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How to be Happy: What Makes the Difference?

This is an article in the on-line magazine The Huffington Post by Dr. Todd Kashdan, a researcher in the field of positive psychology. Dr. Todd Kashdan is a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at George Mason University.

For the full article and more links, pop on over to the link. I've added some formatting to the bits I want to jump out at you ;-)

I think, given our mission to create caring, supportive Communities, you'll see why I think this is such an important piece of research!

How to Be Happy -- Emotional Pain and the Politics of Rejection

Todd Kashdan,PhD in Huffington Post

Did you know there is only one single characteristic that separates extremely happy people from "merely" happy people? They aren't more grateful, kind, or compassionate. They aren't more energized when they wake up in the morning (drinking the same amount of coffee as the rest of us). Rather, they possess an abundance of significant, meaningful, lasting relationships.

That is, there are people they can confide in, call on during difficult times, and share joyous events that have absolutely nothing to do with them. Human beings depend on other people for their well-being and survival. We might even say that human beings have a basic "need to belong." For this reason, it makes sense that being rejected by other people might be as painful as physical injuries.

Across multiple languages and cultures, people use injury-related terms such as hurt, heartbreak, and "emotional pain" to describe what it feels like to be rejected by other people. The notion of being hurt by other people might appear to be nothing more than a metaphor.

But getting your feelings hurt actually hurts.

Researchers discovered this after scanning people's brains while playing videogames. On the computer, they tossed around a ball with two other people who supposedly logged on from another part of the world.

In reality, the program was rigged so that people were heavily involved (getting the ball for half the throws) or excluded (getting the ball less than a handful of times over five minutes).

The results were astounding.

Here you have people playing a game with a ball that didn't actually exist with a group of people whom they didn't know and never expected to meet, and they really cared about the extent to which they were included.

After the game was over, those who were excluded witnessed a plummet in their self-esteem and they viewed their life as less satisfying and meaningful.

I can't stress enough, all that happened was that they didn't get the ball thrown to them as often as they liked.

Clearly, little is necessary to make us feel rejected and devalued as a person.

We simply cannot underestimate the power of feeling cared for, valued, and connected to other people.

But let's up the ante. What if you openly despised the people who played catch with you in a videogame? Jews being told the other players thought the holocaust was a hoax, Black people told the other players were members of the KKK, and Christian fundamentalists told the other players were atheists. In this situation, who would possibly care about getting the ball? The ball might even be viewed as contaminated after touching the mitts of these rival group members.

Guess what?

It didn't matter.

Failing to get the ball thrown to you, even by people you despise, still led to anxious, depressed, and lonely feelings.

And in these studies, when when people were excluded, it was the same parts of the brain that lit up that light up when you have physical pain. What this means is that overlap exists between the brain systems that control physical and social pain!

Pain is pain, no matter where it comes from.

To learn more about these and other surprising strategies for managing the anxiety and pain of pursuing a happy, satisfying, and meaningful life, contact Dr. Kashdan for more information at his contaact information on the Huffington link or visit his website.

To share ideas for what helps people feel more connected and part of a community, please comment here -- we love ideas like that!

Posted on Tuesday, April 6, 2010 at 16:53 by Registered CommenterDr Karen in | Comments2 Comments

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Reader Comments (2)

Very interesting, what parts of the brain were activated during emotional/physical pain?

April 7, 2010 | Registered CommenterJesse Stong

There are a number of areas that play a role in pain. Here is a little article that sums up some of those (and shows how we mirror the pain of those around us!):

April 10, 2010 | Registered CommenterDr Karen

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