Happiness and relationships research

Blog Post No. 50

10th July 2017

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2017

Renata’s Coaching and Counselling blog: What really makes people happy?

A ‘rave review’ of Robert Waldinger’s TED talk

Introduction

It’s very easy for us in the west at the moment, to imagine that having more money, or a better house, more foreign holidays, a great new sports car or higher status at work (like getting to the top of an organisation), will make us really happy.

Bugatti-car

And if we have the right physical appearance, as defined by our culture, this can give people a feeling of confidence and self-assurance. So we obviously put a lot of investment and energy into trying to look our best!

KardashiansBut we did not make up these materialistic beliefs ourselves.  All the relentless advertising messages, and propaganda from the media, create this illusion: Having new possessions will really make life better for us, and guarantee our happiness.

But the truth is that they won’t!

Obviously, if we are desperately short of money, have nowhere to live, or no food to eat, then food, money, shelter and clothing are crucially important for our survival.

But if we do have enough to eat, a roof over our heads, and a way of providing an income for ourselves, then some small improvements may make us slightly happier, but more material stuff is not going to make us a lot happier!

So what really does make us happy, after we have the basic means of survival?

Robert-Waldinger

In this blog, I will give a short account of Robert Waldinger’s TED talk in which he describes a major research study which provides powerful evidence for the conclusion that material things won’t make us happy. This conclusion is based on research that started in 1938, and is still ongoing.

The Harvard Study of Adult development

Picture-of-HarvardSeventy-five years ago, ‘The Harvard Study of Adult development’ was established.  A group of researchers started studying 724 teenagers through to their old age. The participants were from two very different types of backgrounds:

# One group was from the poorest part of Boston: from the most economically deprived and distressed families; and:

# The other group was more prosperous, from Harvard College, and was made up of second year students.

These two groups are asked to respond to questionnaires every two years; are interviewed in their homes; have brain scans; have medical records examined; and have blood taken for testing; and they have been videotaped (as adults) talking to their partners about what is really concerning them. And (in time) the researchers talk to their children as well.

~~~

The research project is still ongoing.  Three directors of research have come, served decades in that role; and the project is now being conducted by a fourth director: Robert Waldinger.  And Dr Waldinger has presented a TED talk which explains the research findings.

So, what does the evidence from this study tell us about what really makes people happy?

Elderly-peopleHere’s what Robert Waldinger states:

“Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Good relationships!  Not cars, or cash, or status, or houses, or holidays, or any of that ‘popular’ materialistic stuff.

Waldinger goes on to say that the researchers learned three big lessons about relationships:

Firstly, the more socially connected we are to people, e.g. family, friends, and the community, the happier and healthier and more long-lived we will be. And the opposite applies: Loneliness is toxic. People who are less connected to people than they would like to be, suffer from declining health as they reach middle age, their brain functioning becomes less efficient and they are less happy.

~~~

Secondly, it doesn’t matter what type of relationships you’re involved in; or whether you are partnered or not; or whether you have a large or small number of friends. The research results show that the crucial aspect of our close relationships is the quality. If we are living in the middle of conflict, then it’s really harmful to our health. Waldinger gives the example of high conflict marriages: If there’s no affection present in high conflict marriages, then they are really bad for our health, and are possibly worse than getting divorced.

Happy-coupleHe then states: And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.”

That is to say, protective of our health, of our life expectancy, our happiness.

~~~

Thirdly: The final important lesson that the researchers learned was that not only do good relationships make us happier and healthier, but they also protect our brains. He gives an example of someone in their eighties: If they are in a securely attached relationship, and can count on their significant other person being there to help them in times of need, then their memories stay intact for longer.

And conversely, when people who were in relationships where they felt they couldn’t really rely on the other person to help them, they fared badly, in that their memories deteriorated sooner.

