March 2, 2015
by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Clinical and Sport Psychologist
The Pursuit of Happiness or the Pursuit of Money?
“Every day, thousands of advertisements tell us that people are happy, worthwhile, and successful to the extent that they have money, possessions, and the right image. Yet numerous philosophic and religious perspectives across both time and culture have suggested that focusing one’s life around the acquisition of money, possessions, and status saps one’s spirit and undermines one’s quality of life
(Dittmar, Bond, and Hurst, 2014).”
Analyzing over 250 studies, Dittmar and colleagues show fairly conclusively that pursuing materialistic desires is associated with reduced overall well-being in a number of ways:
1) Compulsive spending
. Perhaps the most obvious, people who are materialistic engage in compulsive spending defined as an obsessive focus on unnecessary purchases believed to make them happier. However, since possessions are not associated with happiness, they continue to buy more and more in their pursuit of happiness.
2) Risky behaviors
. Those who are materialistic tend to engage in other compulsive behaviors that are a risk to physical health such as smoking or drinking. This may be consistent with looking for something outside of themselves to make them feel good.
3) Negative self-appraisal
. Materialism is associated with increased insecurity and lower self-worth. Instead of valuing the self, they believe possessions, money, or status give them value.
4) Negative emotions
. Those with a materialistic focus tend to have more negative emotions and fewer positive emotions. Although the materialistic pursuit is often for the purpose of increasing positive emotions, it does not have that effect.
5) Poor physical health
. Individuals who are materialistic have poorer physical health most likely due to the focus upon external methods to make them happy rather than focusing on themselves.
6) Depression and anxiety
. A higher incidence of depression and anxiety is found in those who are materialistic.
7) Lower life satisfaction
. Overall, those who are materialistic are less satisfied with their lives.
These findings are consistent across gender, age, race, culture, and socio-economic status. Thus, research clearly shows that the pursuit of money, possessions, and status does not make people happy.
How can you increase happiness and satisfaction in life? Read my article “The Secret of Happiness: Let it Find You (But Make the Effort)
” for more information.
Dittmar, H., Bond, R. and Hurst, M. (2014).The Relationship Between Materialism and Personal Well-Being: A Meta-Analysis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107, 879–924. DOI: 10.1037/a0037409
March 1, 2015
Forgiveness Can Impact Heart Health More Than Traditional Medical Treatments
Examining how forgiveness in marital relationships affects heart health, researchers Fincham and colleagues (2015) showed that forgiveness has a greater influence than blood pressure medications and aspirin.
Obviously, forgiveness is not meant as a substitute for medications, but this research indicates that cultivating an attitude of forgiveness can be an important adjunct. If forgiveness is already in your nature, developing a more forgiving attitude may not have much impact, but if you have trouble forgiving, it may help your cardiovascular functioning.
One way to develop a forgiving attitude is the Loving-Kindness Meditation
Fincham, F.D., May, R.W. and Sanchez-Gonzalez, M.A. (2015). Forgiveness and Cardiovascular Functioning in Married Couples. Couple and Family Psychology: Research and Practice, 4, 39 – 48 DOI: 10.1037/cfp0000038
February 28, 2015
Can Being Shy Affect Your Well-being and Relationship? Yes, but It Depends...
Generally, research has repeatedly shown that people who are shy often experience lower well-being and insecurity in relationships. Yet, for those who have secure attachment, shyness doesn't affect the quality of their relationship or overall happiness in life (Rowsell and Coplan, 2013).
What does this mean?
In my opinion, the researchers are mixing social anxiety and the personality trait of being introverted. I think this is a common bias in research about shyness which confuses the results.
Although being introverted may often be associated with social anxiety and shyness, it is not the same concept. Being introverted is a preference for being alone vs. being with people. Many people who are introverted are socially adept and can even enjoy being social, but their preference is to be alone or just with small groups or other individuals.
