Happiness expert Dr. Ed Diener shows how 3 words play a big part – Attention, Interpretation and Memory.
In this post, you’ll learn how Interpretation affects your happiness and how you can harness its power for an even happier life.
What’s Interpretation Got to Do with Happiness?
Knowing whether someone has recently suffered a personal setback or a personal triumph is not as good as a predictor of how satisfied they are with their lives as is knowing how they perceive the causes and consequences of those events.
Our perceptions and interpretations of events influence how satisfied we are with life. Even when we witness the same event, our experiences can be entirely different.
It comes down to our interpretation. Not shocking, yet recognizing how to adjust interpretation may surprise you.
Research explains it simply.
Using a sports analogy, this classic study highlights a universal truth we have all experienced: people interpret the same objective events around them based on their own personal values, biases, selective attention, and sense of identity.
In a nutshell, we all have filters for interpreting the world. These filters allow us to create comparisons.
We compare shoes, cars, houses, jobs, and relationships. And, we compare ourselves with others. This can lead to happy moments or the opposite.
Researchers call it social comparison. And the surprise, this form of comparison is rapidly on the rise.
What Exactly is Social Comparison?
It’s when you compare yourself to others.
For happiness, social comparison is a double-edged sword. It can bring us up or down. Fortunately, research shows us how happy people know how to use it to stay upbeat.
Through a course of several clever studies, Sonja Lyubomirsky identified ways in which dispositionally happy people think in ways that bolster their moods: social comparison is one of the most important.
First, you need to know there are pros and cons. Let me explain.
Why Do We Do It?
We possess a fundamental drive to compare ourselves with others. It’s normal. It’s natural.
Psychologists say it serves some positive functions.
1. Fulfilling affiliation needs. Gives us a sense of involvement, “belonging” to something. (1) We’re proud to belong to this group.
2. Evaluating the self. Finding our place, where we stand. (2) We like what we’ve accomplished.
3. Making decisions. Deciding the option we feel will make us most secure and comfortable. (3) We feel good about our choice.
4. Being inspired. Looking up to some one we admire. (4) I want to be as compassionate as my wife. I really look up to her. (This is true for me, by the way.)
In the pursuit of happiness, however, we have to be careful due to today’s use of social comparisons.
How Social Comparisons Bring Us Down
Some one I know told me that Facebook made her feel depressed.
How so? Social comparisons.
Facebook is a social comparison machine NOT linked to the positive functions. The person I know got caught up making too many social comparisons with people she interpreted as having more, thinking their lives were better than hers.
That’ll bring on sadness every time.
“This research and previous research indicates the act of socially comparing oneself to others is related to long-term destructive emotions…engaging in frequent social comparison of any kind may be linked to lower well-being.”
No wonder she felt like crap.
When people see everyone they know sharing all the best parts of themselves on Facebook and compare it with themselves, they can get caught up thinking their life isn’t great.
Increased time on Facebook could lead women to negative body images.
Comparing body images, for example, to images made by Photoshop, or from a posted photo that took 40 takes to look good, can become very depressing.
How Do Happy People Use Social Comparisons?
They know two simple things.
The first key is…
Be Upbeat, Engage Less
Happiness research expert Sonja Lyubomirsky and her colleagues assessed how chronically happy people use social comparisons. In short, (her) research suggests that more upbeat people tend to engage less in social comparisons.
Engage less? But, isn’t it a fundamental drive?
Yes. We all make social comparisons. To prevent sadness, we are best off doing it less. And making sure when we do it, it’s for positive reasons.
Sometimes, we can’t help ourselves. We keep comparing.
So if we can’t seem to turn em down, what can we do?
The second key is, if you need to compare…
Start with Yourself
Don’t worry about being better than anybody else. This will create an endless comparison struggle. Instead, focus on being better than you used to be. Do what you can to succeed with exercise and diet.
(On Inspired Living: For the 5 steps to be successful, click here.)
For your emotional and spiritual well-being, focus on improving your gratitude and doing something good for others.
Practicing gratitude can dissolve the negative feelings that arise through social comparisons.
Studies show that by helping others, we can find more happiness and longevity. Giving and helping others can break us away from social comparisons.
(More from On Inspired Living: how the power of giving can improve your health, click here).
1. The second word from Dr. Ed Diener’s (AIM model) for a happy approach to life is Interpretation.
2. Research shows that our life satisfaction is often dictated by how we interpret (perceive) causes and consequences of events.
3. Studies also show that we interpret the same stuff based on our own personal values, biases, selective attention, and sense of identity. Social comparison is one form of interpretation that affects our happiness.
4. To harness the power of Interpretation for a happy approach to life, be aware of comparing yourself to others and limit your social comparisons. If you do make them, start with yourself and focus your attention to the positives in your life. Practice gratitude to dissolve the negative feelings that arise through social comparisons and help others to be even happier.
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(2) The Longevity Project: Surprising Discoveries for Health and Long Life from the Landmark Eight-Decade Study
(1) Schachter, S. (1959). The psychology of affiliation: Experimental studies of the sources of gregariousness (Vol. 1). Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
(2) Festinger, L. (1954). A theory of social comparison processes. Human Relations, 7, 117–140.
(3) Camerer, C., & Lovallo, D. (1999). Overconfidence and excess entry: An experimental approach. American Economic Review, 89, 306–318.
(4) Lockwood, P., & Kunda, Z. (1997). Superstars and me: Predicting the impact of role models on the self. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 73, 91–103.