Category Archives for Core Teachings

Harvard Study Reveals Secret to Happiness

Harvard’s Robert Waldinger asks: “If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy?” Take a second to answer the professor’s question… Get a pencil or pen and write it down on a piece of paper. Doing this will help you anchor the learning. Don’t read on until you’ve written it down. Okay? Got it? In a second, we’ll see if your answer is congruent with findings of his research on happiness. 

What? There’s research on Happiness? Yes...

Waldinger’s inquiry may be one of the most important questions you or I ever ask ourselves and our friends and family. We all have our own working theory about what the best way to invest in our future selves. But are we right? The problem is, our answers are likely just opinions. There is little research-based guidance with science that can actually show what works to produce desirable results. 

Until now.

For 80 years, the Harvard Study of Adult Development—the study that Waldinger directs—researchers have followed and documented the lives of 724 men. (More recently, they added their wives and children). The data include detailed questionnaires each participant fills out every two years, as well as data from medical exams, blood tests, brain scans, records of interim medical exams and videotaped conversations with spouses and families.

All this data gives Waldinger and his colleagues insights into human needs we’ve never had before: They know why some people live long healthy and happy lives and why others die early after a shorter life of pain, depression and dementia.

The reason for the discrepancy between the two groups will surprise you. Refer now to what you wrote down at the beginning, the Secret to Happiness.

Research shows that the secret to happiness isn’t genetics or economic status or food or fitness regimens. Those things may influence, but they aren’t the driver. Waldinger says: “The clearest message that we get from this [80-year] study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Good relationships are the key!

Three Key Elements of Relationships

Waldinger cites three elements of relationships that emerge from the mass of data from the study. First, social connections are what support us. And conversely, loneliness is a killer.

Having friends or a marriage can cut both ways. That is, high levels of conflict and low levels of support from friends and spouse can be as bad as—or even worse than—no relationship at all. Second point: What matters is a high-quality, low-conflict relationship. Living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.

Protective against what?, you might ask. Here again, the data sheds new light on human life and happiness. As people age, we tend to experience pain from various breakdowns in the body: joint replacements, arthritis, back pain, muscular and nervous conditions—on and on. It turns out that a happy person has a much easier time facing pain. People who are alone, on the other hand, feel the pain more acutely. It’s almost as if their mental suffering amplifies their physical pain, and vice-versa.  

That leads to the third point: “Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.” Waldinger says the data shows that people who are in relationship with others whose loyalty they trust keep sharper faculties of memory for a longer time. Those who are not in trusting relationships suffer early decline in brain function.  

If you have read this far, congratulations! May I ask you, how do you feel knowing the secret to happiness?

If you’re like most people, you might be feeling a bit disappointed. It’s like learning that the key to life is at the top of El Capitan in Yosemite, and all you have to do is to scale the cliff without ropes to get it!

But this where the Harvard study leaves off. It shows that some people found the key to life—good relationships—and others didn’t. Those who managed to find the key (whether by skill, luck or some mysterious combination of the two) had long healthy happy lives. Those who didn’t find it experienced more more suffering, more physical pain, reduced brain and body function, earlier death.

But what about you? What about any person who knows her relationships could be better? How does she get off the sinking ship and step onto the one that will carry her through her life? How do you go about changing your lot?

How can you create good relationships in your life? 

Remember the second thing researchers learned from this study: high levels of conflict on an ongoing basis are destructive and dangerous. Let’s start there!

Changing a relationship in your own life where conflict has become habitual is never easy. You’ve got some bad habits to break. Where do you begin? Well, conflicts may be protracted by silence, but they erupt in conversations. So let’s start with the conversation.

The essence of my training for business women is conversation training. It’s a very precise and disciplined way of talking about emotions and needs. Many people shirk the model because they prefer to “wing it.” Basically that means that they want to give vent freely to their judgments. But that’s exactly why the Empathic Communication model is structured: to prevent hurting someone (or yourself) by shooting from the hip.

So even though its discipline and precise, that doesn’t mean it’s rational or unfeeling. Quite the contrary. It requires discipline because it gives both parties a chance to speak exactly what the feel.

Marshall Rosenberg, the inventor of the genius core technology of Empathic Communication (usually called Nonviolent Communication or NVC), called this process of feeling communication “sharing what’s alive in you.” Usually, that doesn’t mean what was alive in you yesterday or last year--but really what is going on for you right now. And it’s about first giving the other person space to say what’s alive in them. And listening with empathy.

But I’m leaving out a step - Step Zero.

