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Proof Positive: Can Other People Make Us Happy?

When we feel love and kindness toward others it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.
— Dalai Lama

Are we happy when we get what we want?

It depends.

This year the keynote speaker at the American Psychological Association convention was Dr. Dan Gilbert of Harvard. His book Stumbling on Happiness is an international bestseller and his talk was about affective forecasting: Do we know what will make us happy?

He pointed out that we are hardwired from birth to be happy when we get salt, fat, sweet things and sex. Beyond that our culture provides us cues about what will make us happy. That was when he showed us a photo of his mother.

He explained that his mother was the cultural agent informing him of what will make him happy: Marry a nice girl, find a job you like, and have some children.

He took his mother to task with these things. Today we’ll talk about the first. Love and marriage will surely make us happy, yes?

Well, yes and no.

5 Comments to
Proof Positive: Can Other People Make Us Happy?

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  1. This is a fantastic article. I read Outliers and recall that section of the book. I smiled. I am thankful that I have been able to spend time with people I like more than ones I do not in the last few years. That really helps especially during difficult times. Again, thanks for the great post.

  2. A good reminder, Dr. Tomasulo, of the things we all probably learned when we entered kindergarten: find the Piglets!

    I have many Piglets in my life and even some in my practice and these relationships fill up the spirit with joy and happiness so that there is something in our vessels to pour out when people need us in the hard times.

    Thank you for your thoughts.
    Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP

  3. Sounds so nice. But consider the consequences of this recommendation.
    The consequences would include isolation of “unhappy” people, people with sorrows, problems, issues, even mentally ill people. All of them would have to be “avoided” and denied a healthy social contact. This leads to new stigmatisation, only a newer and more subtle discrimination.
    Consider this, and think again.
    Selfishness is not the solution, it’s much more part of the problem.

    A very dark backside of the medal, I think.

  4. I am a person that others would call a Piglet. I am upbeat, positive and interested in new things. But I have no friends. My life is lonely. I always wanted friends my whole life, but they just don’t happen. Most people are boring to me and I have no patience for the drivel they spend their time with. I often find people that I find interesting and I pursue friendships with them, but they never reciprocate. Yes, I have taken courses in winning friends and read tons of self help books, but nothing changes and I’m over 50 years old. I wish I have friends and feel that life would be better if I did.

  5. This is all easier said than done.Suppose a persons options for positive interactions are limited,as in the case of an individual whom others are predjudiced against,or are percieved as less-than-desirable,for whatever reason.(examples:bad publicity,autism,socio-ecomomic[and so less opportunity for engaging in their interests,and finding like-minded others,etc.],being perceived as having made mistakes,so others want to disassociate from them.

  6. (continued from previous comment)There are many,many reasons why people are marginalized,and it probably would be helpful if social engineers discovered the reasons for the bad behavior that people seem to be conditioned and socialized into participating in:increasing group acceptance for themselves at the cost of the person perceived as less-desirable:bullying,crabs-in-a-basket behavior,negative factioning,mob mentality,ostracism,interfering with anothers social opportunities because of self-righteous hatred of that indiv.[which happened to me this morning,although I’m sure that that hateful Woman with the loud car horn felt she was justified!]

  7. (continued from previous comment)However,in the given example,I find that being accepted by any “community”revolves on their perceptions of each situation as a learning opportunity,That if people could see even a person who is widely perceived as undesirable as an actual Human Being,instead of,someone who is only worthy of bad behavior,(and they feel justified in dishing it out).No matter what their justification for their predjudice,or their nefarious motivations.I continously observe myself for these inclinations,and so am able to understand and forgive others,although their type of behavior should never be condoned or rewarded!

  8. As a DID person, there was no way I could be happy until I made peace with myself and ‘others’ inside; as long as division existed within; we couldn’t “survive” in a happy state.

    In our opinion, happiness lays in the perceptions, and solely within perceptions (once you get past the basic survival needs dictated by Maslow’s “laws”.) When we saw a starving beggar in India one day we realized: if this man can be happy (and he was, VERY!) – then why can’t I as a ‘fat and rich American” do it. And we’ve been working on it ever since – with much to moderate success (DID issues springing from child abuse issues makes it a little tough going; but much better here lately in the past few months – and no, have done it without any therapist or therapy – using only myself, ‘me’, and my ‘inners’.) Smiling right now, speaking of which – and wishing you all the happiness to come – if you can only learn … it comes from within; and NOT from without one’s own body and mind.



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