Effective Communication vs. Arguments (2)

In the last arti­cle we talked about prepar­ing for dif­fi­cult and pos­si­bly emo­tion­ally charged con­ver­sa­tion. In this arti­cle we will see how to actu­ally con­duct an effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion that may promise the res­o­lu­tion of a conflict.

The Rela­tion­ship Saver rec­om­mends agree­ing with your part­ner. Dis­agree­ments are unfor­tu­nately, often more accu­rately called argu­ments. (See the def­i­n­i­tion of argu­ment in a dic­tio­nary or in the pre­vi­ous arti­cle “Effec­tive Com­mu­ni­ca­tion vs. Argu­ments (1)”.) You must have heard the tech­nique that helps in heated con­ver­sa­tions to say “and” instead of “but” in reply to a state­ment. It is just a small part that points towards an agreement.

There are two parts to every con­ver­sa­tion: speak­ing and lis­ten­ing. Well, this may seems very obvi­ous but hold your horses, there is more to it than meets the eye. Let’s see what we say and how we say it when we speak and how we lis­ten when we do not speak.

Psy­chol­o­gists have iden­ti­fied three cat­e­gories of peo­ple and their behav­iors when it comes to heated dis­cus­sions: those who digress to threats and name-calling (tch, tch…), those who revert to silent fum­ing (mak­ing you, or them­selves silently wrong), and those who speak openly, hon­estly and effec­tively. Not sur­pris­ingly, they dis­cov­ered by fol­low­ing cou­ples with all three ways of behav­ior for 10 years, that the 90% of cou­ples who were able to resolve their high-stake, con­tro­ver­sial and emo­tion­ally charged dif­fer­ences in a respect­ful and hon­est man­ner stayed together; those who did not, split up.

As far as speak­ing is con­cerned, if you want to be effec­tive you need to be brave, not fear­ful, open, not closed, hon­est, not deceit­ful, coop­er­a­tive, not com­pet­i­tive, will­ing, not withholding.

Courage is nec­es­sary when you are vul­ner­a­ble, when you are about to dis­close the under­belly of your rea­son­ing, being the nec­es­sary com­po­nent of hon­est con­ver­sa­tion that will make your part­ner and some­times your­self, under­stand your inten­tions behind your behav­ior. If you are com­mit­ted to resolv­ing dif­fi­cult issues you must love truth, more than sav­ing your face and sat­is­fy­ing your ego.

In start­ing a con­ver­sa­tion it is always good to begin with agree­ing with each other. So, find some com­mon ground where you may share an opin­ion or describe the sit­u­a­tion that both of you would agree on. Make sure both of you are clear on what you are going to have a con­ver­sa­tion about.

Just the facts, Ma’am.”  Make sure you do not con­fuse opin­ions and facts. You can usu­ally both eas­ily agree on facts, but opin­ions are your own. Inter­pre­ta­tions of the facts and mean­ings of the events are yours only. Own them and men­tion that they are yours. Do not say things like “You are a jerk. You were very rude and you hurt my feel­ings when you talked to me last night when you came home.” Notice that all these state­ments in one sen­tence start with you. Being rude and a jerk are totally your inter­pre­ta­tion and the mean­ing you gave to his behav­ior. Maybe his inten­tion was some­thing com­pletely dif­fer­ent, so do not present that his being rude is a fact. Sec­ondly, no one can make you feel any­thing. You gen­er­ate your feel­ings, so be respon­si­ble for them. Yes, someone’s words or actions may trig­ger your feel­ings, but you must be response-able i.e., you have a choice in how to respond. Uncon­scious response is called reac­tion, which is auto­matic. When­ever you are express­ing your opin­ion, start the sen­tence with “I”. So, this leaves us with facts: he talked to you last night when he came home. That is a fact. Every moment dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion you must strive to rec­og­nize what your opin­ions are and not con­fuse them with an objec­tive truth. Say­ing, you are a jerk is not stat­ing a fact. It is your opin­ion. The bet­ter way to say it is: “You came across to me (or, I saw you, or I thought you were) as a jerk and very rude last night. My feel­ings were hurt.”