~~~

Happiness reduces physical pain

Couple-kissingIt might seem that physical pain is physical pain, and that is that.  But we have always known that physical pain and emotional pain are mediated through the same nerve networks.  Here Waldinger explains how pain can be experienced in different ways:

“Good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80’s, that on the days that they had most physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days that they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain”.

That is to say, physical and emotional pain are either additive or subtractive.  So, if you work at achieving a happy relationship, that happiness will be subtracted from any physical pain you subsequently feel.

~~~

Predicting happiness in senior years

Another insight from the research findings was that (on the basis of the information they had accumulated about the men, up to their entering their eighties), when the men had reached the age of 50, the researchers were able to predict who would grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wouldn’t.

They discovered that the people who were most satisfied with their relationships at the age of fifty, were the healthiest at age 80!

~~~

Conclusion

The bottom line of this research is this: If you want to have a life that is happy, now and towards the end, make sure you invest in building happy relationships – or at least one good, happy relationship – now!

Waldinger’s message at the end of his TED talk, is this:

“…Good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being…this is wisdom that is as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that will make our lives good and keep them that way.”

In our western societies, developing relationship skills comes way down our list of priorities: after academic skills, money-making skills, technological skills, medical skills, selling skills, entertainment skills, sports skills, construction skills, accountancy skills, legal skills, creative skills etc. As Barbara Sher said (referring, critically, to American values, which are not dissimilar to those which dominate at the moment in the UK),

If it don’t make money, it don’t count!”

That is to say, all the propaganda of the neoliberal age emphasizes money, money and more money.  And organizational power, or dominance.  And none of these things will actually make you happy!

We now know, unmistakably, from 75 years of powerful research, that what will make us happy, and healthy, is good quality relationships – at least one!

So how do we develop quality relationships?

Traits of a healthy realtionshipAlthough maintaining the quality of our relationships is the key to health and happiness, there ain’t no quick fixes.  You have to work at building relationships!  You cannot buy them ready made!

Werner Erhard used to emphasize that “Successful relationships are based on agreed on goals!”  Yes, that’s right.  Agree on!  That means negotiated between equal individuals.

And Professor John Gottman stresses that you have to work at maintaining a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative moments in your relationships.  So you have to learn how to do that.

As I mentioned in my last blog, Robert Bolton identified twelve specific roadblocks to communication, which, when used, are likely to negatively impact on our relationships with people.

And John Gottman was able to pinpoint four distinctive ways of interacting that can destroy a relationship and he called them the “Four horsemen of the Apocalypse”. Again, you have to learn those insights, and I teach them to my relationship coaching clients.

There are many valuable techniques that we can learn to keep our relationships of a good quality, perhaps the simplest and most apt being the one that Werner Erhard mentioned in one of his seminars on relationships:

“If you want to have a really powerful relationship with anybody, you have got to stop making the other person wrong!”

(Immediately after he said that, someone in the audience piped up: “But Werner, I don’t make them wrong. They are wrong! I just point it out to them.”  You will never achieve a really powerful relationship with anybody unless you learn to stop being critical, sarcastic, condemning, judging, and so on.  And I teach those lessons to my coaching clients).

Creating good relationships can be difficult at times, because it is an art form, and one you have to learn.  And Waldinger states:

“Relationships are messy and complicated, and the hard work of tending to family and friends is not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong.”

But he finishes his presentation with this message:

“The good life is built with good relationships”.

If we were very lucky, we learned great relationship skills from our parents and other family members. If we didn’t, it’s important to not beat ourselves up because of that. But we then may have to learn the hard way, through trial and error and repeated experimentation, until we develop the people skills we need. And it is often impossible to learn what we need to know in this way.  It makes more sense to seek out teaching or training or coaching in these skills, and learn from people who know what works and what does not work.

That’s what my partner and I did, beginning in 1984, attending couples therapy; studying assertive communication; and Werner Erhard’s relationship and communication skills; and then on to studying Dr John Gottman’s approach to relationships, including marriage relationships.

Based on our experience, of learning how to have a really powerful, happy relationship, I can tell you: the effort is well worth it.

