Is Swearing Necessary for Health and Happiness? Hell, yes!

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

My wife and I have an ongoing debate over the necessity of using swear words to express emotions. The stakes are raised by virtue of the fact that we have four children ranging in age from 3 to 14 years old. My children are very interested in the outcome of this debate.

My wife is of the opinion that swearing is low-brow, rude and unacceptable in any and all situations.

I believe that minor swear words are allowable in highly emotionally charged situations. I side with Mark Twain who said ‘When angry, count four; when very angry, swear.’ The use of  minor swear words helps to express and discharge destructive emotions in a manner that is more appropriate than some other ways (e.g., throwing plates, physical violence, or passive-aggressive behaviors).

According to David Spiegel, M.D. of the Stanford University School of Medicine, holding in destructive emotions can prevent happiness as well as harm our physical health.

In his talk at the Happiness and Its Causes Conference in San Francisco (November 2008), Dr. Spiegel said those trying to contain sadness are the most likely to be depressed. Those individuals who are trying the hardest to suppress fear and anxiety are the most anxious.

We now know that happiness is not the opposite of sadness.

In truth, human beings have the ability to feel more than one emotion simultaneously.

As a simple example, think of one of your favorite songs. You may feel uplifted by the lyrics, relaxed by the tempo, and melancholy due to the melody of the song. You may also have additional (constructive or destructive) feelings when you recall the first time (or most recent time) you heard the song.  So here is an example where you can feel at least three emotions simultaneously about one song. Imagine how many emotions you experience when you think about or interact with your significant other!

Dr. Spiegel has found that feeling leads to healing; that stress declines and health improves when we have

1.      Outlets for frustration

2.      A sense of predictability and control

3.      A perception that life is improving and

4.      Social supports.

Research has shown that depression predicts mortality. Studies show that anxiety and fear can get stuck in the ‘ON’ position, elevating cortisol levels on an ongoing basis. Research has shown that chronic anger releases chemicals into the blood stream which eat away at the inside of the arteries, increasing risk of stroke and heart disease.

The ability to manage stress and manage emotions improves mortality rates. In other words, stress management and emotional management skills enable you to live a longer, more fulfilling life.

In his 30 years of research on the effect of support groups for women with breast cancer, Dr. Spiegel has found that certain themes help to manage stress and destructive emotions. These themes include…

1.      Building bonds with family, friends and coworkers

2.      Expression of emotions (because ‘feeling leads to healing’)

3.      Reordering life priorities (to account for what is truly important to you)

4.      Fortifying families (social isolation doubles your mortality risk)

In the spirit of expression of emotions, and in keeping with Mark Twain’s view, I believe that minor swearing is allowable and should be encouraged to help our emotionally repressed society share feelings.

Minor swearing includes words such as ‘crap,’ ‘damn,’ ‘hell,’ and so on. It does not include major swear words such as the F-word and others. Feel free to draw your own line in the gray area between minor and major swear words.

Minor swearing needs to be restricted to reactions or outbursts resulting from pain, shock, fear, or destructive emotions.  For instance, cutting your finger with a knife and muttering “Damn, that hurt!” is acceptable in my book.

On the other hand, swearing may never be used towards another person as an insult or verbal abuse. So telling someone “You are a  piece of s___!” is unacceptable.

Of course, all swearing is unacceptable to my wife.

You decide what works best for you and your family!

About the Author
Dr. John Schinnerer

Dr. John Schinnerer is in private practice helping clients learn anger management, stress management and the latest ways to deal with destructive negative emotions. His practice is located in the Danville-San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, California 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Schinnerer has been an executive and psychologist for over 10 years. Dr. John Schinnerer is President and Founder of
Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control. Dr. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Dr. Schinnerer’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to ethical and moral development, to sports psychology. Dr. Schinnerer wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and AuthorHouse.com.  

The Key to Surviving the Holidays – Self-Compassion

The Key to Surviving the Holidays – Self-Compassion

John Schinnerer, Ph.D.

As we enter the holiday season, it makes good sense to talk about survival tools. How do we survive the coming onslaught of family and friends and the accompanying mistakes, failings, and misunderstandings that will inevitably follow in the next three weeks?

Self-Esteem Isn’t the Answer

Ten years ago, the answer might have been to boost everyone’s self-esteem before they come together. For decades, we have been obsessed with self-esteem.  For so long, we thought if we could just make people feel good about themselves, it would solve family problems, societal problems and psychological problems.  We’ve created programs to instill high self-esteem in our children, our students and our families.

