Susccess & Hapiness

Great arti­cle.

What is your expe­ri­ence of a relationship

between suc­cess and happiness?

The San­dra Bul­lok Trade

By David Brooks
The New York Times
March 30, 2010

Two things hap­pened to San­dra Bul­lock this month. First, she won an Acad­emy Award for best actress. Then came the news reports claim­ing that her hus­band is an adul­ter­ous jerk. So the philo­sophic ques­tion of the day is: Would you take that as a deal? Would you exchange a tremen­dous pro­fes­sional tri­umph for a severe per­sonal blow?

On the one hand, an Acad­emy Award is noth­ing to sneeze at. Bul­lock has earned the admi­ra­tion of her peers in a way very few expe­ri­ence. She’ll make more money for years to come. She may even live longer. Research by Don­ald A. Redelmeier and Shel­don M. Singh has found that, on aver­age, Oscar win­ners live nearly four years longer than nom­i­nees that don’t win.

Nonethe­less, if you had to take more than three sec­onds to think about this ques­tion, you are absolutely crazy. Mar­i­tal hap­pi­ness is far more impor­tant than any­thing else in deter­min­ing per­sonal well-being. If you have a suc­cess­ful mar­riage, it doesn’t mat­ter how many pro­fes­sional set­backs you endure, you will be rea­son­ably happy. If you have an unsuc­cess­ful mar­riage, it doesn’t mat­ter how many career tri­umphs you record, you will remain sig­nif­i­cantly unfulfilled.

This isn’t just ser­mo­niz­ing. This is the age of research, so there’s data to back this up. Over the past few decades, teams of researchers have been study­ing hap­pi­ness. Their work, which seemed flimsy at first, has devel­oped an impres­sive rigor, and one of the key find­ings is that, just as the old sages pre­dicted, worldly suc­cess has shal­low roots while inter­per­sonal bonds per­me­ate through and through.

For exam­ple, the rela­tion­ship between hap­pi­ness and income is com­pli­cated, and after a point, ten­u­ous. It is true that poor nations become hap­pier as they become middle-class nations. But once the basic neces­si­ties have been achieved, future income is lightly con­nected to well-being. Grow­ing coun­tries are slightly less happy than coun­tries with slower growth rates, accord­ing to Carol Gra­ham of the Brook­ings Insti­tu­tion and Eduardo Lora. The United States is much richer than it was 50 years ago, but this has pro­duced no mea­sur­able increase in over­all hap­pi­ness. On the other hand, it has become a much more unequal coun­try, but this inequal­ity doesn’t seem to have reduced national happiness.

On a per­sonal scale, win­ning the lot­tery doesn’t seem to pro­duce last­ing gains in well-being. Peo­ple aren’t hap­pi­est dur­ing the years when they are win­ning the most pro­mo­tions. Instead, peo­ple are happy in their 20’s, dip in mid­dle age and then, on aver­age, hit peak hap­pi­ness just after retire­ment at age 65.

Peo­ple get slightly hap­pier as they climb the income scale, but this depends on how they expe­ri­ence growth. Does wealth inflame unre­al­is­tic expec­ta­tions? Does it desta­bi­lize set­tled rela­tion­ships? Or does it flow from a vir­tu­ous cycle in which an inter­est­ing job pro­duces hard work that in turn leads to more inter­est­ing opportunities?

If the rela­tion­ship between money and well-being is com­pli­cated, the cor­re­spon­dence between per­sonal rela­tion­ships and hap­pi­ness is not. The daily activ­i­ties most asso­ci­ated with hap­pi­ness are sex, social­iz­ing after work and hav­ing din­ner with oth­ers. The daily activ­ity most inju­ri­ous to hap­pi­ness is com­mut­ing. Accord­ing to one study, join­ing a group that meets even just once a month pro­duces the same hap­pi­ness gain as dou­bling your income. Accord­ing to another, being mar­ried pro­duces a psy­chic gain equiv­a­lent to more than $100,000 a year.

If you want to find a good place to live, just ask peo­ple if they trust their neigh­bors. Lev­els of social trust vary enor­mously, but coun­tries with high social trust have hap­pier peo­ple, bet­ter health, more effi­cient gov­ern­ment, more eco­nomic growth, and less fear of crime (regard­less of whether actual crime rates are increas­ing or decreasing).

The over­all impres­sion from this research is that eco­nomic and pro­fes­sional suc­cess exists on the sur­face of life, and that they emerge out of inter­per­sonal rela­tion­ships, which are much deeper and more important.

The sec­ond impres­sion is that most of us pay atten­tion to the wrong things. Most peo­ple vastly over­es­ti­mate the extent to which more money would improve our lives. Most schools and col­leges spend too much time prepar­ing stu­dents for careers and not enough prepar­ing them to make social deci­sions. Most gov­ern­ments release a ton of data on eco­nomic trends but not enough on trust and other social con­di­tions. In short, mod­ern soci­eties have devel­oped vast insti­tu­tions ori­ented around the things that are easy to count, not around the things that mat­ter most. They have an affin­ity for mate­r­ial con­cerns and a pri­mor­dial fear of moral and social ones.

