11 Apr Happiness…from the outside in!
Let me begin by asking you a question…do you behave exactly the same way in every situation?
I hope you answered "No" because it's not necessarily appropriate to! I can tell you that I behave slightly differently when I'm presenting a keynote speech to several hundred people, compared to when I'm working intimately with a client one-on-one, compared to when I'm joking around with my colleagues and especially compared to when I'm at home with my wife and/or kids. And I'm pretty sure you all do something similar yourselves.
Which is not a surprise at all to anyone who's familiar with the well established psychological phenomenon knows as "situationally specific behaviour". As the phrase suggests, our behaviour is often quite different depending on the specific situation we're in.
But interestingly, this is not how many people think of others. Another well known psychological concept is that referred to as the "fundamental attribution error". This "error" occurs when we attribute people's (and sometimes even our own) behaviour to "the way they are" rather than to "the situation they're in". So, that person that cuts in front of you is a bad driver (rather than someone who's in a hurry to visit a sick kid in hospital) and that colleague in the office is lazy and hopeless (rather than overwhelmed by demands and underresourced). Notably, this is not about making excuses for poor behaviour but it is about appropriately recognising situational determinants of our behaviour.
Multiple examples from the research support these notions including studies that have found people eat significantly more when served larger portions; people are significantly more (or less) likely to use drugs if they're in certain situations or contexts; and people are far more likely to act altruistically and to be helpful depending on a range of contextual or situational variables.
Now again, this is not about making excuses or about not taking responsibility BUT it is about fully acknowledging the range of forces that influence our behaviour AND our happiness…because then we can manage them appropriately and live lives that include more success and happiness, health and wellbeing.
So what does this all mean? It means that as well as doing what we can to control our thoughts and feelings, our actions and reactions, we can also maximise health and happiness by taking control of our environment and setting things up so that we're more likely to engage in healthy and helpful behaviours and less likely to engage in unhealthy and unhelpful behaviours. Keep reading below for some practical tips…