|Posted by robertpawlicki68 on May 17, 2013 at 3:50 PM||comments (0)|
Were you part of the Powerball lottery mania that recently captured much of America? Many of my friends were, lured by the jaw dropping possibility of winning $500 million, a fabulous sum. Yet with the chance of winning, roughly one divided by infinity, there was virtually no chance of winning. For most, however, the loss of a few dollars was insignificant in their effort to capture a dream, a fantasy.
But then again, what if you had won, would you have become happier? As most of you know from well-publicized research, the answer is uncertain. While there are many stories of enormous benefit there are just as many cases of disastrous loss, even family disintegration and suicide. How can that be? After all money is a pretty good thing. You can buy stuff, all the stuff you ever imagined and you can do the same for the people you love. Sounds pretty good to me. What can be the down side?
Researchers argue that the sudden spike in happiness from winning the lottery is short lived, followed a few months later with a return to the pre-winning levels. Compared at that time with non-lottery winners, lottery winner’s happiness was no different. Of course the comparison examines the whole distribution of people who have won the lottery. Those who are not good at managing money and, perhaps surrounded by less than fair or selfless people, may find themselves beset with new stresses, while those who know enough to work with careful and honest financial planners may find a lottery win a big enhancement to the life.
The experience reminds me of a term used in the rehabilitation world, “pre-morbid condition.” When an individual is tragically injured, the goal of the rehabilitation team is to return the patient to their pre-morbid or pre-injury state, as much as that is possible. But what if the pre-morbid state was miserable? What if the person was psychologically, physically and behaviorally a basket case? Then the rehabilitation team is seriously limited. The joke, “Doc, will I know how to play the piano after this operation?” is funny and silly when the punch line says, “That’s great. I never knew how to play before.” The miracles of medicine cannot produce what you never had in the first place. In another words, the best predictor of long-term health is the level of health prior to the injury and the best predictor of long-term happiness is the pre-existing state for the lottery winner. Yes, it’s true that the sudden spike in happiness may seem fabulous, but your long-term happiness is more contingent upon what your level of happiness is right now.
The above argument is, in no way, meant to persuade you to discontinue your purchase of lottery tickets. I am aware that virtually everyone believes that they know how to manage millions and millions of dollars. But then again, over 90 percent of American drivers believe that they are above average in driving skills. Somehow every last one of us believes that our fantasy is realistic.
However, if you’re in a gambling mood, I like to suggest another gambit. This is one in which I will put up my own reputation up for collateral. Personally, and I say this in a soft whispering tone, my hat pulled low over my eyes, I’ve got a deal for you. A hands-down winner. Guaranteed. It’s like I know the jockey. Take this advice and you’ll be happier. Yes, I’m sure. 100%. Would I steer you wrong?
Here’s the deal. Bet on this trifecta. In this case it means you have to do three things. First, you have to practice being grateful for at least two things, right before you go to bed for three straight weeks. Then you have to pick one day a week during which you do five acts of kindness beyond your usual habit and third, you need to give someone special three sincere compliments every day for three weeks.
I know you’ve heard some of this before. But try it. The three in combination. No, this isn’t a long shot. I tell you it’s a sure thing. Look, if it doesn’t work let me have a call and we’ll work something out, but I can tell you I’ve never seen it miss. As I said, guaranteed to increase your happiness. Perhaps not as exciting as playing the lottery but, if practiced, a much greater likelihood of sustained happiness.
|Posted by robertpawlicki68 on April 20, 2013 at 1:20 PM||comments (0)|
Having rewarding experiences is integral to our happiness, but determining what is a reward is actually a very complicated matter. What is a reward to one person may be a punishment to another. The idiom, “One man’s meat is another man’s poison,” states it well.
The importance of having the right reward was illustrated in a class I taught early in my professional life called Behavior Modification of the Mentally Retarded. A major assignment for the students in my class was to write a program that would teach a mentally slow child to learn an activity of daily living. But let me give you a little background before I expand upon one of the fascinating aspects of the children’s learning experience.
