Headshots_Vertical_0002By: Megan Lundgren, LMFT

For those who gamble their hard-earned money on the lottery, one big question must be asked:

Is winning the lottery really the key to happiness?

The short answer? No. Here’s why.

A famed 1978 study by Philip Brickman, Dan Coates, and Ronnie Janoff-Bulman at NorthWestern University and the University of Massachusetts indicated that people who win the lottery immediately experience a surge in happiness, yet soon experience a gradual return to their previous happiness homeostasis.  Lottery winners evidently drifted back to the same level of happiness that they experienced before their lottery win because of a phenomenon called the ‘hedonic treadmill’. According to the researchers, “the thrill of winning the lottery will itself wear off” as the winners become accustomed to the pleasures made possible by their new wealth.

Perhaps even more shocking than the finding that happiness isn’t a guarantee when winning the lottery is the study’s second finding: that when measuring the happiness levels of individuals who had experienced a significant trauma in their life (becoming a quadriplegic), happiness levels significantly decreased immediately after the accident, but nearly balanced to their previous pre-accident levels of happiness shortly thereafter. Major life events such as winning the lottery or becoming paralyzed may have relatively little impact on a person’s overall happiness throughout their lifetime.

So, what could possibility be better than winning the lottery?

As it turns out, the answer is community. 

Close relationships are both powerful and consistent in their ability to increase positive feelings. When individuals derive happiness from close relationships (rather than from winning a massive monetary prize), they are more likely to continue to derive happiness from their relationships on an ongoing basis.  In a 2002 study by positive psychology pioneers Edward Diener and Martin Seligman at the University of Illinois, the most salient characteristics shared by the students with the highest levels of happiness were strong ties to family and friends, and commitment to spending time with them.  “Word needs to be spread,” writes Diener, “It is important to work on social skills, close interpersonal ties and social support in order to be happy.”

Why are social relationships so significant to happiness? Communities provide a sense of identity and purpose: belonging to a group may help individuals to understand who they are, and allow them to feel that they are a part of something larger than themselves. As a result of the happiness boost that occurs when social relationships are strong, individuals who develop strong social connections experience fewer physical ailments, fewer mental health diagnoses, and increased resilience from trauma or illness.

Psychologist James H. Fowler analyzed data of 5,000 individuals over a 20 year span, and found that happiness has a contagious effect. In Fowler’s study, individuals who were happy not only impacted the happiness levels of their friends, but also positively impacted the happiness of their friends’ friends. So, if happiness results from social relationships, and social relationships spread feelings of happiness throughout communities, why wouldn’t individuals increase their social involvement to take advantage of this positive happiness cycle?

Unfortunately, mental illness promotes its own cycle of unhappiness. Individuals who are anxious or depressed are more likely to socially isolate themselves, resulting in increased anxiety and depression. Often, individuals with mental illness experience feelings of vulnerability and shame around their symptoms or diagnoses, which further fuels their reluctance to engage in social relationships.

However, what happens when depressed or anxious individuals resist the urge to socially isolate, and instead bravely express their feelings to others? A 2012 study from Stanford by Katharina Kircanski, Matthew D. Lieberman, and Michelle G. Craske indicates that verbally expressing vulnerable feelings may help individuals more quickly feel less anxious or depressed.

Popular author, speaker, and sociological researcher, Brene Brown, explains that vulnerably disclosing sensitive information, such as feelings of anxiety and depression, may result in individuals been more well-liked. “We are actually drawn to people who are real and down-to-earth,” says Brown. “We love authenticity and we know that life is messy and imperfect.” Brown suggests that when a person is honest and vulnerable, it gives others the space and permission to be the same – thus improving social bonding and often increasing feelings of happiness in both the individual and their peers. Rather than burdening others with their true feelings, individuals with mental health challenges may open doors for valued relationships within their community.

For those who spend a few dollars on lottery tickets this month, perhaps consider saving your money for coffee with a friend next time – it may be more powerful than those winning numbers.

 

References:

Brickman, P., Coates, D., & Janoff-Bulman, R. (n.d.). Lottery winners and accident victims: Is happiness relative? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 917-927.

Brown, C. (2010). The gifts of imperfection: Let go of who you think you’re supposed to be and embrace who you are. Center City, Minn.: Hazelden.

Diener, E., & Seligman, M. (n.d.). Beyond Money: Toward an Economy of Well-Being. Social Indicators Research Series The Science of Well-Being, 201-265.

Fowler, J., & Christakis, N. (2008). Dynamic spread of happiness in a large social network: Longitudinal analysis over 20 years in the Framingham Heart Study. Bmj.

