Relationships: Quiz — Are you the person whom everyone else finds difficult?

Every Wednesday is Tip Day or Quiz Day.
This Wednesday: Are you the person whom everyone else finds difficult?

I was very impressed by the self-knowledge and openness displayed by a reader who, after reading my post 7 tips for getting along with your difficult relatives over Thanksgiving, sent me an email to say, “I think I might be the difficult relative over Christmas, or might become so.” She didn’t want to be difficult, and she was trying to figure out how to change.

Most difficult people, however, probably don’t realize quite how difficult others find them to be. They have their own – perhaps quite reasonable – explanations for the things they say and do, and they don’t acknowledge how they’re affecting other people.

In his excellent book The No A****** Rule (I’m omitting the title not from prudery but from fear of spam-blockers), and also on his blog, Work Matters, Bob Sutton has a quiz to help people recognize if they are a******* — I was inspired to adapt that material for this quiz.

As you answer these questions, be brutally honest with yourself. Don’t make excuses for yourself or other people; just try to answer accurately. These questions apply to family members gathering for a holiday, or to co-workers, or to any group of people who are trying to get along with each other.

–Do you often find that when you do something nice for people, they do a lot of grumbling? Do they seem ungrateful or uncooperative? Do they seem reluctant to accept your generosity? For example, you offered to host Thanksgiving dinner, but no one appreciated it.

–When you join a group of people, does the mood often shift? Does a group tend to break apart after you join it?

–When you do something generous for others, do you think it only right that your generosity will allow you to make decisions for them or direct their actions?

–Do you find it hard to get your calls and emails returned?

–Are you often puzzled when people dramatically over-react to little mistakes, oversights, or casual remarks you make? You bring up some cute anecdote from years ago, and everyone acts upset.

–Do you often find yourself saying defensively, “It was just a joke!”

–Do you think it important to express your true feelings and views authentically, even if that means upsetting other people?

–Do you find that people seem resentful and angry when you offer objective, helpful criticism or advice?

–Do you often find out that something you’ve done or said has caused an argument between two other people? For example, your son tells you that he and your daughter-in-law have been arguing about the lovely plans you’ve made for the holiday.

–Do you find that even when you’re trying to be helpful by explaining something or providing information, people don’t want to seem to listen to you?

–Do you feel annoyed because people tend to refuse to acknowledge your greater experience or knowledge in an area, and instead, ignore your suggestions?

–Do people tend to change the conversation when you try to explain a major insight that has led you to make a major lifestyle change?

–Do people tend to gang up against you – when you’re arguing one side, everyone takes the other side, or when one person criticizes you, everyone else chimes in?

–Do you find it funny to see other people squirm?

–If someone asks for your opinion, do you think it’s right to tell them frankly what you think?

–Do you think it’s useful to point out people’s mistakes, areas of incompetence, or previous track records of failure?

–Is it fairly common for one person to tell you that he or she will speak to a third person, so that you don’t have to? In other words, do people volunteer to act as intermediaries for you, rather than let you do your own talking?

A “yes” may be a red flag that you’re a source of unhappiness for others.

Another thing I respected about the person who wrote to me was that she was going to spend the holidays with her family, because she knew it was very important to her mother. She might be a difficult person, but she’s trying to make someone else happy by showing up, even though she doesn’t want to, and that’s admirable.

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I did a fun interview about happiness with BlissNotes.

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Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

Happiness interview with Deborah Norville.

From time to time, I post short interviews with interesting people about their insights on happiness. During my study of happiness, I’ve noticed that I often learn more from one person’s highly idiosyncratic experiences than I do from sources that detail universal principles or cite up-to-date studies.

Deborah Norville is a name that most people will recognize from her post as anchor for Inside Edition, the syndicated TV newsmagazine. She’s also written a New York Times bestseller, Thank You Power: Making the Science of Gratitude Work for You – you can read about the book on her site. (Not particularly relevant, but lots of fun to check out, are the covers they considered and rejected for the book. I love that kind of thing.) Gratitude is one of the KEY factors to happiness, and Deborah has done a lot of thinking about how gratitude and happiness interact – so I was pleased to get a chance to interview her about her experiences.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?
Deborah: There are a few different answers: One that has LONGER TERM, longer lasting effects is to write down the good things that happened in a day. I keep a little booklet, the size of a check book, in my purse and I ‘ll jot things down randomly during the day…often when I’m stuck in traffic going cross town. It works for a couple of reasons: One, it distracts me from whatever it is that is delaying me. Two, it forces me to go back through my day and find the ‘bright spots’ – of which there are many. Of course, human nature being what it is, we do tend to ‘accent-u-ate the negative’ rather than the positive. Writing the good things down keeps one out of that negative cycle. As I detailed in Thank You Power, researchers have found all sorts of measurable benefits — higher immune response, more active, fewer colds and headaches — and you’ll be nicer to other people.

Another thing that works for me is organizing. Cleaning closets, tidying the linen cabinet, throwing out the junk that seems to accumulate in a house with three kids all gives me enormous immediate pleasure. I love to walk into a closet and actually see the floor!

Finally — I am a do-er and a maker. I used to sew all my own clothes years ago, now I knit, crochet, needlepoint, do slipcovers, etc. There is an enormous sense of self esteem that comes from creating something oneself and that self esteem and self confidence is a welcome weapon when those moments of crisis and self doubt come — as they do for everyone.

Gretchen: What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?
Deborah: I have always been a pretty happy person, but I think it’s because I’ve known since I was 17 what I wanted to do. I think when one has a focus, it keeps the self-doubt at a minimum and I suppose self-doubt is a big contributor to Unhappiness.