If you were to go into institutions housing severely mentally retarded children in the 1950 and 60’s, you might be shocked by how little the children did for themselves. At that time such children were considered unteachable and were totally dependent on others for every aspect of their lives. The 1970’s brought an extraordinary and greatly underreported revolution—the extensive use of techniques to educate and train these children to feed and clothe themselves as well as take care of their basic hygiene.
The college campus where I taught had a special education program for such children and my job, in part, was to teach undergraduates to write programs that would aid these children in learning everyday life skills. Additionally the “lab” portion of my course entailed my college students observing and learning the intricacies of the everyday experience of children in the special education class. One of the most fascinating aspects of this very worthwhile program was what the young children did at the beginning of each day.
Each morning, as the children arrived, they were taken individually into a “rewards” room where there were a myriad of small articles that the children might find pleasurable—tactile materials such as feathers, cushions, soft sponges; fragrant items such as perfumes and aromatic flowers; and audible bits such as brief sounds of music and toys, etc. From these hundreds of potential rewards, each child chose their three preferences for the day.
Throughout the day the child then received his or her reward immediately after exhibiting any small improvement in learning new behaviors. Each reward might be given dozens and dozens of times (that’s why they had be very small and finite) and a different reward was given when the first one lost its reinforcing power. To give you an idea of the effort necessary, educating a child to put on a winter coat might take two months and thousands of rewards but, of course, the child would then have that skill for the rest of his life—an enormous step in expanding an otherwise greatly limited life.
It is worthwhile to note that the children came to school each day eagerly and by all outward appearances found their experience exciting and, should I say, very “rewarding.”
As I reflect upon the special education class, I am reminded of one of my favorite quotes from Benjamin Franklin: “Human happiness comes not from infrequent pieces of good fortune, but from the small improvements of daily life.”
These children did not have to receive a grand prize, a seismic gift to bring smiles to their faces. Receiving frequent small daily rewards resulted not only in learning but also created excitement, great pleasure and an eagerness to come to school. We, in turn, need not be dependent upon the “infrequent piece of good fortune” to gain a measure of well being but should attend to the little good fortunes that are around us if only we notice. And we don’t have to go to a special “reward” room to get there.
|Posted by robertpawlicki68 on March 15, 2013 at 4:25 PM||comments (0)|
Let Love In
In my years as a therapist I have often come upon people who have difficulty accepting love. It’s an astonishing observation because we all believe the desire to be loved is universal. From our early years the hunger to be cared for and cherished appears natural. We are told to “love thy neighbor as thyself” as if loving one self is standard and automatic. So it comes as a surprise that there are those who, in numerous ways, resist accepting the love of others.
In our infancy we are usually loved for “just being.” We don’t have to earn it. But, if, as we get older, our home life is filled with hostility and criticism we learn self-protection mechanisms that temporarily shield us from hurt. Unfortunately these patterns can be over learned and carried into adulthood where they can be very damaging.
The inability to accept other’s love is indeed an obstacle to happiness. It deprives a person of nourishment for confidence, self-esteem and respect, all contributors to feelings of well being. It interferes with reciprocal love, a source of much happiness.
A classic example was evident in a patient (let’s call her Alice) I treated many years ago. This young lady had come out of a very harsh and critical upbringing and was burdened with extremely poor self-esteem. Attempts to compliment her were adamantly resisted by her diminishing the appreciation (“Oh, anyone could have done that.” or other more self-deprecating statements. Interestingly the one area where she felt comfortable was working with very young children—a population that couldn’t offer criticism and where she felt safe. It was obvious that she felt unlovable.
Why would anyone not take in love? Actually there are many reasons. You may see them as irrational but they nevertheless have merit in the eyes of those who have difficulty accepting love. Perhaps the most common is simply that the person does not feel worthy. Their self-perception has become so withered that, like the young woman I cited, it doesn’t make sense that anyone could love them. Others may fear that if they take in the love it may then be taken away—an experience so painful that they don’t want to risk it again. Thus they create what some experts call a “broken receiver”—the inability to accept love due to devaluing praise or assuming the other person is insincere or other reasons of resistance. The psychological armor that was created initially to keep out the bad is now keeping out the good as well.
The inability to receive love is often very perplexing to the person’s partner for he or she may sincerely love their mate but find their efforts at sharing that feeling ineffective. In some cases they eventually give up, thus confirming, in the eyes of “broken receiver” that he or she is really unlovable.
