Reading to young children is important for children. First, it starts a love affair for reading and exploration. Second, it enhances our ability to understand and express language both verbally and in writing. The following video is a great example of how to properly read to young infants and toddlers. Note that the setting is not highly structured and controlled. This is vital because controlling and structuring environment, in short forcing young children to listen is the first step towards loving reading and storytelling.
I have written many articles on here about loneliness and rejection, mainly because as a social psychologist I believe that these two variables are a root cause of many of our social and psychological problems in the world. One type of loneliness that I have sort of understood intellectually and partly definition wise is emotional loneliness. Emotional loneliness is defined as not have a significant emotional connection with at least one other person. I say at least because we all have different needs and a number of emotional connections. But what has perplexed me as a social psychologist is cases in which a person has several emotionally meaningful and connected relationship, but still feels a deep sense of emotional loneliness. This has perplexed me until I realized that emotionally close relationship is connected with parts of our self-definition and identity – that it is not about how many emotional connections we have, but whether or not given emotional connections bring about a better understanding of who we are and reinforce core aspects of our identity as individuals. Let me provide an example from my own life.
For the last two years, I have been plagued by bouts of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. I have tried all the individual psychology techniques to deal with these issues that included: therapy, medication, self-help books, and yes even negative coping mechanisms such as drinking. But none of these were able to dull or alleviate my sense of extreme emotional loneliness and corresponding depression and anxiety. What bothered me was I had plenty of emotionally supportive and meaningful relationships: my kids and my family, but also some very close friends who would message me right back anytime I felt down or needed help – this was my mental block when it came to the loneliness that I was experiencing: I had very close and emotionally supportive relationships that I knew I could tell and experience anything with.
But recently, I started to look at core aspects of myself and identity, and asked a simple question: what part of who I am is missing and is suffering? I looked at being a dad. The answer was no, my kids love me, and we would do anything for each other. Is it my career and being a psychologist? I looked at my current research, and my current teaching position and the answer was no, my co-workers, even though I only been at my current college for six weeks, already tell me how much they valued my work and excited that I am here. Is it being a son or a brother? Well I know me, and my brothers do not talk a lot but recent events over the summer I know without a doubt we are always here there each other. And my relationship with my mom is very emotionally connected. What about being a friend? Here again, I can say recent events in my life have shown me that I am a good friend, with deep emotional connections, and my friends are amazing in return. Then I turned my attention to the importance of being an intimate partner and the value that has in my life. I know from past intimate partnerships that I placed a high value on being a good intimate partner. I came to realize that this area of my life was an issue. I realized that for the last two years I had failed miserably at keeping and maintaining a close significant intimate relationship with someone else. Indeed, at the time I made this realization, I was trying to maintain a non-existent intimate relationship with someone, and in my desire to maintain that I am a good intimate partner, a lot of dysfunction and yes emotional disconnect arose from that situation.
As a psychologist, I started to understand, my experience started to highlight that other aspect of emotional loneliness, that despite having so many emotionally connected relationship I was: (1) lacking one in a core area of who I was, and (2) I was willing to stay in a dysfunctional situation thinking that if I could make it work it would make everything okay. In addition to this, the relationship had become a self-defeating cycle, where in my mind I had to try harder, I had to impress more – which after rejection – lead to feelings of worthlessness and hopelessness. Loneliness, worthlessness, and feelings of hopelessness are key ingredients in both depression and anxiety.
So, what did I do? I ended the dysfunctional relationship, engaged myself in other emotional close relationships, and for the first time in two years, I have lived with no depression, no anxiety, no emotional loneliness. Not only have I seen the relief of these I feel closer to my other emotionally close relationships – I see my kids, my family, and my friendship in a vibrant and fulfilling new light. I also learned something through this process, I learned that my identity as an intimate partner is not damaged, I only allowed myself to see it as damaged and that there was something wrong with me. I think all too often, especially in intimate relationships, we blame ourselves and feel there must be something wrong with me if the other person does not respond the way an intimate partner should respond.
My journey, I hope this helps others understand what is meant by emotional loneliness, and how it is connected to a part of our core identities. We can have many emotional close relationships, but when a relationship is lacking is a core aspect of who we are it can drive many of our negative emotions and even drive disordered behavior. Letting go of toxic relationships that are not emotionally fulfilling and do not support part of our own core identity can lead to better health and well-being.
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To start this article, I want to begin with a simple premise: Physical pain and the pain from being rejected are the same. The human brain and the brain of other social animals reacts the same whether someone is dying from a chronic illness, being shocked, or being dumped by an intimate partner or being denied entry into a group. However, we for some reason like to separate the two, and place rejection within the realm of emotions (which as humans we falsely think are controllable) and physical injury in the domain of the uncontrollable (after all it was not their fault the sidewalk was there when they fell off their bike while trying to do a hand stand). What I mean by these statements is we tend to empathize with physical injury and forgive the reasons, but we tend to consider the suffering from reject as a sign of weakness and not being of hardy stalk. However, our world view of rejection is wrong, and by correcting this view, we can heal from the pain of rejection better, heal faster, and regain a sense of stability. To do this I think it is useful to use a common form of rejection and that is intimate partner rejection and I want to compare that to a more long-term physical disease such as cancer. I like this analogy because both rejection of an intimate partner and the development of cancer can occur very quickly or they both can sit dormant for years until an escalating moment. The second, is once cancer and the possibility of the loss of an intimate partner is made apparent both disease states tend to accelerate in their progression. Third, once the cancer is removed or the person leaves there is no guarantee of recovery or that one will not experience the disease ever again. Finally, I think this is a good analogy because we need to be honest both cancer and rejection from a close intimate partner can both lead to death. Indeed, the number one cause of homicide in the United States is intimate partner homicide, and over the past three decades cheating – the ultimate form of rejection – has become the number one reason for intimate partner homicide. Additionally, suicidal behavior is often followed by rejection, especially of a close intimate partner. With these four similarities in mind let us move on and explore how we can heal successfully.
