The quality of your life is primarily determined by the quality of accumulated moments, interactions and daily routines. As important as the dream vacation, new home, graduation day and other milestone accomplishments are, your peace of mind, stress levels, happiness and contentment hinge on the smaller, ostensibly unnoticed, day-to-day activities. The most significant aspect of your daily routines is likely who you spend time with. In even the briefest of interactions, people have a way of bringing out the best in you and refueling your spirits or sucking the joy from your day, draining you of motivation and joy. Although most seem blindly unaware of the negative impact that they have on those around them, people’s attitudes and energy are as contagious as any physical pathogen. Neurology has taught us the detriment of being in the presence of toxic people. They sprinkle complexity, attitudinal discomfort, emotional strain, discord, contention and stress over your being. If you spend regular amounts of time in the presence of these toxic people, the accumulated stress and emotional fatigue cannot be overstated. Prolonged exposure to stress and negativity compromise many aspects of our neurology, including damage to neurons in the hippocampus which affects reasoning, emotion and memory. Typically the chatter of your joy thieves is not only emotionally burdensome but their conversation is often irrational, making any attempt towards positive influence, taxing and futile. For this reason, our well-being demands that we be strategic in choosing who we spend time with and when possible, avoiding them at all costs.
One of your most auspicious life skills is the ability to identify stress-inducing people who rob you from happiness in the moment and then, once identified, know how to deal with them. This article identifies five happiness hackers that may be diminishing the quality of your days and offers strategies to prevent infection from their attitudinal contagions.
- The Negativity Sprinkler: As a water sprinkler randomly sprays water across your lawn, eventually soaking it with its incessant shower, a negativity sprinkler gushes doom and gloom towards anyone within earshot. Such sufferers of this attitudinal ailment seem to have a problem for every solution and their first energy is most often expended towards worst-case scenarios. They have trained their brains to scan their environments for disappointments, flaws, potential threats and negativity, becoming a suspicious individual, oozing with hopelessness, warnings and dismal predictions for their future. Their intense focus on the negative blocks any form of hope and optimism from their sensory radars. They have become so convinced of their justification for cynicism / pessimism that their mission becomes to convince others of their miserable outlook by seeing life through their foggy, shortsighted lens. The energy and body language from these joy-thieves are so heavy and loud that, despite your best intentions to bring your own weather to the conversation, before long you too will find yourself dripping in low morale.
The best solution in dealing with a negativity sprinkler is to keep your distance. If being in the presence of a negativity sprinkler is inescapable, be determined to carry your own weather and not allow their thunderstorm to cloud your sun. This will require a firm intentionality. Secondly, try to be the first to speak so you can set the positive tone. Be prepared for them to counter or dismiss your optimism and once they do, confidently balance every negative supposition with a best-case scenario. Avoid the temptation to politely agree with their pessimism or cynicism as this will typically be their encouragement to dial up their intensity. Finally, find a reason to excuse yourself from the conversation and get as far away from the rainstorm as possible.
- The Master Manipulator: Likely one of the most difficult happiness hackers to disclose is the person who cleverly, but unfairly, influences you for his or her selfish gain. On the surface, the manipulator appears friendly and really interested in you. He or she gets to know you well, including your weaknesses and vulnerabilities. Often likeable and usually quite familiar with your history, manipulators always have a hidden agenda behind their investment in the relationship. They have learned how to make you feel guilty, happy or obligated enough to demand another piece of your time, energy or talent. They rob joy from you because you are constantly under the strain to give, while seldom receiving. Deep inside, you feel used, taken advantage of and manipulated, but yet there is something about the relationship that keeps you going back.
An effective way to determine if you are being emotionally taxed by a manipulator is to review the history of the relationship. Analyze the situations when the master manipulator shows up and if the relationship is typically win-lose. Once a manipulator succeeds in taking advantage of you, he or she will likely try again and again, until you put a stop to the mistreatment. Since the manipulator’s mission is to exploit your weaknesses, it is understandable that you may blame yourself for not satisfying the manipulator. Be aware enough to understand that you are being tricked into believing you are the problem so you can be taken advantage of. Realize that any relationship where you are not respected and do not feel comfortable is an unhealthy one. The most powerful course of action is to politely and firmly say “No” to any unreasonable request. It is not your responsibility to rescue or change a manipulator and if you value your happiness, whenever possible, avoid sharing space with this dangerous happiness hacker.
