Category Archives: Happiness

“I try so hard to make her happy.”

"Noble Love" by Mimi Stuart ©

“Noble Love” by Mimi Stuart ©

Responsibility for another’s wellbeing

People who put excessive energy into trying to make others happy tend to lose their sense of self and the accompanying groundedness and objectivity. The suppression of their own values, needs and desires often leads to growing resentment and a lack of vitality.

The more compelled a person is to promote someone else’s wellbeing, the more anxious that person becomes. People who put excessive energy into “helping” others and to making them happy are often completely unaware of the anxiety which drives them, because they are projecting their own anxiety onto the people they are trying to help.

Dependence on validation from others

The opposite dynamic also leads to trouble. The more your own wellbeing depends on validation from others, the more anxious you become. Thus, when people are desperately seeking validation, they tend to use emotional manipulation to get it. The resulting validation isn’t very gratifying because it has been coerced. Thus, their craving for validation is never satisfied, and becomes a drain on the relationship.

People who crave a lot of validation may be aware of their own anxiety, but they believe it is up to others to take care of them. Their efforts to get others to relieve their anxiety are ineffective in resolving the ultimate problem—that is, learning to tolerate their own anxiety.

Escalation of anxiety

Anxiety increases when you have less control over achieving your goals. Since you are not in control of someone else’s wellbeing, and you are not in control of someone validating you, anxiety for both parties increases. Hence relationships between emotionally fused people tend to generate considerable chronic anxiety.

The more anxious people become, the more reactive and intolerant they are of others. They become more frantic to “fix” things. They may feel alternatively overwhelmed and isolated, needing more emotional connection, but rejecting all but the “right” kind of connection, that is, total validation. A lack of response or the wrong kind of response hurts or angers them, which causes them to say hurtful things or withdraw, leading to an escalation of anxiety and conflict.

It is paradoxical and unfortunate that undifferentiated people have more need of emotional support, but are less likely to get it or to be satisfied by it.

Healthy relationships

In healthy relationships, people are helpful, considerate, and care about the one another’s wellbeing. They will do things they think might make the other person happy. However, they are emotionally differentiated, which prevents one person’s anxiety from infecting the other and spiraling out of control. Differentiation means that you avoid emotionally manipulating another person and you avoid walk on eggshells. Instead you respect that person as autonomous, though perhaps interdependent. This requires being aware of and tolerating your own anxiety when someone else is not happy or when you are not receiving the validation that you were hoping to receive.

Murray Bowen, who developed the notion of differentiation, puts it this way: “The goal always is to work on oneself, not to attempt to change one’s family. The goal is not to get the family to “accept” you, to “love” you. The goal is to be more of a self, which is not contingent on acceptance.”

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Recommended Kerr and Bowen’s “Family Evaluation.”

Read “Happiness: ‘We must have a terrible marriage because I’m so unhappy.’”

Read “I can’t live with her and I can’t live without her.”

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

The psychological habit that is as unhealthy as smoking: Rumination.

"Allegretto" by Mimi Stuart Live the Life you Desire

“Allegretto” by Mimi Stuart ©


Have you spent too many sleepless nights or distressing days dwelling on bad feelings and experiences of the past? Rumination is the compulsive focusing on causes and consequences of your distress. While worry focuses on potential bad events in the future, rumination focuses on past and current failures, disappointment, or suffering.

Rumination interferes with the confidence you need to problem-solve and move forward in your life in a positive way. Moreover, ongoing repetitive circular thinking about failures and distress often leads to depression as well as addictions.


The solution is to learn to notice each time you start ruminating. Then immediately distract yourself with a healthy activity for at least two minutes. Only two minutes of distraction will stop you from ruminating. You may have to do this countless times a day when you first start, but if you keep it up, your ruminating will diminish and then disappear.

Depending on your personality, effective distraction may have to involve your mind, your body, or both. Think of a mental or physical activity that is engaging enough to distract you.

Here are some examples:

• Organize papers or your accounting.

• Read a book.

• Do fifty sit ups.

• Clean your house while listening to your favorite music.

• Call a friend.

• Do a sport or take a walk while listening to a book on tape.

• Do an interactive video or game, such as a language or geography game, or lumosity.

• Clear clutter, focusing on what should be thrown out or where to put things.

• Catch up on social media or emails.

• Plan a dinner party or a trip.