I want to start our comparison by first stating a simple disease step model, I think by using this simple model it will be easier to come to understand how rejection occurs and the pain process:
There are a few qualities of this comparison that I like to make. First is that it is a progression, while it may seem like it at times, when two people are truly intimately connected they do not just wake up one morning and say “I am leaving”. There is always a progression that continually erodes the relationship much like a cancer erodes and destroys a healthy body. A good example of this is research that interviewed divorced individuals and indicated that when the individual really starts to analyze their relationship, the relationship started to erode about two years before the individuals start to realize there is a problem.
The second thing that I hope the reader recognizes is that while this is a very general model, the processes are almost identical – BUT – the major difference is how the individual tends to respond, especially as both diseases progress. This is largely due to our belief systems that (1) a person should have control over their relationship, and (2) if there is a problem one should be able to fix it, if the couple ‘really’ loves each other. I think it is worth taking some time exploring these two faulty belief systems. The first is the illusion of control, the fact is, you and your partner, can do everything perfect. You can follow all the relationship advise, treat each other with complete respect, cherish one another completely, and guess what? – You can still end up being a divorce statistic. Please do not take this as a criticism of humans and our ability to have long lasting relationships. Remember the analogy between physical disease and rejection. A person can eat right, exercise, refrain from toxins and they can still end up having cancer or dying young of heart disease. This same principle applies to human relationships. With that being said, we should not end up be complete skeptics of our health or our relationships. The person who eats right and exercises will have a much better quality of life even if they still end up with a disease. The same goes with relationships, while all relationships may end, the more we invest healthily into them the higher the quality of experiences we have. The second illusion that if two people really love each other they should be able to fix it, I think comes from our overall illusion that we can also control our own fate.
Especially in highly individualistic societies, like the one here in the United States, individuals tend to believe that everything good and bad that a person does OR that a person experiences is solely due to the actions and beliefs of that individual. In other words, we maintain bad beliefs such as “she broke up with you because you are a bad person”, or “If he can’t love you because of who you are, no one else is going to either”. Now we should qualify this, because for much of western society’s history we did this with physical diseases, so once we believed that people got cancer because the gods were punishing them for being a sinner, or a person has a mental illness because they had a weak mind that allowed them to be possessed by some demon. It was not until western medicine and science started to debunk these myths that we started to see physical diseases as we do today – Although there are still some people who believe that diseases are a punishment from god, but that a whole other article. It is in this same tradition of science that I write this article, in that we know enough scientifically about human relationships, that placing the entire fault for rejection on a single person or a single occurrence or process is ridiculous. So, if it is not because one person changes, that ruins a relationship, then what is it? As you think about this question you probably thinking that it is an unsolvable question, but it is actually fairly simple, change is the culprit to eventual rejection. But before I explain this there is one more faulty belief system that we must first address. That faulty belief is that we as individuals do not change greatly over time, and that our personality, beliefs, and who we are at the core does not change. The fact is you will be a different person five years from now than you are today. Indeed, you probably been a different person several times today already. Let me provide a simple example, what if someone secretly recorded you alone in your bedroom, out with friends at night, playing with your kids, and let us say giving a big work presentation. I am willing to bet if I blurred your face and changed your voice in each scenario and played it back to you, you would report seeing and hearing four (amazing) but different individuals. The truth is we are who we are based on (a) the demands of the situation, (b) our skills and ability to respond to the situation, and (c) our ability to comprehend the situation. Additionally, each situation demands something different from us, and therefore we must respond to a situation differently. However, because it would make us crazy to think we have so many different selves, which would lead us to feeling very unstable, our mind and brain have developed the illusion that we are consistent and stable overtime. In fact, we have gotten so good at this that we can change memories going clear back into childhood to make them congruent with who we are today without even realizing it is happening. The problem is, if I am stable and that is core to who I am, then my relationships remain stable and the same, because they are also core to my own identity. Therefore, any time a person has relationship difficulties, they sadly try to reset the relationship to “how we use to be when we first fell in love”. As you can guess, this almost always ends up failing. Indeed, most successful couples when they reach a point of recognizing their relationship has eroded, recognize first how much they and their partner has changed, and instead of rekindling the old flame, they go through process of courting and falling in love with this new person and leave that old relationship behind. It is as Mignon McLaughlin stated, “A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person” – but should add with the same person as they are today.
So the question that remains is given that any relationship no matter of the healthy behaviors the couple engages in, how does one have a long lasting relationship and decrease the chances of eventual rejection and loss.
#1 – Engage in healthy relationship behaviors, say “I love you” daily, touch, communicate, be honest with feelings for each other, doing things together, etc. For this there are plenty of relationship books that can help couples learn exercises of a health relationship.
#2 – Self-awareness. The ability to recognize one’s own physical and mental state as it relates to one’s situation is what we call self-awareness. We often go through our day with a narrow window of self-awareness because that all we really need to get through the common roles we have in life. However, it is advised to at least once a week for at least 30 minutes a person becomes completely self-aware of their physical, social, and psychological world. After which, engaging in self-reflection about how one is doing, how one is changing, and how one is feeling about their current situation is an important and provides a person with a guide. This can be done through several mediums such as journaling, yoga, meditation, prayer (if your religious), or any form activity that allows you to be aware of where you are completely as a person.
#3 – Recognize and embrace change. Accept that change is going to happen and that means you will need to continually work at your relationship. Never assume that your relationship is like a rock and is unbendable or unbreakable.
#4 – Continually try new things. Stagnation is like stopping exercise or eating right when it comes to relationship health. Yes there are times in all our lives when we do the day-to-day grind. However, actively seeking ways to engage one’s interest, discover new things, and engage one’s world differently can provide great learning opportunities and relationship bonding moments.
