What Makes a Happy Life?

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Every year, at the end of the summer, when I have returned from our trip home to visit family, usually combined with a little holiday somewhere else in Europe, I am in a contemplative mood. I wonder what creates the happy and content feeling of the summer and how to keep it going the rest of the year. In previous years, I have written about vacations being a Vacation Away From My Planner Self, about Our Vacation Self and whether Vacations Make Us Happier.

As uncovered in previous years, the link is not a direct link between holiday time and happiness. There is, however, a correlation of happiness and spending time with family or close friends. The level of happiness is not dependent on the fact whether I can afford to go on vacation, but it is dependent on what I do during my time off. Deep nurturing connections, love, laughter, support, and acceptance are all factors in our experience of happiness. Spending time with a loving partner, or having fun with your family members or people who you feel close to, have the effect to increase your happiness.

One of the longest studies on happiness is the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For 75 years, several generations of researchers tracked the lives of 724 men from two very different walks of life. 60 of those 724 men are still alive today. Perhaps a bit gender biased in the original set-up when first started in 1938, the study at a later point included their wives as well. One group of the participants in the study started out as Harvard sophomores who almost all went to serve in WWII after college. The second group consisted of boys from one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Boston, young men from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families.

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Robert Waldinger, the 4th director of this study, reports about the findings and lessons on happiness in his excellent TED Talk “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.”

The one main lesson that stands out in this 75-year-long study is that happiness is “not about wealth or fame or working harder” (Waldinger). Instead, the one important insight not to miss is that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier” (Waldinger).

Mark Twain - The Good Life 2

 The Harvard researchers have learned three important facts:

  1. Social connections with our family, our friends, and our community are extremely beneficial for us. They keep us physically healthier and allow us to live longer.
  2. It is not enough to have relationships, for example to be married or have family, but the quality of our close relationships matters. High conflict marriages in which we feel lonely and unsupported are detrimental to our health. When we are in a relationship with little affection or with toxic interactions, the stress and loneliness shorten our lives. Living in the midst of good warm relationships, on the other hand, is protective.The Harvard researchers found that they could predict—based on the relationships people were in during their 50ties—how healthy they would be at age 80. The men who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. In addition, most happily married men and women reported that on days when they had most physical pain, their mood still stayed positive. Men and women in unhappy relationships, on the other hand, experienced that their physical pain was magnified by their emotional pain.

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  1. The study also showed that good relationships do not just protect our physical bodies, but they also protect our brains from decline. There was a clear correlation about being in a securely attached relationship in your 80ties and memory loss. Happily married people experienced that their memories stayed sharper longer. Those people who were in relationships wherein they felt unloved and felt that they couldn’t count on their partner experienced greater memory decline.

This does not mean that we have to always get along well. Relationships don’t have to be smooth all the time to be healthy. Waldinger reports that some couples could bicker day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could count on one another when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll. That is in line with John Gottman‘s research findings. He showed that marriages don’t suffer because of arguments, but that it depends on how a couple argues and what basis the relationship has.

As humans, we like a quick fix, but as Walding points out, “relationships are complicated, messy and hard work” and that this work never ends. I would like to add that relationships are also full of moments which are simple, joyful and easy. However, relationships always require attention and effort.

Harvard Study, old couple

The people in the study who were the happiest in their 80ties were the ones who had “leaned into relationships with family, friends and community”. What does it mean to lean into your relationships?

It starts with making time for family and friends, or doing something new together with a loved one, or reaching out to that family member you haven’t spoken to in years. Forgiveness, letting go, healing our own wounds, opening our hearts, reaching out to have difficult conversations, and communicating successfully are all part of building relationships which keep us healthy and happy.

