Helping yourself to happiness

April 13, 2009

Last Monday, I met a sincerely happy young mother who had recently been laid off from a well-paid job in the computer industry. She shared that after losing the position her sleep had vastly improved and she was elated to have time to pursue her dreams. She called herself “The Upside of a Down Economy.” With a severance package to cushion the transition and pay for mediation training, Ms. “Upside” was providing her services as a volunteer in small claims court.

Meanwhile, a lead article in the New York Times just a few days earlier began, “Anne Hubbard has not lost her job, house or savings, and she and her husband have always been conservative with money. But a few months ago, Ms. Hubbard, a graphic designer in Cambridge, Mass., began having panic attacks over the economy, struggling to breathe and seeing vivid visions of “losing everything,” she said. She ‘could not stop reading every single economic report,’ was so ‘sick to my stomach I lost 12 pounds.’ The article explains how many are struggling with sleeplessness, anxiety or depression from riding the uncertain financial markets. 

So is the new mediator mom somehow superior to Ms. Hubbard? Why are some people fairing better than others? There are surely a number of factors like a severance packages, spousal income, or the relief of finally losing a job (“The other shoe dropping” so to speak) that can increase security. Yet, how are some people truly happy while old sustaining structures crumble around them? 

Turns out there may be tricks to help us cope, which I’m suspicious Ms. “Upside” employs.  In the attached video, Daniel Gilbert presents some fascinating research on we can train ourselves to be joyful, regardless of our circumstances. By synthesizing happiness, we can more readily adjust to changing times whether or not they bring natural causes for joy. 


So, if it is the best of all possible times or the worst, Dr. Gilbert suggests we can adopt important attitudinal shifts to buoy our spirits and increase our chances for survival.  Thus, I hope you “like” my video choice…and the week ahead!

Deidre Combs

Deidre Combs is the author of three books on cross-cultural approaches to resolving conflict and overcoming challenges:  The Way of ConflictWorst Enemy, Best Teacher  and Thriving Through Tough Times. The books integrate perennial wisdom from the world’s lasting cultural traditions with systems theory and brain research.

Dr. Combs is a management consultant, executive coach, mediator and core instructor in Montana State University’s Leadership Fellows Certificate Program and Columbia University’s Teacher’s College Global Competence Certificate Program. Since 2007, she has also taught intensive leadership training to State Department-selected students, teachers and professional leaders from throughout the Middle East, Africa, Asia, Eurasia, Latin America and Pakistan’s FATA region.

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