How To Reset Your Happiness Set Point

set point

Photo: puuikibeach

The set-point theory of happiness suggests that our level of subjective well-being is determined primarily by heredity and by personality traits ingrained in us early in life and as a result remains relatively constant throughout our lives. Our level of happiness may change transiently in response to life events, but then almost always returns to its baseline level as we habituate to those events and their consequences over time. Habituation, a growing body of evidence now tells us, occurs even to things like career advancement, money, and marriage. Continue reading…

Our Best Defense Against Tragedy

tragedy

Photo: Lel4nd

Like most Americans, when I learned that twenty children and six adults had been massacred in Newtown, Connecticut, I recoiled. Like most parents, my next thought was for my own son, the image I retain of his happy, smiling self for one moment replaced by an image of his tiny body lying twisted on the ground. Even as I write these words, an emotion I rarely feel—one I often can’t even make myself feel—threatens to overwhelm me. Continue reading…

The Reasons To Avoid Slander

Photo: Jason Hargrove

We all do it: not just talk about other people, but talk about them in a derogatory way. Why? According to recent research, it may be because gossip “not only helps clarify and enforce the rules that keep people working well together, but it circulates crucial information about the behavior of others that cannot be published in an office manual.” Continue reading…

The Courage To Hear The Truth

Photo: pichado photography

Years ago, I was having lunch with a friend who’d developed a reputation for being difficult.  He complained frequently and bitterly, often about things no one else found bothersome.  In general, he was perceived as negative and over-entitled.  I thought most of the time the points he made were valid but that the way he expressed them was off-putting and prevented others from being open to his ideas.  After thinking about it for a while, I decided, for his sake, I should let him know. Continue reading…

How To Overcome Shyness

Photo: kaibara87

When I was a teenager, I was afflicted with terrible shyness.  Not in every context or with all people—mostly just with girls.  Not unlike millions of other adolescent males, when in the presence of a girl I found attractive, I would become tongue tied, awkward, and lose all self-confidence.

As I grew older, this reaction gradually diminished, until (luckily) by the time I’d met my wife, it had largely vanished.  I’d always explained this to myself as a simple function of maturation, but recently I realized that while growing older does indeed often result in increased self-confidence (we experience more, handle it, and realize we handled it), age wasn’t, in fact, responsible at all. Continue reading…

What Justice Is

Every time I’ve written about morality, I’ve received strong, polarized reactions, and I imagine this time will be no different.  But as we’ve all been afforded an opportunity to reexamine—and perhaps redefine—our concept of justice with the recent killing of Osama bin Laden, despite my trepidation, I feel compelled to share my thoughts.

For me, the tragedy of 9/11 was perhaps slightly more personal than for many as I knew someone who was in the first plane that struck the World Trade Center. Continue reading…

How To Comfort Yourself

Photo: pipitdapo

The other week, a patient of mine told me he’d recently come to the realization that he has a tendency to become almost embarrassingly needy in certain situations, something he attributed to several early childhood experiences.  When he was three, he told me, his five-year-old sister died of cancer.  He doesn’t specifically remember her dying but does remember being left alone with a maid for a year and feeling abandoned.  His father, an alcoholic, left his family soon after.  He counts as his first memory seeing his father’s suitcase lying open across a bed. Continue reading…

When The Love Of Your Life Doesn’t Love You

Photo: Lance Shields

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine told me about a particularly painful breakup he’d gone through recently.  His girlfriend had decided she no longer wanted to be with him and had summarily cut him out of her life.  Naturally, he yearned for an explanation and some closure, so he confronted her.  She explained to him what she perceived to be the problem, that he wasn’t focused enough on her and their relationship, Continue reading…

The Problem With Turning The Other Cheek

Photo: Anamorphic Mike

In a previous post, The Three Realms Of Confidence, I told a story from my childhood (how I was bullied in seventh grade because I was Jewish) to introduce the concept that confidence exists in three separate realms.  In response to that post, a reader commented (on the Psychology Today blog where my posts also appear):  “I was periodically beaten up, but I ran away or didn’t fight back because I operated under the assumption that you should always ‘turn the other cheek’ and never fight back, regardless of the circumstances.  The moral directive was to allow yourself to get beaten up…” Continue reading…

How Touching Saves Lives

Photo: Josep Ma. Rosell

When I was a fourth-year medical student, I once did a month-long rotation in the ER.  One night a woman came in who we decided needed some lab work.  When I let her know we needed to draw her blood, she began to tremble visibly.  “I’m scared of needles,” she whispered to me. Continue reading…