Self-Esteem Alone Can Be Dangerous

Self-esteem involves how one feels about him- or herself. There are two types of self-esteem – state and trait. State self-esteem is how positively one evaluates himself in the moment. Trait self-esteem has to do with how positively one sees himself overall. Recent research has shown that increasing self-esteem is not as effective as once thought. Many people with high self-esteem feel so good about themselves that they feel comfortable abusing and taking advantage of other people (e.g., higher degrees of narcissism). At some point, individuals with high self-esteem seem to be able to rationalize destructive behaviors towards others using the idea that they are superior.

Obviously, this was not an intended outcome of self-esteem programs. So how do we get people to feel good about themselves without adding to their sense of superiority?

Self-Compassion – An Inner Critic with LovingKindness

While self-esteem had to do with how one feels about himself, self-compassion involves how one treats himself when things go badly. The goal is to treat oneself with the same type of kindness and compassion that most people extend to loved ones when they fail. When other people fall short of a goal or err, most people will react with kindness and compassion. On the other hand, studies show that most people are harsh with themselves when they screw up. Most people are self-punitive, disparaging and hypercritical of their own shortcomings and mistakes. Unfortunately, this degrades the quality of our emotional lives. It upsets the emotional apple cart, as it were. Even people with high self-esteem are prone to this sort of self-punishing internal beat down. We are truly our own worst critics.

Self-Compassion Leads to Greater Resiliency

People with self-compassion are more resilient. They roll with the punches. Self-compassionate people bounce back more quickly from setbacks because they treat themselves more kindly when they fail or make a mistake.

Can We Have Too Much Self-Compassion?

This all sounds good so far. What’s the catch? Is it possible to be overly self-compassionate to the point where one is self-indulgent? Is it possible, or even probable, that a compassionate person might take no responsibility for their mistakes?

Research at Duke University suggests that is not the case. Self-compassionate people take responsibility for failures and own up to mistakes. They do feel badly when things go awry. According to Mark Leary at Duke, self-compassionate people simply lack that extra layer of self-flagellation and internal criticism. In other words, their internal critic has learned to speak less often and more kindly.   

How To Build More Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, a researcher at University of Texas (and fellow Berkeley grad), has the following suggestions for ways to foster more self-compassion…

“Self-Kindness – ‘What would a caring friend say to you in this situation?’  ‘What is a kind and constructive way to think about how I can rectify this mistake or do better next time?’  Try putting your hand over your heart or gently stroking your arm when feeling a lot of pain as a gesture of kindness and compassion.

Self-judgment – ‘Who ever said human beings are supposed to be perfect?’  ‘Would a caring mother say this to her child if she wanted the child to grow and develop?’  ‘How will I learn if it’s not okay to make mistakes?’

Common Humanity – Think about all the other people who have made similar mistakes, gone through similar situations, and so on.  ‘This is the human condition – all humans are vulnerable, flawed, make mistakes, have things happen that are difficult and painful’  ‘How does this situation give me more insight into and compassion for the human experience?’

Isolation – ‘I am not the only one going through such difficult times, all people experience things like this at some point in their lives.’  ‘Although I take full responsibilities for my mistakes and failings, I also recognize and understand that my actions and behaviors are connected to other people’s actions and behaviors – nothing happens in a vacuum.’

Mindfulness – Take several deep slow breaths and try to be with your pain exactly as it is. Let yourself feel the pain without suppressing, resisting, or avoiding it.  Take a moment to stop and say to yourself, this is really hard right now.  Let yourself be moved and touched by your own pain.  Try to see the situation clearly with calm, clarity and a balanced perspective.  ‘I fully accept this moment and these emotions as they are.’”

So as you enter the holidays and family tensions rise, remember to be more self-compassionate. If you make a mistake, fall short of a goal, or fail to act a certain way, respond with loving kindness towards yourself, just as you would to a small child. You’ll be glad you did.

About the Author

Dr. John Schinnerer is in private practice helping individuals learn happiness by mitigating destructive emotions and fostering constructive emotions. His practice is located in the Danville-San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, California 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Schinnerer has been an executive and psychologist for over 10 years. Dr. John Schinnerer is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control. Dr. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Dr. Schinnerer is President of Infinet Assessment, a psychological testing company to help firms select the best applicants. Dr. Schinnerer’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development, to sports psychology. Dr. Schinnerer wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and AuthorHouse.com.  