Another part is mak­ing sure that you rec­om­mend some sort of action towards the res­o­lu­tion. If you want to have a con­ver­sa­tion that will pro­duce results you must deal with specifics as opposed to gen­er­al­i­ties. As I men­tion in The Game­less Rela­tion­ship, effec­tive com­mu­ni­ca­tion con­sists of only two con­ver­sa­tions: effec­tive requests and effec­tive promises. Effec­tive means that requests and promises are the only con­ver­sa­tions that will move pos­si­bil­ity into real­ity. Noth­ing hap­pens with­out requests and ful­filled promises.
Find out more about this on http://www.GamelessRelationship.com/

Always explain the rea­son­ing behind your state­ments and be open to the input of the infor­ma­tion from your part­ner. In this way you will cut the amount of often-wrong assump­tions on his part. If you are cor­rectly under­stood, it may very well hap­pen that after your partner’s input and ideas you will change your mind for the ben­e­fit of a win/win out­come. Humil­ity does not mean giv­ing up your point of view. Your pur­pose is to explore the sit­u­a­tion together, not to aban­don your per­spec­tive. It may hap­pen that your part­ner starts get­ting aggres­sive. As long as you stick to your val­ues and fol­low the above rec­om­men­da­tions you will not fall into the trap of auto­mat­i­cally and emo­tion­ally react­ing to his aggres­sion. Remem­ber you are in charge of your experience.

Now, a few words about lis­ten­ing, or shall we call it enquiry? Some call it active lis­ten­ing. How­ever you call it, here are some help­ful prin­ci­ples that if fol­lowed may pro­duce noth­ing short of a mir­a­cle. We have two ears and one mouth, thus we should lis­ten twice as much as we talk. A few sug­ges­tions on how to lis­ten: no mat­ter how charged a sit­u­a­tion is you can always achieve almost com­plete dis­charge by pay­ing com­plete atten­tion while she talks. It is more than that. Lis­ten as if nuggets of gold are pour­ing out of her mouth. It does not mat­ter if you share her opin­ion or not. You are get­ting the infor­ma­tion about her think­ing process, men­tal state, and the inten­tion behind her behav­ior. You are tru­ing to get to the truth, to the bot­tom of it. Truth does not come out eas­ily at the first attempt. It takes repeated enquiry and safe environment.

By intently lis­ten­ing and being gen­uinely inter­ested instead of hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with your­self, prepar­ing answers and hav­ing opin­ions, try­ing to fin­ish her sen­tences and pre­sum­ing that you know what she wants to say because you “heard it so many times before”, you will encour­age her to say what truly is on her mind. Some­times even she may be sur­prised by the truth that comes out of her mouth that she was not even aware of. Dur­ing the process of lis­ten­ing, do not speak nor give answers or opin­ions unless asked to do so. The other jus­ti­fi­able time to say any­thing is to inquire as to under­stand bet­ter what she is try­ing to say. Do not offer your opin­ions, rebut­tals, crit­i­cisms and such. Be very inter­ested. Your body lan­guage has to be con­sis­tent with your inten­tion to lis­ten. Do not fid­get, doo­dle, scan the envi­ron­ment, cross your arms and such. Con­cen­trate on her words only. Once you hear what she had to say give it back to her by sum­ma­riz­ing it, so that she a) knows that she was heard, and b) that you know that you got it right with­out your inter­pre­ta­tions and arbi­trary mean­ings that you might have slapped onto what she said.

Do not give your opin­ions, com­ments or solu­tions with­out her con­sent. Ask if she wants to hear what you want to say. Very often peo­ple just want to be heard. Strange as it may sound, just lis­ten­ing and “get­ting it” may be enough to dis­solve any dis­agree­ment between you two.

Acknowl­edge her for what­ever you can and even for what you can­not. You’ve heard about “pay for­ward” instead of pay back. Acknowl­edg­ment is a per­fect plat­form for such a “pay­ment”. Acknowl­edg­ment is not sim­ply a reac­tion, polite expla­na­tion of what hap­pened in the past and cer­tainly not a manip­u­la­tive tool. Acknowl­edg­ment can be a very pow­er­ful incen­tive to agree­ment, under­stand­ing and encour­age­ment for inti­macy and even behav­ioral change if gen­uine. The core of effec­tive lis­ten­ing has noth­ing to do with tech­nique; it is an atti­tude. By pro­vid­ing lis­ten­ing to her, you show that you care. As the say­ing goes: “I don’t care how much you know until I know how much you care.”