#5 – This probably should be number 1 – but remember if you decide to live in a radioactive bucket – do not be surprised if you get cancer. In same vein, if you live your life with toxic people, do not be surprised if you always are experiencing rejection and loss. Sometimes the people we desire – are reason for our disease – just like I know if I continue eating chocolate cake I will gain weight and run risk of heart disease.
#6 – Be human! Often, we think that the perfect relationship is a relationship without conflict and problems. We forget that relationships are made by imperfect people, and therefore are inherently not perfect. Be honest with feelings, do not hide your faults, and encourage your partner to do the same.
#7 – Do not ignore other social relationships. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the excitement of an intimate relationship we let other important relationships in our lives weaken or even completely abandoned. Remember that we are a social creators, and we all have a differing needs for both social connections and emotional connections. When we do not maintain the needed level for both, we can find ourselves in deep despair, loneliness, and possibly depression. While it is wonderful to fall in love, remember that you both need to fall in love with each other’s complete world.
#8 – Maintain connection through common beliefs. Interestingly the idea of opposite attracts is not true when it comes to long successful relationships. Indeed, individuals who are in long-term relationships – and are still in love – have the same or similar belief systems and attitudes. Identify these early on in a relationship and nurture them together.
#9 – Intimate relationship that include sexuality, should be a vibrant sexuality. I often gross out my younger students when lecturing on long-term relationships, because I ask “how many have grandparents who were married for most of their lives and still really love each other?”. I then explain to these students that when it comes to sexuality, your grandparents were – and still probably are – freaks in the bedroom. Indeed, we find that individuals in long-term loving relationships tend to try new things, get adventurous with each other, and never let their sexually intimate life become stagnate. Now there are always those exceptions where one or both partners, usually due to health problems, lose interest in sex and we know that sex interests vary across the life span. We still find that individual who are going through a period of low sexuality or loss of their sexual life, tend to compensate in different ways such as increasing and diversifying other pleasurable couple activities.
#10 – Understand your own ‘life space’ and the life space of your partner. A famous social psychologist, Kirt Lewin, introduced the idea of life space, as a way to try and visually represent human behavior. If you can imagine a large bubble, that contains all of a person possibilities, then you understand visually what one’s life space is. But first what is meant by all of a person’s possibilities? Lewin recognized that every situation that we find our self in there is a range of possible reactions to that situation. All of one’s possible reactions is one’s life space. So, let me give an example, a school teacher who is making 40,000 a year, is at a car show where she is presented with the opportunity to purchase a $200,000 luxury car. Is this part of the teacher’s life space or range of possibilities? Given her income, cost of insurance, other financial obligations, the probability of buying the luxury car given the teacher’s current life space is very very small. Now the teacher recognizing that the car is not within her current life space can do things to add to it, life get a higher paying job, pay off lots of bills etc etc. But unfortunately, we do not live in a world of what we could do, we often live in the here and now, and understanding our current life space helps us understand our limits and abilities when it comes to actually engaging in a intimate relationship. Once we are aware of it, then and only then can we recognize how it will impact our current relationship, but also what we need to work at, so that the range of possibilities within a relationship can increase through the expansion of our own life space. The other reason for bring up the concept of life space is we often need to recognize the boundaries of our partner’s life space. If you are approaching a relationship with the intent on changing someone, you might as well start saving for the divorce now. For a person to change they must recognize the limitations of their own life space and have the tools and ability to expand their space. Now this does not mean if someone does not meet all your standards that you should not consider being in a relationship with them, but it does mean that you will need to sacrifice something to have that relationship – and sometimes sacrifice is okay.
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Philip Zimbardo’s research on time orientation teaches us that individuals live within three-time orientations: past, present, and future. A past oriented person is someone who makes current decisions based on past experiences only. These individuals tend not to be able to get over past experiences, and they are always inhibiting the person from becoming successful in the present and the future. An example of a past oriented person is someone who has experienced a severe trauma in their past, but that past experience comes to define everything about the individual and how they deal with the world in the present and when considering the future. Present-oriented individuals are persons who are only at the moment, not thinking about the past or concerns of future consequences of behaviors. Often present oriented individuals are experiencing an extreme amount of stress or trauma, where the individual can only focus on current survival. A future-oriented person, is someone who has all the current resources they need for survival that they can focus on future goals and aspirations. They are not defined by their past. Instead, they place their focus on their future.
It is important to state from the outset, that to some degree individuals will fluctuate between these time orientations. For example, if someone has a car accident, the mind’s natural response is to make sure that trauma occurs again, especially when there are continued reminders of the accident such as a physical injury. In this case, it is natural for a person to keep a past time orientation. Likewise, a person who becomes unemployed and starts to struggle financially, can in a very natural way become present oriented where all their decisions focus on the here and now, and not future consequences of behaviors. This is a common reason that a person in this situation is at more risk for engaging in the unethical or unlawful behavior. Because they are so focused on current survival, future consequences are not something these individuals can comprehend. When we have, our basic needs met (steady employment, shelter, food, etc.) a person can become future oriented where they can focus on future aspiration and head towards goals.
The problem with these time orientations is when we engage in helping behaviors. For example, a person who is present oriented often looks for a person who is stable and therefore future oriented. In this relationship, communication can be frustrated, because the future-oriented person often gets frustrated with their friend for lacking foresight and not being able to see their current situation as temporary. Whereas the present-oriented person can be frustrated by their friend not understanding that they need answers now and solutions today.