The concept of the use of personal energy seems to describe the difference between extroverts and introverts quite well: extroverts gain energy from social contact whereas introverts use energy when with others. Conversely, extroverts lose energy when alone and need to be with others to “recharge” whereas introverts need to be alone to “recharge.”
If you notice, this description of introverts/extroverts has nothing to do with being socially anxious or shy. In fact, there is no value judgment of which one is better—they are just different styles.
Thus, I think this research is really about the difference between those who are securely attached in relationships and those who are not. In other words, insecure attachment affects overall well-being and the quality of the relationship.
To assess whether you are securely attached, you can take the questionnaire Measure of Attachment Qualities
Rowsell, H.C. and Coplan, R.J. (2013). Exploring Links Between Shyness, Romantic Relationship Quality, and Well-Being. Canadian Journal of Behavioural Science, 45 287–295. DOI: 10.1037/a0029853
February 26, 2015
10 Everyday Frustrations and a Mindful Attitude
Frustration often is not only unnecessary but also may interfere with successful resolution of problems. If nothing else, a mindful attitude is healthier for you than feeling agitated.
1) Being late
When you are running late for a meeting or work, will you get there any faster if you are frustrated or feeling hurried? Choose your focus. You will get there just as quickly with a mindful attitude.
2) Unexpected inconveniences
When unexpected inconveniences such as a flat tire occur, does anger or agitation help manage the problem? A mindful focus gets the job done sometimes even more quickly because you aren't being distracted by your frustration.
3) Someone makes a request of you
Sometimes people are frustrated by requests that distract from their present purpose. Let's say you are practicing your mindfulness and your spouse asks you to find something. What an irony if you get frustrated, right? Instead, choose to continue to practice mindfulness while helping your spouse.
4) Difference of opinion
A difference of opinion doesn't have to cause frustration or anger. Choose to listen mindfully when someone doesn't agree with you.
5) Rudeness by strangers
When strangers are rude such as when you are cut off in traffic or someone gets service before you, frustration only hurts you and is not likely to solve the problem. Maintain your mindful focus: “I'm not going to let minor irritations take my mindfulness away.”
6) Stopped in traffic
When you are stopped in traffic you are not going anywhere no matter how frustrated you become. Why not take it as an opportunity to practice your mindful attitude?
A common frustration is the avalanche of seemingly mindless paperwork in modern day society. However, you can make a mindless activity mindful by choosing your focus. Instead of feeling agitated just refocus back to the process of completing the paperwork—step by mindful step.
8) Customer service
We all experience the frustration of customer service when we have problems with our many “conveniences” in life (phones, TV, appliances, etc.). The often interesting outcome of focusing mindfully with customer service is you may find the customer service rep's attitude becomes more mindful as well. We influence others with mindfulness just as we influence others with frustration!
People often become frustrated when the weather isn't what they want it to be. It is raining when they want to go to the park or it doesn't snow when they want to go skiing. When it comes to the weather, it is best to be mindfully flexible.
10) Electricity outage
What better time to be mindful?
Notice that what most of these everyday frustrations have in common is they are uncontollable. When something can't be controlled, why not be mindful?
February 24, 2015
Passive-Aggressive Example: Trap of Demanding Private Thoughts
Question: I'm working on my issues with jealousy. I try not to share my jealous thoughts and feelings with my girlfriend, but what do I say when she asks "What's wrong?" If I answer "I'm trying to work through some things" she demands to know what it is about and then we end up in an argument about the jealousy. What should I do?
TAP HERE FOR RESPONSE
February 20, 2015
Cognitive Diary Training Example: Fiance Spends Valentine's Day with Son
: Valentine's Day fell on weekend fiance had son and he decided to celebrate on a different day.
: rejected, hurt, angry
: 8--High level of distress
: “Valentine's is a special day and he could get a babysitter for his son this one time. Doesn't he even care about hurting my
feelings? He is so inconsiderate! It is so unfair that he puts his son before me. I think I'm pretty understanding usually but this is Valentine's Day and he
should spend it with me.”