So what happened to Alice? First of all let me share what we did to treat Alice. Alice had been admitted to the hospital and our chronic pain program for a period of three weeks with a primary diagnosis of intense and unrelenting head aches. It was clear to our team that her extreme pain was significantly caused by severe muscle tension that in turn was created by her psychological issues. By group consensus we inundated Alice with praise—but not just general adulation. We listened carefully and sincerely to Alice’s history and discovered that she had been given awards for her writing abilities and had numerous other features that we could attend to.
We abundantly praised these and her progress within our setting. We worked specifically to teach Alice the benefits of allowing love and affection to be accepted and the harm done by denying its entrance. We were limited by circumstances to only three weeks of treatment so I cannot tell you that Alice was “cured.” However the change in her personality and the diminishing intensity of her headaches were substantial enough to tell us that we were on the right path.
Most people do not have a “damaged receiver” as powerful as Alice’s. For those whose damaged receiver is strong, I recommend professional help for such patterns can be tenacious and unlikely to be altered by a few pep talks. Alice’s story is not just for those who feel inadequate, lonely and unable to accept love, it is a message for all of us. We have all experienced a lifetime of being told to love and care for others. But loving others is not enough. It is critically important that we are receptive to love as well. When it is offered the person is giving us a gift. We should not deny the giver the pleasure of giving and we should nourish our well being by accepting it.
Scour your personal landscape. Note the areas in which you can take quiet pride. Be sensitive to your strengths, talents and accomplishments. Allow these and the affection given to you to be fully absorbed. These are not to be denied. To be loved is one of the miracles of life. Don’t waste it.
|Posted by robertpawlicki68 on February 25, 2013 at 4:45 PM||comments (0)|
Half a Man or More Than Whole
We’ve all had experiences that become locked in our minds forever. One such event happened to me during my years working in a rehabilitation hospital.
The hospital in question had been built at the turn of the 20th century and was broken down. Its long, long hallways reeked of age, despair and loss.
Into this scene came a man who physically was only one-half a man, existing only from the waist up, and who was seen virtually all the time on his moving platform. My half man—and interestingly I can’t remember his name—navigated around the long hallways by lying on his stomach and propelling his flatbed vehicle with his hands in the manner that a child pushes a scooter.
Beyond the shock of a man coming toward you on a low gurney was what followed—a big smile, an exuberant greeting. No introvert he, but an embrace of you, the day….. life. It took a few minutes to adjust to hearing this upbeat voice from below, a greeting from an unexpected angle and a physical presence never before encountered. I have no idea of his inner life but, if I could judge from his outer attitude, I’d say his mental health was extraordinarily positive—especially in light of the challenges he faced.
How does a person accept that he has half a body? Functionally, the same way any of us accepts our failings. It only appears different because of its magnitude and extreme rarity. It may seem beyond our imagination, but in the private domain of our minds, we, like him, must sustain our sense of self and ward off our fears. We must manage our inadequacies, whether real or perceived, so they don’t overwhelm us. We must focus and be grateful for what we have.
So, is it realistic, to compare a man with such profound physical challenges to the issues that we face on a daily basis: a lost wallet, a crashed computer, a social slight, a bent fender, a bad cold? I believe it is. Each of us gets up each day dealing with a myriad of challenges, coping strategies and attitudes. I can only assume that the man navigating the rehab hospital had favorite people, meals, goals, memories, and anticipations. I expect that he had to manage fears, anxieties, potential depression and insults. In that sense he is no different than any of us. When we focus on his extreme disability, it is easy to see the differences and be blind to the similarities. Still, whether able-bodied, wealthy or poor, no matter our racial or ethnic make-up, we must all handle the challenges of life.
The vision of a well functioning half man can evoke inspiration, awe. It motivates us to be grateful for what we have—temporarily. I say temporarily because, as incredible as such a story is, we can’t sustain the perspective unless we take a lesson from it. The lesson I take is one I often invoke in my essays: acceptance of who we are and focus on control of what we can control. If you’re a regular reader of my writing, you’ve undoubtedly read these admonitions time and time again, because they are central to well being and easily slip away during periods of crisis or stress.