Gretchen: Is there a happiness mantra or motto that you’ve find very helpful?
Deborah: I ask myself, Where’s the Thank You Power? Where is the blessing in this? What’s the good thing about right now?

Gretchen: If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?
Or, like a “comfort food,” do you have a comfort activity? (mine is reading children’s books).
Deborah: If you are into children’s books, try I Don’t Want to Sleep Tonight by … me! It’s a poem I wrote to encourage my son to lay off the video games … and children love the pop-ups and lift-the-flap illustrations!

Sometimes I think it’s okay to give in to the blues. We all need to jump of the fast moving train called life that we are on from time to time. Stay in your sweats, read a crappy novel. Eat ice cream out of the box. Whatever it is that lets you feel that you are ‘chilling’ for once in your life, give yourself permission to indulge. But set a time limit. Unchecked, any of those chill-out pasttimes of ours can lead to the slippery path to depression and sloth.

My family recommends that I go to Price Club. I get great satisfaction out of buying 48 rolls of toilet paper or knowing we’ve got Q-tips till the rest of time! Just kidding, tho retail therapy at the warehouse club is sometimes fun! Actually, when I make something, I am always feeling better about myself.

Gretchen: Is there anything that you see people around you doing or saying that adds a lot to their happiness, or detracts a lot from their happiness?
Deborah: I tend to think alot of people bring themselves down by focusing ‘too’ much on themselves. Get over yourself. Do something for someone else. In my research on gratitude, Chris Peterson, PhD of University of Michigan who quantified the twenty-four signature strengths of the human animal along with Martin Seligman, PhD, found the three most vibrant were hope, love and gratitude. While hope can be in short supply in the face of huge adversity and love wont come easily to the utterly despicable individual — even those with very little and whose hearts are filled with hate CAN find something about which they can feel grateful. A beautiful sunrise. The aroma of a hot cup of coffee. The melodic chirp of a bird. But you won’t notice those things if you are completely wrapped up in narciscism.

Gretchen: Do you work on being happier? If so, how?
Deborah: I don’t work on it per se … but I know that the people activities that are a part of my life contribute to my happiness. My husband and kids, my job, my hobbies, my friends. It all adds up to a woman who is content.

Gretchen: Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t – or vice versa?
Deborah: I had a poster in my dorm room in college, you’ve probably seen the quote: “Happiness is like a butterfly. If you chase it, it will constantly elude you. If you turn your attention to other things, it will come and sit softly on your shoulder.” It is true. Happiness doesn’t come from the PURSUIT … it comes from BEING.

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A new study shows that happiness is contagious.

Several thoughtful readers sent me links to a fascinating new study that explores the contagiousness of happiness. The phenomenon of emotional contagion in fleeting interactions is well-known, but this study sheds some interesting light on how happiness spreads over time and across a large group of people.

Ever since I read that study about how people quit smoking in groups, I’ve thought that the next big thing in behavioral research would be the examination of how people’s behaviors spread across social networks.

The bottom line of this new study (which looks at the same data as the smoking study): happy people make other people happier. On average, for example, each happy person in your social network boosts your chance of happiness by 9 percent.

I liked reading this study, because it provides further scientific support for my own Second Splendid Truth. It took me a long time to see this truth clearly, because there’s a circularity to it that confused me, but once I understood it, a lot of things became much clearer:

One of the best ways to make yourself happy is to make other people happy.
One of the best ways to make other people happy is to be happy yourself.

Therefore, contrary to what a lot of people argue, striving to be happier isn’t a self-centered concern; happy people make other people happy. Happy people are also more inclined to volunteer, to donate money, to try to help other people, to persist with problem-solving, etc. than are unhappy people. Some people assume that happy people tend to be complacent and self-absorbed, but just the opposite is true.

One thing that surprised me was the apparent finding that unhappiness isn’t as catching as happiness within a social network. That’s odd, because in general, negative emotions are much stickier than positive ones — that’s the negativity bias.

It may be that in this study, looking at networks, what’s happening is that people are avoiding unhappy people altogether, or the unhappy people are isolating themselves, so that mood isn’t catching on. My guess would be that in any particular interaction, unhappiness is more catching than happiness.

There were other findings in the study that I questioned – but I wholeheartedly accept the idea that we all influence each other to be happier.

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Speaking of psychology, a great place to find a ton of fascinating posts is on the Psychology Today blogs site. It covers every angle of human psychology.

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Interested in starting your own Happiness Project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.

The problem of duplicate email updates from Feedblitz.

If you get my posts emailed to you through Feedblitz, you might be finding that you’ve been getting duplicates — and a lot of spam is not going to make you feel very HAPPY. I thought the problem had miraculously fixed itself, as sometimes does happen, but apparently not, and I’m in touch with Feedblitz to try to figure out what the issue is.

If you’re experiencing this problem, if you have a second, please forward me an offending example to grubin AT SYMBOL gretchenrubin DOT COM. Feedblitz has asked to see some emails, to help them diagnose the problem.

So hang in there! I hope it will be solved very soon. Thanks as always for your interest.

Happiness quotation from Carl Jung.

“Everything that irritates us about others can lead us to an understanding of ourselves.” –Carl Jung

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I love being part of the Life Remix network — such a great collection of blogs. I always find several posts I want to read when I visit.

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I’ve started sending out short monthly newsletters that will highlight the best of the previous month’s posts. If you’d like to sign up, click on the link in the upper-right-hand corner of my blog. Or just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com. No need to write anything more than “newsletter” in the subject line. I’ll add your name to the list.