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Balanced Life -- Make The Positive Argument

03/20/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Feelings

I'm working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone's project will look different, but it's the rare person who can't benefit. Join in -- no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday's post will help you think about your own happiness project.

At the suggestion of the brilliant Bob Sutton on Work Matters, I read David Dunning's book, Self-Insight: Roadblocks and Detours on the Path to Knowing Thyself.

One passage jumped out at me:

[People] can argue anything. If asked to argue that some assertion "A" is true, people can do that. If next asked to argue that the opposite of "A" is true, they can do that, too, often with the exact same ease and effectiveness...When testing a hypothesis, people tend to emphasize evidence that confirms the hypothesis over information that disconfirms it. For example, if I asked someone whether he or she was an outgoing individual, that someone will likely sit back to think about times he or she has been an extroverted, sociable person...if I asked the same person whether he or she is the shy type, he or she would likely think of exactly...opposing examples because they confirm the new hypothesis. (46-47)

I've been applying that observation as a happiness-project strategy, and it's astonishingly effective.

When I catch myself thinking, "My husband isn't very thoughtful," and my mind starts kicking up examples of thoughtlessness, I retort, "My husband is very thoughtful" - and sure enough, I think of lots of examples of thoughtful behavior. When I think "My daughters squabble a lot," I answer, "My daughters get along very well."

I can actually feel my opinion shift. It's almost uncanny.

I wonder if this effect partly explains why happy people tend to live in happier atmospheres than do less happy people. Situation evocation refers to the phenomenon in which we spark a response from people that reinforces a tendency we already have -- for example, if I act irritable all the time, the people around me are probably going to treat me with less patience and helpfulness, which will, in turn, stoke my irritability. On the other hand, if I can manage to do more joking around, I evoke a situation in which the people around me were more genial.

If I make positive statements, I'll tend to convince myself and other people of a positive view of things. If I make negative statements, I'll do just the opposite. For example, if I say, "Wow, that was such a great meeting," people are prompted to think that the meeting went well. If I say, "Wow, that meeting was such a drag," people are prompted to think along those lines.

As Goethe observed: "I have come to the frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element. It is my personal approach that creates the climate. It is my daily mood that makes the weather."

* 2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year, this month's focus is Energy. Last week's resolution was to Get more exercise. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

This week's resolution is to Toss and organize. For most people, outer order contributes to inner calm. Start small! Pick one closet, or just one drawer.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out...

If you're new, here's information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It's never too late to start! You're not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman's Day.

* When I was in Boston for my visit to Brookline Booksmith -- which was a huge amount of fun! - I had a chance finally to meet the fabulous Trish Ryan in person. We talked about a lot of things, including two very interesting new books, Hannah Seligson's A Little Bit Married: How to Know When It's Time to Walk Down the Aisle or Out the Door and Lori Gottlieb's Marry Him: the Case for Settling for Mr. Good Enough. I was very intrigued with both books, even though I'm already married, myself.

* My sister just had a new baby, so I was pleased to read on Gimundo about research showing that mothers' social lives improve after they have a baby.