So, what is the solution to this problem of communication? It starts with us, and our understanding where we are and where other people are in their thinking process. Recently I had struggles, which placed my thought process in a current orientation. All that mattered to me was what was going on in the here and now, and what I had in the here and now. I did not want to hear “be patient,” or “let’s see what happens,” or “I need time.” On reflection on this and thinking about how frustrating these statements were, it all had to do with my time orientation. And the fact that the people in my life had a different orientation, many had a future orientation and were looking towards the future, and had a clear vision of how they wanted the future to be. In their conceptualization of my situation, in their need to help me, tried to give me a future goal. Additionally, some became so frustrated with me because I was so focused on needing answers NOW. Unfortunately, having this current time orientation did nothing for improving my situation in that it made me appear volatile, unstable, and unpredictable, which for some of my friends scared them. Indeed, friends who had met me when I was successful, started to abandon me, because these behaviors of current orientation were just too much for them to handle. The question reflecting on this situation is how could have been better at handling my life and relationship during a time of crisis? While it can be very difficult when one’s time orientation changes, having a level of self-awareness that allowed insight into my changing time orientation could have gone a long ways to mitigating this situation. Second is communicating with people in my life where I am in my orientation and letting them know I have the inability to focus on future because I am unable cognitively to get over the moment right now. Finally, would be to focus on those things that placed my mind in a current time orientation, and not worry about other concerns such as the future of relationships and the like. There is a reason we have three-time orientations to deal with life events. By being in the current time orientation, it should be signaling to us that there are issues that need to be taken care of in the here and now – usually survival needs – that for the moment supersede other life concerns. So, to summarize there are three things we should do based on our time orientation:
2. Communicate one’s needs by having an honest evaluation of your time orientation.
3. Respond to that time orientation, there is a reason why one experiences different time orientations, and it is important to take care of one’s needs.
Before making a closing remark, I would like to make a comment about individuals who are in a past orientation. Individuals who tend to be past-oriented have experienced some form of trauma that then start to determine most if not all their behaviors. This time orientation can be seen in individuals who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), victims of violence, survivors of cancer or other dangerous diseases, and individuals who experience chronic stressors. When a person experiences these, they often run the risk of having that event define who they are as a person. This can be seen when individuals can only identify with others with similar problems, or when that becomes part of their defining identity. I have seen this pronounced in some of the veterans I have worked with who suffer from PTSD. It is not uncommon when asking these individuals to introduce themselves to first and foremost define that they have PTSD. Before we move on, however, I would like to point out that this is a positive thing, because many individuals both veterans and non-veterans who suffer from PTSD have a hard time admitting to the problems associated with PTSD. However, what always interested me is this defining feature of PTSD, was more defining than other identities of the individual such as being a father or mother, being an employee, being a student, and otherwise being healthy. I have also seen this with victims of abuse, where being a victim becomes the most pronounce feature of their identity and who they are as an individual. From a time, perspective, I would like to explore this issue more.
Based on our discussion of time orientation, individuals who have experienced severe trauma tend to have a past time orientation to where any current stresses become framed in how that was handled in the past – usually always associated with that trauma that occurred. For example, I often worked with individuals where if they had a flat tire in the morning, they would just give up on the rest of the day. While this can be very frustrating for employers and others in the person’s life who would have used, problem-solving skills to meet their obligation despite starting their day with a flat tire, individuals who are in a past time orientation simply currently do not have that cognitive ability. Problem-solving requires having a future orientation where an individual can see themselves as actors in the future getting through their day. Individuals with a past time orientation simply do not have that capacity to see themselves as actors in the future, making it through their day despite a flat tire. For those who have love ones or work with individuals who are in a past orientation – usually identified by only being able to define one’s self-based on experience – we should work on being more empathetic. Instead of getting frustrated we should slow down and walk the person through the problem-solving process. This should not be done in a condescending way and should help the individual learn skills that are not based on past experiences.
I decided to write this article on time orientation, based on personal experiences I have had lately where I realize that so many communication mistakes I have made could have been reduced through my self-awareness. I also decided to write this because I think it is a good reminder that we should not fall victim to one of our most human fallacy of assuming other people see the world and problems from the same perspective that “I” do. And those who do not think the same that there must be something wrong with them. I hope the next time you have a friend or family member who is having difficulty, that you can step back and ask yourself: where are they time wise?, based on their time orientation, what do they need now to help overcome their difficulties?, and honestly ask yourself, do I have the patience and ability to be truly helpful?
© Curtis Peterson
My son has a great website that talks a lot of about physics, and you can watch the development of an up and coming physicist.
By: Curtis Peterson ©
Scrolling through my recent articles, which has been awhile, I noticed that I have focused on some negative attributes of the human condition such as loneliness and violence. With this in mind, I decided to write an article on more positive aspects of being human such as happiness and fulfillment. The first thing I think we should describe is what is happiness.
Happiness is often described by its’ opposite pain. Pain is a negative physical-psychological state that indicates that there is something wrong with the person. Pain can be both physical – like a paper cut – or it can be psychological – like the pain of rejection. Interestingly, we do not need to spend much time differentiating between the two because recent neurological data suggests that both physical and psychological pain originate from the same place in the brain and undergo similar processes. However, healing from each may require different methods. Since pain is a signal to the individual that something is wrong, then it would make sense that happiness is the absence of pain – meaning everything is currently alright. However, happiness goes a bit further because it includes feelings of optimism, feelings of place, and a general feeling that at this moment things are the way they should be.
