Two Favorite Qualities About Happy People

There are two qualities that I notice that clients master as their happiness increases. When I look at other people in my life, I notice that my happiest friends and family have these in abundance. They are adaptability and flexibility. Even though they sound similar, they have separate and important functions in mentally healthy people. Adaptability is often about things you cannot control, whereas flexibility is being able to welcome others’ preferences even when they are not your own.

nature's mantra: adapt and be flexible

Why Adaptability and Flexibility?

Let’s first look at a class of people who have a very hard time navigating life: those with personality disorders (Borderline, Narcissistic, Avoidant etc. — there are 10 types).

Personality disorders are pervasive and enduring character issues that are extremely difficult to treat. And they all share a common characteristic: these people have only one way to be. They might appear normal or relatively well-functioning in a few areas, but this is mainly because their “one way of being” is well suited for that area.  They cannot adapt to others’ needs, and they have rigid ways of seeing themselves and others. Because they experience the world in such a restricted way, they have a lot of trouble with relationships, problem-solving, and coping.

Therefore, it is not surprising on the flip side that people who demonstrate an increased ability to adapt and be flexible are happier and better adjusted. In session, I help clients see different ways to approach problems, and we come up with possible solutions that feel comfortable to them. But it is always an exercise in getting them to adopt a more flexible viewpoint of themselves and the people around them.

Increase Your Adaptability

I think of adaptability as a personality trait, but one that you can increase with focused effort. When approaching your life’s tasks, try considering how many possible outcomes would be satisfactory to you. For example, if you discover that your favorite restaurant isn’t open on your birthday, can you move on from that disappointment quickly? If you get assigned your second (or third or fourth) choice room in your sorority, task at a work event, part in a school play, daycare location for your child — can you adjust? How long does it take you to accept your new situation and do your best with it?

When things don’t go as planned, allow yourself some time to be disappointed, but then gather your perspective and try to focus on the positive. Adaptability is mind-over-matter arm wrestling of your brain.

These sound like small examples, but we are faced with needing to adapt many times throughout the day, and someone you know would truly lose their cool over a situation above. It’s not that we can’t allow disappointment or frustration over these situations, but the quicker we can adapt, the happier we will be.

Increase Your Flexibility

Flexibility in the moment is crucial to turning difficulties into minor blips throughout your day and is more action-oriented than adaptability. Flexibility is a great quality to have when dealing with others (provided you are still able to exert some framework — nobody likes to hear, “anything is fine with me” TOO much!) It is fun to eat out with flexible eaters who like many kinds of food. It is great to sit down for TV with a flexible partner who likes both baseball and reality shows. When we are running late, we are relieved to be meeting a flexible friend who says “no problem” because that friend is adaptable and flexible, too.

To increase your flexibility, think about some of your strongest preferences, how you exert them, and how you might try being more flexible on occasion. If you are always the one choosing the restaurant, the daycare, the home decor, the movie — ease up. Increasing flexibility often begins by asking questions, being curious about others’ preferences, and open-minded about their choices.

To increase your happiness and decrease stress, think about how you can become a more adaptable person AND use more flexibility with others and yourself.

The Number One Thing That Will Make Your Relationship Better

Couples therapists have a variety of approaches, but the best ones center around an important principle: giving up the fantasy of changing your partner and instead clarifying your priorities and next actions. Let me explain why and what this looks like.

One of our jobs in a partnership is to state thoughts and feelings clearly. It is NOT our job to make someone else think or feel the same way. Couples engage in the same argument again and again because each partner keeps doing the same behavior and trying to change the other.  When we try to change others, we often get caught up in blaming and lose track of what’s important to us.

Have an independent and clear view of what you want

Instead of focusing on winning an argument, or the choices your partner is making, put your worry energy into your own problems. Translate your anger into clear, non-blaming statements about your own self. Clarify your own priorities and see what your next action might be. The goal is to break a pattern and develop a stronger sense of self.

Chronic anger and bitterness is a red flag to strengthen the “I” in the relationship. Re-examine yourself with a view towards discovering what you think, feel, and want. Own your problems and let your partner own his.

It is easy to lose confidence when your choices are not met with your partner’s approval. We are so used to allowing others to approve or reject even small decisions. Although it is important to accept influence from someone important in your life, when it comes to chronic arguments — perpetual problems — it is important to take up your own cause. Carve out a clear and separate “I” and enjoy intimacy and aloneness.

What are some of the benefits to this change?

  • You get what you want more often — and you REALLY clarify what that is because you are in control of your choices and outcomes, not what someone else is or isn’t doing.
  • You free yourself from controlling another person and let them sort out their own problems.
  • You greatly decrease bickering and resentment in your relationship.
  • Your partner is also relieved of meddling in your life and you can focus on more positive things in your relationship.

We can help you understand or implement these concepts! Come in on your own or as a couple for a few sessions so we can help you apply this to your own life situations.

Should Couples Share Money?

Love and money are sensitive topics by themselves.  Put them together and a therapist has a lot of material on the table.  So let’s begin with the most general of questions: in a committed, long-term monogamous relationship, should you and your partner combine your money?

My answer is a resounding YES. Give me a reason you and your partner don’t completely pool your money and I will show you a relationship issue waiting to be solved.

Many couples today have shared households prior to getting married (including some who don’t marry at all.)  So even before considering pooling their money together, most couples have tackled some important issues about money.  How will we split the rent?  What about the food I buy but you eat?  I earn less money than you, so should I contribute the same amount to our vacation?  For many couples, there is a natural point in their relationship to discuss combined money.  Marriage, moving in together, a large purchase such as a home or car, or a shared responsibility like a pet are all good times.  You and your loved one are taking steps in a committed, long-term monogamous relationship.

It’s not only logistics that are difficult when thinking about combining money, though.  There are a lot of emotional reasons behind couples who are tempted to keep money separate, and it’s these emotions that I like to address in therapy.  For example,I hear arguments like these:

  • I just want my own spending money each month so that he doesn’t judge the way I shop.
  • He came into the relationship with a lot of debt and when we pay that off we will combine money.
  • My mom didn’t work and she always felt like she had to ask permission for money from my dad and I don’t want to have to do that.
  • We can agree to make the big purchases together but for all the rest it is simpler to do our own thing.

I won’t go through each of these point by point, but all of these concerns share one thing in common: they are not really about money.  They are about feelings about each other and ourselves: judgment from a partner, or resentment, or fear.  Insecurity, guilt, lack of compromise. They are the things we talk about in couples counseling anyway — trust, independence and confidence in decision-making.

I believe that every person deserves to feel empowered and capable of living within a budget created with a shared future in mind, and this includes having discretionary income.  Separating money does not necessarily accomplish this.  In fact, it avoids the discussion and potential to resolve the secrecy and division.

This doesn’t mean that all relationship issues behind money arrangements NEED to be solved!  Plenty of couples are perfectly happy with their situation and there is no need to change something that is working.  But, for example, you cannot put a price tag on raising kids or commuting hours every day to work; these are important things partners do that don’t grow the bank account.  And when you begin to quantify time, effort, and value on each partner’s contributions in a nickel-and-diming way, it becomes a chore. When you are in a committed relationship with someone else you are taking all parts of them — not just their good days and charming habits, but their poker games and pedicures too.  A couple is building a shared life together and that should incorporate different values of material items and difficult choices about allocation of time and money.

Couples who find a way to address their concerns and hopes behind taking on a partner’s debt, or spending habits, or family inheritance are a step ahead.

Let us know if we can help you with money squabbles — big or small.  Contact us!