Usually when you get upset in a situation, you need to take yourself out of it for a while to give yourself empathy. To really listen to the part of you that’s hurting and to give supportive words of love and caring to yourself. Only when you feel whole and complete, calm and restored do you return to the conflict you were in.

Here is a schematic of the conversations that you’ll want to have to resolve your conflict:

  1. Self Empathy conversation (by yourself),
  2. Empathy for Other conversation (you give empathy to the other),
  3. Honesty conversation (you share what you feel and need).

The Most Soothing Sentence in the English Language

The three conversations, at their core, are identical. They involve a sentence that goes like this: When I see/hear_______, I feel __________ because I need ___________ and my request is for you/myself to _________.

There’s actually some real work you’ll need to do before you can fill in those four blanks. The following four steps…

STEP 1. OBSERVE. Remember exactly what happened that triggered you, like a video camera would recall it: no judgment. The first time through the steps, you will recall for yourself what you observed. Remember that your observation may be inaccurate or incomplete and that the information you received may be inaccurate or incomplete.

STEP 2. FEEL & NAME YOUR FEELINGS. (Use Feelings List on the next page to name your feelings.) Name your emotions. You can begin with the big categories: Glad, Mad, Sad, Bad, and Afraid. Then get more specific. Often feelings come in clusters. Try to tease them out.  “I feel upset. I feel afraid. I feel angry. I feel nervous about feeling this way.” Note that these feelings are pointing, like a compass, to your core needs.

STEP 3. FIND YOUR NEED AND PREPARE TO FILL IT. (Use Needs List on the next page to name your needs.) Identify your needs. Begin with your feelings and follow where they point—to your needs. Needs are universal, shared by all human beings, key to being healthy and happy. They represent what you value in life and what you need to survive and thrive, to feel happiness, joy and fulfillment. Painful emotions point to needs that are unmet. Begin with the category: Security, Autonomy, Community, Possibility. Then get more specific. Go from each individual feeling you’ve identified to each need you have. Get clear on each and write

them down so you can remember.

STEP 4. MAKE A REQUEST. The request is your chance to get your needs met and to find out what the other person wants in order to get his or her needs met. Make sure your request is not a demand in disguise—you only want a “yes” if it’s heartfelt. And you’ll only give a “yes” to someone else’s request when it’s heartfelt in you. This is a radical break from unconscious and codependent unwritten “YOU SHOULD” agreements people often make and break with each other.

Transforming Relationships with the People Who Are Most Important to You

Getting through the four steps may be more difficult than you expect. If you are trying to do it and struggling, let’s talk. Here and there when I have a free time block, I’m offering a free 50-minute Breakthrough Conversation. You canschedule one by simply clicking this link.  You’ll be taken to my updated schedule. Take these three steps: 

  1. First, select your time zone from the drop down list, then click the Set Time Zone button.
  2. Then scroll through months February thru May to find an available date in bold. Click it, then click Continue.
  3. You'll be taken to a questionnaire. Once you fill it out, you'll be all set! Catherine will call you to answer any questions on your Preview Call.

Please let me know if you have questions. Thanks! 

How your love of rodents can land you in prison (and how to avoid that!)

A man known to neighbors as “the Squirrel Guy” was just sentenced to twelve years in prison. Why? It has to do with his love of squirrels. And his reverence for his parents, who are deceased.

This story is just weird enough that if we can untangle it, we will glimpse a flaw in human nature that, if we can understand it, could decrease suffering and increase joy for practically everyone.

Lets start with a question: What is the cause of all of your conflicts with the people in your life? Dr. Marshall Rosenberg, clinical psychologist who created Nonviolent Communication, or NVC, says conflict is:

Unmet Needs, Tragically Expressed.

To understand this phrase, you need to know what Rosenberg meant by “unmet needs” and what he is referring to as “tragic”.

Unmet Needs
First, what are Needs? These are universal things we need to be healthy and happy. Basic things like physical sustenance and security, energy, movement, freedom, autonomy, creativity, honesty, belonging, compassion, intimacy, support, appreciation, play, beauty, meaning, purpose.

You have “unmet needs” in any conversation or relationship where one or more of these basic, core needs are not being met–like security, honesty etc.  The way you know you are experiencing unmet needs is that you are feeling negative emotions, such as anger, fear, shame and sadness.

Tragically Expressed
Here we are in conflict with someone, but our needs aren’t being expressed with words, clearly and accurately. Most people don’t have needs awareness and literacy, so we are not clearly telling each other what we need and want – because we don’t really know ourselves. At best we talk to each other about the strategies we have for filling our needs.