These few points in this arti­cle about speak­ing and lis­ten­ing are tools not to be used on your part­ner but with your part­ner.  These are coop­er­a­tion tools and not manip­u­la­tion tools. So, do not keep this knowl­edge to your­self. Share it with your part­ner. Make sure you do not do it in a con­de­scend­ing way.

Lastly, keep the con­ver­sa­tion in integrity, whole and com­plete, espe­cially com­plete, when there is noth­ing else to say or learn. If you think that for any rea­son you can­not fin­ish the con­ver­sa­tion make sure that you have the time and the place set for con­tin­u­ing it until complete.

If you fol­low these prin­ci­ples in any con­ver­sa­tion the like­li­hood of bet­ter­ment and/or con­tin­u­a­tion of a good rela­tion­ship is almost guaranteed.

Note: Fred Kofman’s phe­nom­e­nal book “Con­scious Busi­ness” inspired me to write this arti­cle. Thank you.




Effective Communication vs. Arguments (1)

Before we start talk­ing about argu­ments and effec­tive  com­mu­ni­ca­tion, let’s define what we mean by these terms.

com­mu­ni­ca­tion |kəˌmy­oōnəˈkā sh ən|
• the suc­cess­ful con­vey­ing or shar­ing of ideas and feelings

ORIGIN: late Mid­dle Eng­lish : from Old French comu­ni­ca­cion, from Latin communicatio(n-), from the verb com­mu­ni­care ‘to share’ (see communicate ).

Also, here is the def­i­n­i­tion of argu­ment for our pur­poses as well, so that we know what we are talk­ing about:

argu­ment |ˈär­gyəmənt|
• an exchange of diverg­ing or oppo­site views, typ­i­cally a heated or angry one.
• a rea­son or set of rea­sons given with the aim of per­suad­ing oth­ers that an action or idea is right or wrong.

ORIGIN: Mid­dle Eng­lish (in the sense [process of rea­son­ing] ): via Old French from Latin argu­men­tum, from arguere ‘make clear, prove, accuse.’

Now that it is clear what the dif­fer­ence is between the two let’s see how we can start com­mu­ni­cat­ing effec­tively instead of argu­ing. If you hap­pen to pre­fer argu­ing, than you can just skip this arti­cle. I will not be offended in the least.

Let’s say at the begin­ning that heated argu­ments and anger are caused by fear and loss of power. When we iden­tify with our opin­ions and posi­tions, we per­ceive any dis­agree­ment as a threat to our per­son. As if some­how our iden­tity will be dimin­ished if we admit that we may be wrong and thus lose an argu­ment. Being right becomes tan­ta­mount to per­sonal sur­vival. Need­less to say, this is com­pletely auto­matic reac­tion aimed at sur­vival of our ego. The first step in con­trol­ling anger is as always to become aware of it and then rec­og­nize that our fear is ground­less. We do not die from los­ing an argu­ment. This is the first step in trans­form­ing an argu­ment into com­mu­ni­ca­tion; chill out and lose the fear.

If you do not want to get into argu­ment in the first place, it is impor­tant to get a lit­tle pre­pared before hand as well as being aware of your behav­ior dur­ing the com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Here are some things to keep in mind.

Before any encounter starts make sure that you have a mutual pur­pose, or agreed upon rea­son for the con­ver­sa­tion. In other words that both of you want to talk about some­thing although you may wish for dif­fer­ent out­come. This process of agree­ment starts with your com­mit­ment to have the issue resolved and dis­solved into a win/win sit­u­a­tion. With­out this ini­tial and unwa­ver­ing com­mit­ment on your part there is no hope for mean­ing­ful res­o­lu­tion, and argu­ments will most cer­tainly persevere.

So, in prepa­ra­tion for con­ver­sa­tion first learn what your partner’s story is. Do not pre­sume that you know. Your knowl­edge prob­a­bly comes from hearsay or from your inter­pre­ta­tions of his behav­ior. Either of these sources may be inac­cu­rate. Find out what infor­ma­tion you missed, or didn’t have access to. What past expe­ri­ences influ­enced him? What is his rea­son­ing why he did what he did? What were his inten­tions (not your inter­pre­ta­tions and thoughts about his inten­tions). What are his feel­ings? How this sit­u­a­tion affects him? What is at stake? While “find­ing out” his story make sure you are not spy­ing on him or doing any­thing out of integrity. As they say in court, ille­gally acquired evi­dence is not admis­si­ble. In your case, it kills the fur­ther con­ver­sa­tion about your issue and turns into the issue of trust.