CAN YOU IDENTIFY THE IRRATIONAL THINKING IN THIS EXAMPLE?
There are at least 3 irrational beliefs.
HOW CAN YOU CHANGE THE THINKING?
What is another way of thinking about the situation that won't cause the feelings of rejection, hurt, and anger?
TAP HERE FOR ANSWER
February 16, 2015
Why You Need to Write to Challenge Thinking
When many people learn cognitive restructuring, the method in cognitive therapy used to challenge the inaccurate or irrational thoughts, they try to change their thinking by challenging the thoughts in their head. However, such an approach is not as effective as writing your thoughts, examining the inaccuracies, and writing a challenge to the irrational thoughts.
The primary reason that writing is more effective is that it gets you out of your head! Think of it this way. Whenever you engage in a behavior (and thinking is a behavior) you create automatic pathways in your brain. For example, when you learn to ride a bike, an automatic pathway is created—which is why you never forget how to ride a bike. It is very difficult to change an automatic pathway. In fact, we can't!
That doesn't mean you can't change your thinking, however. It just means that you need to create an automatic pathway that competes with the original pathway. However, when you try to do this by thinking about your thinking, the original pathway tends to assert itself and take over. Therefore, the best way around this is to start by developing a completely different pathway using a different sensory input (instead of thought, use the tactile modality of writing).
By writing your challenging thoughts, you are creating a different pathway in the brain that can then compete with the original pathway. Once you have established this pathway, then you should be able to use it without having to write. But at first you need to write even if you are repeating yourself—at least write the challenging thoughts.
By the way, using other sensory modalities could also work. For instance, saying the challenging thoughts out loud (unless you usually say the negative thoughts out loud). I suggest writing because most people do not write down their irrational thoughts as the primary method of reviewing them.
(Note to researchers out there: based on this principle, would it be best not to write down the irrational thoughts repeatedly—could they be inadvertently reinforced? I haven't seen this question researched.)
February 11, 2015
Passive-Aggressive Example: Passive-Aggressive Example: Handling a Backhanded Compliment
Question: How do you respond to the following statement? "Wow, for someone really well read, you watch the stupidest TV shows!"
TAP HERE FOR RESPONSE
February 8, 2015
New Article: 5 Common Microaggressions Against Those With Mental Illness
Those struggling with mental illness often report that others don't understand the problems they experience. In addition, others treat them differently in very subtle ways but that are clearly apparent to the individual with mental illness. Not only that, but when those with mental illness complain, they are ignored, their mental illness is blamed, or they are told they are imagining the problem due to excessive sensitivity.
Although overt discrimination such as occupational inequities has been opposed through legislation such as the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA), these types of microaggressions still plague those with mental illness. Microaggressions are subtle behaviors or reactions that diminish the recipient in some way.
The problem with microaggressions, similar to indirect passive-aggressive behavior, is the behavior is often so subtle that the perpetrator can easily deny the intention or even blame the recipient. Sometimes the perpetrator may even be unaware of their underlying attitudes that are being expressed in this subtle manner. However, the recipient is very much aware of the difference in how they are treated.
Through interviewing individuals with mental illness, researchers Gonzales and colleagues (2014) found five themes of microaggressions against those with mental illness:
1) Invalidation. Minimizing, symptomizing, and patronizing.
2) Assumption of inferiority. Intellectual, incompetence, and not having control.
3) Fear of mental illness.
4) Shaming of mental illness.
5) Second class citizen attitudes.
READ COMPLETE ARTICLE
February 6, 2015
What is the Difference Between Mindful Acceptance and Emotional Suppression?
Although both mindful acceptance and emotional suppression reduce the intensity of emotions, some critical differences can influence your overall mental well-being.
1) Feeling vs. Not Feeling
Mindful acceptance involves experiencing the emotions for what they are whereas emotional suppression tries to ignore or eliminate feeling the unpleasant emotions. However, emotions provide information that help us manage our lives. When we ignore the emotions, we lose this important information. For instance, someone becoming involved in a new relationship ignores the emotional “red flags” indicating potential problems and continues in a bad relationship wondering why they always seem to pick the wrong person.