You can follow Dr. John Schinnerer on Twitter at http://twitter.com/johnschin.

Harvard Study Shows Happiness is Transmittable As In A Wireless Network

Happiness is catching. Happiness spreads through friends, spouses, siblings and neighbors. There is a ripple effect whereby happiness extends widely through social networks, even between people who may not know one another. One’s happiness depends on the degree of happiness of those surrounding her.

A study performed at Harvard University, by Nicholas Christakis, is the first of its kind to demonstrate the existence of clusters of happy and sad individuals. Happiness depends upon the happiness of those around them. What’s more, individuals who surround themselves with happy people are more likely to be happy in the future. One’s future happiness can actually be predicted by the number of happy people surrounding them and the degree to which the social network as a whole experiences constructive emotions, such as happiness.  These findings come from an analysis of the Framingham Heart Study social network, a longitudinal study that has followed nearly 5,000 people for over 20 years.

Study findings suggest that happiness results from the spread of happiness throughout social networks and not merely from individuals choosing to surround themselves with like-minded individuals. For example, if your next door neighbor becomes happier due to a job promotion, your likelihood of becoming happier increases by 34%. And this happiness effect can linger for up to one year.

This relationship between individual’s happiness holds true for the first three degrees of separation. For example, when John becomes happier, it buoys the happiness of John’s friends as well as the friends of John’s friends. So there is a ripple effect of happiness within social circles where happiness is contagious and spreads similar to the waves of a wireless network. And we are consciously aware of little, if any, of it.

In the past five to ten years, more and more studies have looked at happiness and what determines it (e.g., genetics, money, elections, marital status and emotional management). However, no study has looked at human happiness as it relates to the happiness of others. While the study is the first of its kind and needs to be replicated to ensure the accuracy of these findings, the findings are remarkable and exhilarating.

Emotional contagion, the process by which one person picks up the feelings of another, has been scientifically documented since 1994. Emotions may be ‘caught’ from others for a length of time ranging from seconds to weeks.  This is particularly true of destructive emotions – anger, fear and sadness. In fact, the hard part is not ‘catching’ the emotions but in protecting oneself from them, keeping them at bay. Until this study, emotional contagion had not been documented for any of the positive, constructive emotions such as joy, contentment, peacefulness or happiness.  

The difficulty is that most people primarily feel destructive emotions. Most people experience more destructive emotions than constructive emotions.  

On the other hand, roughly 10% of adults in the United States feel three times as much positive emotion as negative. This 3:1 ratio is the measuring stick for a thriving happy life as set by Barbara Fredrickson at UNC Chapel Hill. It appears that this top 10% is raising the level of happiness of many others. Imagine if it were possible to raise this thriving, happy portion of the population to 15% or 20%.

Assuming the percentage of the populace experiencing happiness could be improved, here are just a few of the possible societal benefits:

·        The economy would improve (e.g., higher ratios of positive, open-ended inquiries are present in executive teams in highly successful firms)

·        Creativity would increase (e.g., happiness is linked to greater innovation)

·        Productivity would soar (e.g., a happy employee is a productive employee; optimistic salespeople outsell pessimistic ones by approximately 38%)

·        The burden on the health care system would be eased (e.g., happiness improves immune system functioning).

·        People would live longer (e.g., happy, optimistic people live 7 – 10 years longer than those who are pessimistic and unhappy)

·        The educational system would show significant academic gains (e.g., students taught to be more happy and optimistic showed significant gains on achievement testing and received better grades)

The exciting part is that happiness can be taught. It can be learned. People can learn to feel positive emotions more frequently and more intensely. Emotional management is a learnable skill. Just as one practices a sport and improves over time so it is with emotions.   As individuals learn to string together more and more happy moments, the ripple effect spills over and one person’s happiness positively influences others.  It even influences the happiness of other people they don’t know.

The goal is emotional management. The goal is happiness. The goal is to learn to mitigate destructive emotions and encourage positive emotions. Happiness is social phenomena. The more individuals experience positive emotions, the more society as a whole is happier, healthier, and more productive and that is no small feat.

About the Author

Dr. John Schinnerer is in private practice helping individuals learn happiness by mitigating destructive emotions and fostering constructive emotions. His practice is located in the Danville-San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, California 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Schinnerer has been an executive and psychologist for over 10 years. Dr. John Schinnerer is President and Founder of Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control. Dr. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Dr. Schinnerer is President of Infinet Assessment, a psychological testing company to help firms select the best applicants. Dr. Schinnerer’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development, to sports psychology. Dr. Schinnerer wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and AuthorHouse.com.  

