Muriel Cooper
Psychologist in Mornington

Happiness and success


Reaching happiness and success

Articles about achieving happiness, success and sustaining relationships.

Angry wife fighting with confused husband

We could all do with a reality check every now and then when it comes to relationships. You were riding along a smooth paved highway and it suddenly peters out, leaving you on a rough, corrugated road. More often than not the cause is stress. When stress goes up, so can irritability. Whatever the cause, here are some ideas to help you get over the corrugations, whether it's you or them. Here are my top relationship tips.

What to do when suddenly, everything about them irritates you

Suddenly every little thing your partner does is annoying. I could list them here but you know what they are. Things you used to tolerate, or even think were cute, now enrage you. Cultivate tolerance of these things. Take a deep breath and step away from your irritability. Do a reckoning of the good things about your relationship instead of focusing on the small, irritating things. You can ask the other person to stop doing the small, irritating things, and they might try, but old habits are hard to change. You need to have patience, remembering that it can take up to 8 weeks to change behaviour. Try to see the funny side. Picking your nose can seem hilarious when seen in the right light.

Smiling woman giving thumbs up sign

Memes on social media assure us that happiness is a choice. But is that really true? Often we see this as a glib cliché. For someone whose life is affected by stress, anxiety and depression, those words can seem like a cruel joke. When you're in the depths of depression, saying you can simply choose to be happy can seem downright insulting.

But can you get to a point where it is possible to choose to be happy?

Few people are naturally happy. Our brain is not wired for happiness, it's wired for survival and that means stress and fear. Most of our thoughts are automatic and most of them are not happy or positive. But if we make fearful, negative thought patterns automatically, can we learn to be happy, and how do we do that?

Happiness is usually a multi-faceted project and not a quick or easy fix. You need to work on it.

Here are some steps to developing the ability to choose happiness and to organise our lives to give us the maximum chance of happiness.

Troubled woman at work

Our harshest critic is usually the one inside our own head. It tells you things your best friend probably never would.

"You're no good."
"You're so stupid."
"You're such an idiot."
"You're such a loser."

Does this sound familiar? How often does this voice invade your thoughts?

Because humans have a moral self (Freud called this the 'super ego'), we are meant to hear this voice when we are about to break the social contract that says "If I am kind to you, you will be kind to me".

However, as Freud pointed out, that voice can become over-inflated and crush us with a constant barrage of self-criticism. The moral voice that helps us with our altruism and kindness becomes harsh and overbearing. We can feel powerless to stop it.

So, how can we put this usually helpful voice in perspective?

Better mental habits through mindfulness

'Prevention is better than cure', so the old saying goes. People tend to be proactive when it comes to physical health. We make sure we eat properly and exercise regularly because we're taught to do so as children. Keeping ourselves mentally healthy doesn't come as easily. We're not taught how to think and often we don't learn to emotionally regulate either. Sometimes that's because it's culturally unacceptable to show our emotions (or we're taught that "boys don't cry"). Or we're taught that some feelings are bad and we shouldn't have them (anger for example), but we're not taught how to channel them properly.

Developing better mental and emotional habits when we're adults is much harder to do. If you're saying to yourself 'I don't have time for that' or 'how am I going to remember?' ask yourself how you learned your good physical hygiene habits. Your parents nagged you ('For goodness sake go and clean your teeth') and/or you learned it in school. As for not having time, it only takes a minute here and there. Practice ...

'A little and often'

As grown-ups, we need to make an extra effort because that effort is up to us. We need to be pro-active. Initially, being pro-active can be a little stressful. You're the one who has to do the nagging but do it gently and be persistent. Here are some things to do and ways to remember how to do it.