The answer is YES. But that doesn’t mean that I’m happy all the time, or that I’ve reformed all my bad habits that make me unhappy.
For example, yesterday, I lost my temper with the Big Man. Spectacularly.
I was furious at him. My anger wasn’t about anything interesting (it never is), but the root cause was my feeling that he wasn’t being helpful enough on a major family project, and even worse, he wasn’t appreciative enough of what I was doing.
Those cursed gold stars! I crave them, I demand them!
I’d been feeling slightly annoyed for a few hours, and when the storm broke, I ran through all the classic lines that you’re not supposed to say during a fight:
“For once, why can’t you…?”
“I just don’t understand why…”
I made the gesture that I’ve recently realized is my “tell” for anger – rubbing the heels of my palms against my eyes. I think I may actually have stamped my foot.
The Big Man didn’t get angry in response. He never does. In a way, this is good, because it takes two to fight. In a way, this is bad, because his calm makes me feel like he’s just standing there, waiting for me to finish. Also, the minute I stop feeling furious, I start feeling guilty – which, of course, I also blame on him. If I’m not careful, my feelings of remorse reignite my anger…
It’s not a very productive cycle.
My Happiness Project didn’t keep me from losing my temper. But it did change how I reacted after I’d lost my temper.
As I was winding down my outburst, my catchwords and Twelve Commandments started flashing in my mind: “Let it go,” “I love him, just as he is,” “No calculation.”
I remembered the phenomenon of “unconscious overclaiming,” in which we unconsciously overestimate our contributions relative to other people’s. For example, in one study, when students in a work group each estimated their contribution to the team, the total was 139 percent.
It occurred to me that while I was angry at the Big Man for not being grateful for what I was doing, did I tell him how much I appreciated his dealing with all the vacation logistical details? Nope.
The most helpful thing I remembered was to “Lighten up.” I made a joke, I let the tension dissipate, I gave him a long hug – because I happen to know that you should hold your hug for at least six seconds to optimize the flow of mood-boosting chemicals like oxytocin and serotonin.
So although my Happiness-Project work didn’t allow me to avert my outburst, I did manage to recover much more quickly. I’m hoping that if I keep working on myself, I’ll be able to avoid the outburst altogether.
Many people believe in the “catharsis hypothesis” and think that expressing anger is healthy-minded and relieves feelings. Not so. Studies demonstrate that expressing anger only AGGRAVATES it.
This is sure true for me. When I allow myself to fly into a fury, I end up feeling much angrier, and much worse (and so does the Big Man). When I manage to stay calm, my feelings remain milder.
Once again, I realize that the secret is to live according to my Twelfth Commandment: “There is only love.” So hard, but it’s the way to happiness.
Zoikes, that sounds preachy! And I’m hardly one to preach -- but I know it’s true.
If you're interested in how to "make ideas happen, " to spark the fires of creativity but also actually get things done, a great site to check out is Behance. Lots of fascinating material there to inspire people striving for productive creativity.
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