How to Get What You Want Using Appropriate Assertiveness

By John Schinnerer, Ph.D.The boss’ face is red with rage as he screams obscenities at his subordinate. The boss yells words he will later regret. The subordinate focuses on breathing deeply and staying calm as he watches his boss spin out of emotional control. In the face of his boss’ fury, the subordinate remains composed and, thus, is able to think clearly. When the manager finishes his tirade, the 25-year-old subordinate asserts himself, ‘I understand you are upset. It frustrates me when you yell at me. I need you to speak to me in a calm tone of voice.’Assertiveness is the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner, despite a known risk of negative consequences. Assertiveness basically comes down to courage – the courage to do what you know is right, in your heart, despite the possibility of negative consequences. Assertiveness exists on a continuum between the poles of docile and aggressive. Think of assertiveness as a matter of degree; it exists on a 1 through 10 scale where 1 is meek and 10 is overly aggressive. For most people, assertiveness varies according to the situation. For example, the hard-nosed, results-driven executive may be highly assertive at work, yet be quite meek when it comes to dealing with his wife and teenage daughter at home. So assertiveness is environment-specific. Usually, your degree of assertiveness is couched within a role that you play – parent, spouse, boss, friend, and so on. The goal is to learn how to be appropriately assertive without being a bully.  While difficult, it is possible with practice and awareness.Stop Being a WimpMost people are wimps, at least to some degree, in some situation. Wimps are people who cannot or will not say ‘No’ mainly out of fear. You may be a ubiquitous wimp which means that you are wimpy in every situation, with everyone. Or you may be a situation-specific wimp. These wimps can be a tyrant at work and a pushover at home, forceful with strangers yet completely spineless with friends. Wimpiness can vary according to the situation. Many wimps feel more comfortable being assertive in some areas of their life than others. Please understand that I use the term ‘wimp’ with respect and understanding. I work on my own assertiveness continuously. Understand that being a wimp works pretty well in the short run because you don’t risk upsetting anyone. You just let others have their way and no one’s knickers get in a knot. However, in the long run, your anger and disappointment get buried deep inside you. As you try to stuff more and more anger inside your emotional gas tank, the tank eventually overflows resulting in irritation, or even outbursts of rage as well as passive-aggressive behavior. You get angry at the wrong people, people who don’t deserve your wrath. Holding your emotions inside can also lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, stomachaches, high blood pressure, stroke, and even heart attacks. In short, wimpiness is bad for you and destructive to your health and happiness. For a meaningful, happy and healthy life, you must learn to be appropriately assertive. So what can you do? How do you stop being a wimp and start being assertive?Identify Your Top ValuesFirst, identify those values that are most important to you. The purpose for identifying your deepest values is to give you some guidance during difficult or confusing times. When your values are clear, it’s much easier to decide upon a course of action and act with confidence.  Your values will be the foundation of your new assertiveness. Ask yourself the following questions…What do I value? With what degree of certainty?Which values am I willing to publicly declare?What values am I willing to die for?Once you’ve identified your values, then you must figure out how consistent your words are with your feelings, thoughts and actions.The more authentic you are, the greater your quality of life is. Authenticity means that your values are consistent with your words, feelings and actions. The greater the consistency between your internal world and your external world, the more authenticity you have. Values guide the whole thing, your whole life.  Values give you a decision-making framework. Values are most important when you are under duress. Values are critical when you are stressed out, depressed or tired. However, in order for them to be any use to you at all, you have to know your top 5 values by rote. They have to be automatic, unconscious, repeated over and over until they are known by heart. It’s not enough to look at them once or twice a year. Infrequent value visits are not enough to sear them into your long-term memory. To get you started, a list of the top values that exist throughout the world is available free of charge at Guide To Self.  