Next thing is to express your views and feel­ings.  Your goal is to express your views and feel­ings about the sit­u­a­tion or an event clearly, hon­estly and respect­fully. A word of cau­tion: Express­ing your feel­ings does not mean that you “dump” your feel­ings onto your part­ner. You should talk about your feel­ings not demon­strat­ing them in your behav­ior. You can say that you are angry. But do not attack her to show her how much. With­out express­ing your feel­ings try to com­mu­ni­cate your views, inten­tions, feel­ings and con­tri­bu­tion to the prob­lem or the issue at hand. In other words you can share your story. If your part­ner is will­ing to lis­ten at all, the chances are that after such an hon­est and brave encounter you may start to actu­ally coop­er­ate and have a pro­duc­tive and mature con­ver­sa­tion where you will be able to brain­storm cre­ative ways to sat­isfy both of your needs and ensure a work­able way to resolve your conflict.

As it is impor­tant to have a mutual pur­pose for a con­ver­sa­tion it is as impor­tant to have mutual respect. You must con­sciously pre­pare for this in advance, cre­ate a mind­set. Any show of dis­re­spect for her will pro­duce a defen­sive reac­tion and con­ver­sa­tion will imme­di­ately become unsafe. The moment that dis­re­spect is shown the con­ver­sa­tion is no longer about the orig­i­nal pur­pose  – it is about defend­ing her dig­nity and at that point any com­mu­ni­ca­tion will come to a screech­ing halt. If you are shown dis­re­spect do not get “hooked”. Stay true to your val­ues and do not just auto­mat­i­cally, emo­tion­ally react. Keep show­ing respect and request that you be shown one if con­ver­sa­tion is to con­tinue. Keep eye on the ball i.e. on the orig­i­nal purpose.

Final step in prepa­ra­tion is to ensure that you have con­ducive envi­ron­ment for a con­ver­sa­tion, proper set­ting. (It is dif­fi­cult to have a good con­ver­sa­tion when you are not phys­i­cally com­fort­able, cold, in a noisy envi­ron­ment with no pri­vacy.) Do both of you have time, are you ready to have a frank dis­cus­sion, are both of you in a mood for tack­ling the prob­lems at hand, etc.?

Stay tuned.  Next time we will talk about some things to keep in mind dur­ing the con­ver­sa­tion that will get your dif­fer­ences effec­tively resolved.

Fred Kofman’s phe­nom­e­nal book “Con­scious Busi­ness” inspired me to write this arti­cle. Thank you.




Trust — Venn Diagram

Venn Dia­grams are great tools for solv­ing prob­lems and mak­ing com­plex con­cepts clear. Try and make your own. It is fun and you may even get some valu­able insights. It cer­tainly makes you think.

Start from cen­ter, then fill in the cir­cles as com­po­nents that make, or con­sti­tute, the cen­ter. In the end fill in the inter­sec­tions of the cir­cles cir­cles to rep­re­sent the result of two cir­cles get­ting together.




Disagreements in Marriages and Relationships

In my last arti­cle we talked about how the attempt to make clear what we are actu­ally talk­ing about may resolve many repeat­edly frus­trat­ing arguments.

Here I am going to dig a lit­tle deeper into the causes of dis­agree­ments and argu­ments in rela­tion­ships. Why do cou­ples argue so much? You would think that since you will­ingly started your rela­tion­ship that you must have agreed on most issues and even in the areas where you ini­tially did not you thought that as rea­son­able peo­ple you would be able to work things out. Well, after months and years of being in a close rela­tion­ship not only did the dis­agree­ments not get bet­ter, they got worse.

We do not see things as they are.
We see things as we are.


Jean Piaget, the French child devel­op­ment psy­chol­o­gist, con­ducted a reveal­ing exper­i­ment. He gave a group of chil­dren a wooden block, which was painted red on one side and green on the other. After exam­in­ing the block he would show them the green side and ask them what color he was see­ing. Most chil­dren younger than five years old answered “green”. They were inca­pable of rec­og­niz­ing that the per­son on the other side could see some­thing dif­fer­ent than they did. Older chil­dren gave the cor­rect answer. They under­stood that while they were see­ing the green side of the wooden block, the researcher on the other side saw red. These chil­dren demon­strated that they had devel­oped a sense of per­spec­tive, the abil­ity to appre­ci­ate the sit­u­a­tion from another point of view.