We now know, based on the rock-solid findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, that investing time and money and energy in developing relationship skills is the most valuable investment that we can make, and will give us the benefits of health, happiness and brain longevity for the rest of our lives.

This is a really great TED talk and I strongly recommend that you watch it in full.

~~~

If you want to learn some of the techniques and skills that various specialists have developed, so that you can enrich the quality of your relationships, and you can have a happier life, then I would be very happy to help you.  Please contact me to discuss possibilities.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Lifestyle Coach-Counsellor

ABC Coaching-Counselling Division

Telephone: 01422 843 629

Email: renata@abc-counselling.org

~~~~

References

Here is a link to the Adult Development Study website, and there is an interview on it with Robert Waldinger, at CBS ‘This morning’, the television news programme.

http://www.adultdevelopmentstudy.org/

~~~

Why meditation is really good for you…

Blog Post No.6

Published on 18th September 2016 (Previously posted on 7th October 2015)

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: A *star* technique for enjoying your life more: Daily meditation

Introduction:

nata-5-jpg-w300h225In this blog I am going to explain why meditation is really good for you. It’s the mental equivalent of being on a very nutritious and healthy diet.

And it’s better for our bodies than going on holiday, or going shopping –because you feel good for longer and it doesn’t reduce your bank balance!

That’s a big claim, so I’d better explain why I think it’s so good for you. In order to do that I need to get a bit technical.

But firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘meditation’: Sitting quietly, clearing your mind of mental chatter, and focusing your attention in the here and now by counting your breaths in and out.  It’s that simple.  But you can always get more guidance on how to do it by consulting our How to Meditate page.***

~~~

Mental demands on our energy

In our daily lives, here are some examples of the mental demands we face:

# Starting the day with too much to do and too little time to do it.

# If you are married: Getting the kids dressed, breakfasted and ready for school – and keeping the mobile phone on, so you can be easily contacted

# Other people’s conversations (and problems), and responding to them appropriately

# TV and radio news which always give the bad news first, relentlessly

stress-at-work3# If you use a mobile phone: Text messages throughout the day – with good or bad news; and the ever-present threat of a bad/stressing phone call

# Emails waiting for us when we get to work

# Adverts trying to get us to buy things

# If you are a car driver: Other drivers’ behaviour on the roads

# The demands of the job when you get to work

# Your inner dialogue (mind chatter), as you prepare, respond and carry out your daily responsibilities

~~~

Have I missed anything out? Probably!

Our poor brains are deluged with information overload, and the messages don’t stop until we crawl, tired out, into bed, hoping for a decent night’s sleep.

By that time your body has got plenty of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) circulating in it, so the quality of your sleep will be affected by them. That’s the bad news.

~~~

The good news: how meditation works

stop-stress2What meditation does is it switches off your stress response, and switches on the relaxation response.

The stress response is a natural, human response to all the daily challenges you’ve been facing. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’.  Your heart rate and breathing increase; your big muscles tense up to fight or run; your digestive system closes down, to conserve energy; your body/brain fills with cortisol and adrenaline, so it becomes difficult to think straight.

We’ve got 2 nervous systems in our body: the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system, which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response; and the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which switches on when threats to us have passed.  The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response.

These two systems alternate with each other, to keep a balance in the body – a bit like mixer taps for hot and cold water.

Meditation gets your body’s relaxation response activated which means that the feelings of stress drain away and the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms start to operate in your body.

So your body stops producing cortisol, and switches to the relaxation part of your autonomic nervous system. Your digestion starts working again, your big muscles relax, and mental relaxation and whole-body rest take place.

~~~

Breath-counting – recommended by the Buddha:

school-meditation-008Begin by sitting quietly, with no external distractions. Switch off the TV or radio. Sit in a room which does not have any human activity going on. And focus your attention completely on your breathing, so that your thinking about yesterday and tomorrow close down.

Counting your breaths over and over for a period of time rests your brain and reconnects you to your body – to the regular rhythms of your breathing. And in this way your thoughts settle down, lose their power to disturb or run you ragged, and become mere thoughts which come and go, like clouds in the sky.

Meditation roots you more powerfully in the reality of your body and your current surroundings and less in the world of your thoughts.

You may quickly feel sleepy when you start meditating – this is a sign that your body needs rest and wants more sleep.

