The Happiness Connection  

Satisfaction is the key

My parents are celebrating their 64th wedding anniversary this week.

When I was a child, the thing that stood out most to me about their wedding was the date. Who chooses a Friday the 13th for a wedding day?

There is an interesting story behind their choice. When my father joined the RCMP, they only admitted single men, who were not allowed to marry until they had been in the force for seven years. He and my mother met in high school, so it seemed like an eternity of waiting.

When the RCMP reduced the waiting time to five years, it was exciting news. My dad was approaching that anniversary, and my mom wanted to be married as soon as possible. The first date she could secure the church was Friday, Nov. 13, 1953.

Being married to, and living with, the same person for 64 years is no easy feat. Marriage takes effort and energy. When the going gets tough, you may wonder whether you have made a mistake, and chosen the wrong person.

Some couples decide to end their relationship only to wonder years later if they gave up too soon. Other people stay together, but continue to experience difficult times. They wonder if they should have gone their separate ways.

Regardless of your choice, you will never know if you made the right decision because you can’t go back in time and make a different one. There is no magic ball or easy answer.

There is, however, research that shows creating happy relationships is worth the effort.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the longest running studies on health and happiness. It has been tracking mental and physical health, as well as the personal and professional successes, and failures of its participants for almost 80 years.

The study began in 1938 with 268 Harvard sophomores. All the subjects were men, because at that time, women were not admitted into the college. Nineteen of the original subjects are still alive, but the pool of participants has been widened to include the offspring of these men.

This rich resource of information has allowed scientists to study the correlation between relationships and health. They discovered evidence to show it isn’t your genetic makeup, social class, or IQ that determines your good health and long life; it is the satisfaction you have with your relationships.

According to Robert Waldinger, the director of this study, the people who were most satisfied with their relationship at age 50, were the healthiest at age 80.

Health and longevity is a multi-billion-dollar industry. You will find advice and products to help you eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, and obtain adequate amounts of sleep. But perhaps these companies are missing the most important factor, and should be focusing more on ways to help you nurture your relationships.

According to the data collected, these close connections play a larger role in achieving a long and happy life than your genetic makeup, social class, or IQ.

If you are single, don’t despair. It isn’t just your relationship with your spouse that makes you happy. Your connection with family members and friends also contribute to good health, and longevity.

In a time when the average marriage lasts 13.7 years (Statistics Canada), I think my parents have reached a remarkable milestone. As they are in their late 80s, still living in their own home, and both relatively healthy, I’m inclined to agree with the findings of the Harvard study.

Cheers mom and dad. May you continue to be happy and healthy together.


Name your emotions

I consider myself to be a positive person, but that doesn’t mean I am always happy, or that I couldn’t be happier.

I had a situation last week that caused my sense of well being to take a serious dip. As I was driving home feeling far from happy, I decided to take note of how I dealt with my feelings, so I could share my experience with you.

Let’s get real about happiness.

We are programmed to have a range of emotions. Negative emotions help us during moments of threat, and mild to moderately positive ones help us grow and learn. It isn’t wrong to feel unhappy, but it isn’t the best place to spend most of your time.

What did I do to help myself?

Acknowledge how you are feeling.

I began by giving myself time to simply feel negatively. Suppressing your emotions is not healthy. Air them, but don’t focus on them for too long. I found myself thinking about other situations in my life and I noticed the negative spin I was putting on them too. After about 10 minutes I decided I had stewed long enough.

TIP: Set the timer on your phone for 10 minutes. Lean into all those negative feelings, but when the time is up, be willing to let those emotions go.

Put some happiness boosting strategies into action.

Remind yourself that how you view your life is up to you. I wanted to come out of my funk, so I put a few happiness boosting strategies into action.

I was already on a walk with my dog, so getting out into nature was already taken care of. I consciously looked for beauty in my surroundings; the sky was picturesque and the fall colours were amazing. I made myself smile, I’m sure it looked forced, and I thought in detail about three things I was grateful for.

Label the emotions you are feeling.

I was feeling a little better, but I had one more strategy up my sleeve.

I concentrated on my emotions and looked for the best word to describe them. Peeved was the word that felt most accurate, although disgruntled and irritated came close.

Research shows that labelling your negative feelings is an effective way to reduce their intensity.