How often in your rela­tion­ship have you behaved as if you were younger then five? How often do you think that your point of view is real­ity itself and if your part­ner does not see the sit­u­a­tion or event the same way you do, he/she is plain “wrong”. That is called onto­log­i­cal arro­gance, think­ing that what you think is real is real for every­one else as well, that you are right while every­one else who does not agree with you is wrong. When our daugh­ter, Diana, was five years old, she would say that she didn’t like mush­rooms because they were yucky. In fact, the oppo­site was true. Diana called mush­rooms “yucky” because she did not like them. She thought that any­one who liked mush­rooms had no taste: a typ­i­cal case of onto­log­i­cal arro­gance. Ontol­ogy is the branch of phi­los­o­phy that stud­ies the nature of real­ity. Onto­log­i­cal arro­gance is the belief that your per­spec­tive is priv­i­leged, that your way is the only way to inter­pret the sit­u­a­tion. If you see green every­one else must see green also, oth­er­wise they don’t know what they are talk­ing about. While onto­log­i­cal arro­gance is cute and endear­ing in chil­dren, it is much less charm­ing in adults – yet it seems to be preva­lent in adults. It may become quite dev­as­tat­ing for a rela­tion­ship if your onto­log­i­cal arro­gance adopts the behav­ioral atti­tude of “it’s my way, or the highway”.

In charged sit­u­a­tions most of us assume that we see things as they are; it is not so. We actu­ally see thing as they appear to us. Check it out for your­self. When was the last time that you met an “idiot” who thinks exactly like you do? Do you think that peo­ple who dis­agree with you are idiots, or you call them idiots because they dis­agree with you? (Instead of “idiot”, you may sub­sti­tute the epi­thet which you usu­ally use on your partner.)

The oppo­site of arro­gance is humil­ity. Humil­ity comes from the Latin word humus, mean­ing ground.  Being a hum­ble per­son, a per­son with onto­log­i­cal humil­ity, means that you real­ize that you do not have a spe­cial claim on real­ity or truth, it means that you are well grounded in real­ity. Remem­ber, the first step to trans­form­ing any sit­u­a­tion is being in a pro­found rela­tion­ship with what is so. You would under­stand that other people’s and your partner’s per­spec­tive are just as valid as yours and that they deserve respect and con­sid­er­a­tion. Onto­log­i­cal humil­ity makes sense on an intel­lec­tual level, but it is not our nat­ural atti­tude. It requires, at the min­i­mum the cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment of a six-year-old.

If we are to stop argu­ing, dis­agree­ing about every­thing, quar­rel­ing, scream­ing at each other, etc., and as a result feel not under­stood, deserted, resent­ful, angry, aloof, dis­ap­pointed, not loved or respected, we must stop behav­ing as five-year-olds. We must make an effort to be aware of our own per­spec­tive and point of view, allow oth­ers to have their own, and attempt to step into their shoes and see their per­spec­tive on the world. Only then would we be able to start to under­stand why they think what they do and why they do what they do. This does not mean that you have to be a psy­chol­o­gist and under­stand every “how” and “why” the other per­son thinks; respect­ing another’s point of view would be suf­fi­cient. Also, by prac­tic­ing onto­log­i­cal humil­ity it does not mean that you are giv­ing up your own per­spec­tive. It is quite hum­ble to say that mush­rooms are yucky as long as you add “for me”. You may be hum­ble and still assert your­self, your views are com­pletely valid, as long as you do not oblit­er­ate and inval­i­date or dis­re­gard your partner’s point of view. This is why I had a whole chap­ter on agree­ing with your part­ner and why I refer to it in The Rela­tion­ship Saver.

Dur­ing our lives we all have very unique expe­ri­ences on the basis of which we form our world-view, our men­tal model of the world.  Your men­tal model is your own par­tic­u­lar set of deeply ingrained assump­tions, gen­er­al­iza­tions, beliefs, and val­ues. From this model stem all the inter­pre­ta­tions and mean­ings we give to our expe­ri­ences. Mean­ings and inter­pre­ta­tions, as I men­tioned in other arti­cles, are not “out there”. They are formed “in-here”, in our minds, and everyone’s men­tal model is dif­fer­ent, some­times only slightly, but dif­fer­ent nev­er­the­less. We must start being aware of other people’s mind mod­els and start appre­ci­at­ing and under­stand­ing them if we want our own mean­ings and real­ity to be under­stood and appre­ci­ated by oth­ers. Only then can we aspire to start hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions and com­mu­ni­ca­tions as adults, and not as four-year-olds. We might even learn some­thing we didn’t know that we didn’t know. It’s time to grow up.