Now it is important to distinguish between two types of happiness. The first is situational happiness; this is the happiness that we experience when we have some special event that occurs such as a birthday, wedding, divorce, or graduation. This type of happiness can be likened to its’ opposite, which is extreme pain experienced due to situational factors such as a car accident – meaning (hopefully) these extreme forms of pain and happiness tend to be short lived. The other type of happiness is continuous happiness. There is a portion of our population that measure high in continuous happiness, which includes a heighten state of optimism, a general sense of justice, and along with optimism, and these individuals tend to see struggles as opportunities. Now, this is very important; this does not mean that these individuals do not struggle. Indeed, these people can be found across the socio-economic strata from impoverished individuals to wealthy, minorities to majorities. They also tend to face the same number of challenges as less happy people do, but they differ in one way. Continuously happy individuals tend to view current crises as part of the human experience and that they will not last forever. Now since the late 1990s, a group of psychologists started what is known as the positive psychology movement. The idea behind the movement is the recognition that most of what psychology has studied are the psychopathologies of life – or what we can call the pain and dysfunctional side of life’s spectrum – and very little time was spent looking at its’ opposite such as happiness, well-being, and positive motivation. These psychologists started to look for individuals who seemed to continually happy and content, and of course, once we found them we bugged them with surveys, brain scans, and observing them to try and determine what makes them unique. What has resulted is what I call the ten principles of continuously happy individuals. The ten are listed here with a description of each to follow:
1. Engaged life
2. Meaningful life
3. Authentic life
4. Have a spiritual belief or philosophy
5. Notion of Justice
6. Work and play
7. Positive evaluation of negative emotions
8. Positive view of the future
9. Social and emotional connections with other humans
10. Unconditional positive regard
Living an engaging, meaningful, and authentic life
Now let us look at each one of these starting with the first three: living an engaged, meaningful, and authentic life. These three were first formulated by John Seligman who is the founder of positive psychology. What he and others have found is that continuously happy people tend to:
First happy individuals live an engaged life, meaning that they do not see themselves as passive bystanders, but as an active participant in the human experience. These individuals can be identified by how they engage in every aspect of their life including work, family, friends, hobbies, and even rest. They tend to be very curious and want to learn more when they experience new things.
The second is living a meaningful life. Now having a meaningful life does not mean you become president of the United States and work tirelessly towards world peace, or become the top CEO of an organization. No living a meaningful life means that you find meaning in what you do, even the inconvenient tasks of life. Many of the individuals that psychologist has found that are continuously happy are not all successful by western standards in that they not necessarily financially wealthy or have a high-powered position such as doctors or CEO. I can remember reading the story of an elementary school janitor who measured high on a scale of happiness. When he was asked about his work, he said he didn’t think of his job as simply mopping floors and cleaning toilets, but rather preparing a clean and healthy environment for children to learn. I would like the reader to think about how the individual frames their daily work tasks from meaningless – just cleaning toilets – to meaningful – preparing a clean place for children to learn. That is the key to living a meaningful life: being able to take even the most mundane task and find the meaningful purpose.
The third notion of this triad is living authentically. Most people think they are acting “real” or “being truly them” but when one digs deeper usually that real person is what we call a persona that the individual is wearing. What is a persona? The word persona was first used by Carl Jung and would eventually evolve into the word personality as we know it in psychology today. But the word persona is a Roman term which is a Greek mask that Roman actors wore when playing a Greek drama. Carl Jung liked this name because he believed that for the most part, we all wear masks and we have masks for different situations, but the true self lays somewhere behind that mask. Now we all must live in a world of social convention, with the exception of Walmart and college classrooms, it is usually not seen as appropriate to wear pajamas to social situations, and conversely while one can, it usually not socially acceptable to go to bed wearing a three-piece suit. So, in many ways, we will always have some type of persona that we must wear in our social world. However, a person who is truly authentic does not hide behind these social conventions. Now, this does not mean showing off your personality by being a loud-mouthed jerk – unless that authentically who you are. No this means truly letting people know who you are as an individual. One of the most authentic individuals I know, whenever engaging in a social group activity would say “I am extremely introverted, so I like to think things through before I talk about them socially, so please do not think me rude for being quiet through the first part of this group project.” Being authentic is the ability to express your needs, wants, and even negative qualities in order for others to have an understanding of who that person is as a human being. In a time of such political polarity, I had the chance to hear a truly authentic person when he said,
“Curtis I am a conservative, I have always voted conservative and even go to many conservative events, but that does not mean I agree with everything that conservatives stand for especially when it comes to their broader views about people in poverty”.
Both the student in the earlier statement and my conservative friend are what one would consider living with authenticity, meaning it okay to have beliefs and ideas and even lean towards one view or another, but being authentic means that one does not become completely entrenched into something that they start acting against their personal beliefs and attitudes and who they are as a person.
These three seem to be essential qualities of a truly happy person, but there are seven others that tend to be very common. We will start with spirituality
Happy individuals tend to have a deep sense of spirituality. Whether it is finding meaning in poetic naturalism, and seeing one’s self as an important chain in human evolution and life – or a religious individual who has a strong belief in their faith in God. In the most basic sense spirituality is the belief in something bigger than the self, that brings the individual meaning and purpose beyond just surviving from day to day. Now it is important to say you can be a hardcore atheist and a devoutly religious person and lack spirituality. Some individuals are indoctrinated into their belief system and believe what they believe because that is all they been taught by their family, friends, and communities. Usually, a person becomes spiritual, when they go through some spiritual experience that brings meaning to their life and helps them believe in something beyond their existence. For example, I had a good friend who went to a weekend Christian get away with his spouse, upon returning he found spiritual meaning in his life and has guided his actions since. This friend is doing amazing things working with kids and families. Another good friend of mine has found meaning in not having a religious belief, but having a deep respect and love for human potential and our places in this amazing universe – as she would say. Both individuals may have different belief systems, but they both would are considered highly spiritual in that they have found meaning for their existence beyond the self and simple survival.