Relationship Energetics provides you with tools and opportunities to build a good long life by building better relationships. Join Dhebi DeWitz and myself for the three day

Relationship Energetics Training

from Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2017

EARLY BIRD ($150 down by Sept. 8) $595

 For more information click here

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905-286-9466

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

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The Purpose of Our Intimate Relationships

Naomi and Ben are both in their late twenties. They are part of a bigger group of friends. On and off they have crossed the line from platonic friends to friends with benefits. Ben seems to be comfortable with this spontaneous commitment-free arrangement, but Naomi is growing more and more dissatisfied with it. Yet, she feels the need to follow popular relationship advice and pretend to be strong and self-sufficient, appear busy and not interested in a serious commitment. Ben can have his cake and eat it too; he gets the excitement of being together intimately while not truly needing to be vulnerable. Meanwhile, Naomi is trying hard to be mysterious and is not expressing her genuine needs and feelings. She has noticed that Ben is more interested in her when she goes out with other guys. Lately, she has half-heartedly started going steady with Rick. All of a sudden, Ben’s interest is really peeked. He wants Naomi to break up with Rick and go steady with him instead. Naomi feels excited, yet guilty. She is confused by Ben’s change of heart as well as by her own feelings. What is at the bottom of this situation?

Attachment theory designates three main “attachment styles”, as well as combinations of them: securely attached, anxiously attached and avoidant of attachment. Stan Tatkin has named these three styles as being an anchor (secure), being like a wave (anxiously torn between attachment and non-attachment) and being like an island (avoiding attachment and favouring independence).

Attachment theory is based in research with children and their primary care-givers, and considers our evolutionary programming. We have been programmed by evolution to single out a few specific individuals in our lives and become attached to them to increase our chances of survival. Our brain has a mechanism that consists of emotions and behaviours that ensure our safety and protection by staying close to our loved ones.

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In the 1940s, parenting experts warned that “coddling” would result in needy and insecure children. Parents were told to let their infants cry themselves to sleep, and train them to eat on a strict schedule. In hospitals, the common practice was to separate mothers and babies at birth and keep the babies behind a glass window in the nursery for the first days of their lives. In the 50s and 60s, attachment theory (Mary Ainsworth, John Bowlby) proved that infants who had all their nutritional needs taken care of but lacked an attachment figure failed to develop normally. Their physical, intellectual, emotional and social development was affected.

In fact, attachment is an integral part of human behaviour throughout our entire lifetime. Our learned attachment style is relevant for a variety of relationship situations in adulthood. “We live in a culture that seems to scorn basic needs for intimacy, closeness, and especially dependency, while exalting independence. We tend to accept this attitude as truth—to our detriment” (Amir Levine, Attached). The co-dependency movement and other similar approaches portray healthy adult relationship attachment in a way that is similar to the detrimental views held in the 1920s about child rearing. According to these ideas, we should be able to distance ourselves from our partner and look after ourselves. If you are emotionally attached it is looked upon as “too enmeshed” and “co-dependant”.

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As much as I agree that we are responsible for our own feelings, we are also in each other’s care in a partnership. Partners can have a huge stress relieving effect on each other. The assumption that we should control our emotional needs and soothe ourselves in the face of stress is at odds with our biology. “Numerous studies show that once we become attached to someone, the two of us form one physiological unit. Our partner regulates our blood pressure, our heart rate, our breathing, and the levels of hormones in our blood.” (Amir Levine)

If our partner does not know how to reassure us when we are stressed, we are programmed to continue our attempts to achieve closeness and reassurance. That might look like “neediness” or “clinginess”. In reality, we are only as “needy” as our unmet needs!

Needy

There is in fact a phenomenon that is called “dependency paradox” in attachment literature. “The more effectively dependent people are on one another, the more independent and daring they become” (Amir Levine). The ability to step into the world on our own stems from the knowledge that there is someone we can count on for emotional and physical support. If we feel secure, the world is at our feet. We can step into the unknown, take risks, be creative, and pursue our goals and dreams. As adults, we provide the attachment role for our partner. We are able to provide a secure base for each other if we understand our attachment styles and work on being securely attached to each other.

