Happiness = Openness + Boundaries

Happiness, confidence and other good feelings are generally associated with openness. When we are happy, we are more sociable, more compassionate and more likely to help others. On the other hand, when we are angry or depressed we close off from other people and are less likely to notice or care about what’s going on for them.

These associations are not simple cause and effect, but self-reinforcing cycles: the better you feel, the more open you’ll be, making for more satisfying relationships and experiences, hence even more good feelings. It’s been shown that happy people cultivate habits that reinforce this cycle, leading lives characterised by community-minded actions.

However there are times when being too open can lead to pain – such as when you find yourself being used or taken for granted, or when more is asked of you than you can deliver. As mentioned above, troubled people cannot be relied upon to notice, much less act, if their demands are too much for you. This is when it is important to practise firm boundaries; drawing a line in the sand that indicates how far you are prepared to go.

This can be hard to do, for a number of reasons: compassion; not wanting to offend; expecting people to ‘be reasonable’ or, more commonly, waiting for the other person’s permission before you stop giving.

Here are the steps I’ve come up with (I’m still practising!)
1) Decide how far is too far
2) Convince yourself (not the other person) that it’s okay to go no further
3) Refuse to cross the line
4) If you’ve already crossed the line, say you won’t be doing so any more
5) Offer no apology or excuse
6) Decide to feel good about yourself even if the other person is disappointed or angry

The happiest people are those who are able to be open and vulnerable, but also practise good boundaries. (A good reference on this is Brené Brown’s book The Gifts of Imperfection.)

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