Notion of Justice
Individuals who tend to be happy have a belief in universal justice. For me, this is much like the idea of karma, in that the universe has ways of balancing out the injustices that we may experience from time to time and ultimately leads to fairness. This idea reminds me of the final justice that many of the domestic violence survivors I have worked with experience. One that comes to mind was a young woman when she was going through the criminal justice system and trying to get justice through the court saw very little help let alone justice, the most her abuser received was 30 days in jail for strangling her until she passed out. She and her kids were abused by this man with little justice over a three-year period. When through other means than the justice system she got out and started building her life on her own. Today she is married to a very loving and non-abusive man and she has become a school teacher. However, her ex-abuser has spent his life in and out of jail and now serving time for drug charges. This example is an example of the just world idea and that individuals eventually get what they deserve and justice, in the end, will always prevail. It is believed by many psychologists that this belief in justice is what helps happy individuals get through difficult times in their lives and can see the light at the end of the darkest tunnel.
Work and Play
Have you ever known someone who when they get to the end of the work week they get bummed and say instead of “I can’t wait until Friday” they say, “I can’t wait until Monday”? If you do know someone like this, you probably met a continuously happy individual. An interview with someone who scored high on this type of happiness stated, “I can’t tell the difference between the joy of spending the day at the beach, versus a day spent in the office.” Now, this is important to state at this point; happy individuals are not workaholics!! But when one lives a meaningful, purposeful, and authentic life both leisure and work become balanced in that one finds equal enjoyment in both.
Positive view of negative emotions and positive view of the future
The seventh and eighth concepts on our list go hand and hand with a qualitative difference. Having a positive view of negative emotions is an affective experience whereas positive view of the future is a cognitive one. A positive view of emotions is the ability to understand that (A) negative emotions are situationally bound, and (B) negative emotions have an important purpose in informing the individual that something is wrong.
Let’s begin with the first concept of emotions as being situationally bound. Emotions occur through an interaction between the person and their environment. The individual includes their current affective state and the person general view of life. Emotions, however, do not occur independently of the context that the individual is in – the situation. However, all too often individuals ignore the situation and feel that the emotions somehow has some transient state that must somehow go back to earlier traumas and experiences. This false belief leads to maladaptive ways of controlling one’s emotions through drinking, drugs, or other self-destructive behaviors. When in reality most negative emotions that individuals commonly experience can be alleviated simply by changing one’s situation. It is kind of like a common Sigmund Freud meme that says “Before diagnosing yourself with depression, make sure you are just not surrounded by assholes.” Truly happy people understand that negative emotions are transient experiences that can be changed by determining the situational cause.
The notion of situational causes leads to the second important aspect in the way happy individuals interpret emotions. Happy individuals understand that negative emotions have an important adaptive purpose in signaling to the individual that there is something wrong in their current situation. They also understand that they have control of their situation and have the ability to change it in some manner. Therefore, they see negative emotions as an opportunity to change rather than some continued state that leads to depression and agony.
The second concept – and number eight on our list – is having a positive view of the future. If you have heard the country song and the saying: “if you are in hell, keep on going, and don’t give up” you understand the idea of having a positive view of the future. I said earlier that happy individuals have the same positive and negative experiences that we all experience. They lose loved ones, experience both marriage, and divorce, they know physical and psychological pain as we all do, but they do something different when they think about the negative experiences. Instead of getting stuck in the negative experience they have a strong belief that an experience can inform us but they do not define us. Using my example of working with individuals who were abused by their spouses, the most successful survivors see their experience as just that a life experience that helped them grow and be a better person. Whereas, individuals who tend to get in the cycle of abuse, tend to allow the abuse to define every aspect of who they are, being the victim becomes their identity. Knowing that we will always have both positive and negative experiences in life, but not one experience determines who we are as an individual, is important in becoming a happy person.
Social and Emotional Connection with others
If you have been following my posts, you may remember me writing about loneliness, and how there are two types of loneliness: emotional and social. Emotional loneliness is not having a close emotional relationship with at least one other individual. Social loneliness is not having a sufficient number of social connections and people one knows. Now there is no set number for how many social and emotional relationships one needs. Some individuals need only one emotional relationship but may need a large social network. Whereas others individuals may need several emotional connections but only a few social connections. It is important, to be honest with yourself and be authentic. If you are a high emotional need person, and you have a partner, it is important to express this need in order thwart any unneeded jealousy and problems in an intimate relationship. Conversely, it is important if you need little emotional connections with others it is important to communicate this to your partner especially if they have a high need. I bring these examples up to show the integration between these ten concepts because not being authentic about your social and emotional needs can lead to problems in other domains of one’s life. But let us move on and explain deeper in our need to belong through our connection from others.
If loneliness is the lack of emotional and social connection, it must represent what psychologist who study this a thwarted sense of belonging. Belonging being the need to feel like one has a place both physically and socially. Psychologist Susan Fiske best explains the need for belonging as a means for fulfilling four basic needs of an individual: (1) the need for control, (2) the need for understanding, (3) self-enhancement needs, and (4) the need for trust or to see others as benign. For a full description of these needs, I will refer to the reader to my article entitled “What is Loneliness” for our purposes, it is important to understand the humans are social creators, we cannot live independent of one another. If there is or were a grand designer, humans were designed through our language and use of symbols to work together live together, and experience what we call life together.
Happy people, understand this, they enjoy other people and they engage in their social world. Now, this does not mean if you are an extrovert you immediately have this down and that if you are an introvert you will never experience this type of joy and happiness. I often get asked – or told – that introverts are more miserable individuals because they hate people and can’t form relationships. First, we should say extroverts can hate others as well – we usually spot them in groups as the a**hole of the party or group. A true introvert doesn’t hate being around people, in fact, a true introvert needs to be around others as much as anyone else. The difference is they get energized and refreshed by spending time alone in quiet contemplation. If, however, you have the label of an introvert, but you hate being in a social situation and get anxious about going out, please stop blaming your introversion, you may be suffering from shyness or more serious condition such as social anxiety or social phobia. Okay now that we have gotten past the personality variability issue let’s talk about how other’s increase our happiness.