2) Reduced reactivity vs. Increased Distress
Often confusing to those inexperienced with mindfulness and emotions is the idea that mindful acceptance of emotions actually leads to reduced intensity and reaction to emotions overall whereas emotional suppression can lead to increased distress, anxiety, and depression. It seems intuitive to people that since emotions can be so unpleasant, not feeling negative emotions should lead to increased contentment. But the opposite is true. The mindful experience of emotions leads to decreased reaction to emotions and greater mental well-being (Teper, R. and Inzlicht, M., 2014).
3) Long-term Results vs. Rebound Effect
People suppress emotions because they don't want to feel the discomfort. Yet, what occurs is more discomfort over time because of the rebound effect of the suppressed emotions. The rebound effect means that when emotions are not addressed they will be experienced more intensely or over a longer period of time. For example, a woman who is angry about her partner going out with friends too much but suppresses the anger rather than stating the problem and addressing it is more likely to be distressed not only about this situation but every situation that reminds her of it. As a result, she experiences the emotional reaction over and over, perhaps becoming angrier each time. Not wanting to deal with the discomfort of the potential conflict causes her ongoing distress and unpleasantness.
To sum it up, learning to develop a mindful acceptance of emotions can lead to a long-term reduction in the intensity of emotions. The Understanding Mindfulness
series of audios (with transcripts) free to download can provide more information about developing mindful acceptance.
Teper, R. and Inzlicht, M. (2014). Mindful Acceptance Dampens Neuroaffective Reactions to External and Rewarding Performance Feedback. Emotion, 14, 105-114. DOI: 10.1037/a0034296
February 2, 2015
Love Enhances Men's Ability to Recognize Emotion
A common complaint women have about men is that they seem unaware of others' emotions. Women tend to spend a great deal of time thinking about how others' feel and how they might react. Many women are disappointed that men don't consider others' feelings in the same way.
Interesting, researchers Wlodarski and Dunbar (2014) found that when men were shown pictures of their loved one and to recall early memories of the relationship, they were more capable of discerning a variety of emotions, but particularly negative emotions, of other people. Why might this be? The researchers speculate that men who are in love think more about the emotions of their partner than they normally reflect upon emotions. Thinking about their partner triggers the part of the brain focused on identifying emotions which made them more accurate on an emotion recognition task.
Wlodarski, R. and Dunbar, R.I.M. (2014). The Effects of Romantic Love on Mentalizing Abilities. Review of General Psychology, 18, 313–321. DOI:10.1037/gpr0000020
January 27, 2015
Do You Trust Your Partner's Expression of Acceptance?
Some people negate their partner's support and positive expressions of regard and acceptance. When they have a negative self-image, they believe their partner is only saying nice things to not cause distress but that the partner doesn't really mean it. A series of studies by researchers Lemay and Clark (2008) shows how people who desperately want to be loved may create a perpetual cycle of feeling rejected instead.
The researchers described how people, in general, believe that others will praise and show approval towards those who are insecure because they don't want to upset them. Due to this belief, when people share their vulnerabilities with a romantic partner or close friend, they are suspicious of the other's positive response because they think it is due to being cautious and not wanting to hurt them. These doubts about the genuineness of the other's positive regard causes the individual to be more negative and more insecure about the relationship.
Thus, there is no way out of this cycle. At least not as long as the person continues to believe the original premise that if a person expresses vulnerabilities, others will say nice things to not cause distress. As a result, no matter how positive the partner is, the individual believes the partner truly has an unexpressed negative opinion of them.
How can this cycle be stopped? Accept compliments. Period. If we have the potential to be wrong, it is better to be wrong in a positive direction. Don't try to evaluate what you think someone else really means. Accept what they say has genuine. Even if someone is saying nice things because they don't want to hurt you, isn't that a good thing? At least the person cares enough to not want to cause you pain.
