The Happiness Project

A chronicle of my attempts to test-drive every tip, principle and scientific study that promotes happiness

Do You Hate to Hear "No," "Don't," or "Stop"? Plus the Weekly Video.

Learning to be demand resistant!

BreakchainOnce in a while, I learn a new word or phrase that allows me to see the world in a clearer way. In law school, I remember that after I learned the concept of “acting in reliance,” suddenly, I saw people acting in reliance all over the place. (For example, when my friend John signed a lease for a two-bedroom apartment because Michael promised to room with him, he’d “acted in reliance,” so when Michael wanted to move in with his girlfriend instead, John was entitled to hold him to his word.)

The other day, I received a very nice email from a reader who used the term “demand resistant” in her note. I’d never heard that term before, so I looked it up. I don’t recall seeing this phrase in the academic or scientific research I’ve read, and I’m not sure where it comes from – but whatever its origin, it’s a useful phrase.

A person who is “demand resistant” has a negative response to expectations, pressure, or obligations. They don’t respond well to demands or to being told that they “should” do something – sometimes, even when they’re trying to place those demands on themselves.

What a useful term! I see human nature more clearly now.

I’d already been grappling with a variation of this idea. I’d noticed that when people make resolutions, some people really resist “No,” “Stop,” and “Don’t” resolutions. They don’t want to tell themselves to give something up or to stop a behavior.

In my own case, I respond very well to “No,” “Stop,” and “Don’t.” I like that clarity. I don’t mind telling myself, “No nagging,” “No gossiping,” “Don’t expect praise or appreciation.”

But I’ve seen that some people respond very negatively to the idea of this kind of resolution – and sometimes, to any kind of resolution. They don’t like the idea of putting constraints on their behavior, at all.

Sometimes, they seem to respond better when a resolution is frame in a positive way. Instead of resolving “No more French fries or potato chips,” they might resolve to “Eat five servings of fruits or vegetables a day.” Instead of “Stop nagging my sweetheart,” they might focus on “Touch more, kiss more, hug more.”

But some people, I’ve noticed, bristle at the thought of putting any expectation on themselves. In that case, I think a happiness project would require a very different kind of approach from mine. Resolutions work for me, but for a very demand-resistant person, they might backfire.

As with all things related to happiness, the key is to know yourself (I remind myself of my First Personal Commandment, to “Be Gretchen”). It’s really true: I can only build a happy life on the foundation of my own nature.

Are you demand resistant, or have you noticed this quality in other people?

* 2010 Happiness Challenge: For those of you following the 2010 Happiness Project Challenge, to make 2010 a happier year, this month’s focus is Work. Last week’s resolution, in the month of Love, was to Kiss more, hug more, touch more. Did you try to follow that resolution? Did it help to boost your happiness?

This week’s resolution is to Aim higher.

If you want to read more about this resolution, check out…
We seek to control our lives but novelty makes us happy.
Happiness and the joy of undertaking a big project.
I've waited three years to write this post.

If you're new, here’s information on the 2010 Happiness Challenge (or watch the intro video). It’s never too late to start! You’re not behind, jump in right now, sign up here. For more ideas, check out the Happiness Project site on Woman’s Day.

* If you'd like to learn more about the notion that novelty and challenge bring happiness, a great resource is Dr. Todd Kashdan's book Curious? Discover the Missing Ingredient to a Fulfilling Life. Fascinating.

Gretchen Rubin is the author of The Happiness Project, a book and a blog about her adventures learning to be happier.

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