Acceptance of who we are focuses on our makeup—a complex of marvelous values, attributes and talents combined with human failings. So, by all means, stand in awe that someone with so obvious a challenge as a man with half a body can greet others in a buoyant fashion. Then look beyond the outer being and imagine his inner life and what we can learn. It’s that inner life that, to me, is the most illuminating.
|Posted by robertpawlicki68 on January 18, 2013 at 5:40 PM||comments (0)|
Where is Happiness Found?
Many years ago a friend asked if I could chat with her about a problem. She had been widowed for three years after a long marriage and was now ready to begin a new life—but there was no one to begin her life with. My friend began her story by detailing the good, the bad and the ugly from her marriage, focusing mostly on the good, reporting few regrets but now ready to start anew. It was clear that she had done considerable work in moving through the grieving process and was comfortable with her memories.
The problem, as she saw it, was that she could not find a companion and so there was emptiness in her life. It was not that she hadn’t made an effort. Quite the contrary, she had tried singles groups, advertised in magazines and circulated in church settings but found few opportunities. She was lonely. She wanted to share her life and feel the warmth of a companion. She was perplexed because she had much to offer.
She was a nurse, an artist, worked at her physical fitness, and was well spoken and quite engaging. However, in her mind, her life was not complete and would not be until she was a part of a matched pair.
I listened attentively, sympathized with her frustration but then carefully began to challenge her assumption that her happiness was dependent upon finding a mate. She countered that she knew others who lived happily as singles, but she could not imagine doing so.
Exploring alternatives, she revealed that she had always wanted to travel to Europe, but family obligations had interfered. I gently pushed her to take charge of what she could control and to look inward rather than allowing outside factors to control her happiness. My thoughts are well expressed in a favorite quote by Agnes Repplier, “It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.”
To make a long story short, my friend went to Europe and had a great time, but more importantly she began to change her belief that she could only be complete if she had a partner. An additional factor, a very critical one, is that my friend’s vitality, her subtle message, had not been inviting. When she began to control her own life, however, her excitement returned and with it a quantum leap in confidence and attractiveness. Shortly thereafter she did meet someone and has now been happily married for over 10-years.
In her book, “The How of Happiness,” Sonja Lyubomirsky notes that, “Happy people are more likely to acquire lovers and friends” and observes that, “Happiness will help you attract more and higher-quality relationships, which will make you even happier, and so on, in a continuous positive feedback loop.”
Interestingly, my friend shared my advise with a friend of hers who then sought my counsel. She, too, had been widowed and was in the same early position, having searched out the “singles scene” and come up empty. Likewise, she had a great deal to offer but could not find someone to share her life. Our conversation was similar in that I encouraged her to take control of her own happiness by managing her own beliefs and actions. She, too, came to exude a newfound energy and a relationship soon appeared. Here’s where the stories of my two advisees differ. Her new relationship did not last. She did not find a happily ever after story within a relationship. But she did find happiness within herself and continues to be dynamically different than the sad person I saw many years ago.
The true objective was not to find a partner. The real goal was to find happiness and that can only be done by looking within and controlling what you can, no matter the circumstances. It’s not always an easy path to happiness but as Agnes Repplier stated “it is not possible to find it elsewhere.”
|Posted by robertpawlicki68 on December 14, 2012 at 7:35 PM||comments (0)|
I have often written that social connections contribute to a happier and longer life. But I return to the subject because the research continues to accumulate and yell out its importance.
One of the most interesting studies was conducted by a Yale epidemiologist and involved 7,000 men and women in Alameda County, California. Over a nine-year period she found that people who were not connected with others were three times as likely to die as those who had strong social ties. The type of social tie did not matter -- family, friends, church or volunteer groups. But here’s the kicker: those with unhealthy lifestyles but close social ties actually lived longer than those with healthy lifestyles and poorer social contact. In other words, strong social contact trumped all the work that goes into maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Of course, those who had both strong social support and a healthy lifestyle did the best.
The idea that social interactions are a basic ingredient to a healthy existence (and I believe nourish happiness) is a message worth repeating. Often we don’t recognize how much the actions of others feed our behaviors and beliefs, but they do.
