Gretchen Rubin

“Happy Family, Happy Life.”

“Happy Family, Happy Life.”

Happiness interview: Michael Pantalon.

I just finished reading Michael Pantalon's very helpful book, Instant Influence: How to Get Anyone To Do Anything--Fast. He argues that one of the most important things you can do to influence people is to...remind them that in the end, your influence doesn't matter. That is, to re-affirm their sense of autonomy. The more that people find their own reasons for action, and feel themselves to be acting in accordance with their own desires, the more likely they are to make positive changes. So the challenge is to help them do so.

There's a lot of interesting material in the book; for instance, here's one fact that fascinated me:

“Numerous studies have shown that people having any level of motivation are capable of making dramatic changes. When people have rated their motivation on a scale of 1 to 10, for example, you might think that the 10s would be more likely to take action than the 2s. No so! In fact, several of my own studies found that people who made significant changes in their behavior appeared all along the motivational continuum, not just at the high end.”

In other words, just because you think, "Wow, this is it! This time I'm really going to make a change!" you're not actually more likely to make a change than someone who is feeling lukewarm about making a change--but who  approaches making that change in a more strategic way.

Making change is often very important to happiness, so I was interested to hear what Mike had to say.

Gretchen: What’s a simple activity that consistently makes you happier?

Mike: Finding new music.  I love music.  It always lifts my mood.  I like to try to discover at least 1-2 new artists or bands a week.  It helps that I love a number of genres from jazz funk, jazz-rock, experimental and post-bop jazz, alternative, rock, blues and even progressive heavy metal.  Most recent finds: Surfer Blood and Gotye.

What’s something you know now about happiness that you didn’t know when you were 18 years old?

That happiness would be found from within, no matter what the circumstances. Being true to one’s own source of happiness is perhaps the most important lesson.  I believe I had a sense of this lesson long before I was fully aware of it.  I know this because I gravitated toward meditation and psychology, both of which drive home the idea that you create your own happiness, early on in my childhood.

Is there anything you find yourself doing repeatedly that gets in the way of your happiness?

Returning to an old, admittedly irrational, “deprivation mindset” – the belief that there will never be enough of the things we need, including happiness – taught to me by my parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Croatia and who actually grew up having very little in the way of basic needs.  However, for me, as for others raised this way, the “deprivation mindset” truly constricts your vision of what’s possible.  As optimistic, positive, and confident a person I am, I can still falter and give in to this mindset.  Luckily I can pull myself out of it much more easily than I could in the past.  I also have wonderful and loving people around me who catch me if I’m starting to go there.

Is there a happiness quotation that has struck you as particularly insightful?

I have four quotes that I try to keep in mind…

“Follow that will and that way which experience confirms to be your own.”  Carl Jung

“If you want a happy family, you are going to have to tolerate a lot of unhappiness.”  Dr. Haim Ginott, child psychologist

“Don’t worry about mistakes.  There are none.”  Miles Davis

“Trust yourself.  You know more than you think.” Dr. Spock

If you’re feeling blue, how do you give yourself a happiness boost?

Playing my guitar and writing my own songs.

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?

Things that add: Stubbornly refusing to be as obsessed with pleasing others as most of us seem to be.

Things that detract: Being too focused on the “prize” – external motivation.  True prizes from doing what is important come from within.

Have you always felt about the same level of happiness, or have you been through a period when you felt exceptionally happy or unhappy – if so, why? If you were unhappy, how did you become happier?

Yes and no. Sorry, that’s the most honest and accurate answer I can give.  Even though I can think back to “happier” days (when I met my wife, when I married her, when our children were born), those memories mostly remind me that we find happiness in moments, and then I realize that I can have similar moments of happiness today – with the very same people!

Is there some aspect of your home that makes you particularly happy?

Family dinner time.  We (my wife and two sons, ten and fourteen) have dinner together almost every single night.  It’s one of the most important contributors to our family happiness.  Happy family, happy life.

My guitar

Sitting on the back deck with my wife

Playing basketball with my kids in the driveway

Our dog, Grover

Have you ever been surprised that something you expected would make you very happy, didn’t?

Yes, credentials and place of employment.  A number of years ago I realized that, even though I was more credentialed in my field than I ever thought I would be and I worked at one of the top universities in the world, I alone determine my level of contentment and happiness with my career.  This is a far better situation than relying on credentials and status, because the latter is determined by others, but the former is self-determined.  I believe there is nothing that motivates the human species more than autonomy and self-determination, especially in times of conflict and unhappiness.

As a motivation coach, I have found that when my clients learn my method for becoming better “influencers” (the method outlined in my book), either with themselves or others, their happiness quotient increases.  They report that this is due to having a greater sense of control in their lives, even when what they were trying to influence did not turn out the way they had wanted.  The lesson here is that unhappiness can come from not even trying to influence the course of events around us, and that’s even worse than not getting what we want.  If there was one thing I would want your readers to try in order to keep up their happiness is to ask for what they want, politely, but assertively.  However, if they find that it’s difficult to do this effectively, then perhaps they could give my method a try.  It’s helped many people get what they want, or at least feel that they did their best trying.

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One Last Thing

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