When we flip between feeling insecure, anxious or even obsessive and feeling elated and passionate in our relationship, we might mistake this for love. However, what is most likely going on is an activated attachment system of somebody who has a non-secure attachment style. Jealousy, fear, and mistrust are not signs of love, but signs that we are in a relationship with an insecure attachment.

When we are in a relationship with somebody who has a secure attachment style, our experience is completely different. Securely attached people are

  • Great at de-escalating a conflict
  • Not threatened by criticism
  • Effective communicators
  • Not game players
  • Comfortable with closeness
  • Quick to forgive
  • Inclined to view emotional intimacy and sex as one
  • Respectful and loving with their partner
  • Confident in their ability to improve the relationship
  • Responsive to their partner’s needs and well-being

In such a secure relationship the true purpose of our intimate relationships becomes clear. The partners provide a sacred space for each other to be able to be who we truly are with all our needs and desires.

relationships_purpose

To get back to our couple from the beginning, Ben has a mostly avoidant attachment style. He sends mixed messages about his feelings, doesn’t like girls who are “too needy” or “too dramatic”, he pulls away when things are getting close, and he wants to keep the relationship light and non-committal. He feels most comfortable being aloof and independent. He only misses Naomi when they are apart, or once he realizes he might lose her to somebody else. Naomi, on the other hand, has a relationship history which has turned her from being secure in her affection for her significant other into somebody who longs for closeness but doesn’t dare to hope for a secure attachment. Their vibration matches. Ben mirrors her expectations and fears.

To get out of this painful pattern, Naomi needs to understand his attachment style and be authentic in regard to her own needs, feelings and dreams. We can all learn more securely attached relationship interactions. That shift begins with an honest relationship with ourselves.

Rumi_Love Barriers 1

 

If you would like to improve the relationship with yourself, your significant other and other loved ones, join

Dhebi DeWitz and Angelika Baum

for the three day Relationship Energetics Training

from Sept. 29 – Oct. 1, 2017

EARLY BIRD ($150 down by Sept. 8) $595 

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“Good night, John Boy!” – What is Family?

Do you remember the television show “The Waltons”? I know it’s a rather old show, which launched in 1972. It was one of the few TV shows I was allowed to watch as a child. I loved the family support the characters extended to each other and it really touched my heart how each episode ended. You saw their house in the dark, the Walton family with their seven kids and two grandparents went to bed, one light after the next was turned off, and they all said “Good night” to each other. “Good night, Mama,” “Good night, Daddy,” Good night, children!” “Good night, John Boy!”

Over the last six weeks, I have been contemplating the question of what “family” really means. What constitutes family and how do families cope with things?

Waltons 1

There is, of course, the ideal of the “picture book perfect family,” like the Waltons. We probably all carry that family archetype around in our mind. But let’s get real. It is 2017, not the 1930’s, and the reality is that there are more and more blended families. We are faced with more complicated family dynamics, other challenges, and different conflicts than the Waltons would have ever dreamed of. In today’s world, family set-ups change constantly. Separations and divorces occur and new unions, for example second or third marriages, are formed. Custody arrangements change, or children get older and move out. With each stage in life, energetic dynamics are transformed. Families even change temporarily, as we have experienced this summer.

For the last six weeks, my 16-year-old daughter has been living and working in Quebec. Meanwhile, we had a 17-year-old exchange student from Quebec staying with us. Just like our daughter in Quebec, he had to adapt to a completely new environment, a different language, his summer job in English, and many new impressions and events each day. They both impressed us tremendously with their openness and courage.

We also had to adapt as a family and understand cultural differences and differences in communication styles. Within the first weekend, our “exchange son” had captured both our hearts with his awareness and sensitivity. A bass guitar major for the last six years, he brought music into our house and many interesting conversations. He wanted to get to know both of us and made the effort to connect right from the start. Very observant and mature in his communication skills—despite the language challenges—we felt from the first moment on that we “lucked out” with this amazing summer guest.

