual.

When you know you have to come into contract with one of these ex-friends who is going to put you down, even ever so subtly, practice a mantra in your head: “I’m not listening to what you are saying, I’m not listening to what you are saying, I’m not listening to what you are saying”  Then, you will hardly what they have to say and it won’t hurt nearly as much as it otherwise would, or even at all.  Eventually you won’t hear what they are saying.  Eventually they might even notice that you hardly hear what they are saying and will stop wasting their breath.

Here is some wisdom that I recently found in an art magazine, regarding artists who are hurt by critics and even other artists (my mom is a collage artist at the Torpedo Factory Art Center in Old Town Alexandria, Virginia):

“When someone says, either in veiled language or in no uncertain terms, that you are an idiot, have no talent…often your reaction will be a hard-to-tolerate emotional response that shifts your world.  Nearly everyone has a strong, visceral reaction to being criticized, humiliated or shamed.  …Some very advanced or very detached human beings may be able to avoid these feelings.  For the rest of us, we feel them.  What to do?  The author continues (and I will summarize):

  1. Acknowledge to yourself that you just got slapped in the face, or worse.
  2. Realize that nothing important really happened.  What hit you is only one person’s opinion.
  3. Engage in a courageous personal assessment of the situation.  Maybe what they said is true and maybe that is the way you want to be.  Maybe they only took one part of your personality that they did not like and used it to define your whose being.  Maybe they are totally unqualified to pass judgment on you at all….like when a realistic painter feels an abstract painter isn’t really a painter…or a person who writes poems that do not rhyme is really not a real poet…etc…etc.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator with Gwendolyn Graine of graineart.com

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

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