Here are two brief stories that illustrate the point. Most everyone reaching adulthood before 1961 remembers the burial ceremony of assassinated President John Fitzgerald Kennedy at Arlington cemetery and, most poignantly, the military Taps that capped an already emotional day of deep national sadness. Those Taps were delivered by Sergeant Keith Clark, Principal Bugler of the U.S. Army Band, a man who had performed for President Kennedy several times, including sounding Taps at the Tomb of the Unknowns two weeks earlier. But unlike his flawless performances of the 24 notes at hundreds of ceremonies at Arlington, this occasion was different. He cracked one note in another wise perfect routine. This stunning note with its emotional signature signified for many the broken-hearted feeling that permeated those watching. Remarkably, in the following months the missed note took on a life of its own as other buglers at Arlington Cemetery, experts all, also faltered on the same note.
The actions of one person similarly affected others when Roger Bannister broke the four-minute mile record in 1954. The four-minute mile was not merely a record for millenniums; it was considered a psychological barrier that represented the limit of human’s physical ability. But what is remarkable is that within one year 37 other runners also broke the barrier and the following year another 300 runners broke the four-minute mile. Not only did Roger Bannister break the physical barrier, he also changed the belief that it could not be done.
These stories are in harmony with the conclusions of Harvard researcher and psychologist, Nicholas Christakis. Dr. Christakis and his team examined massive amounts of data accumulated over decades from the famous Framingham cardiac research. They found that, if your friends are happy, it increases your probability of being happy by 15%. Astonishingly, if your friend’s friends are happy, it increases the likelihood that you’ll be happy by 10%. Like the stories above, those around us, often without our awareness, affect us more than we realize.
There are lessons to be learned from Dr. Christakis’ research. Seek others who are upbeat, positive and happy as much as you can. They will provide you with nourishment. Work to be happy yourself as well. Your happiness will be a gift to those around you. You might actually lengthen their lives. While we can’t always be happy nor can we expect that of our friends, it is a smart person who avoids a heavy diet of those who look at the world through dark glasses. It is wise also to renew yourself with those who look at the world brightly.
|Posted by robertpawlicki68 on November 10, 2012 at 11:10 PM||comments (0)|
Listening, Well Being and Happiness
I value the art of listening and those who listen well. But I’ve never come across a study that links good listening skills and well being, until recently. In a striking study, psychologist and researcher, Larry Scherwitz, taped the conversations of nearly 600 men, a third of whom had heart disease. He then counted how often the men used first-person pronouns — I, my, and me. Those who used them most often were also most likely to have heart disease and, when followed for several years, most likely to suffer heart attacks. Those who were more other-directed, (that is speaking away from I, my and me) and listened, had more favorable outcomes. Dr. Scherwitz advised: “Listen with regard when others talk. Give your time and energy to others; let others have their way; do things for reasons other than furthering your own needs.”
There is an implicit kindness embedded in Dr. Scherwitz’s advice. Listening can be a gift that you provide to another by giving them your undivided attention, respecting and valuing what they have to say. A rehabilitation doctor who was a friend of mine told me this story many years ago and it struck a chord. One of her patients had a chronic condition that resisted her interventions. After trying every test, therapy and medication she could think of, the physician struggled to tell her patient that there was nothing more she could do and that perhaps he should seek other medical care. No sooner had the words left the doctor’s mouth than the patient rushed to say that he had known this was the case for a long time. The patient said that, while he respected her expertise, her medical knowledge was no longer his primary interest. It was the fact that she took the time to listen to him, giving him her full attention, that caused him to seek regular appointments. He assured her that her careful listening was not to be overlooked and, for his part, he had no intention of seeking other medical care.
For over twenty years my professional life included treating patients with serious physical conditions. I’m sure it will not come as a surprise that the complaint I heard most frequently regarding medical care was the lack of listening — this seemingly most simple of acts. On the other hand, those who felt close to their doctor and felt that they were receiving good care almost inevitably said that they felt listened to.