Remember that you only need to distract yourself for two minutes. But if you distract yourself with something positive or productive many times a day, you’ll also have accomplished something worthwhile in the meantime. You’ll be better read, in better shape, caught up with friends, and you will have a cleaner house. These small satisfactions will also help you to stop ruminating about past negative events.

If you don’t have two minutes to spare, consider doing what a friend of mine did during a painful break up to keep her from dwelling in negative thinking. She wore a rubber band around her wrist and snapped it each time she started to ruminate about the past or worry about the future. Her wrist turned red, but her emotional health remained stable and empowered despite the losses and transition she faced.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Fear of failure: ‘I’m worried about failing.’”

Read “Regret: ‘I shouldn’t have yelled at my friend.’”

Read “’I don’t have time for this huge project.’ Ten minutes: One box, one call, one block.”

7 keys to a great relationship

Watch “7 keys to a great relationship” by clicking on the title or picture below:

This video illustrates seven essential requirements of having a fantastic relationship.

1. Respect is the fundamental requirement for a good relationship. Contempt, on the other hand, will destroy a relationship. Body language and tone of voice are key in being respectful.

2. Be considerate without being overly accommodating. You shouldn’t ignore your own needs and desires or do things that you really don’t want to do.

3. Discuss problems without venting. Don’t talk non-stop about unimportant details and don’t attack the other person. You don’t want to bring down the relationship or bore the other person with trivialities and negativity.

4. Remain calm. Don’t become reactive or defensive even if the other person is angry or over-reacting. It only takes one person to keep things positive or at least prevent hostility.

5. Pursue your own passions. You don’t have to do everything together. Also don’t diminish the other person’s interests or sports.

6. Keep the romance, fun, and passion alive. Don’t allow your relationship to become mundane and ordinary.

7. Appreciate the good in the other person. Don’t be over-critical and don’t focus on the flaws. By appreciating the good in the other person, you tend to bring out the best in the other person and in the relationship.

by Dr. Alison Poulsen

Read “Ten Keys to a Great Relationship: ‘The magic is gone.’”

Read “What happened to our relationship? It used to be so great.”

“If I get the promotion and my new relationship works out, then I’ll be happy.”

"Scott Joplin's Great Crush Collision"  by Mimi Stuart© Live the Life you Desire

“Scott Joplin’s Great Crush Collision”
by Mimi Stuart© Live the Life you Desire

It turns out that this kind of thinking is reversed. It actually works the other way around. If you decide to be happy, then your job and your relationships are likely to be successful and fulfilling.

People who are happy feel better, focus better, think more clearly, have better access to all regions of their brains, have quicker more agile responses to changing circumstances and solve problems better. Happy people are more empathetic and creative, which means they will be more diplomatic, interesting and enjoyable to be around.

In essence, happy people perform better at work and have better relationships.

How do you make yourself happy?

To increase your happiness, try some of the following:

• get more sleep,
• eat healthy foods,
• exercise — particularly sports or activities you enjoy,
• pursue your passions,
• change negative thinking to optimistic thinking or at least to humor,
• do nice things for others,
• laugh more,
• meditate,
• increase your gratitude for the good things in your life,
• and focus on the positive angle of challenging circumstances in your life.

How to be happy when you’re angry at someone

When you are angry at someone, take the time you need to find at least one thing you are grateful for in that person. Try to adopt an attitude of gratitude in order to provide you with the clear thinking and demeanor to be more effective interacting with him or her. You may need to take a walk, get some exercise, do some deep breathing, talk to a friend, or take a couple of days before you are able to see some redeemable quality in the other person. Once you feel centered and can see a bit of humanity in the other person, you will communicate much more effectively, or at least avoid making things worse.

When you see the good in others despite their perceived shortcomings, they will sense it and be more open and amenable to you. Your effort at communication will be more compelling. Moreover, you can feel good about yourself for approaching someone in a positive, constructive, and humane way.

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Should we always be positive? ‘Just be happy!’”

Read “Fantasies: ‘All I want is a Lamborghini! Then I’d be happy.’”

Read “Happiness: ‘We must have a terrible marriage because I’m so unhappy.’”

“I can’t wait to go on a vacation!”

"Anthony's Key" by Mimi Stuart ©  Live the Life you Desire

“Anthony’s Key” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Research shows that most of the pleasure derived from traveling is experienced in the planning and anticipation of the trip.*
Planning a vacation involves imagining what you will feel like on the trip—whether relaxed and romantic, adventuresome and athletic, or knowledgeable and worldly, etc. When we imagine how we feel on the trip, the parts of ourselves that have been neglected come alive in hopes of being more fully expressed.