- The Me-Minded Chatterbox: You have to spend only a brief amount of time around a me-minded person to feel the frustration from their self-absorption. No matter the conversation topic, the dialogue is quickly hijacked as it transforms to a monologue about their life narrative. This self-centered person is often dubbed as a poor listener because any conversation about anything but him or her, seems unheard. When in this joy-stealer’s company, you feel strangely alone as the conversation runs on and on without you. This happiness hacker typically has low self-esteem and views you merely as someone to make them feel important or validated. Without a mutual connection, interactions seem awkward, empty and tiring. After a few interactions, you feel emotionally strained from the nature of the one-sided interactions but to add further stress, a dichotomy builds within your own ponderings whether you should feel guilty or not about your discomfort with the chatterbox’s ramblings, often in painstaking detail of their vicissitudes, which you begin to tune out from as well. You begin wondering if it is you that is the bad person for feeling upset over this incessant boasting or whining.
Healthy relationships and conversations resemble a dance where both parties move in sync with beautiful synergy. Sharing time with a person consumed with their own winnings and losses, with little or no regard for your interests, is like waltzing with a bad dancer: It is painful to endure and toes get stomped on. Politely move along and find a new dance partner before you are too fatigued to move.
- The Self-appointed Judge: Judgmental people are loud and firm with their proclamations of right and wrong. To such disparaging people, “different” cannot be a neutral word. If someone behaves differently from them, makes a different decision or adheres to an alternative life philosophy, there is no acceptance. Instead a label of condemnation is quickly applied. Your passion for something different than what they value is either ridiculed or judged. Instead of appreciating diversity and learning from those who are different from them, judgmental people belittle others. This judgmental happiness hacker smothers your passion or joy for life and has a way of minimizing what is most important to you and even unloading guilt on you for being “wrong.” If you are different than they are, there is a firm line drawn in the sand and make no mistake about it, you are on the wrong side.
Your individuality can never be fully expressed around these happiness thieves so it is best to keep as much distance between you and them as possible. The judges in our lives are often gossiping wolves in sheep’s clothing. They seem to derive pleasure from spreading news about other’s misfortunes and their passion shines brightest when they can proclaim, “I told you so” to another’s demise. Our world is too saturated with positives, intriguing ideas and successful people to waste time bathing in conversational negativity and gossip. The biggest temptation you may have when in the presence of a self-appointed judge is to mirror their behavior. A common knee-jerk reaction is to without compassion, label the person doing the labelling. Be ever mindful that their statements of judgment come from a weary, unhappy place deep within them. Because they feel lost, empty and disconnected from the world around them, they have chosen to project their own unhappiness to others. Miguel Ruiz once remarked, “Don’t take anything personally. Nothing anyone ever does is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and reactions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering.” Above all, following an assault of condemnation, it is vital to regroup with someone or people who love and appreciate you. Be ever mindful that regardless of your motives or kind actions, there will always be those who have a problem with your behavior, simply because THEY have a problem. Find security and strength in those who embrace and adore you.
- The Pity Partier: These happiness hackers are convinced they have it the toughest and their mission is to receive your confirmation. Exempt from any responsibility for their unhappiness, they have convinced themselves that someone else or something else is responsible for their demise. Fixated on the past, their life of suffering, hopelessness and/or the injustice they have received, they regularly pass out invitations to their pity parties. Initially meeting a pity partier, you may empathize with their problem but you will soon realize their thirst for pity is unquenchable. By playing the victim card, the pity partier is closed to any idea of taking action towards solving his or her own problems. Learning or growing from their experiences is not an option, as long as they have someone with whom to share their grief. They do not bathe quietly in their pool of suffering but instead, gently persuade you to sit with them. Refusing to see any situation as an opportunity or challenge, they quit before they begin.
Being around someone of a victim mindset is as painfully demoralizing as it is frustrating. Once you have attempted to offer them a plateful of personal accountability and proactive energy to digest, it is best to remove yourself from the dreary table before your spirits mirror their dysfunction.
Happiness Hackers have loud, emotional energy. They tap into the overflowing wells of your good nature and although you may want to help, their irrationality is an impediment to them receiving help. Responding to them emotionally only adds salt to their thirst and since your energy reserves are finite, why waste it on someone who refuses to own their own toxic attitudes? The best protection for your happiness is to distance yourself from them physically and if confrontation is unavoidable, interact with them only through facts and not emotion. To succeed at this resolve you must first of all become competent at recognizing those who steal your joy, energy and morale. Once identified, be firm with your boundaries and time limits with such hackers. Your happiness is too precious to allow a hacker to rob you from your attitudinal strength and health.