Kircanski, K., Lieberman, M., & Craske, M. (2012). Feelings Into Words: Contributions of Language to Exposure Therapy. Psychological Science, 1086-1091.

   

Headshots_Vertical_0002by Megan Lundgren, LMFT

Trump. Clinton.  The fervor and fright around these presidential hopefuls is rapidly intensifying as the nation approaches November’s presidential elections. Divisive topics are often discouraged in polite dialogue due to the relational conflict they may promote, as noted by the old adage, “Never talk about politics or religion at the dinner table.” However, new research sheds light on the importance of engaging in adaptive relationships with individuals who may diversify perspectives within families or communities.

“Simply interacting with individuals who are different forces group members to prepare better, to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching consensus will take effort,” writes Katherine Philips, dean at Columbia University in Scientific American (How Diversity Makes Us Smarter, 2013). In 2013, Denise Lewin Loyd of the University of Illinois, Cynthia Wang of Oklahoma State University, and Robert B. Lount, Jr., of Ohio State University divided nearly 200 students who identified as Democrats and Republicans into groups that were equally spit between individuals from their own political party and the alternative party. Students were then asked to solve a fictional murder mystery and write a convincing essay communicating their perspective to another group member. Students were told that their partner currently disagreed with their opinion on the murderer, but were tasked to convince their partner to ultimately agree with their perspective. Half of the students in the study were told that their partner shared their political beliefs, and the other half were told that their partner had opposing political beliefs.

The outcome of this landmark study was that Republicans who were informed that a fellow Republican disagreed with them prepared more poorly for the discussion than Republicans who were told that a Democrat disagreed with them. The same pattern was present for Democrats. “When disagreement comes from a socially different person, we are prompted to work harder. Diversity jolts us into cognitive action in ways that homogeneity simply does not,” writes Philips.

The finding that political diversity improves a group’s performance is reminiscent of similar studies regarding racial diversity within groups. In 2006, Margaret Neale from Stanford University and Gregory Northcraft of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign explored the impact of racial diversity on small decision-making groups in which sharing information was a necessity for success. Half of the study’s groups were racially homogenous, and half were racially diverse. Just like the 2013 politically diverse study by Loyd, Wang, and Lount, Neale and Northcraft discovered that the groups with racial diversity significantly outperformed the groups with no racial diversity.

These studies suggest that when individuals believe that they are surrounded by other individuals who have similar beliefs or backgrounds, they inadvertently perceive that the group all holds the same information and perspectives. Ultimately, this assumption hinders group creativity, innovation, and problem-solving abilities.

Does this body of research indicate that political arguments should be promoted at family dinner tables across America? Not necessarily. Many individuals may agree that political disagreements in a group can cause discomfort, a lack of trust, interpersonal conflict, less cohesion, and more concern about disrespect, among other challenges. In addition to relational strain, a series of new research suggests that political disagreements may also simply be ineffective at changing minds. A 2010 study by Brendan Nyhan from the University of Michigan hold a warning for those who may now be eager to debate the latest political scandal, policy, or inflammatory speech. According to Nyhan, a phenomenon called “backfire” causes individuals to adhere to their original beliefs more ardently when presented with contradictory facts (“When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misperceptions”, 2013).

These studies suggests that humans are hard-wired to avoid the mental stress of cognitive dissonance, and thus adopt a defense mechanism that confirms previously held beliefs – even when they are disproved. “It’s threatening to us to admit that things we believe are wrong. And all of us, liberals and conservatives have some beliefs that aren’t true, and when we find that out, it’s threatening to our beliefs and ourselves,” reflected Nyhan on National Public Radio’s Talk of the Nation.

How does one proceed if researchers assert that political diversity is essential to the helping groups optimally solve problems, but also indicates that political arguments are likely to leave individuals more deeply ingrained in previously-held belief systems? The research noted in this article convincingly asserts that individuals may be hindered in their intellect when they associate only with those who they perceive as holding similar beliefs. And yet, the benefits of political diversity were not observed in direct discussions about politics, but rather in non-political discussion. In fact, the backfire phenomenon suggests that intellect may be damaged by political debates with opposing individuals. Perhaps one actionable conclusion to consider is building and maintaining close relationships with politically diverse groups of people, while not necessarily fixating on convincing one another to adopt certain political beliefs.

Do we need to start talking about politics at the dinner table? It seems that sharing multi-faceted personal narratives may be more effective than debating political facts.

 

References

In Politics, Sometimes The Facts Don’t Matter. (n.d.). Retrieved April 01, 2016, from http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=128490874

Lloyd, D., Wang, C. S., Phillips, K. W., & Lount, R. B. (2012). Social Category Diversity Promotes Pre-Meeting Elaboration: The Role of Relationship Focus. Organizational Science.