Sounds like the “honeymoon”? It was. Ten days into his stay, the first challenges naturally arose which we had to work through together. Just as in a blended family, there were different values, other rituals and new ways of doing things. From home, he was used to coming and going spontaneously, unaware that over here in his host family, everybody else had adjusted their schedule to his to spend some quality time together. He was not used to communicating when plans that he had made were changing, or accustomed to keeping each other informed by text. The curfew put in place by the exchange program was initially looked upon by him and other French students as a suggestion, and the concept that parents might worry until the young people are back home safely did not occur to the students.

Having grown up in an all-girls household and having only parented girls, I was expecting that familiar communication of sharing your experiences and feelings, and expressing appreciation for each other on a daily basis. I read one syllable answers to questions and his lack of planning as a lack of consideration and lack of appreciation. He read our questions, responses to his behaviour and different rules as overprotection and judgement. The more he felt “not good enough” and “wrong,” the less he wanted to communicate. When we feel blamed, we sometimes just want to run and avoid an unpleasant talk. That is a human response. It took a change in approach—a “tough love” tone—for him to wake up.

Good Night, John Boy 0

We are so extremely proud of this young man for taking responsibility for his side of the misunderstandings and for being open to hear our explanations and apologies where we had made him feel judged as “wrong”. After this talk, we gained a tremendous understanding for each other. Our communication improved greatly, and we were able to see each other’s dissimilarity as just different instead of wrong or rude. We were able to focus on the similarities and the efforts made by everybody and express more appreciation towards each other.

Now, almost at the end of his stay, we are truly sad to see him go. There is no question in our minds and hearts that we will stay in touch with him, just as my daughter will continue the connection with her loving and truly amazing host family.

This exchange experience had me contemplating the question, “What is family”? What is it that the Waltons have that can be still found—or be missing—today in our modern families?

For me, it boils down to the wisdom that as a family you are stronger. What is good for one member of the family is good for all. You don’t give up on each other, but you talk through challenges and you grow from sharing your feelings and thoughts. You learn about the feelings, experiences and triggers the other family members have. From that place of greater understanding, you take responsibility for your part in a regretful interaction and create compromises together. Or, as a friend of mine said a few weeks ago when we spoke about issues with her step-son, “Shit happens in families, but as a family you work through this shit together!”

Good night, John Boy 1

Unfortunately, in her case, the mother of my friend’s teenage step-son is sheltering him from having to take responsibility for a big screw-up. She is depriving the father and his family from having the opportunity to work through things together as a family unit. Instead of trusting her son that he is old enough at 17 to work through a conflict to which he contributed, she is doing him a disservice by letting him hide behind her apron. Wanting to be the more beloved parent can leave us very short-sighted in terms of what beliefs and coping strategies we teach our children.

A family unit can only function if our feelings and needs are not swept under the carpet but rather are processed. Without the willingness to be vulnerable and discover what is going on underneath the feelings of irritation or anger we might be experiencing, we can’t move out of a stuck state. By not working through things as a family, we are making a choice to carry anger, resentment and blame with us. Sometimes it is the parent generation who is not willing to communicate openly and honestly, at other times it’s the young generation feeling unable to express themselves. Often the unsuccessful communication goes both ways. However, only when we take responsibility for our feelings, words and actions, can we grow as individuals as well as families.

Good night, John Boy 2

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

Angelika, Belief Change & Relationship Coach

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

One way of working on your relationships is the Relationship Energetics Workshop coming up this fall.  For more course information please click here.

Should I Come With My Partner, Or Alone? – Couples Coaching Versus Individual Coaching

Sometimes people say to me, “That belief change work that you do is so different/weird/unusual that the only way I can get my partner to see you is if we come in together for a couple session.” I usually reply, “That is fine”, knowing that once the partner has met me, they will feel more comfortable to try out something new and different.