Lemay, E.P. and Clark, M.S. (2008). “Walking on Eggshells”: How Expressing Relationship Insecurities Perpetuates Them. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 95, 420–441. DOI: 10.1037/0022-35184.108.40.2060
Some people may be curious as to why this website is
dedicated to the "pursuit of excellence" when I am
constantly warning about the dangers of
perfectionism. To address this question we must
differentiate between the pursuit of excellence and
the need to be perfect. These concepts are not only
different but can be considered antagonistic to one
another. In fact these concepts are so opposed to
one another that excellence can best be attained by
giving up the demands of perfection.
What is Perfectionism?
is the individual's belief that he or she must be
perfect to be acceptable. Perfectionism is black and
white with no gray area. Anything other than perfect
is failure. Perfectionism is an attitude, not
necessarily a behavior. In other words, two people
can engage in the same behavior such as trying to
win an Olympic gold medal but one can be pursuing
excellence and the other is demanding perfection.
The difference lies in the thought process about the
goal or behavior, not in the goal or behavior
Listening to the weather forecast one frigid day, I
realized how much we are influenced by the
catastrophic thinking of the media. The weatherman
reported, "The weather has brought more misery
to the St. Louis area." Certainly, the weather was
causing problems that day. An ice storm caused car
doors and locks to be frozen so that people had a
great deal of trouble getting into their cars.
However, I thought, unless someone was in the middle
of nowhere with no cell phone and they were unable
to open their car door because of the ice, this was
not "misery." Instead, I would call it an
"inconvenience." Most of us walked out to our cars
to find that we couldn't open the door, went back
inside a warm house or office, and found some
solution to our problem.
For many years when my husband and I were first
together I would ask him "When are things going to
get better?" We were dealing with the usual
stressors that couples face: not enough time, not
enough money, and the inevitable random events such
as family conflict, deaths of loved ones, illnesses
and injuries. In addition, for most of our early
years together I was in school and struggling with
the balancing of demands of advanced education,
part-time work, and a family.
But I had the belief that we were working towards
this perfect life that one day would emerge shining
a rainbow of happiness forever over us. My husband,
inclined more toward the practical, just answered my
question of "When are things going to get better?,"
with "Another six months." That answer typically
pacified me for awhile because I thought I could
handle any amount of stress for six months.
However, a point would occur when I once again I
asked my husband "When are things going to get
better?" Once again, he would answer "Another six
months." This scenario occurred fairly routinely
for many years.
However, fortunately during this time I had
experiences that began to teach me about my
expectations of life. In particular, when I was
completing my internship at the Veterans
Administration Medical Center I had the opportunity
to work on the spinal cord injury unit. That
experience forever changed my thinking. In
particular, I was struck by the differences in
attitude among the patients.
don't have any willpower."
"I can't do it."
Do these statements sound familiar? Too often, our
self-statements about weight management interfere
with our efforts and lead to failure. By changing
how we think about developing a healthy weight we
are able to change the behaviors that can lead to
Not long ago I conducted a little experiment with my
cardio-kickboxing class. After an intense class I
told them to get the heaviest weights they could
curl 8-10 times. I spent a minute telling them to
focus on feeling tired, that they had just worked
out hard and they couldn't do anymore. Then, they
were to curl the weights to exhaustion. Once they
finished, I spent another minute telling them to
focus on having energy, feeling good, feeling
refreshed, and knowing they could do more. Once
again, they lifted the weights to exhaustion. The
results were that out of nine people, only one did
fewer lifts the second time! And typically, when
someone lifts weights to exhaustion they should not
be able to lift as much the second time when it is
only a minute later. Although this was not a
controlled scientific experiment, it was a
demonstration to my class to show how powerful our
thinking can be. What this exercise showed was how
positive thinking overcame the natural exhaustion of
the body and created a self-fulfilling prophecy of
lifting more weight because the participants
believed that they could.