In one study, participants were shown photos of people with emotional facial expressions. This triggered the amygdala area of their brains causing them to feel similar emotions themselves.

This phenomenon is known as emotional contagion, and is one of the reasons we feel empathy for others. When we look at an unhappy person, we feel unhappy.

The subjects were then asked to name the emotions they were feeling. This simple act reduced the activity in the amygdala, lessen the impact and intensity of how they were feeling.

As I walked down the hill to my house, I continued to try different words to find the one I felt was the best descriptor of my emotions. Was I feeling happy by the time I reached home? No, but I wasn’t feeling so peeved either.

By the time I walked into my kitchen, I was thinking about other things and moving on.

Happy people don’t pretend they are impervious to negativity. They try to choose environments that are positive, and keep their minds focusing on good things, but they have negative emotions too.

What separates positive and negative people is how they choose to deal with unhappy emotions. You can focus on them, or decide to let them go. The choice is yours.

Leap into the unknown

“Get comfortable, with being uncomfortable.”

I love this statement by Jillian Michaels because moving out of your comfort zone cannot be avoided. You might as well accept it, instead of resisting it.

Your comfort zone refers to everything that is familiar to you. The job you’ve had for years, the home you know so well, and the habits you’ve developed are just a few examples. In this zone, you can go about your life with barely a thought.

If you’ve been following my column, you will know that mindless living does not contribute to a positive sense of well-being. Stepping into new situations and living to tell the tale does.

Humans are programmed with a drive to survive. It is your brain’s No. 1 priority. When you move into the unknown, you are less certain this will be the outcome. In your comfort zone, you feel safe, and may mistakenly believe this is the best place to be if you want to live to see another day.

The problem with huddling in the security of the familiar, is that while you are there, the world around you is changing and evolving. The only way to maintain your safety is to change and evolve along with your environment.

It is impossible to move forward without experiencing new challenges, situations, and opportunities. The challenges let you know the areas that need growth, and the situations give opportunities to practice new and existing skills.

Even if you want to remain in the perceived safety of the familiar, the changes occurring around you won’t let that happen. If you are fearful of the unknown and resist new experiences, rest assured that the universe will give you a nudge, a push, or a wallop.

Think about those annoying times when things don’t work out the way you planned. Perhaps you’ve arranged to be picked up after an evening out, but your ride doesn’t arrive. What do you do? If this has never happened to you before, you will find yourself stepping into the unknown.

In fairness, those people who choose to step out of their comfort zone are also affected by events out of their control, but the more accustomed you are to new experiences, the more comfortable you will feel with them.

It is much easier for me to encounter an unexpected situation and deal with it in my stride, than it is for my mother who is less practised at it than I am. But it is never too late to learn new skills and attitudes.

My 87-year-old mom goes to a group exercise program twice a week. It was getting difficult for my father to drop her off and then pick her up an hour later, so a few months ago, she made the decision to take the Handy Dart bus to her class.

My dad still picked her up when it finished and drove her home.

It might not sound like a difficult thing to do, by for my mom it was a huge leap into the unknown. She was nervous, but she did it anyway and she survived the experience.

When my dad injured himself a month or so ago, she was hopeful that I might pick her up, but I encouraged her to take the Handy Dart home as well. It was a similar but different experience, so once again she was nervous.

Yes, some people might judge me and declare me a bad daughter, but my decision to nudge my mom into the unknown has paid off for both of us. I can continue with my normal work day, and my mom is visibly strengthened.

She isn’t worried about making her own way to and from her class, and that independence is showing in her attitude towards life. We both know that if at any time taking the Handy Dart no longer makes sense, I will be her personal taxi service.

I’m sure everyone can relate to feeling nervous when faced with a new experience, but if you are letting those feeling prevent your from stepping into the unknown, there is no time like the present to turn that around.

Think of one thing you have been putting off because it makes you feel uncomfortable, and make a commitment to get it done before the week is over. The only way you will ever feel better about leaving your world of familiarity, is to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.


Perils of miscommunicating

One of the most challenging aspects of life is communication.

You think you have expressed your thoughts adequately to be understood, only to find that the person you were communicating with has interpreted your words differently than you intended. This happens with both written and spoken words.

Let me give you an example.