The benefits of listening well are not confined to the patient-doctor interaction. Listening is a critical ingredient in every good relationship. It is most obvious in its absence in poor relationships. Listening is special and being a good listener is a valuable personal asset. It allows you to enter into someone’s world and to form a bond unavailable to those who cannot or do not listen well. Listening is deceptive. It can appear to be easy and automatic, a passive behavior, but it is not. It takes energy, selflessness and certainly attention. To do it well takes sincerity and, at its highest form, empathy. Poor listeners are legion — their minds race ahead to what they wish to say. The worst of them, hardly maintain eye contact and interrupt, leaving the speaker with the empty feeling often associated with disrespect.
When real listening occurs, perceptions often change — perhaps not immediately, because personal biases can be strong. But with increased listening, we begin to hear details not originally within our understanding. We begin to see the circumstances and conditions present in the other person’s actions. And most importantly, we come to see the other person as a human being. If you wish to elevate your listening skills, pay attention to the emotions behind the words. A careful and tactful insertion of your recognition of those emotions will often bring you to a whole new level of closeness and conversation.
Listening is magical. It brings us into awareness that we all share fears, anxieties, worries and feelings. It can heal. Any behavior with this much power in enhancing and cementing relationships is worth our attention. Listening helps build quality relationships — a critical ingredient in building our own happiness.
Thank You: It’s hard to over do it
Many years ago, while awaiting some foreign visitors, I browsed through a number of books they had been assigned in preparation for their visit to the United States. The one consistent characteristic, cited repeatedly, was how polite Americans were, and in particular saying “thank you.” I really don’t know if we, as a population, are more polite than other nationalities, but I am especially enamored with the value of this simple tradition. Coming from a discipline that examines habits, sequences of behaviors and reinforcers, saying “thank you” is a standout.
Since it’s so much a part of our culture, you may underestimate its power. And you also may fail to use it as extensively as you might believe. Here are three ways in which a simple, sincere “thank you” is valuable and why it might be worth your extra attention.
First, “thank you” brings gratitude to the forefront of your mind. We know that of all the every day human behaviors, gratitude is one of the most powerful in maintaining a happy state. Gratitude creates an awareness of the positives in our lives and helps combat the power that negative events can have over our emotions. Scientists who study these matters tell us that it takes at least five compliments to offset a single negative remark, and that pales in comparison to the positives needed to offset many other pains. Consequently, any action that stimulates an awareness of gratefulness is worth its weight in gold. Opportunities to say “thank you” are endless. In doing so, you accumulate little nuggets of awareness that you do, indeed, have a great deal to be thankful for.
One of the most common complaints heard in marital therapy is that “He/she should have known what I wanted. We’ve been married forever.” Marital therapists pull their hair out over this one. Assuming that others know what you are thinking is a dangerous game. It is better to clearly and often state your desires, no matter how strongly you believe those wishes should be obvious. Furthermore, if a behavior rarely occurs and then is not clearly acknowledged, it will continue to happen infrequently.
A sincere thank you can both acknowledge and reinforce. But the behavior doesn’t have to be rare to be worthy of a thank-you acknowledgment. Behaviors that you wish to see more often will increase in frequency if you follow them with a thank you: Thank you for putting the dishes away. Thank you for the hard work that you do. Thank you for the loving way you touch me. Thank you for being there to support me. Thank you so much for taking care of me when I’m sick. Thank you for really listening to me.
A sincere thank you cements a relationship. It keeps a relationship from becoming stale. It make a spouse, partner, friend feel appreciated. Their sense of well being is likely to come back to you and enhance your life as well. Saying thank you creates a small but marvelous bonding experience, especially between loved ones and close friends. It increases intimacy. A heart-felt thank you identifies exactly what you want. That may not seem significant, but clear communication is difficult. We need every signpost we can muster.
Thank you says, “This is what I like.” “This is what I value.” Personally, I go out of my way to not only say thank you, but also to expand upon it whenever I have a chance. An everyday encounter with a waiter or waitress for example: “Thank you for bringing our food so promptly; I really appreciate it.” Not only does it show my appreciation, it signals what I value without being negative. Imagine how important this habit is in personal relationships.
Anyone reading this will undoubtedly say that they say thank you often. In a sense, a thank you is a form of a compliment, and studies clearly show that virtually everyone overestimates how often they compliment others.
Thank you for reading this essay. I have been truly fortunate to have you do so.
Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be. –