Phillips, K. W. (2014, October 1). How Diversity Makes Us Smarter. Scientific American.

When Corrections Fail: The Persistence of Political Misconceptions. Retrieved April 1, 2016, fromhttp://www.dartmouth.edu/~nyhan/nyhan-reifler.pdf

   

Joanna_Raabsmith_Vertical_0001

 We have deeply enjoyed having Joanna Raabsmith on staff as a Therapist at Relationships For Better for about six months – she is truly a compassionate and insightful Therapist!

 

Joanna received her Master of Science in Marital and Family Therapy and Master of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary. She lives in the San Gabriel Valley with her husband, daughter and dog. Joanna is passionate about the importance of balancing spiritual, emotional, and physical health. In addition to Therapy, Joanna teaches yoga and develops marital retreats for pastors and their spouses.  Today, we have the opportunity to get to know this gifted and skilled Therapist a little better!
 

-Megan Lundgren, LMFT

 

Joanna, why is psychotherapy important to you?

So many of us find ourselves trapped, caught in unhealthy cycles and relationship patterns, hopeless but wanting change. I want to come alongside you, helping you find insight into those patterns and discover the healing truths about yourself. This moment of insight opens up the possibility of change, allowing you to live your best self in all relationships. Psychotherapy is important to me because it works! I have witnessed psychotherapy bring about the transforming journey from a place of hopelessness to place of freedom in my own life and in the lives of my clients.

 

What kinds of  people do you feel are an especially good fit for therapy with you?

I have had a lot of success working with couples in transforming their interactions to restore love and trustworthiness to their relationship. I also enjoy working with individuals, helping them in their pursuit of a life well lived.

 

How would you describe therapy with you?

Therapy with me is a journey that begins with discovery and understanding of your story, as you share your pain, passions, and hopes in a safe environment. As trust is developed, we begin to work as a team, helping you discover obstacles and opportunities to greater health.

 

Sounds great! What’s one thing that you think is important for readers to know before they come to therapy?

The best time to come to therapy is now! Your path to a healthier future begins by taking concrete steps in the right direction. If you are in crisis, you will begin to learn skills to manage and heal from the pain. Even if you are not in crisis, working with me to develop healthy patterns will create a solid foundation for whatever life may bring you in the future.

 

Any last words for our readers?

I look forward to hearing your story and helping you find healing and restoration in your life and relationships. Please call today and we can begin that process!

 

Thanks, Joanna! We value your commitment to serving through therapy!

—–

Joanna Raabsmith can be reached at 626.803.2236 or emailed at Joanna@RelationshipsForBetter.com

   

Alex_Van_Fleet_MFT_Intern

Alex Van Fleet, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern, has been a respected member of our team at Relationships For Better for the past couple months. Today, we have the privilege of  getting to know this gifted and skilled therapist even better! Enjoy!

-Megan Lundgren, LMFT, Director of Relationships For Better

 

Alex received his Master of Science in Marital and Family Therapy at Fuller Theological Seminary.  He currently lives in the San Fernando Valley with his wife and two children.  He spent his formative years growing up in Kenya and hopes to take his family back to visit some day.  Alex enjoys soccer, golf, camping and competing in sprint triathlons.

 

Alex, why is psychotherapy important to you?

I often tell people, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”  It illustrates the power that insight can have in our lives.  Before change can occur we must first learn what is going on.  I want to help people identify negative patterns in your life and provide tools to help replace them with new life-giving actions and transforming truths to bring about healing and restoration in their relationships.

 

What kinds of  people do you feel are an especially good fit for therapy with you?

I love working with people who are motivated to change their lives. Couples therapy and therapy with youth/families are my passions.

 

How would you describe therapy with you?

I provide a safe, non-judgmental space for people to share, heal, forgive and discover new truths that get to the root of issues and bring about permanent transformation.

 

Sounds great! What’s one thing that you think is important for readers to know before they come to therapy?

I like to describe therapy as “work” because it takes intentional effort, vulnerability and persistence to bring about meaningful change in our lives.  Let’s be honest, relationships are hard work!  I believe that people can change and I want to instill that hope in every person I see in therapy.

 

Any last words for our readers?

I’d like to come alongside you on your journey to healing and restoration.  Call me.  I can help.

 

I agree!