This may be chang­ing. There is a rash of com­pelling books — includ­ing “The Hid­den Wealth of Nations” by David Halpern and “The Pol­i­tics of Hap­pi­ness” by Derek Bok — that argue that pub­lic insti­tu­tions should pay atten­tion to well-being and not just mate­r­ial growth nar­rowly conceived.

Gov­ern­ments keep ini­ti­at­ing poli­cies they think will pro­duce pros­per­ity, only to get sacked, time and again, from their spir­i­tual blind side.



This is what the dic­tio­nary says about what we mean by Humil­ity:
humil­ity |(h)yoōˈmilitē|
a mod­est or low view of one’s own impor­tance; humbleness.

But is this really enough to grasp the whole impor­tance humil­ity plays, or does NOT play in our lives? Is being hum­ble a pos­i­tive or neg­a­tive trait?

Hum­ble (v.)  and humil­i­ate (v.) sound sim­i­lar, but humil­i­ate empha­sizes shame and the loss of self-respect and usu­ally takes place in pub­lic, while hum­ble is a milder term imply­ing a low­er­ing of one’s pride or rank.

So, why and how is this impor­tant in a rela­tion­ship? Con­sider that what makes us who we are, is our world-view, our opin­ions, our ways of deter­min­ing what’s true and what’s not. So how do we deter­mine what is true in a con­ver­sa­tion? What we do is we com­pare what we hear or see with what we already know and see how it is the same or dif­fer­ent from our past expe­ri­ence. Also, we check our feel­ings to see if we like it or not. That is basi­cally how we deter­mine what is true and real and what is not. This is all very well for a 5-year-old, but unac­cept­able for a healthy fully devel­oped adult. A five-year-old will say that he does not like broc­coli because it is yucky. What he does not see is that it is not that broc­coli is yucky; in fact, quite the oppo­site is true. He calls broc­coli ”yucky” because he doesn’t like it. He, of course, does not see it that way. He thinks that any­one who likes broc­coli has no taste to say the least. This is what we call “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 a sit­u­a­tion. While onto­log­i­cal arro­gance is nor­mal and even cute in chil­dren, it is much less charm­ing in adults.

In charged sit­u­a­tions most of us assume that we see things as they are; that is not so. We actu­ally see things as they appear to us. Check out for your­self. When was the last time that you met an “idiot” who thought exactly like you do? Do you believe peo­ple dis­agree with you because they are “idiots”? Or do you call them “idiots” because they dis­agree with you? Do you think your spouse is push­ing your but­tons and wants to make you mad on pur­pose? Or do you think that because you do not like what they have to say and the way they say it they seem to “push your but­tons” on purpose?

The oppo­site of arro­gance is humil­ity. Humil­ity has the root in Latin word humus, mean­ing ground. Onto­log­i­cal humil­ity, on the other hand, is the acknowl­edg­ment that you do not have a spe­cial claim on real­ity or truth, that oth­ers have an equally valid per­spec­tive deserv­ing respect and con­sid­er­a­tion. (Hence chap­ter two in The Rela­tion­ship Saver about agree­ing with your part­ner.) Acknowl­edge that there are many ways to look at the world. Some are more prac­ti­cal and ”true” for you than oth­ers. Nev­er­the­less, they are only views. They are never objec­tive truths; they are always inter­pre­ta­tions, per­sonal maps built by our lim­ited senses pass­ing from our indi­vid­ual and unique fil­ter woven from our past expe­ri­ences. It never even resem­bles THE truth. The fact that we agree about any­thing with any­one is only coin­ci­den­tal and it is always a prod­uct of our will­ing­ness to agree. It does not make it more real or truth­ful though. It is easy and nat­ural for us to dis­agree, to push our truth as the right one. It is sweet to be right and that oth­ers see the world as we do. Our arro­gance in this respect has no bounds. Onto­log­i­cal humil­ity makes sense intel­lec­tu­ally, but it is not the nat­ural atti­tude of a human being. It requires, at least, the cog­ni­tive devel­op­ment of a six-year-old.

Onto­log­i­cal humil­ity does not mean that you have to dis­re­gard your own per­spec­tive. It is per­fectly hum­ble to state that the cir­cum­stances are “prob­lem­atic” as long as you add “for me”. That acknowl­edges that the same cir­cum­stances may not appear prob­lem­atic “to you”.

There are times when you can “agree to dis­agree” and at other times you will need to bring the con­ver­sa­tion to some agree­ment. But we’ll talk about that some other time. Stay tuned and try to behave as if you are at least six.

By the way, I saw a great bumper sticker yes­ter­day: “You don’t have to believe every­thing you think.”



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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