Happiness is a skill that can be learned. However, like any worthwhile skill, it takes time, practice and dedication. Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, put forth the idea of 10,000 hours of practice to become an expert in any given area. Chris Peterson suggested it takes 10 years to become an expert in a field.
You can learn to be happy. You must make the choice to put in time, energy and effort. As you learn the skills put forth by positive psychology, you will inexorably be drawn into more and more frequent spirals of positive emotions and thoughts, leading to more and more time spent in happiness.
Here is one of many skills to be learned in this ongoing process…
Capitalizing on Love – The Merit of the Active-Constructive Response
One of the foremost researchers in the area of love and marriage is Shelly Gable, an assistant professor of psychology at UCLA. Most researchers looking at marriage work on conflict management, how to create more harmony between partners, and how individuals in a couple cope with traumatic events. Gable is one of a handful of researcher who looks at what makes a thriving marriage. Her work provides some valuable insights if you are interested in transforming your good relationship (e.g., friendship, marriage, parent or child) into a great one.
Gable looks to see how you respond when your spouse tells you that he’s just been promoted, or your child tells you that she won Class President, or when your mother tells you she won a tennis tournament, or when your friend tells you she just won a huge lawsuit. Gable puts your responses into four different categories which break down as follows:
- An enthusiastic reaction such as “Wow! That’s tremendous. That’s the best thing I’ve heard all week. I’m sure there are more great things to come for you. You’ve definitely earned it. Congratulations!” This reaction is called the active-constructive response by Gable.
- A more subdued reaction where you share your happiness but say little. For example, “That’s nice dear.” This is the passive-constructive response.
- Or perhaps you point out some of the potential pitfalls or negatives within the good event. For instance, “Wow, I sure hope you can handle all that extra responsibility. Does this mean you will have to work extra hours?” Gable refers to this as the active-destructive response.
- Or, you might respond with disinterest and not respond to the good news at all. Most folks do this by merely changing the subject, “Yes, but what do you think about the weather outside?” This is known as the passive-destructive response.
The first type of response, the active-constructive one, is called “capitalizing” by Gable and here’s the fascinating part…capitalizing amplifies the pleasure of the good event and creates an upward spiral of good feelings.
Gable has shown that capitalizing is one of the keys to strong, supportive, thriving relationships.
So how do you respond to good news from other people? Are you a “capitalizer” who creates upward spirals of positive emotions? Or do you turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to the good news of others?
The consequences of learning how to be more of a “capitalizer” are impressive and robust. Couples who describe themselves as having a spouse who is active and constructive in response to their good news are:
- More committed to the relationship
- More in love
- Happier in their marriage
Think about that the next time your love comes in the door with exciting news! And remember…practice, practice, practice!
To happiness and health,
John Schinnerer Ph.D.
About the Author
John Schinnerer, Ph.D., an expert in positive psychology, is revolutionizing the way in which people make sense of the mind, behavior and emotion. In December of 2011, he was one of three emotion experts (along with Paul Ekman and Dacher Keltner) to consult with Pixar on a feature-length movie in which the main characters are emotions. Much of his time is spent in private practice teaching clients the latest ways to turn down the volume on negative emotions such as anger, anxiety and stress. He has developed a unique coaching methodology which combines the best aspects of entertainment, humor, positive psychology and emotional management techniques. His offices are in Danville, California. He graduated from U.C. Berkeley Summa Cum Laude with a Ph.D. in educational psychology. He has been an executive, speaker and coach for over 14 years. John has presented to tens of thousands of people on positive psychology. He hosted over 200 episodes of Guide To Self Radio, a daily prime time radio show, in the SF Bay Area. He wrote the award-winning book, ‘Guide To Self: The Beginner’s Guide To Managing Emotion and Thought,’ which is available at Amazon.com. His blog, Shrunken Mind, was recently recognized as one of the top 3 in positive psychology on the web (drjohnblog.guidetoself.com ). His new video blog teaches people the latest ways to manage anger using positive psychology. (WebAngerManagement.com). He is currently working on a destination site to teach individuals paths to sustainable happiness via positive psychology and ongoing practice atHowICanBeHappy.com.