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Meanings And Arguments

Have you ever found that after argu­ing with some­one about some­thing for some time you real­ize that both of you are actu­ally talk­ing about the same thing, but express­ing it in a dif­fer­ent way? If we were to look into the causes of these argu­ments the first thing that comes to mind is mis­un­der­stand­ing the mean­ing that your argu­ing part­ner had in mind.

The begin­ning of wis­dom is call­ing things by their right names, Con­fu­cius said. Well, what are those “right names”? Who says what the “right” mean­ing of the word is? Dic­tio­nary? Yes, that’s at least one way to start. But if we look a lit­tle deeper into it we will see that words them­selves have no mean­ings; we give them mean­ings, and sup­pos­edly the mean­ing that most of peo­ple agree with is recorded in a dic­tio­nary. That’s all very well, but when did you look for some of the fol­low­ing words in the dic­tio­nary to see what is the gen­er­ally accepted mean­ing for democ­racy, cap­i­tal­ism, abuse, gov­ern­ment, respon­si­bil­ity, integrity, love, hap­pi­ness, rela­tion­ship, mar­riage, lis­ten­ing, hear­ing, truth, etc.?

And how often do you actu­ally check if the per­son you argue with gives the same mean­ing to words, con­cepts, behav­iors and events that you do? Mis­un­der­stand­ing means “a fail­ure to under­stand some­thing cor­rectly” accord­ing to a dic­tio­nary. But what “cor­rectly” means is not the same for you and your part­ner. Unless you know what the cor­rect mean­ing is for what­ever you are argu­ing about with your part­ner, you may be argu­ing until you turn blue in the face talk­ing about dif­fer­ent things and try­ing to prove your point, at the same time not under­stand­ing how he pos­si­bly can­not agree with you, etc.

I have a self-proclaimed neo-con friend who is very hon­est, gen­er­ous, eth­i­cal and moral guy, and I am some­where more on the left if I must choose sides with what I hope are the same per­sonal attrib­utes I have given him. We, of course, kept argu­ing about pol­i­tics, and nat­u­rally dis­agreed about almost every­thing until at one point I sug­gested that we define the terms we were talk­ing about: such as free­dom, democ­racy, cap­i­tal­ism, social­ism, gov­ern­ment and such. What we found out was that in our argu­ment we were talk­ing about com­pletely dif­fer­ent things con­sis­tent with the mean­ings each one of us gave to those words. No won­der we argued ad infini­tum. Once we agreed on the terms we were using, we, to our sur­prise, agreed about everything.

Think about what it is that you repeat­edly argue with your part­ner and try to dis­tin­guish the terms that you dis­agree on, for instance trust, being heard, being rec­og­nized, affirmed, taken care of, respect, fun, hurt. What does it mean for you and him to be a man/masculine or a woman/feminine? What do you mean when you say things like you never lis­ten to me, or you talk too much?

Aware­ness exer­cise: The moment you start dis­agree­ing with your part­ner, start look­ing for pos­si­ble words, phrases and con­cepts that may have a dif­fer­ent mean­ing for him/her. Take time out and hon­estly ask with­out any expec­ta­tions what it means for him/her.

Next time we will talk about other rea­sons we may dis­agree. Until then please prac­tice find­ing out the mean­ings oth­ers have about the points of your disagreements.





What Is Happiness?

In The Rela­tion­ship Saver I sug­gested that one of the actions you need to take is to be in high spir­its, cheer­ful and happy. As you have prob­a­bly noticed, it’s eas­ier said than done. Just decid­ing to be happy does not nec­es­sar­ily make you happy. So the ques­tion is, how do you achieve this eva­sive hap­pi­ness that every­one strives for?

