Sep 30

Happiness: Quotes from the Experts

I use the term happiness to refer to the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile. Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness, on finding happiness

Finding happiness is a preoccupation for many. The following quotes from various authors and experts may help point you in the right direction.

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis: Happiness is not something that you can find, acquire, or achieve directly. You have to get the conditions right and then wait. Some of those conditions are within you, such as coherence among the parts and levels of your personality. Other conditions require relationships to things beyond you: Just as plants need sun, water, and good soil to thrive, people need love, work, and a connection to something larger. It is worth striving to get the right relationships between yourself and others, between yourself and your work, and between yourself and something larger than yourself. If you get these relationships right, a sense of purpose and meaning will emerge.

Matthieu RicardHappinessHappiness is a state of inner fulfillment, not the gratification of inexhaustible desires for outward things.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: If we observe genuinely happy people, we shall find that they do not just sit around being contented. They make things happen. They pursue new understandings, seek new achievements, and control their thoughts and feelings. In sum, our intentional, effortful activities have a powerful effect on how happy we are, over and above the effects of our set points and the circumstances in which we find themselves. If an unhappy person wants to experience interest, enthusiasm, contentment, peace, and joy, he or she can make it happen by learning the habits of a happy person.

Raj Raghunathan, author of If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Happy? in an interview with Joe Pinsker, The Atlantic: On the one hand, we are hard-wired to focus more on negative things. But at the same time, we are also all hard-wired to be seeking a sense of happiness and the desire to flourish, and to be the best we can be. Ultimately, what we need in order to be happy is at some level pretty simple. It requires doing something that you find meaningful, that you can kind of get lost in on a daily basis.

Paul Dolan, Happiness By Design: Change what you do, not how you think. You are what you do, your happiness is what you attend to, and you should attend to what makes you and those whom you care about happy.

Brené Brown: I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness–it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.

David Steindl-Rast, Music of Silence: Look closely and you will find that people are happy because they are grateful. The opposite of gratefulness is just taking everything for granted.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness ProjectThe belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.

Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness: To be sure, most of us do become happier at some point during our lives. Indeed, contrary to popular belief, people actually get happier with age.

Daniel M. Gilbert, Stumbling on Happiness: We are happy when we have family, we are happy when we have friends and almost all the other things we think make us happy are actually just ways of getting more family and friends.

Jul 18

Selfishness and Selflessness (and Everywhere In Between)

Where does one draw the line between selfishness and selflessness? Between taking care of oneself and tending to others?

It’s a thin line between pleasing yourself/And pleasing somebody else. Indigo Girls, “Thin Line”

Lend yourself to others, but give yourself to yourself. Michel de Montaigne

Is selfishness bad and selflessness good? That’s what many believe. What I think, though, is that both of these traits are like any other—they exist on a continuum, the “bad” and the “good” and anywhere in between. Following are various interpretations regarding the range of possibilities.

Daniel Goleman, author of Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships, writes, for example, about the difference between too much focus on the self and its counterpart: “Self-absorption in all its forms kills empathy, let alone compassion. When we focus on ourselves, our world contracts as our problems and preoccupations loom large. But when we focus on others, our world expands. Our own problems drift to the periphery of the mind and so seem smaller, and we increase our capacity for connection – or compassionate action.”

What about the relationship between happiness and selfishness/selflessness? Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project: Or Why I Spent a Year Trying to Sing in the Morning, Clean My Closets, Fight Right, Read Aristotle, and Generally Have More Fun:

The belief that unhappiness is selfless and happiness is selfish is misguided. It’s more selfless to act happy. It takes energy, generosity, and discipline to be unfailingly lighthearted, yet everyone takes the happy person for granted. No one is careful of his feelings or tries to keep his spirits high. He seems self-sufficient; he becomes a cushion for others. And because happiness seems unforced, that person usually gets no credit.

On a different aspect of happiness and selfishness, Erin Falconer, Pick the Brain: “Your happiness needs to be important to you. But perhaps the greatest reason to be a little selfish is because it makes you a better person for others as well.” Examples given to describe what many of us call being “self-ish” versus selfish:

  • Caregiving – It’s hard to be a good caregiver when you’re unhappy. The anxiety and stress can be draining and distracting, causing you to make more mistakes than if you were a little selfish and focused on your needs.
  • Parenting – Great parenting is not just about attending to all of your children’s needs. Great parenting is also about setting an example of how to be an emotionally happy and healthy person, and not be someone riddled with anxiety symptoms.
  • Relationships – You may love your partner to the point of wanting to care for their every whim, and your partner may accept this love with open arms. But they want you to be happy, even if that means not attending their every need.

What about giving without regard to one’s own needs? Is real selflessness or altruism possible? Psychologist Craig D. Marker, Ph.D, Psychology Today: “Most definitions of altruism discuss the idea that the altruistic act is unselfish and that it provides no benefit to the person performing that act. That is a tough definition to live up to and many others have discussed whether a pure altruistic act is even possible…”

Approaching this issue philosophically and from different angles psychiatrist Neel Burton (author of Hide and Seek: The Psychology of Self-Deception), draws the following conclusion (Psychology Today):

There can be no such thing as an ‘altruistic’ act that does not involve some element of self-interest, no such thing, for example, as an altruistic act that does not lead to some degree, no matter how small, of pride or satisfaction. Therefore, an act should not be written off as selfish or self-motivated simply because it includes some inevitable element of self-interest. The act can still be counted as altruistic if the ‘selfish’ element is accidental; or, if not accidental, then secondary; or, if neither accidental nor secondary, then undetermining.   

In other words, if there is no expectation of self-interest, altruism is feasible. Donna Lynn Hope: “If you want to call attention to your good deed then it isn’t a good deed, it’s a self-serving one. Why? Not only have you patted yourself on the back but you’re fishing for others to do the same.”

Jul 10

Laughter in Therapy: Important Quotes That Support It

If laughter‘s so good for us, why is laughter in therapy—on either side of the process—sometimes regarded as bad? (Naturally, in questioning this I’m referring only to the healthy, not-hurtful kind of laughter.)

Some quotes by well-known folks who’ve appreciated laughter:

Mark Twain: When you laugh, your mind, body, and spirit change.

Madeleine L’EngleA good laugh heals a lot of hurts. 

Lord Byron: Always laugh when you can, it is cheap medicine. 

Bob Hope: I have seen what a laugh can do. It can transform almost unbearable tears into something bearable, even hopeful.

Victor Borge: Laughter is the shortest distance between two people

Lucy Maud Montgomery: Life is worth living as long as there’s a laugh in it.

Bob Newhart: Laughter gives us distance. It allows us to step back from an event, deal with it and then move on.

Ethel Barrymore: You grow up on the day you have your first real laugh at yourself.

William James: We don’t laugh because we’re happy – we’re happy because we laugh.

Robert Frost: If we couldn’t laugh we would all go insane.

And then there’s character Daryl Stone from my own novel Minding Therapy: “I shyly laugh, inwardly praying she won’t be one of those shrinks who would rid me of my favorite coping mechanism. Sure humor’s a defense – so what?”

LET’S BACK THIS UP WITH SOME RESEARCH

For further details about any of the following snippets, click on the corresponding resource link.

Melanie Winderlich, Discovery, reports scientific reasons why laughter is healthy: it decreases stress, helps coping skills, and boosts your social skills, among other things.

Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project: “Laughter is more than just a pleasurable activity…When people laugh together, they tend to talk and touch more and to make eye contact more frequently.”

Psychologist Ofer ZurThe Zur Instituteasserts that laughter in therapy is cathartic.