Figure Out How You Want Others to Treat YouIf you want other people to treat you differently, you need to know how you want to be treated. Do you want your wife to stop yelling at you? Do you want more respect from your husband? Do you want your boss to speak to you in an indoor tone of voice? Do you want your children to help pick up the house? Figure out exactly how you want other people in your life to treat you.  Look at what is making you angry or irritated throughout the day. Make a mental note of each thing. Then figure out what you’d like to change in each relationship in your life. In which areas of your life is there injustice?  What are you tolerating? What are you putting up with? As you unearth the answers to these questions, the priorities for assertive action will automatically unfold.  Ask for What You Want After you have figured out how you want to be treated, then ask for it. This step takes courage, yet it gets easier the more frequently you do it. And it’s not as hard as you believe it is. You must learn to express yourself, the real you; what you truly want; how you truly feel, if you want to be treated with more respect. When you learn to state how you feel and what you want, your whole life will begin to change for the better. When you are asking for what you want, be as specific as possible. Keep it as short as possible and hold that thought in your mind, that way you can hold onto it even in the midst of an emotionally-charged conversation. To stop being a wimp, act with courage. It may feel awkward at first. Every new behavior feels a little strange at first. Most new behaviors take roughly 4 weeks to take hold. After four weeks, your authentic communication of your thoughts, feelings and needs will fit like a glove and you’ll be wondering why you hadn’t done it sooner. Practice Saying ‘No’Many of us have gotten in a dangerous habit of saying ‘Yes’ to everyone and everything. However, it’s merely a bad habit which can be changed. If you have trouble with saying ‘No,’ if that is too uncomfortable, simply use the phrase, ‘I’ll think about it.’  This is merely a temporary stop-gap. It buys you time. Using the phrase ‘I’ll think about it’ will hold off the other party for a time, but it raises your anxiety because you are only delaying giving a final answer. So realize that the ultimate goal is to be able to say ‘No’ with a clear conscience. You have a right to say ‘No’ to any request that comes your way. You have an obligation to take care of yourself first and foremost.  

Learn to Love Change The next step in becoming more assertive is to learn to love change. As you begin to live by your values and become more assertive, your relationships will change. You are going to make some changes to your life and the way in which you interact with other people. In addition, the only unchanging thing in this life is the fact that change will be constant. The best you can do is learn to love change. Identify What Makes You Afraid – And Go After ItMany of us wimps have created massive fears over what will happen when we finally say ‘No.’ We get into catastrophic, all-ornothing negative thinking. Most often, these are irrational fears that have been blown up to monstrous proportions. Odds are that none of these things will actually happen if you stand up and rightly assert yourself. Remember to challenge your fears and your negative thoughts. Often, thoughts and feelings do not tell the truth. It is important to challenge negative thoughts. Don’t let them go by without speaking back to them. Check them against reality. Check your thoughts out with other people. Find out what people you trust have to say about the matter.Please realize that assertiveness is NOT the same as aggressiveness. You don’t have to be rude or impolite to be assertive. You don’t have to attack someone to let them know of your thoughts and your feelings. You have the right to stand up for your rights. You have the right to say ‘No’ and to take proper care of yourself. You have the right to stand up and ask for what you want and need. The worst that can happen is that they say ‘No. You can’t have that.’In any case, you need to know what makes your life worth living. And then stand up for it. Ask for it. Fight for it. Work towards it. Pay attention to it. You have to know what you want before you can be assertive. If you don’t know, you can’t ask. SummaryIn closing, keep in mind that assertiveness requires some courage. Courage only exists when you feel some degree of fear. The act of overcoming your fear is known as courage.  Assertiveness is the courage to do the right thing, at the right time, in the right manner despite possible adverse consequences. Think of assertiveness on a 1 to 10 scale where 1 is meek and 10 is overly aggressive. Assertiveness usually varies by situation. It is environment-specific. The ultimate goal is to learn how to be properly assertive without using intimidation to get what you want. About the Author
Dr. John Schinnerer

Dr. John Schinnerer is in private practice helping men learn anger management, stress management and latest ways to deal with destructive negative emotions. His practice is located in the Danville-San Ramon Medical Center at 913 San Ramon Valley Blvd., #280, Danville, California 94526. He graduated summa cum laude from U.C. Berkeley with a Ph.D. in psychology. Dr. Schinnerer has been an executive and psychologist for over 10 years. Dr. John Schinnerer is President and Founder of
Guide To Self, a company that coaches clients to their potential using the latest in positive psychology, mindfulness and attentional control. Dr. John Schinnerer hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a prime time radio show, in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Dr. Schinnerer is President of Infinet Assessment, a psychological testing company to help firms select the best applicants. Dr. Schinnerer’s areas of expertise range from positive psychology, to emotional awareness, to moral development, to sports psychology. Dr. Schinnerer wrote the award-winning, “Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,” which is available at Amazon.com, BarnesAndNoble.com and AuthorHouse.com.