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Relationships, emotion regulation, and Belief systems shape whether we are happy or not
Most people want to be happy. Unhappy people may be unhappy in their own ways, but happy people are similar to each other. Happy people have good relationships with others, manage their emotions well, and have beliefs that promote their own well-being and the well-being of others. The purpose of this brief article is to show how these three ideas lead to happiness.


Human beings throughout history have recognized the importance of relationships and have acted that way much of the time. Through relationships with others we build families and communities. We engage in commerce--that is, the creation, buying, and selling of food, goods, and services that are necessary to sustain life. When we have good relationships with others, we feel good. We treat others well. We are creative and relaxed.

When something goes wrong in important relationships, we are sad, stressed, and angry. Happy people seek to repair breaks in relationships.

Research has shown consistently that the chief quality in good relationships is not the absence of conflict but capacities to repair breakdowns in relationships.

Managing Emotions

Managing emotions means that we have capacities to regulate our emotions. Much of the time, our emotions are on an even keel. No matter how stable we think our emotions are, there are times when we become frustrated, angry, or sad, among other emotions.

What we do when we feel these strong emotions leads to happiness or unhappiness. Happy people know how to manage or regulate their emotions. They allow themselves to feel these emotions. They talk to other people about their emotions. They are willing to deal with their emotions constructively. They do not express their emotions destructively.

Happy people self-regulate, by doing talking to others, vigorous exercise, meditate, dance, go for a run or walk, swim, engage in an enjoyable activity, or anything else that soothes difficult emotions. Happy people do not take their emotions out on others. They do not do things that hurt themselves. They know what they feel. They can name their emotions. They admit what they feel. They deal directly and constructively with their emotions.

No one is constructive 100% of the time. When generally happy people do things that hurt themselves and others, these actions usually are not deeply harmful and the effects are repairable. Having too much to drink can be harmful, but is easily correctable. Eating too much to self-soothe can be harmful, but correctable.

Being irritable hurts others but is repairable. Happy people recognize quickly when they are out of line. Sometimes others have to tell them. When others do this, they realize that they are out of line. They take corrective actions. They seek to repair harms.

Sometimes frustrations lead to problem-solving. Parents and teachers who simply don't know what to do about a family or classroom issue do problem-solving. They seek out a variety of people to get a variety of points of view. They may take special training. They consider alternatives and then make decisions about how to respond. When they do respond they observe what happens. If things turn out well, they continue to perform those actions. If they find some things don't work and some do, they seek constructive ways to deal with issues where their actions weren't helpful.

Belief Systems

Happy people have balanced ideas of who they are, what they are entitled to, and what they can do to get what they want. Happy people negotiate for what they want. They balance what they want with what other people want. They actively seek to understand what other people want. They adjust their own wants to what others want.

Having accurate ideas of who they are means that they don't think they are entitled to what they want regardless of what others want. They also don't think of themselves as worthless. They also don't swing between entitlement and worthlessness.

Happy people believe they have a right to be respected, to make their own decisions, and have dignity and worth. When they feel disrespected. Controlled, or demeaned, they speak up assertively. They are not aggressive about it.

Happy people believe that others have a right to be respected, to make their own decision, and have dignity and worth. They do nothing to infringe on the rights of others. If they are parents, teachers, bosses, or others who have power over others, they recognize the power they have and allow others to have as much power as if feasible, as much freedom of choice as possible, and as much dignity and worth as possible. They set fair rules and provide resources so that they persons over whom they have power have what they need to be able to follow the rules.

Happy people do not abuse their power or take advantage of the power they have over others. They are just and caring in their dealings with others.

Happy people do not have beliefs that lead them to refuse to consider the rights of others, including the rights of others to make their own decisions within reasonable boundaries.

Happy people want others to challenge their beliefs when beliefs lead to actions that hurt other people or themselves.

Happy people operate on the principles of fairness and caring for others.


Abraham Lincoln said people are as happy as they make up their minds to be. This means that to be happy can take a lot of effort and discipline. Rarely are happy people happy by sitting around. Lincoln himself had many tragedies in his life, but he use his strong will to focus on what was important to him.

Some people have genetic predispositions to depression. Sometimes these predispositions are so powerful that they overcome the protective factors of relationships, self-regulation, and prosocial beliefs. Yet, most people with depression do not harm others, but they are at risk to harm themselves. Some cope with their depression in a variety of ways, which mean they regulate their emotions, including their depressive emotions, maintain confidant relationships with others, and focus on prosocial beliefs. They seek help when they have thoughts of being self-destructive.

Therefore, the three factors related to happiness still hold for persons with depression if they use prosocial means of coping. If they do not, their typical means of coping is self-injurious, including the use of drugs and alcohol, risky behaviors, and addictions of various sorts.

Some people with depression harm others. The chances are good that when they do, they have detached from others, obviously have let go of the will to regulate themselves prosocially, and have focuses on self-destructive beliefs.

Happiness is complicated. We pursue happiness through trusting relationships, self-regulation, and prosocial beliefs. Unattended traumas and genetic predispositions to depression complicate the pursuit of happiness. With help from friends and family in whom we confide and with a will to seek happiness, even persons who have difficult life circumstances can hope for happier days.

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