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Drop the “shoulds”: Rick Hanson, PhD

Drop the “shoulds”: Rick Hanson, PhD | infertility | Scoop.it
One time I watched a three-year-old at her birthday party. Her friends were there from preschool, and she received lots of presents.

 

The cake came out, she admired the pink frosting rose at its center, and everyone sang. One of the moms cut pieces and without thinking sliced right through the rose – a disaster for this little girl. “I shoulda had the rose!” she yelled. “I shoulda shoulda SHOULDA had the rose!” Nothing could calm her down, not even pushing the two pieces of cake together to look like a whole rose. Nothing else mattered, not the friends, not the presents, not the day as a whole: she was insistent, something MUST happen. She had, just HAD to get the whole rose.

 

It’s natural to move toward what feels good and away from what doesn’t, natural as well to have values, principles, and morals. But when these healthy inclinations become internal rules – “shoulds,” “musts,” and “gottas” – then there is a big problem. We feel driven, righteous, or like a failure. And we create issues for others – even a whole birthday party.

 

At bottom, “shoulds” are not about events. They’re about what you want to experience (especially emotions and sensations) if your demands on reality are met, or what you fear you’ll experience if they’re not.

 

Whether your “shoulds” are shaped by neural programs laid down when dinosaurs ruled the earth, or when you were in grade school, they often operate unconsciously or barely semi-consciously – all the more powerfully for lurking in the shadows.

 

Plus, in a deep sense, your “shoulds” control you. (I’m not talking here about healthy principles and desires, which you’re more able to reflect about and influence.)

 

Imagine what it would be like to drop your “shoulds” in an upsetting situation or relationship.

 

What’s this feel like? Probably relaxing, easing, and freeing.

You can and will continue to pursue wholesome aims in wholesome ways. But this time no longer chained to “shoulds.”

 

How?

 

As you explore the suggestions below, keep in mind that you can still behave ethically and assert yourself appropriately. Not one word in this JOT is about harming yourself or others, or being a doormat.

Bring to mind some situation or relationship that’s bothering you. Find a central “should” in your reactions to it, like “that can’t happen,” or “this must happen,” or “they can’t treat me this way,” or “I couldn’t stand ____ ,” or “you must ____ .” Notice that the “should” is a statement about reality, the way it is.

 

Then, facing this “should,” ask yourself a question: “Is it really true?” Let the answer reverberate inside you.


You could find that in fact the “should” is not true. Good things we “must” have – even a pink rose made of sugar and butter – often fail to arrive. And bad things that “must” not happen often do.

 

I don’t mean that we ought to let others off the moral hook or give up on making the world better. I mean that when we face reality in all its messy streaming complexity, we see that it exists independent of our rules, always wiggling free of the abstractions we try to impose upon it. This recognition of truth pulls you out of conceptualizing into direct experiencing, into being with “the thing-in-itself.” Which feels clear, peaceful, and free.

 

Consider again the situation or relationship that bothers you, and this time try to find an even deeper “should” that’s related to an experience you “must” have or avoid, such as “I’ll be so embarrassed if I have to give a talk,” or “I can’t stand to be alone,” or “I must feel successful.” Then, facing this “should,” ask yourself a question: “Is it really true?”

 

You’ll probably find that you could indeed bear the worst possible experience that would come if your “should” were violated. I’m not trying to minimize or dismiss how awful it might feel. But the adamancy, the insistence, built into a “should” is usually not true: you would live through the experience and get to the other side – and eventually other, better experiences would come to you. Most of us are so much more resilient, so much more capable, so much more surrounded by good things to draw upon, so much more contributing and loving than we think we are!

 

Also, consider the situation or relationship through the eyes of the others involved. Ask yourself if the things you think are imperatives, mandates, rules, necessities, etc. are like that for others. Probably not. And flip it around: what “shoulds” are alive in the minds of others . . . that you are violating. Yikes! When I think about this applied to situations I get cranky about, it’s very humbling.

 

A final thought: dropping the “shoulds” exposes you to a sense of vulnerability to life and the difficult feelings that come with it – and that can be hard. We use “shoulds” to try to hold at bay the pain and loss we all do or will inevitably face in full measure (some of course more than others). Yet the pain and loss that do come will come regardless of our “musts” and “can’ts” – which only delude us into thinking that this tissue of rules will somehow hold back life’s tide.