First, we must dis­tin­guish what hap­pi­ness is and the ori­gin of “ the word hap­pi­ness.  The word happy orig­i­nated in Mid­dle Eng­lish and meant the same as lucky.  In my lan­guage, Serbo-Croatian, we have the same word for happy and lucky. What I find inter­est­ing is that most of us still treat our hap­pi­ness as luck, some­thing that we have no con­trol of, some­thing that just hap­pens or not — as if we have noth­ing to do with it. In other words, we often think that hap­pi­ness is some­thing that’s pro­duced by out­side events, like money, stuff, shop­ping, pos­ses­sions, other people’s love, respect, com­pli­ments, care, etc. We often say some­thing like, if such and such hap­pens (get pro­mo­tion, dif­fer­ent job, new car or clothes etc.) or if you were only to do so and so (buy me flow­ers, give me a com­pli­ment, have sex with me, etc.) it will make me happy.  We also say to our chil­dren that if they clean their room or have good grades we will be happy. So inad­ver­tently we teach our chil­dren gen­er­a­tion after gen­er­a­tion that they are not respon­si­ble for their own hap­pi­ness and should expect oth­ers to do some­thing for them, or that the out­side world and cir­cum­stances should adapt to their wishes so that they can find hap­pi­ness in life. Although some events may induce a feel­ing of hap­pi­ness and even tem­po­rary eupho­ria, hap­pi­ness is not merely a feel­ing. The dic­tio­nary says:

happy |ˈhapē|
adjec­tive ( –pier , –piest )
feel­ing or show­ing plea­sure or contentment

Hap­pi­ness is also con­tent­ment. Con­tent­ment is a state of hap­pi­ness and sat­is­fac­tion. So, hap­pi­ness is not merely a feel­ing it is a state of being.

So, how do we achieve a last­ing state of being happy? We must start with rec­og­niz­ing that any state we find our­selves in, whether it is hap­pi­ness or depres­sion, is gen­er­ated within our­selves, by us mak­ing mean­ings and inter­pre­ta­tions of the events that we find our­selves a part of. We often can­not influ­ence out­side events, but what we can always do is choose what inter­pre­ta­tions and mean­ings we give to those events. As I men­tioned ear­lier in my other writ­ings, mean­ings and inter­pre­ta­tions do not reside in events — they are solely a prod­uct of our own mind. There­fore, we have com­plete con­trol of how we inter­pret any event, although it cer­tainly does not seem like that some­times. We are in charge of con­ver­sa­tions with our­selves and unfor­tu­nately there is noth­ing new we can tell our­selves. What we do most of the time is auto­mat­i­cally regur­gi­tate the past in our mind, often blam­ing our­selves, feel­ing sorry for our­selves and in a word, being vic­tims and enjoy­ing it. Yes, there is a cer­tain plea­sure in being a vic­tim (more about this a lit­tle later).  Instead, we could use our intel­li­gence that only humans are endowed with and observe our thoughts and actu­ally choose what we want to think about. All right, so what could we think about in order to be happy?

You must be aware that your inter­pre­ta­tions an mean­ings are inti­mately con­nected to your set of val­ues. They are a dri­ving force behind how you per­ceive reality.

Now, what we need to do is estab­lish what our val­ues are. What is it that we value in our lives? Hon­esty, love, integrity, dig­nity, courage, rela­tion­ships, well­be­ing, pros­per­ity, co-operation and … add your own? I found that high­est val­ues that are not sub­or­di­nate to any other ones are truth, hap­pi­ness, free­dom, peace and love.
Now, ask your­self a ques­tion: how do I com­pro­mise my val­ues in every­day sit­u­a­tions in order to achieve cer­tain goals, such as being “suc­cess­ful”, mak­ing money, sur­viv­ing, keep­ing a job, main­tain­ing a rela­tion­ship, being loved, appre­ci­ated and respected? How often do you lie, cheat and deceive your­self and oth­ers in order to pro­duce a cer­tain result, to be suc­cess­ful? If that sounds too harsh for you, think of all those white lies and with­hold­ings of infor­ma­tion or truth in order to pro­duce or avoid a cer­tain reac­tion in oth­ers. Are all these actions that you are “forced” to do con­trary to your val­ues, which you ulti­mately want to man­i­fest in your daily life?