Alex Van Fleet, Marriage and Family Therapist Intern #89113, can be called at (626) 765-1214 or emailed at Alex@RelationshipsForBetter.com

 

   
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Monrovia Marriage Therapistby Megan Lundgren, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist

In this holiday season, many couples may escape to vacation getaways for relaxation and a taste of luxury. But should couples consider making their vacation plans a little more adventurous if they want to spark intimacy in their relationship?

In her long-term study on 373 married couples since 1986, Dr. Terry Orbuch has found that passionate attraction (defined as arousal, excitement, and mystery in relationships) unsurprisingly spikes in the beginning stages of relationships. Racing hearts, twitterpated feelings and a feeling of being fully alive are the hallmarks of couples who are freshly in love.  Exciting as the sensation of passion might be, this physiological and emotional intensity is often not continuously sustained in relationships through years of commitment – in fact, Dr. Orbuch’s study found that passion in relationships tends to wane after about 18 months (5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, 2009).

So, how can you cultivate attraction in your relationship?

In his bestseller, Five Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage from Good to Great, Dr. Terri Orbuch suggests engaging in arousal-producing activities to replicate the adrenaline-surge of early relationships. “Going on a vigorous hike or a roller-coaster ride, parachuting out of a plan, and watching a scary movie [are] almost like fooling your brain that the arousal produced is really due to your relationship,” says Dr. Orbuch.

After adding novel activities like deep-sea fishing and zorbing to the ideas for date-night, couples may feel exhilarated but insecure, asking themselves if authentic and sustainable passion can truly return to their relationship in more meaningful ways.  Feeling disconnected or stale in relationships is one of the most frequently stated reasons for seeking couples therapy at our counseling practice.  Is there hope for mutual engagement and interest in long-term relationships?

The answer to this question rests on a buzzword in the field of relationship psychotherapy: “self-expansion”. Self-expansion is a term that was popularized by psychologist Arthur Aron to describe when relationships add excitement or interest in one’s life. According to a 2011 article in the New York Times on self-expansion by relationship writer Dr. Tara Parker Pope, this process is ignited when “individuals use a relationship to accumulate knowledge and experience”.

While self-expansion certainly occurs in the midst of new and exhilarating experiences, Parker Pope notes that research by Dr. Aron and Gary W. Lewandowski at Monmouth University reveals that individuals can experience self-expansion and personal growth in both dramatic and ordinary moments. When spouses introduce their partners to new groups in their community, or share an insight from a podcast, or try a new food, they are participating in new experiences that expand their perceptions of themselves and the world around them.

Aron’s research found that couples who experience more self-expansion in their relationship have more commitment and satisfied relationships than those who do not: Dr. Aron asked one set of couples to engage in mundane activities together and another set of couples to participate in silly or novel experiences together. The couples who had engaged in silly activities rated their relationship as more satisfying than the couples who had participated in mundane activities together. It seems that cultivating new thoughts, interests, and activities may be integral to sustaining thriving relationships.

Another related term for self-expansion dubbed by Caryl Rusbult, a researcher at Vriie University, is “the Michelangelo effect”: a phenomenon that occurs when “close partners “sculpt” each other in ways that help each of them attain valued goals,” writes Dr. Parker Pope. Over time, couples “eventually adopt the traits of the other – and become slower to distinguish the differences between them,” writes Parker-Pope. “It’s not that these couples lost themselves in the marriage; instead, they grew in it.” When one’s partner introduces  one to a new philosophy, characteristic, or activity, eventually those qualities become intertwined in one’s own life experience. Two become one.

“People have a fundamental motivation to improve the self and add to who they are as a person,” Dr. Lewandowski says to Parker-Pope, “If your partner is helping you become a better person, you become happier and more satisfied in the relationship.” Those individuals who practice intentional self-expansion through taking advantage of educational opportunities, novel life experiences, developing skills, serving their communities, and widening social circle are not only cultivating a well-rounded and fruitful life but are increasing the potential for a thriving relationship with potential partners.

Research that reflects the importance of maintaining interest in relationships through self-expansion suggests that individuals may opt to reconsider the current approach to finding a romantic partner. Popular dating sites like Match.com and Eharmony.com have reinforced the idea that individuals should seek to date someone who is most similar to oneself. However, Dr. Aron’s research suggests that perhaps individuals may benefit by instead prioritizing another set of qualities: curiosity, flexibility, and an adventurous spirit.

Would you like one of our couples Therapists at Relationships For Better to help you and your partner explore ways to sustain attraction in your relationship? Contact us here!

 

References

Parker-Pope, T. (2011). The Happy Marriage Is the ‘Me’ Marriage. Retrieved May 27, 2015.

Tartakovsky, M. (2013, January 30). 5 Steps to a Successful Marriage. Retrieved May 27, 2015.