When we have others we can rely on, talk to, be both angry and sad with (emotional connections) and others that can help us meet our living needs (social connections) life, while it does not change, it does seem to become much more manageable and provides more opportunity to engage in things that make us happy. If there is one thing I would like my reader to do after reading this article, it is to pick up the phone call (or text) everyone you know and simply tell them how much they mean to you. After so many years studying psychology and helping people, I can promise you there is at least someone in your world that is suffering right now, and simply letting them know they are loved and cared for in some cases can mean the difference between life and death, and a minimum it will help someone get beyond their problems.
Unconditional Positive Regard
In the positive psychology literature, you are more likely to run into the term positive regard, but I have included the notion of unconditional positive regard to make our discussion go beyond just increasing one’s happiness, but also becoming a full and complete individual. But let us start with defining what positive regard is as it is experienced by happy individuals. Ever get in a heated conversation with someone who has an opposing view and maybe you ended up frustrated because you feel you cannot get through to them so they could “see the light”? It is a common and often frustrating experience, and it comes from a very basic human fallacy. Most individuals live with the cognitive fallacy that everyone must think and understand things the way that they do, and if someone doesn’t that must mean they are a lower form of life and lack intelligence. This fallacy comes from the mistake that we assume that we see the world as an objective reality, and that reality is the same for everyone. Unfortunately, we do not experience the world as an objective reality, but always through the lens of our personal experiences, beliefs, and attitudes. Since we all come from different experiences, we all see reality slightly different. Don’t believe me? Look on Facebook or watch the news and see how liberals and conservatives talk about each other. With my point proven let us move on to becoming a happier person.
It is said that when a wise person walks in the room, that they understand that everyone comes from a different background and different experiences and therefore their reality and life truths are likely to be different than their own. Conversely, the unwise person believes that everyone’s reality is the same, and therefore if someone doesn’t think the same way they do there must be something organically wrong with them. Continuously happy people take this idea a step further and embrace that everyone is different and enjoy hearing the experiences and understandings of others. Now that is the path to being happy, but I said I wanted to take this a step further to being a complete person.
So far, we have talked about the key components of happiness that have included living a meaningful life, being authentic with others, and having good social and emotional relationships. Now its time to take it a step further to becoming a happy and full person. Carl Rogers was a famous psychologist and therapist who developed a unique form of therapy called humanistic therapy. His belief was that individuals already know the solution to their problems but what they need is a safe and accepting person who will not judge them to discover that solution. He used a humanistic philosophical concept known as self-actualization to explain how this relationship can occur. But first what is self-actualization?
Humanistic psychology grew out of the dismay of Freudian psychology and behavioral psychology which posits that everything we do is predetermined by either uncontrollable unconscious needs or by learned associations. Therefore, everything in life is deterministic according to these views. The humanistic theory was developed to try and explain human motivation and how humans can change their situation given the right resources. They argued that every human has a motivation to become self-actualized or to put in more simple terms to become a complete person. Rogers argued that the way in which a person becomes self-actualized is by having complete understanding and acceptance of who they are. This required, however, to have a true and objective understanding of who the individual is both their good and bad qualities. They must also have the ability to accept and understand their bad qualities and how they can drive their behavior just as much as their good qualities. This idea according to Rogers is the state of self-actualization.
Now if we have complete acceptance for who we are both the good, the bad, and the ugly, this allows us to completely accept other for who they are, including the good and the bad. Meaning we can accept them with no condition and provide them with unconditional positive regard is our aide to help the. In the most basic form, being self-actualized is the ability to live life with no prejudices or hatred against others. Imagine a place where we stop to understand others, and that it is okay for them to be different because you as an individual are beautiful, different, and unique as well.
Before I end our conversation about happiness I want to leave you with a story about the experiences lived by Jews that lived through the German concentration camps during WWII. At the end of WWII, psychologist and psychiatrist noticed that a lot of young soldiers and Marines were coming back with a mental health condition known then as “shell shock” and what we call today as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This disorder has devastating effects on the individual personally, socially, and in their community life, and is marked by repeated flashbacks, nightmares, and severe anxiety and stress reactions to trauma the person experienced in the past. Approximately 20% of a given population is susceptible to experience PTSD after a traumatic experience. But after WWII the rates were above 30%, and some have argued they were higher than 50%. A group of psychologists including the famous Jewish psychologist Victor Frankl, started to think that if our trained forces, who went through extensive training for what they experienced are having such high rates of PTSD, the civilian Jewish population must have a much higher rate? So, they went about to assess the surviving Jews that were freed and after years of assessment they found that the PTSD rate among Jews was less than 5% – that is 15% lower than the general population and a lot lower than what was being observed with returning military. In trying to determine why these rates were so low they did several thousand interviews. The psychologist summarized their findings by something one of the survivors said:
“The Germans could bound me, beat me, kill everything I love, BUT there is one thing that the Germans could never enslave, and that was my mind, my mind was always free and could never be taken away”.
With that thought in mind, I leave my reader with love, peace, and I hope many more happy days.
If you have any questions about this articles or would like to know more about happiness and positive psychology please fill-out the following form:
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By: Curtis Peterson ©
16 years ago, I responded to this employment ad for a shelter assistant at a local shelter. The ad required that person have at least completed some course work in social science. Given I was completing my bachelor’s degree in psychology at the time and needed a job, I went ahead and applied. The interview was at the local YWCA, in a large home that was converted into makeshift offices. My interview took place in what was probably once a large dining room, and the director who interviewed me was a large foreboding woman, who when she walked in you could feel and instantly respect her presence. We started the interview with the standard niceties such as greetings and introductions then she asked a question that at the time I did not know but would end up changing my life from that point forward. She asked, “What are domestic violence and sexual assault?” – after a long pause, I said, “Aww umm something my mom and dad said I better not ever do!!??” Well needless to say what was scheduled to be a 20-30 minute interview turned into a two and half hour educational experience on the dynamics of domestic violence and sexual assault. After that, for some reason, that executive director saw something in me that I did not recognize, and went ahead and hired me.