We are told that suc­cess brings hap­pi­ness, that suc­cess­ful peo­ple are happy. Look around you. Are they? Are you com­pro­mis­ing ful­fill­ment of your high­est val­ues by  achiev­ing inter­me­di­ate suc­cesses at any price, like mak­ing money, acquir­ing mate­r­ial things, win­ning a con­tract or some­one else’s “respect”, etc? It is fas­ci­nat­ing how we uncon­sciously grav­i­tate towards the things that ulti­mately mean very lit­tle to us and in the process we sac­ri­fice the very val­ues that moti­vate our behav­ior and make us happy. How often we do some­thing that we very well know we should not and that can be hurt­ful to some­one else and our lit­tle secret never gets recov­ered, but we fully well know that it was com­pletely con­trary to our beliefs of what is right and what is wrong. What often hap­pens is that they are exactly those behav­iors that we always dis­ap­prove of in pub­lic and make oth­ers wrong about. When­ever your emo­tions go ram­pant about cer­tain wrong doing of some­one else you may be sure that that is your own pro­jec­tion of what you do or did and which is con­trary to your val­ues. Those actions of yours and when rec­og­nized in oth­ers are cause of unhappiness.

So, you might have noticed here that hap­pi­ness lies in the process and not in the result. You can see that every action has two pur­poses. First you can act to move towards a desired result. Sec­ond, you act in order to express your val­ues. Align­ment between your behav­ior and your val­ues is a mea­sure of your high­est integrity. Your behav­ior always expresses your values-in-action. Your integrity hinges on whether your values-in-action agree with your essen­tial val­ues. The envi­ron­ment we find our­selves in con­stantly demands of us to make deci­sions and you inevitably face the ques­tion of pri­or­i­ties: you put integrity before suc­cess, or you put integrity sec­ond and go for suc­cess at all costs. It is fash­ion­able today, espe­cially since The Secret and The Law of Attrac­tion became pop­u­lar, to think that we are in total charge of our des­tiny and what hap­pens to us is of our doing. It often may be so, but it is a very sim­plis­tic way of think­ing. To actu­ally man­i­fest your real­ity requires much more than most peo­ple think, but I will leave that sub­ject for another arti­cle. Suf­fice it to say that other peo­ple may also be try­ing to man­i­fest their own real­ity in con­flict with our own, which may make things very com­plex and com­pli­cated. The fact for most of us is that most of the time we are thrown into sit­u­a­tions requir­ing that we sim­ply need to deal with them the best way we can. Think of play­ing cards. We are dealt a hand and we must play the best way we know how. In other words, we must acknowl­edge that God does not take sides (that is if you are reli­gious) and that we can­not change real­ity. But, there is still a lot we can do in any given sit­u­a­tion: we are in full con­trol of our inter­pre­ta­tions of any event and the choices we make. A sit­u­a­tion may not be in your con­trol, but you can always choose to act in integrity because you con­trol your own your thoughts and behavior.

Act­ing con­trary to your val­ues and com­pro­mis­ing your higher self for an inter­me­di­ate gain may rob you of the ulti­mate goal you want to achieve, to be happy now and in the future. This is the place where you have a choice between being a vic­tim of cir­cum­stances or being in charge of your life and your hap­pi­ness. By sim­ply look­ing into the future and solu­tions to your sit­u­a­tion and dif­fer­ent pos­si­bil­i­ties instead of lament­ing how the life and the world is unfair, you will get empow­ered instead of vic­tim­ized, you will be con­tent know­ing that you are doing your best instead of feel­ing sorry for your­self and blam­ing oth­ers. Results are never guar­an­teed and we will fail more often than we would like to admit, mostly because of cul­tural pres­sures. But, when you are being in integrity through­out the process you will be happy even if you do not suc­ceed. You will know that you did the best you could because you did not com­pro­mise your val­ues and came out of it being in integrity, whole and com­plete. You will not relin­quish your power to the cir­cum­stances to deter­mine how you feel. You are always in charge.

In con­clu­sion, we may safely say that you will be happy when your behav­ior and your inten­tions are in sync with your val­ues, when you put the process before the result, when you are in integrity at all times. Wait­ing for cir­cum­stances, envi­ron­ment and other peo­ple to change and make you happy is a pre­scrip­tion for depres­sion, frus­tra­tion and mis­ery and a life of per­pet­ual vic­tim­hood. All you can do is what you do to live your life with­out com­pro­mise guided by your val­ues, and that is more than any­one else can do for you.

As you might have noticed, the prin­ci­ple of integrity applies to every area of your life with­out excep­tion. I want to leave you with the ques­tion: where have you been out of integrity, for­get­ting and com­pro­mis­ing your true val­ues in your rela­tion­ship? How often do you expect oth­ers to make you happy? Are you a vic­tim, or are you in charge of your life, con­tent and happy?
I wish you all the hap­pi­ness in the world.






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