~~~

How do you do it?

the-buddha-copyYou sit still, in a quiet place, and slowly start counting your breaths from 1 to 4, over and over again. It’s as simple as that.  Count 1 on the in-breath; 2 on the out-breath; 3 on the in-breath; and 4 on the out-breath.  And repeat.  Slowly, slowly; let your rate of breathing slow down, and relax your body.

For more guidance, see our How to Meditate page.***

I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace!

But as you get to feel the effects on your body I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body.

You will be able to feel and experience the benefits for yourself, and may well want to go into the subject of meditation in more depth.

The Buddha recommended counting your breaths, but there are loads of different types of mediation.

~~~

Regular practice makes for successful meditation

meditation-effects-copyWhy meditate every day? You will only get the full benefits of meditation, and experience them for yourself, if you do it every day, because it takes time to reap the rewards, just like when you start an exercise programme.

Zig Ziglar once said: ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.

The same applies to meditation.  Daily practice will strengthen your connection to your body, slow down your mind, build up your stamina and lower your blood pressure. The resultant increase in relaxation will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly.

And the only time the brain rests is when we’re meditating!

~~~

The benefits of meditating:

Here is a link to a website which has listed 100 of the benefits of meditation: http://www.lotustemple.us/images/Benefits_of_Meditation.pdf

And here is a more detailed account of how to meditate which my partner, Jim Byrne and myself, wrote some time ago: our How to Meditate page.***

How come such a beneficial technique isn’t more popular?

Well, firstly, you will need to get up earlier in the morning or carve out the time in your daily life, if you want to experiment with it.  And some people don’t like having to do that!

It’s not a quick fix, and some people are not very patient.  Give it time to work. The benefits will be worth the effort.  For examples: people have been able to give up hard drugs, cigarettes, lose weight, change their lives, start exercise routines, etc., through using this very simple technique.

meditation-benefits-copy

It is also very useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night or wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about past or future events. The simple practice of breath-counting will help you get off to sleep more quickly.

That’s all for now. I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

Meditation for stress reduction

Renata’s Blog Post No.6

Written on 7th October 2015.  Posted here on 6th May 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2015-16

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: The dramatic benefits of Daily meditation

Introduction:

Meditation-benefits.JPGIn this blog I am going to explain why meditation is really good for you. It’s the mental equivalent of being on a very nutritious and healthy diet.

And it’s better for our bodies than going on holiday, or going shopping –because you feel good for longer and it doesn’t reduce your bank balance!

That’s a big claim, so I’d better explain why I think it’s so good for you. In order to do that I need to get a bit technical.

But firstly, let me clarify what I mean by ‘meditation’: Sitting quietly, clearing your mind of mental chatter, and focusing your attention in the here and now by counting your breaths in and out.  It’s that simple.  But you can always get more guidance on how to do it by consulting our How to Meditate page.***

~~~

Mental demands on our energy

Meditation-effects.JPGIn our daily lives, here are some examples of the mental demands we face:

# Starting the day with too much to do and too little time to do it.

# If you are married: Getting the kids dressed, breakfasted and ready for school – and keeping the mobile phone on, so you can be easily contacted

# Other people’s conversations (and problems), and responding to them appropriately

# TV and radio news which always give the bad news first, relentlessly

# If you use a mobile phone: Text messages throughout the day – with good or bad news; and the ever-present threat of a bad/stressing phone call

# Emails waiting for us when we get to work

# Adverts trying to get us to buy things

# If you are a car driver: Other drivers’ behaviour on the roads

# The demands of the job when you get to work

# Your inner dialogue (mind chatter), as you prepare, respond and carry out your daily responsibilities

~~~

Have I missed anything out? Probably!

