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Are you a Happiness Multiplier?

Updated: Feb 26

Here's a simple conversation strategy you can employ to magnify happiness – whoever you’re with, wherever you are, no matter your resources.

You may have heard the comment that we can often be Velcro to the negative and Teflon to the positive. Why is it that we are so accustomed to analysing and spending energy on the negative stuff that happens to us and others, yet are very quick to digest and move on from the good stuff? In today's world it is more important than ever to savour all the positive emotions and experiences that come our way.

While we take care to support our loved ones when they are experiencing tough times, did you know, the quality of our relationships are determined more by how we respond to others’ good news rather than how we respond to their challenging news?

That’s right – the celebratory conversations really matter! Probably more than you think. Research has

shown that sharing a positive experience with another person can generate even greater positive emotion than was originally created by the event itself. The extent of "happiness multiplication" (as I like to call it) depends greatly on how a person responds when someone shares their good news with them.

If you want to multiply joy within your family, friends and yourself, have a think about how you typically respond in situations when those you care about share their good news.

To achieve joy multiplication, we need to aim for Active Constructive Responding (Gable et al. (2004) - it benefits everyone in the conversation, lifts up everyone’s vibe by magnifying positive emotions, builds stronger relationships and helps us to become velcro to the positive!

Here’s the research bit:

Developed by Social Psychology researcher, Dr Shelly Gable, the quadrant below shows the four styles of typical responses.

You may be familiar with the experience of sharing some good news with someone and feeling ignored or not receiving an enthusiastic positive response. Or perhaps it felt like they only wanted to point out the possible downsides, making you feel silly and fobbed off. When you look at the quadrant above you may be able to recognise times when you yourself have responded passively or destructively.

Many people are simply not aware that they are being passive or destructive in their responses. Often we are distracted by work, a task or device, or feeling stressed and agitated in ourselves. Perhaps we automatically slip into devil’s advocate mode because we do see some downside/ risk and want to keep our loved ones from making any possible mistakes / adding to their stress. Sometimes we can’t immediately see what is positive about the news from the other persons’ perspective.

“People may forget what you said — but they will never forget how you made them feel.” — Carl W. Buehne

ACR has both personal and relationship benefits:

Personal benefits - Increased positive emotions - Increased subjective well-being - Increased self-esteem - Decreased loneliness Relationship benefits - Increased relationship/marital satisfaction - Increased intimacy - Increased commitment - Increased trust, liking, closeness - Increased stability (Gable et al, 2010).

Have a think about how others respond to your good news. Make sure you savour your positive moments by sharing them with that friend or family member who multiplies your joy (known as "capitalisation"). Perhaps you could gently share this information within your relationships? Many people are excited to build their ACR skills once they are aware of, and understand, the power of it. Multiplying happiness through Active Constructive Responding takes awareness and practice.

Here are some easy tips to build your ACR muscle:

1. Recognise when someone is sharing their good news with you and give them your undivided attention.

2. Reflect their positive non-verbal cues back to them – happy eye contact, smiling, interested and open energy.

3. Verbalise that they are happy eg: “Wow you seem really excited about this!”

4. Ask supportive (non-suspicious / wary) questions that help to increase and pro-long the positive mood and help you gain a deeper understand of why this is good news, eg:

“Fantastic, how did you feel when that happened?”

“What happened then?”

“Wow, tell me more”

“How are you feeling now?”

5. Let them know that you are happy that they are happy 😀 “Let’s celebrate!”.

6. Acknowledge any hard work that they might have put in that contributed to this positive news.

7. Refrain from pointing out any negatives or asking any devil’s advocate type questions. Most people are already aware of any possible downsides. That conversation can come later if absolutely necessary. You are more likely to build trust and strengthen relationships if you can help others delight in, extend and savour the positive moments of their lives.

8. Affirm your confidence in them and enthusiastically invite them to get back to you with any progress, updates or outcomes from the good news.

Want to learn more - here is a video explanation by Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar of Happier.TV

"Let us celebrate the occasion with wine and sweet words" - Plautus

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