The other part of the tragedy here is that most people have destructive communication habits that disconnect them from others, and greatly lessen their chances of getting their needs met. These habits may sound familiar – diagnosing, analyzing, criticizing, judging others or self as good or bad, denying choice, blaming, threatening, bribing, demanding.

Tragically Expressed
As an example of unmet needs tragically expressed, I offer you “the Squirrel Guy.” But first, I’d like you to call up one of your own examples, in your mind’s eye–so you can make this real for you. Remember the last really hot-headed argument you had with someone. How did you attempt to explain to the other person what was going on for you and what you wanted?

Now, we return to our poster child of unmet needs tragically expressed, the Squirrel Guy. Jon is a 60-year-old man who lives in Colorado. Last year Jon’s neighbor, Jeffrey, was unhappy about Jon feeding the squirrels, so he took down the signs Jon had posted in the neighborhood to explain that he feeds squirrels to commune with the spirits of his deceased parents. The signs also expressed Jon’s dismay about being harassed by neighbors, who were apparently creating problems for him with the Police and Animal Control.

The situation continued to escalate until Jon’s solution became drastic. He loaded his gun. When Jeffrey came over to talk, they argued. Afterwards, as Jeffrey was walking away, Jon shot him in the back. Now he’s in prison for murder.

Yes, it’s an extreme case. And yet, isn’t it true that we often “shoot each other” psychologically when we are in conflict?

Lets rewind the video for Jon and Jeffrey. Had Jon been trained in NVC or had called me for help – instead of shooting Jeffrey he would have said something like this.

At the first sign of trouble about the squirrels he would have had a conversation with himself, to understand his feelings and needs (also known as self empathy):

“I am feeling so angry. I want respect and consideration from the people around here. I want the freedom to feed squirrels without getting bothered, so I can stay connected to mom and dad. I am afraid of having problems with the police (safety).”

Then he would have had a silent conversation with himself about Jeffrey’s feelings and needs. This is empathy for other.

“I think Jeffrey is feeling angry too, though I don’t understand why it is such a big deal for him. Maybe he really buys into this thing about squirrels spreading diseases, so he is wanting to protect his health (safety). I can see how he could be angry or afraid if he really believes these squirrels could make him sick.”

What he might have spoken out loud, to Jeffrey, when he came over:

“Are you open for having a conversation about this squirrel thing Jeffrey? I’m guessing, since I think I saw you/heard about you taking down my signs, that you are feeling upset that there are too many squirrels in the neighborhood and I’m adding to the problem. Is that right?

“Can you tell me more about why the squirrels are upsetting for you?”

He would continue with this dialog until he really understood what Jeffrey was needing, and felt genuine empathy for his experience. Then he might say:

“Jeffrey, are you willing to hear what I’m experiencing about the squirrel issue? Well, I’ve been missing my parents a lot, but I notice that I feel really connected with them when I see the squirrels, since they were such animal lovers. So I’d like to have the freedom to continue feeding them.

“I’ve also been feeling upset because people have complained to the police and Animal Control, and I would like to stay out of trouble and also feel safe and welcome in my own neighborhood.

“Would you be willing to take some time to talk about how we can manage this situation so that you know that you are not going to catch a disease from the squirrels, and so that I can still enjoy living here?”

Hopefully, we can all learn from the Squirrel Guy. During conflict, needs don’t have to be tragically expressed, and instead you can give yourself and the other person some empathy and some clarity around the needs that are not yet met.

Hey, you made it all the way to the end of this article! Congrats! I’d like to give you this reward. If you have a conflict that’s bothering you, I’d like to offer you a chance to take this conflict apart so you can get some space and clarity with it.

If you are having some challenge in an important work or personal relationship, I’m offering you a free Breakthrough Conversations next week.

Here is what you can look forward to receiving from our time together.

  • Create clarity about what you want your relationships to look and feel like.
  • Discover how to make them that way.
  • Learn the #1 thing stopping you from having the quality of conversations you want. (NOTE: Everything you get in life comes through your conversations!)
  • Complete the session with the excitement of knowing EXACTLY what to do next to create respectful, honest, loving connections with people!

I’ll leave you with a quote today by entrepreneur and environmentalist Paul Hawken: “When we listen to people, our language softens. Listening may be the cardinal act of giving… it is the source of peace.”

Recent praise from a C-level executive about me:
“The value of working with you is the subtlety of your mind and your distinctions. I was exposed to NVC years ago – and got nothing out of it. I thought it was silly.  But you make Marshall’s work real. If it is a valuable relationship and you’re struggling, you just don’t figure it out with a book.”