The fantasy of travel

Fantasies are deceptive in that they highlight the pleasure, novelty, and magic of what is possible, and leave out the disappointment, discomfort and difficulty you might experience during the trip. When you picture the warm breeze and swaying palm trees at the beach, you rarely imagine the frustration with airport security, flight delays, hotel cancellations, weather, noise, unexpected expenses, disappointments and bad moods. Fortunately, memories of our past tend to highlight the highs, and with some imagination and a sense of humor we can turn the misfortunes into opportunities for telling entertaining stories.

What fantasies reveal

Fantasies often reveal to us what we may be missing in our lives—literally or metaphorically. They sometimes substitute the literal object for the quality that we could benefit from developing in ourselves.

For example, someone who is very practical and goal-oriented may fantasize about sitting by the ocean and doing nothing but feeling the warmth of the sun. Someone who has a regimented daily routine may dream of adventure and spontaneity. Someone who feels his or her life is too provincial may imagine taking in the art, culture and history of foreign countries.

Using the fantasy to improve your life

We can gain a fresh look at our life by recognizing what is motivating us to take our fantasy trip. We don’t have to wait for the trip in order to begin integrating the sought-for qualities within ourselves. If we are seeking romance, for instance, we can try to do things with more excitement, passion, and love every day.

Instead of waiting until a two-week vacation, we can use our imagination to look for ways to add a little fantasy vacation into our every day life. The desire to have adventure, feel romantic, relax, or feel strong can deepen through being aware of those needs and desires. We can try to live the life we desire all year round by bringing some of those qualities into our daily life in addition to going on a fantastic vacation.

An intense anticipation itself transforms possibility into reality; our desires being often but precursors of the things which we are capable of performing.

~Samuel Smiles

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

* Research by Jeroen Nawijn from Erasmus University in Rotterdam and NHTV Breda University of Applied Sciences and his team, who are published online in Springer’s journal Applied Research in Quality of Life.

Read “Fantasies: ‘All I want is a Lamborghini! Then I’d be happy.’”

“I fear something bad is going to happen. It feels like the end of the world.”

"Mayan Tzolk'in calendar" by Mimi Stuart © Live the Life you Desire

“Mayan Tzolk’in calendar” by Mimi Stuart ©
Live the Life you Desire

Anxiety is part of being human. Yet most people feel uncomfortable with anxiety; so they tend to attach it to something external to make sense of it. Freud pointed out that free-floating anxiety often gets attributed to objects or situations, such as spiders, heights, even aliens and, yes, the end of the world.

Another example is a person who frequently fears that something dreadful is going to happen. Will our son drink too much? Will I get cancer? Will a driver crash into me? Will someone break into our home? Although we can do some things to avoid disaster, we cannot control everything even if we are hyper-vigilant.

Ironically, it doesn’t matter if specific bad events do not occur, precisely because people who externalize anxiety are living in a state of fear and worry. Being in a constant state of anxiety prevents a sense of inner peace, enjoyment, and the ability to laugh off some otherwise annoying nuisance. When people spend too much time fretting about what could happen and all the things that could go wrong, they lose sight of the fact that at this moment everything is just fine.

That doesn’t mean we should be naive or ignore potential danger. We need to be aware of our surroundings and avoid danger when it is avoidable. However, we also need to be able to appreciate the present moment regardless of what the future may bring. In fact, with wisdom and practice, we can manage to experience a state of inner peace even in the face of actual pain and loss.

How we use fear is under our control. We must find a happy medium between
1) checking out our surroundings for danger and planning against negative things happening in the future, and
2) letting go and appreciating the Now, understanding that much of life is not under our control.

Take the worst-case scenario: the possibility of an apocalypse. Why not live every day as though there is a split chance between this being the last day of life and it being the first day of the rest of a long life? Then we will have no regrets.

To fear is one thing. To let fear grab you by the tail and swing you around is another.

~Katherine Paterson

You can conquer almost any fear if you will only make up your mind to do so. For remember, fear doesn’t exist anywhere except in the mind.

~Dale Carnegie

by Alison Poulsen, PhD

Read “Avoidance Behavior: ‘I’ve been dreading telling her about our financial problems.’”

Read “Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs: ‘Since he lost his job, he doesn’t seem to care about our relationship.’”