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The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)

Excellence vs. Perfection

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7 Rules and 8 Methods for Responding to Passive-aggressive People

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50 RULES OF LIFE
Rule 8: Lift People Up, Don't Put Them Down

Recently, someone commented about my loving-kindness meditation audio: “I don't WANT to wish others well!” This comment saddened me because I realized that with such an attitude this person is not likely to find contentment in his life. I assume that since the comment was made while reviewing my Stop Panic app that he experiences a great deal of anxiety. Believing as he does indicates that he is not open to looking within to find the solution to his anxiety. As a result, he may find some relief (such as from medicine) but he is not likely to fully comprehend how to manage anxiety and live a contented life.

What is this concept of wishing others well?
Many philosophical lines of thought over the ages focus on the importance of how we treat others. “There is no exercise better for the heart than reaching down and lifting people up (John Andrew Holmes, 1773-1843).” When messages converge over the millennia there must be an element of truth in them:

1) Karma.
Hindu texts written three to four thousand years ago referred to the concept of karma which is defined as experiencing good or bad outcomes in one's life (or lives) depending upon past behavior. In other words, good things are more likely to happen to you if you live a good life and bad things are likely to happen if you don't.

Lift People Up, Don't Put Them Down 2) Loving-kindness.
About 2500 years ago Buddha sought the answer to the question of how to end suffering. His quest yielded the concepts of loving-kindness and compassion for others. Similar to karma, having an attitude of loving-kindness and treating others with kindness and compassion reduced suffering in the individual.

3) The Golden Rule.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus taught “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” which had its roots in the Torah (Old Testament) instruction “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” This concept which has become known as “the Golden Rule” is present in some form in most of the world's religions including Christianity, Judaism, and Islam.

4) Self-fulfilling prophecy.
Finally, psychology has shown through various lines of research that a person's perceptions tend to influence outcomes (Rosenthal, 2003). For example, if a person believes others will mistreat him, he is likely to be mistreated because his expectation affects how he treats others which influences their behavior towards him.

Why DO we want to wish others well?
Aside from it makes the world a nicer place, the main reason for wishing others well may seem like a selfish reason: the more that we can bestow loving-kindness and compassion on others, the more we experience peace and contentment ourselves. In addition, others tend to respond in kind and we reap even more positive outcomes.

Researchers Fredrickson and colleagues (2008) showed that nine weeks of loving-kindness meditation produced significant changes in the participants' lives. In particular, they experienced increased positive emotions which improved a number of areas in their lives including degree of self-acceptance, relationships, physical health, sense of purpose, and satisfaction with life. In addition, it decreased symptoms of depression. Interestingly, the researchers found that it wasn't the increased positive emotions that impacted the participants' lives but that the positive emotions set people on a path that increased their personal resources. For instance, when positive emotions increased, they were more likely to seek social contact, pursue meaningful activities, and take care of their physical health.

What about people who take advantage of our good nature?
Some people are concerned that loving-kindness towards others may make them more vulnerable to those willing to take advantage of kindhearted people. The message here, however, is that the attitude of loving kindness created through meditation influences your life in positive ways. Since this is an internal attitude, it can't be taken away from you. Also, loving-kindness doesn't mean that you need to allow yourself to be vulnerable. You can still protect yourself emotionally and physically while having an attitude of loving-kindness and compassion towards those who might harm you.

Fredrickson, B.L., Cohn, M.A., Coffey, K.A., Pek, J. and Finkel, S.M. (2008). Open Hearts Build Lives: Positive Emotions, Induced Through Loving-Kindness Meditation, Build Consequential Personal Resources. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 1045–1062. DOI: 10.1037/a0013262

Rosenthal, R. (2003). Covert communication in laboratories, classrooms, and the truly real world. Psychological Science, 12, 151–155.






The Secret of Happiness: Let It Find You (But Make the Effort)--page 1

by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
"...happiness doesn't come with fireworks and a parade. Instead, it sneaks in quietly as the night so that you don't realize it has been there for awhile."

