03 Nov What if losing control could make you happier?
via the Huffington Post by Raj Raghunathan
Human beings have a deep-seated desire for certainty and control.
Several studies show this need serves at least two important purposes. First, it helps us believe that we can shape outcomes and events to our liking. That is, the more in control we feel, the more efficacious we feel about achieving the outcomes we desire, and this sense of competence boosts well-being.
Control also feels good because it makes us believe that we aren’t under someone else’s control. In one study of an old-age home, researchers gave the members of one group control over which plant to grow in their room and which movies to watch. The other group was denied that control. In the eighteen-month period that followed, the death rate of the second group was double that of the first.
That’s why we’re driven to seek control. Indeed, studies show that those with a higher need for control generally set loftier goals and also tend to achieve more. But can it go too far? Can seeking control undermine happiness? The answer, it turns out, is yes. Seeking control is a good thing—but only up to a point. Beyond that point, the drive to control can make you miserable.
Why controlling others creates conflict
Ask yourself this question: how does it feel when you are under someone else’s control? Imagine being married to someone overly controlling. Or worse yet, imagine being someone’s slave. Being controlled is no fun—and that’s why we tend to rebel.
Psychologists call this quality reactance: the desire to do the things that are proscribed. For example, attempting to control your spouse’s diet may be met with increased consumption of unhealthy food—just to spite you. This is why, in adult relationships, you can either have control over others, or you can have their love—not both. And because love is such a fundamental need for us, being overly controlling isn’t good for happiness.
There’s a related reason why being overly controlling of others lowers happiness: it results in what the well-known motivational psychologist David McClelland calls “power stress,” which is the tendency to get angry and frustrated when others don’t behave the way you want them to.
In one study, a group high in need for control and another group low in that need were both asked to deliver an extemporaneous speech to an audience consisting of two confederates. For one set of participants, the confederates reacted in a supportive and pleasant manner, but to the other set, they reacted negatively.
Here’s what the results showed: when the confederates were positive and supportive, both those high and low in need for control felt quite happy. This is not surprising, of course. When the confederates behaved negatively, however, a more interesting result emerged: Those high in need for control found it to be far more disturbing, and ended up feeling significantly more negative, than those low in need for control. This suggests that, when you seek control over others, you set yourself up for anger, frustration, and disappointment when they don’t behave the way you want them to.
In addition to crowding out others’ love and feeling frustrated, there’s yet another reason why the drive to control can lower happiness. This has to do with the quality of decisions we make. It turns out that we make our best decisions when we are exposed to a diverse set of views and inputs. This is why it is important to surround oneself with people from a variety of backgrounds. When we’re overly controlling of others, our decision-making suffers—because we drive away those who disagree with us and thus surround ourselves with only those who don’t mind being controlled: the “yea-sayers.”