That interview was a start of a journey that would take me into the deepest minds of victims, survivors, offenders, and psychopathic rapist and murders. It would expose me to violence starting as young as six months of age clear to the oldest victim I worked with who was 88 years old. It would show me the type of violence that doesn’t happen every so often, like mass shootings and terrorist acts, but violence and murder that occurs every day in American households across the United States. In fact, the reason why I titled this paper “The Inconvenient Truth” is because there could literally be a 24-hour news station that just covers domestic homicides and if they didn’t need revenue they could do it commercial free. The reason why this is inconvenient is that what we fear as Americans, such as terrorist and the “rogue” mass shooter, is not what we should be most fearful of, and that is the person living in our house and sleep next to every night. The inconvenient truth is, America does not have a terrorist problem, it has a family problem. A family problem, that has led to brutal violence, torture, and death of millions of Americans, and makes it, so the United States has the highest homicide rate of any of the 26 modern nations. Additionally, in a nation that prides itself on supporting its police forces, every day we place officers in situations that give them the highest risk of not going home to their family: a domestic disturbance call. Notice I did not say a riot, gang shooting, mass shooting, or terrorist activity – no – our law enforcement is more likely to be shot and killed by a married couple who are arguing and it has turned violent. Yes, the bottom line once again even our protectors are not safe in our American homes.
If you are reading this, I hope you are feeling the dissonance, and hope that I will say something that diverts the blame of violence in the United States away from families to some group. I know, blaming others, would “feel” nice, but unfortunately, it would just be covering up the truth about the nature of violence in the United States. Sorry domestic homicide and family violence only have one source, it cannot be blamed on minority groups, white privilege, ISIS, Muslims, Christianity, LGBT groups, or yes even those godless atheists. Sadly, the source of domestic homicide is the family, community, and beliefs we hold about each other. I am not talking religious beliefs. I am talking beliefs about what we think we have the right to when something in our family goes wrong. I am talking about when a person loses a sense of power, or when a person does not behave to our expectations – to act out and force those individuals to get them back in line. If you do not believe me scroll through your Facebook and see how conservatives and liberals bully each other because they do not hold the same perspective, or how there is this standard that men and women must hold to be a “good boyfriend” or a “good girlfriend.” Let stop kidding ourselves that we are a good and virtues people and instead let us start acting like good and virtues people. If you value human life, then stop giving a blind eye to people who assault life through their actions and behaviors. Stop doing what a psychopathic serial killer told me once and that saying and thinking “I like you Mr. Peterson, but you should know I could shove that pencil in your ear and through your head and walk away and think nothing about it”. We do this every day, with our insults without understanding, with our ignoring of family problems, and with our focus on things that should not evoke as much fear as what we do to each other in our homes and communities.
Let us be real about who we are as a nation, while all forms of violence including homicide have been on the steady decrease in the United States since the 1990s, there is one that has been on a noticeable fast increase. The type of violence that has been on the steady increase starting in 2000 is infanticide. Yes, United States citizens are killing more infants than we did since the 1940s. No this is not abortions or some psychopathic murder issue, this is out of mommy’s womb infant under the age of two who are being killed – on purpose – by their parents or primary caregiver. I am hoping this information is sobering, to a Nation that prides itself on peace and freedom. If we are truly a nation that values the life of others, especially children, then why is there no national movement to stop infant homicide, which outnumbers abortions 6 to 1? Or a call on governmental interventions that protect and honor the safety and life of our most vulnerable population?
With this in mind, I like to bring home the point that this is an American issue. I know we have a national movement to limit immigration, but I am hoping by this point the reader is starting to see we do not have an “other people problem” we have an “us problem.” Indeed, when we look at immigration, we find that after a period of increased immigration we see a marked reduction in violence and homicide in the United States. That right, violence comes from the American culture, and when we bring in diversity through immigration we make us less violent. So, if you want to blame our violence problems on Mexican or Muslim immigrants just know you are a source of the problem and not a solution.
If you have made it through this article without getting angry and frustrated and deciding you did not want to read further, I thank you and would like to close with a few remarks about the time I have spent in the field of violence intervention and prevention. First, as the people who are close to me and know me, I have been trying to escape this field since almost the day I started. Most of my personal problems have centered around my desire to not to deal with other people’s violence and the desire to be blissfully ignorant to all the pain and suffering that I heard on a daily life as a professional. Even my education has tried to bail me out, my master’s degree focused on organizational psychology, and my doctorate has focused on social psychology, which I hoped would put a layer of distance between me and violence. Sadly for me, these choices have to lead me deeper into the understanding of violence. Indeed, it has helped me recognize that we do not have a psychopath problem, a mental illness problem, or even a gun problem – no, we have a community and family problem. Every time, I thought I had escaped the field it has a way of dragging me back in kicking and screaming. The latest is my dismay on national attention being placed on the not so real problems of violence and homicide in the United States. All in all, I have experienced what a clinical person, social worker, criminologist, and criminal justice experts only think or dream of having, and I would trade it all to be able to live in a community where neighbors trust each other and strangers are viewed as potential friends instead of threats. I would trade my experiences knowing a child is born into a world where parents and caregivers care and nurture them, a world where intimate partners did not use each other for their own selfish needs but instead lifted each other up and supported one another. Finally, I trade my experiences for a United States that actually care about the humanity and welfare of others on this little planet. But, I have come to the conclusion that unless I keep fighting and helping people those dreams will never come true, my friends let us not get to our death bed thinking “I could have done more, but I didn’t.”. I hope you will join me in this crusade.
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