NataCrags005.jpgOur poor brains are deluged with information overload, and the messages don’t stop until we crawl, tired out, into bed, hoping for a decent night’s sleep.

By that time your body has got plenty of stress hormones (cortisol and adrenaline) circulating in it, so the quality of your sleep will be affected by them. That’s the bad news.

~~~

~~~

The good news: how meditation works

What meditation does is it switches off your stress response, and switches on the relaxation response.

The stress response is a natural, human response to all the daily challenges you’ve been facing. You’ve probably heard it referred to as the ‘fight or flight response’.  Your heart rate and breathing increase; your big muscles tense up to fight or run; your digestive system closes down, to conserve energy; your body/brain fills with cortisol and adrenaline, so it becomes difficult to think straight.

We’ve got 2 nervous systems in our body: the ‘sympathetic’ nervous system, which activates our ‘fight or flight’ response; and the ‘parasympathetic’ nervous system, which switches on when threats to us have passed.  The parasympathetic nervous system is also called the ‘rest and digest’ or ‘relaxation’ response.

These two systems alternate with each other, to keep a balance in the body – a bit like mixer taps for hot and cold water.

Meditation gets your body’s relaxation response activated which means that the feelings of stress drain away and the ‘rest and digest’ mechanisms start to operate in your body.

So your body stops producing cortisol, and switches to the relaxation part of your autonomic nervous system. Your digestion starts working again, your big muscles relax, and mental relaxation and whole-body rest take place.

~~~

Breath-counting – recommended by the Buddha:

Begin by sitting quietly, with no external distractions. Switch off the TV or radio. Sit in a room which does not have any human activity going on. And focus your attention completely on your breathing, so that your thinking about yesterday and tomorrow close down.

Counting your breaths over and over for a period of time rests your brain and reconnects you to your body – to the regular rhythms of your breathing. And in this way your thoughts settle down, lose their power to disturb or run you ragged, and become mere thoughts which come and go, like clouds in the sky.

Meditation roots you more powerfully in the reality of your body and your current surroundings and less in the world of your thoughts.

You may quickly feel sleepy when you start meditating – this is a sign that your body needs rest and wants more sleep.

~~~

How do you do it?

You sit still, in a quiet place, and slowly start counting your breaths from 1 to 4, over and over again. It’s as simple as that.  Count 1 on the in-breath; 2 on the out-breath; 3 on the in-breath; and 4 on the out-breath.  And repeat.  Slowly, slowly; let your rate of breathing slow down, and relax your body.

For more guidance, see our How to Meditate page.***

I suggest you try 10 minutes a day at first. Ten minutes of peace!

But as you get to feel the effects on your body I would suggest that you build up to 30 minutes a day. That will be really good for your mind and body.

You will be able to feel and experience the benefits for yourself, and may well want to go into the subject of meditation in more depth.

The Buddha recommended counting your breaths, but there are loads of different types of mediation.

~~~

Regular practice makes for successful meditation

Why meditate every day? You will only get the full benefits of meditation, and experience them for yourself, if you do it every day, because it takes time to reap the rewards, just like when you start an exercise programme.

Zig Ziglar once said: ‘People often say that motivation doesn’t last. Well, neither does bathing – that’s why we recommend it daily’.

The same applies to meditation.  Daily practice will strengthen your connection to your body, slow down your mind, build up your stamina and lower your blood pressure. The resultant increase in relaxation will mean that when you experience stressful events, you will be meeting them with a more relaxed body/mind. Therefore the stress response will be less powerful and you’ll recover more quickly.

And the only time the brain rests is when we’re meditating!

~~~

The benefits of meditating:

Here is a link to a website which has listed 100 of the benefits of mediation:http://www.lotustemple.us/images/Benefits_of_Meditation.pdf

And here is a more detailed account of how to meditate which my partner, Jim Byrne and myself, wrote some time ago: our How to Meditate page.***

How come such a beneficial technique isn’t more popular?