Paradoxically, by opening to this tide as it runs in your life – a deeper truer reality than can ever be contained by the nets of thought – you both reduce the uncomfortable friction imposed by “shoulds” upon those currents and increase your sense of opening out into and being lifted and carried by life’s beautiful stream.


Via Jim Manske
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Rescooped by Lisa Russo Pettigrew from Radical Compassion
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Does Wisdom Bring Happiness (or Vice Versa)?:Robert Wright

Does Wisdom Bring Happiness (or Vice Versa)?:Robert Wright | infertility | Scoop.it

"The happiness of your life depends on the quality of your thoughts," said Marcus Aurelius. If he's right, the path to well-being is straightforward: Avoid low-quality thoughts!

 

Sadly, it's far from clear that he's right. Decades of research into the relationship between reasoning ability and well-being have failed to find a clear link. But now comes a ray of hope for high-quality thinkers--a study suggesting that Marcus Aurelius is right so long as you define "quality of thought" carefully. And the study comes with a good pedigree--it will be published in the prestigious Journal of Experimental Psychology and features the eminent psychologist Richard Nisbett among its co-authors.

 

What's correlated with well-being, say Nisbett, Igor Grossman, and three other authors, isn't reasoning ability in the abstract but rather "wise reasoning"--reasoning that is "pragmatic," helping us "navigate important challenges in social life."

 

So, for starters, how did the researchers measure wise reasoning? Subjects in this study read a series of accounts of social conflicts and Dear-Abby-like dilemmas and then, in oral interviews, were invited to discuss how the stories might unfold in the future. Their responses were rated along such dimensions as "considering the perspectives of people involved in the conflict," "recognizing uncertainty and the limits of knowledge," and "recognizing the importance of ... compromise between opposing viewpoints." These ratings were the basis for a "wise reasoning" score.

 

For each of the subjects a second score was calculated that was intended to measure well-being. Its components included reported satisfaction with their lives and with their social relationships and a tendency toward positive expression.

 

It turned out that the two scores were correlated: the wiser people were, the higher their well-being.

 

Three interesting wrinkles:

[1] The older you get, the stronger the correlation. Wise young adults didn't exhibit much higher well-being than unwise young adults, but wise senior citizens had considerably higher well-being than their unwise peers. (Compare the slopes of the lines in the graph above.) So if you're young, cultivating wisdom is mainly a long-term investment. (That's probably a weak sales pitch for wisdom, since young people aren't known for thinking long term. I'm tempted to say they lack the wisdom to seek wisdom, but that would mean departing from this study's definition of wisdom, so never mind.)

 

[2] A second age-related issue: Well-being increases with age, and so does wise reasoning. Is it possible that getting older increases well-being and wisdom independently--that the wisdom itself has no effect on well-being? After all, gray hair increases with age and so does joint stiffness, but gray hair doesn't cause joint stiffness.

Through a statistical technique that I don't claim to grasp, the authors conclude that the answer is mixed. Part of the increase in well-being associated with age is caused by growing wisdom, but part of the increase happens for some other reason. That is, wisdom, is a "partially mediating" variable between age and well-being.

 

[3] Another causality question: Leaving aside the age issue, how should we interpret the general correlation between wise reasoning and well-being? Assuming a causal link between these two variables, does the wisdom lead to the well-being or does the well-being lead to the wisdom?

 

The latter is certainly plausible. When I'm in a good mood, it's easier to consider the perspectives of other people, and easier to focus on compromise--two components of wisdom as defined here. And presumably if I were in a good mood more often--if I had an enduringly high sense of well-being--my ability to thus exercise wisdom would remain pretty high.

 

The authors consider this question and offer grounds for doubting that it's the well-being that causes the wisdom, but they concede that the issue isn't completely settled.

 

I'm guessing the answer is a little of both: Wisdom leads to well-being, and well-being paves the way for wisdom--and, in particular, for wise action, not just a capacity for wise reasoning.

 

If that's true, then you can imagine getting swept up in a virtuous circle: Acting wisely reduces conflict in your life and strengthens your social relationships, and this fosters a sense of well-being that makes it easier to act wisely, and so on. But there's also the vicious circle scenario--a downward spiral featuring growing unhappiness, commensurately unwise action, deeper unhappiness, and so on.

 

The virtuous circle scenario is certainly more appealing. And it sounds like it wouldn't be that hard. But I'm old enough to know better.

 

 


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