My father can't drive because he cracked his pelvis, so my husband and I are doing the grocery shopping for him and my mom. This sounds like a simple enough task, but because it involves a fair bit of communication, there are unforeseen pitfalls.

My mother tells me what they need, and I pass the relevant information on to my husband who makes a weekly trip to Superstore.

Last weekend, I asked him to buy a specific type of yogurt for my parents. He asked me how many to get and I said, “One of those big ones.”

When I took the groceries to my parents and unpacked the bag, I was surprised to see he had purchased one large tub of yogurt instead of the large package of individual yogurt pots I was expecting.

Not many years ago, this situation would have started one of those exchanges I’m sure you can relate to.

“You said a big one and that’s what I got.”

“But you asked how many, so you should have known a big one meant a large package of individual yogurts.”

“It’s your fault for not being clear.”

“You should have asked if you weren’t clear.”

Have you had similar conversations?

Why do we feel the need to argue and lay blame? Does it matter whose fault it is when wires get crossed in a conversation?

Miscommunication isn’t about being right or wrong, it is about two or more people making different interpretations and assumptions about the words that are exchanged.

Let’s take the yogurt situation as an example.

When my husband asked how many he should get, I assumed he understood that we were talking about the individual pots, because that is what he always buys for himself.

That thought didn’t occur to my husband, instead he assumed that a big one referred to a big container.

There was no right, or wrong, there was only a difference in what we pictured when we talked about a big one of yogurt.

There are over a million English words, so it should come as no surprise to discover that not everyone has the same understanding of what a word means. Culture, environment, and individual experiences all contribute to the meaning we attach to the words we hear.

When I first taught in England and was presented with a student’s work, I replied, “What a neat story.”

The student assumed I was referring to the tidiness of her writing and its layout on the page as that is what neat refers to across the pond. I was using North American slang, so I was referring to how interesting the story was.

Every time you communicate with another person, there is a good chance that miscommunication will happen. Possible reasons for this include:

Inaccurate word choice

We adopt words that we’ve heard being used by others without having an accurate definition of what they mean.

Misaligned vocabularies

Words mean different things depending on your culture and experiences. Mad means crazy in England, and angry in North America.

Personal experiences and assumptions

Your experiences with words affect the connotations you add to them. The first time my husband called me a daft cow, I cried. It sounded like such a rude thing to say, although to the English it is an expression given to a woman who is being silly.

Responsibility for communication doesn’t sit with one person. The speaker shares liability with the listener.

Here are three ways to lessen the chance of words being misinterpreted.

Adopt a feedback loop

When you hear a request, or are given information, repeat back to the speaker what you heard them say. This gives an opportunity for misalignment in meaning to be corrected.

Listen intently and ask questions for clarity

Many of us don’t give speakers our full attention. We multi-task and think we can listen while we are checking our email, or doing some other task. Pay attention and listen with the purpose of understanding. If you aren’t clear about what is being said, ask for clarity.

If someone questions words you thought were very clear, be patient. The thoughts in your head don’t necessarily translate as perfectly for some one else.

Use plain English

When it comes to passing on information or making requests, keep your words simple, and avoid using jargon unless you are confident that everyone understands it. Commonly used words are less likely to be misinterpreted.

Will this be the last time my husband and I run into communication issues? Of course not, but instead of letting these situations escalate into unhappy arguments, we’ve learned to accept them as an occasional byproduct of talking to each other.

Few people choose to be part of a communication meltdown, but everyone can choose how they deal with it when it occurs. Instead of laying blame, accept that it happened and move on. 

More The Happiness Connection articles

About the Author

Reen Rose is an experienced, informative, and engaging speaker, author, and educator. She has worked for over three decades in the world of education, teaching children and adults in Canada and England.

Research shows that happy people are better leaders, more successful, and healthier than their unhappy counterparts, and yet so many people still believe that happiness is a result of their circumstances.

Happiness is a choice. Reen’s presentations and workshops are designed to help you become robustly happy. This is her term for happiness that can withstand challenge and change.

Reen blends research-based expertise, storytelling, humour, and practical strategies to both inform and inspire. She is a Myers Briggs certified practitioner, a Microsoft Office certified trainer and a qualified and experienced teacher.

Email Reen at [email protected]

Check out her websites at www.ReenRose.com, or www.ModellingHappiness.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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