Well, firstly, you will need to get up earlier in the morning or carve out the time in your daily life, if you want to experiment with it.  And some people don’t like having to do that!

It’s not a quick fix, and some people are not very patient.  Give it time to work. The benefits will be worth the effort.  For examples: people have been able to give up hard drugs, cigarettes, lose weight, change their lives, start exercise routines, etc., through using this very simple technique.

It is also very useful if you have difficulty getting to sleep at night or wake up in the middle of the night, worrying about past or future events. The simple practice of breath-counting will help you get off to sleep more quickly.

That’s all for now. I hope you find this helpful.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843 629

~~~

Two happiness-increasing quotes on social equality and reducing stress

Blog Post No. 29

13th April 2016

Copyright © Renata Taylor-Byrne 2016

Renata’s Coaching/Counselling blog: Two happiness-increasing quotes on social equality and reducing stress

Introduction

dadsquoteIn this blog I’m going to describe two quotes I came across many years ago, and explain how they can really increase happiness and reduce stress. They both involve the question of social equality.  See what you think:

First happiness quote

The first quote is from my father, and he said this to me when I was about 13 or 14 years old. I was attending a secondary school in Salford. I had started to get really stressed about some homework I had to do, couldn’t do it, and was very apprehensive about what would happen when I got to school and had to face the teacher.

I was at a school which had a religious orientation, so not only was there the authority of the teachers but, as there were nuns as well, there was also the sense of religious authority. God, we were told, was in the background, watching everything we were doing, which was intimidating and stressful.

I was scared of the teachers, and this must have been glaringly obvious to my dad who said:

“Remember – no man’s head is higher than your own!”

Wow – The power of those words was amazing, and so helpful to me, and the stress just rolled away from my body.

I still had to attend school, and get on with the tasks that were necessary for me to get my qualifications, but from then on, it was different – I was stronger. The words of my father helped me to handle the academic pressure I was under. I knew that although there were people I had to legally obey until I had done my time at school, they were just ordinary, flawed human beings, not special beings with a hotline to God, and not superior to the students.

Second happiness quote

Buddha1The second quote is from the Buddha, and the wisdom and power of this really knocked me out (not literally):

This is what he said (in brief): “Don’t take my word for it – find out for yourself!”

Why was this so good? Because he wasn’t setting himself up as an authority and he wanted people to check out the truth of things for themselves.

BuddhaflowersThis quote encouraged me to do my own research – to check out what is right for me in terms of my lifestyle etc. and develop my own critical thinking faculties, and not to follow someone else and elevate them to being an authority.

Finding out for ourselves is one of the best ways to get stronger as we go through life, whether it’s managing our health, or jobs, or studies, or relationships, more effectively.

Conclusion

Seeing through the cultural fantasies that we are surrounded by is not easy, but the more we check things out for ourselves, rather than relying on others’ views, the stronger and happier we will become.

Of course it is important to live by the best moral guidance we received from our culture – some version of the Golden Rule, for example.  (The Golden Rule states that we must not treat others in ways we would not want them to treat us, if our roles were reversed).

ChiefjosephAnd we also need to follow the laws of the land. As long as the laws of the land respect Human Rights, and gender, racial, age and religious equality; and respect the rights of the individual to dignity and protection by the rule of law.

But we have the right to make our own minds up about what cultural traditions are right for us to follow, and we have the right to make up our own minds and our own rules as long as we don’t harm others in the process.

Buddha2Remember the first principle from the Bill of Assertive Rights: “You have the right to be treated with respect as an equal human being!”

I hope these two quotes are of some use to you. I found them strengthening, stress-reducing and life-enhancing.

That’s all for now.

Best wishes,

Renata

Renata Taylor-Byrne

Coach-Counsellor-Tutor

The Coaching/Counselling Division

Renata4coaching@btinternet.com

01422 843629

~~~