Whether someone comes alone or for a couple’s session, relationship work requires making individual changes. We are all human and most people hope their partner will do most of the learning and changing in problem areas in the relationship. However, we can never change our partner; we can only change ourselves. You have the choice between different formats of working on your relationship: in individual sessions, in couple’s session, or in a workshop. What they all have in common is that we need to take responsibility for changing ourselves.

In an individual coaching session, we will assess the situation, determine the goals of where you want to be in regards to you relationship, and then begin the work on the subconscious level to create the desired shifts. Even if just one participant in a relationship changes, the relationship itself is changed, and any change in the relationship ultimately changes both participants. If you wish to change the way you interact with your partner, the first thing you must do is discover the underlying subconscious causes for destructive patterns.

couple-beach cropped

In a couple’s session, we will also asses the situation your relationship is in, look ahead to the future and begin the work on understanding each other more and interacting differently with your partner. A couple’s session is not so much the place to do deeper individual work but to work on the third entity, your relationship, together. A relationship is a team effort. What is good for your partner is also good for you and your relationship.

During couples coaching, we will be focusing on the team. You can expect to learn more successful skills for interacting. I believe my primary role is to coach you to improve your responses to each other and to assist you in creating a solid foundation or, as Drs Gottman call it, a sound “relationship house”.

Most of the ineffective things we do in relationships fall under the “Four Horsemen”:

  • Criticism
  • Defensiveness
  • Stonewalling
  • Contempt

My goal is to provide you with the knowledge and the tools to shift out of those destructive patterns and to practice a more successful communication and more productive ways of interacting with each other.

four-horsemen-and-their-antidotesYour job is to create your own individual goals for your relationship. As a coach, my job is to help you reach them. The tools I can offer you become more effective when you are clear about how you aspire to be. The major aim of couple’s coaching is to increase your knowledge about yourself, your partner, and the patterns of interaction between you.

The key tasks of couples coaching are increasing your clarity about:

  • The kind of life you want to build together
  • The kind of partner you aspire to be in order to build the kind of life and relationship you want to create
  • Your individual blocks to becoming the kind of partner you aspire to be
  • The skills, knowledge and tools necessary to achieve the above tasks

To create the relationship you really desire, there are some investments and choices for each person to make. The first investment will be time. It takes time to create a relationship that flourishes: making the time to come for sessions, time to be together on a regular basis to have fun together as well as time to work on the state of your union. This time might conflict with your personal or professional time and it is easy to “forget” to schedule that time in. However, in order to improve your relationship, you need to make the relationship your first priority.

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The second necessary choice is to step out of your emotional comfort zone. Be prepared to be open to try new ways of listening and speaking, for example listening from your heart and being curious instead of interrupting or closing down, speaking up instead of becoming resentfully compliant or withdrawing. You need to take emotional risks and allow yourself to be vulnerable in order to move forward with your relationship.

The third investment is one of energy and persistency. It takes effort to sustain improvement over time: staying conscious, remembering to be more in tune with each other, more respectful, more giving, more appreciative, speaking each others love languages more, etc. It takes effort to remember what you have learned and to act upon it when you have left my office. For example, if one person is hypersensitive to criticism, and his/her partner is hypersensitive to feeling ignored or shut out, it will take effort to improve their sensitivity instead of hoping the partner will stop criticizing or withdrawing.

When it comes to improving your relationship, your attitude toward change is more important than what action to take. Identifying what to do and how to do it is often easy. The bigger challenge is learning why you don’t do it. We are all often quite limited in our ability to respond to our love partner, and he or she is quite limited in their ability to respond to us, due to our childhood experiences, old triggers, and subconscious beliefs. The more you learn about yourself and your partner and make the subconscious shifts, the more you are able to increase your repertoire of responses. You can then shift from impossible to possible.