The first and most important key to finding happiness may be the most difficult for many people (especially those reading this article): To find happiness you must not seek it! In other words, the more you try to find happiness, the more it will elude you. I think Nathaniel Hawthorne (1804-1864) said it best, “Happiness is a butterfly, which when pursued, is always just beyond your grasp, but which, if you will sit down quietly, may alight upon you.”

However, don't be discouraged. You can do many things to create a life where happiness is more likely to find you. Yet, the same caveat applies: If you do everything for the purpose of finding happiness, you may achieve much, but you are not likely to find happiness. Researcher Mauss and colleagues (2012) who found that the higher the value a person places on being happy, the more likely they are to be unhappy, stated, “encouraging a mindset to maximize happiness (as some “self-help” books do) may be counterproductive.”

The reason happiness becomes elusive the more you strive for it is due to creating a fixed desire of achieving happiness. If you have read some of my previous articles, you know that a fixed desire is a demand that something has to occur, or be true, or be achieved in order to be happy. Demands, or “shoulds,” are irrational thinking styles that create conditions for stress and unhappiness. Most of the time these demands take the form of “To be happy, I must be thin and wealthy” or “I must find the love of my dreams” or “I must have a fulfilling job.” In fact, a fixed desire can be almost anything. It could be "I should feel good today" or "My son should get an A on his exam."

However, typically the demands are not completely under the control of the individual and/or they are externally focused which means that the individual may not be able to make these things occur even with a great deal of effort. Therefore, this demand attitude allows happiness to be at the whim of the external world.

In the case of happiness itself, many people make the attainment of happiness a fixed desire: “I must be happy.” However, it is only when we realize that we don't need to be happy that we can find happiness. As William Saroyan (1908-1981) said in My Heart's in the Highlands “The greatest happiness you can have is knowing that you do not necessarily require happiness.”

The difference between a fixed desire and a desire or a goal is that the latter doesn't connect personal happiness with the outcome. For instance, a person may desire to find a fulfilling job but doesn't demand that it has to occur.

Interestingly, people who have desires rather than demands may be more likely to achieve their goals (Berg, Janoff-Bulman, & Cotter, 2001) possibly because they are more motivated and less discouraged. When the very essence of happiness is dependent upon the achievement of a goal, striving towards that goal can be quite overwhelming and even frightening: “What if I fail?”

The one time I experienced test anxiety was just as I started to take the Graduate Record Exam (GRE) that would affect my entrance into graduate school to become a psychologist. Just before I picked up my pencil, I said to myself, “This is the most important test you will ever take. If you don't do well, your life will be ruined.” My anxiety shot up as I opened the booklet to read the first question which might as well have been written in Russian because I couldn't comprehend a single word. Fortunately, I knew enough about self-talk and recognized what I had done to myself, so I put my pencil down, did five minutes of deep breathing and told myself, “This test doesn't matter. If you fail, all it means is that your life will take a different path.” That is the difference between a fixed desire and a desire.

The Tao te Ching (also known as “The Book of the Way” which I think of as early cognitive therapy) states, “If you want to be given everything, give everything up.” If you reflect on this statement you may realize that to give everything up, you must also give up the desire to be given everything. Very paradoxical and mind-boggling, isn't it? But that is the first step: To find happiness you must not seek it.

Similarly, Charles Dickens stated in his novel The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby, “Happiness is a gift and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.”

However, that being said, let's discuss how to achieve happiness. Actually, how to create the conditions so that happiness can find you. The work to finding happiness is to remove the obstacles to happiness. READ MORE: page 2

Intro  to Secret of Happiness--page 1

What Is Happiness?--page 2

Is Happiness Possible for Everyone?--page 3

What Intentional Behaviors Can Influence Happiness?--page 4

How Do You Choose Which Intentional Behaviors to Pursue?--page 5

A Final Word About How to Know Happiness When it Finds You--page 6



Kindle Books by
Dr. Monica Frank



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