Work and Career

This Question Can Take You from Problems to Solutions

This post is an excerpt from A Short Course in Happiness: Practical Steps to a Happier Life, by Lynda Wallace.

boat-through-windowOur Natural Problem Focus

Having maxed out her credit cards when she was unemployed last year, Michelle sometimes wakes up in the middle of the night worrying about how she’s going to pay her bills.

And now that she’s found a new job, she often finds herself distracted at work, justifiably angry and upset that someone who works so hard could find herself in debt over her head.

Michelle spends a lot of time thinking about her problem. But all that thinking doesn’t seem to help – she hasn’t been able to come up with an effective plan to solve it. And she’s not the only one.

When we have a particularly upsetting problem, most of us find ourselves coming back to it over and over again, fretting over what caused it, or how unfair it is, or how much worse it might get – trying to get to the bottom of it, but remaining stuck with the problem no matter how much attention we give to it.

Why does this happen? Isn’t thinking about a problem the best way to come up with a solution? Don’t we have to analyze its causes before we can solve it?

In other words, don’t we need to get to the bottom of things?


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One Simple “Brain Trick,” Four Proven Benefits

creative-brainby Lynda Wallace

The human brain’s default orientation is to focus on our experience in the here and now. Without that natural focus on our immediate experience, we’d never get to work on time, or appreciate the feel of the breeze against our skin on a beautiful spring day.

But there can be tremendous benefit to sometimes taking ourselves out of the here and now by imagining ourselves in a different place or time, or by taking on an outsider’s perspective. When we do this, we engage different areas our brains — areas that can help us to make better decisions, resist temptation, make progress toward goals, and resolve disputes with others.

Psychologists refer to this technique as gaining psychological distance, and it’s as simple as using our imaginations to activate the parts of our brains that aren’t so caught up with our immediate experience, perceptions, and feelings.


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How to Procrastinate Less (And Enjoy Your Life More)

by Lynda Wallace

pandaEven the best life has its share of things we don’t want to do, or at least things we don’t want to do when we think we ought to be doing them. So we all procrastinate sometimes.

We know when we’re doing it because we start to tell ourselves our favorite procrastination stories — stories we’ve probably heard many times before.

Do any of these sound at all familiar?

Tomorrow I’ll be able to really concentrate on this report without being interrupted.

It will be kinder not to bring up this issue with my spouse just yet.

I’ll be more creative if I do this project when I really feel like doing it. (This is a personal favorite story of mine.)

I work best under pressure.

As handy as these stories can be, they don’t usually turn out to be true.


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Want to Be Happier? Three Things to Stop Doing

by Lynda Wallace

We naturally pay a lot more attention to the lion than the sunrise. But what if the lion isn’t really there?

I usually write about things we can start doing to make our lives better, but it’s just as important that we try to stop doing the things that are getting in our way. So here are three things worth doing a lot less of, and some practical ideas about what to try instead.

1. Seeing Lions on the Savannah

The human species evolved in a situation of scarcity and danger where survival demanded that our ancestors react more strongly to threats than to pleasures. Reacting to a lion on the savannah was a lot more important than enjoying the sunrise. We still have essentially the same brains as early humans, but most of us live in vastly different circumstances than they did. As a result, our automatic responses are often out of synch with the situations in which we find ourselves.


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How to Be More Assertive — And Still Be You!

by Lynda Wallace 

Do you feel like you have very little trouble being assertive in some situations and very little hope of being assertive in others?

Maybe it’s easy for you to stand your ground in a discussion with your spouse about vacation options, but not in one with your boss about needing to find a better work/life balance. Or you may not have to think twice about asking your neighbor to turn down the music so the baby can sleep, but you can’t seem to decline a request to chair the next PTA fundraiser, even though you haven’t gotten the last few dozen boxes of Girl Scout cookies out of your front hall yet.

Well, here are two bits of good news.

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Get Some Sleep!


by Lynda Wallace

If you have kids, do you remember when they were little and missed a nap or didn’t get a good night’s sleep?

It made for a hard day, didn’t it? You could see it in their glassy eyes  and hear it in their frustrated sobs that they just didn’t have the resources they needed to get through the day in one piece. And if it went on for a couple of days in a row, it was bad news for everyone in the house.

Now here’s a question for you. How much sleep do you get?

If your answer is less than seven and a half hours a night, you might have a little more in common with that screaming toddler than you think.


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Q&A: My Boss Complains About Everything

Remember Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss?

Dear Active Happiness,

I’m a marketing manager at a big consumer electronics company. I’m good at my job, and I like the work. The problem is my boss. Nothing is ever good enough for him. He complains all day long — about his boss, about my colleagues, and about my own work. 

He actually gives me good year-end evaluations, but that’s the only day I ever feel like he thinks I’m doing a good job. It’s hard on my self-esteem and it makes work a drag. What can I do? 



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Quick Takes: Change Your Test Answer!

In Quick Takes, I offer summaries and highlights from some of my favorite books,  articles, and research studies. This one looks at research showing that one of our most common assumptions isn’t true.

I remember hearing back in high school that one of my classmates was taking an SAT prep class before the big test.  This was back before SAT prep became a big business, and the rest of us thought that was pretty strange behavior.  

We all could have told you the essentials of how to do your best on the big test. Use a #2 pencil, fill in the ovals completely, and once you answer a question, don’t change your answer.   (more…)

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Five Myths About Happiness (And Happy People)

by Lynda Wallace

What is happiness? And how can we best cultivate it?

These age-old questions are being considered in new ways by researchers in the field of Positive Psychology. These researchers study the causes of human flourishing, and their findings are practical, encouraging, and sometimes surprising.

One of the most useful lessons from Positive Psychology is that many of our most common beliefs about happiness are simply untrue. Here are a few of those myths, along with the facts uncovered by the research.

Myth #1: Happiness is just a mood.


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Want to Be Even Happier? Two More Things to Stop Doing

by Lynda Wallace 

Last week’s post about things we can stop doing in order to be happier quickly became the most popular article I’ve ever posted to the site. This week I’ve got two more things to stop doing, one very important, and the other very easy.


Brooding About Ordinary Hurts and Worries

When something goes wrong at work or a friend says something hurtful, do you find yourself going over and over it in your mind, fixating on why it happened or what it means? If so, you’re not alone. Excessively replaying our negative experiences and feelings and continually focusing on our anxieties and problems is one of the most common causes of unhappiness.

Research psychologists call this sort of brooding about life’s everyday troubles and worries “overthinking” and they’ve convincingly shown that it worsens feelings of sadness and anxiety, impairs our ability to solve problems, interferes with concentration and initiative, and even makes us less attractive romantic partners and friends.

There’s no doubt about it — this is one habit worth the effort to break.


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