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Problems occur when reality departs sharply from our expectations, hopes, desires and concerns. It’s human nature to try and change one’s partner instead of adjusting our responses. Coaching gives you the best results if you focus on changing yourself. The hardest part of couples coaching is accepting that you will need to improve your response to a problem, how you think about it, how you feel about it, or what to do about it. You can’t change your partner. Your partner can’t change you. Your feelings, needs and requests will be acknowledged and met, as you are prepared to meet your partners.

When a problem shows up, it’s natural to think “What should I do about it?” A much more productive question is. “How do I aspire to be or act in this situation?” Becoming the best you that you can be, means becoming a more effective partner, and that in turn is the most efficient way to change a relationship.

You can learn a lot about yourself by understanding what annoys you and what you judge in your partner. The people closest to us naturally mirror shadow traits to us that we have learned to disown as “bad” or “wrong”. When shadows show up in a couple’s session, we can integrate those disowned shadows or personality parts in an individual session. That shadow work allows you to take a step towards each other instead of judging each other for your differences.

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All significant growth comes from disagreements, dissatisfaction with the current status, or the desire to make things better. Paradoxically, accepting that conflict produces growth and learning that is the key to more harmonious relationships. In each relationship, there are perpetual problems. You will be introduced to tools to process conflicts more successfully, to find compromises for perpetual problems, and to build a more solid foundation for your relationship.

The most important qualities for effective communication are trust, respect, openness and persistence. Successful communication expresses how I feel and what my values and needs are. Productive communication avoids blame and requires taking responsibility. It requires both people to speak from the heart about what really matters to each.

 

If you’d like help with your relationship, contact me for a free phone consultation. Before you come for a session please read the blog “How To Get Most Out Of Couples Coaching”.

From September 29 to October 1, 2017 you can take part in the

“Relationship Energetics” Workshop.

This three day workshop uncovers hidden subconscious dynamics and helps you to create healthy, empowered and fulfilling relationships. For more information please click here.

Angelika, Relationship Coaching

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

 

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.

 

 

How To Get Most out of Couples Coaching

Couple's Coaching 1 - white letters

It takes courage to make changes in our life and in our relationships. Taking the step to work on your relationship means you believe your relationship is more important than any resistance or fear you are experiencing. Coming for a session to see a coach is the first step in initiating changes. Let’s make sure your experience is as beneficial and efficient as possible.

Before you come in for a couples session, I would like you to reflect on a few goal-oriented questions so that you and your partner are able to get the most out of the coaching session.

The first thing to acknowledge and to remember is that you cannot change your partner; you can only change yourself. Coaching gives you the best results if you take responsibility, and if you commit to learning to understand your partner at a deeper level. Focus on changing yourself and your responses to each other to create together what you both desire.

Couple's Coaching 2

In a couple’s session, we will assess the situation your relationship is in, look ahead to the future and to the relationship you want to have, and begin the work of interacting differently with your partner. A relationship is a team effort. Being a TEAM means “Together Each Accomplishes More”. Or in other words, what is good for your partner, is also good for you and your relationship.

To begin the work together as a team, we need a target, the motivation to work on the relationship, and the willingness to change. Ask yourself the following questions before you come in for a session.

  1. What kind of marriage or relationship do I want to be in?

Answering that question provides you and your partner with a target.

  1. Why is that kind of relationship important to me?

This is the motivation you have to do this work.

  1. What is going to be required of ME to create this?

This will help you shift from the natural tendency of wanting to change your partner to taking responsibility for your part of the relationship.

 

I look forward to hearing your answers to those questions during your first coaching session with me.

Angelika, Relationship Coaching

greendoorrelaxation@yahoo.ca

905-286-9466

If you are enjoying my articles, you can follow Greendoor to receive an e-mail notification whenever I post a new blog. All you need to do is to click the “follow” button in the right-hand corner of your screen.