Does human happiness depend on filtering out the negative things in life?

“You drop a glass while making breakfast. You get stuck in traffic on your way to work. Your boss yells at you for being late. Congratulations! You’re having a bad morning. It happens to everyone, at one time or another. But how we react to the bad things in life reveals a lot about our brains. It might seem to go without saying, but people with sunnier dispositions are better able to regulate their emotions than people with gloomier personalities, who are more likely to be thrown by unpleasant events. Why is this?” ~from “How Happy Brains Respond to Negative Things” by By Summer Allen and Jeremy Adam Smith | March 29, 2016

Woman driver is angry stucking in traffic jam

Here is the single line in the article that struck a chord with me:

Does human happiness depend on filtering out the negative things in life?

My answer: I think not. If anything it is dependent on how you respond to every situation you encounter in the course of a day.

Case in point: I’m trying to raise a daughter with a strong and healthy sense of her own self. Some days it is easier to do. Those would be the days when each of us have been practicing good self-care. We got enough sleep. We were both current on our “home” work. We are expressing ourselves freely. She has a good day on the golf course at practice or the match (for it is the season). I have a productive writing day and am keeping all my clients happy too. It’s a mixed bag of elements, clearly.

Some days though, things aren’t going swimmingly for one or both of us. Regardless, I stay true to one of my guiding mantras (as much as I can!):

Tell the truth as quickly as you recognize it.

Reality check: This is easier said than done.

Recently, my daughter chose to end her high school romance with “the boy” who is/was a “great first boyfriend” because he was acting like he wasn’t that into her. He hadn’t done anything majorly wrong but he did “text” less, took less interest in her days, and started playing a lot more basketball, lifting weights at the gym, and hanging out with his guy friends. After a month of this behavior on his part, she rallied the courage to ask what was up. Now understand, she’d been asking her dad and I and my partner for advice for months every time something small happened, “What should I do? What should I write? What should say?”

My response was always basically the same, “What do you feel you need to do?” I do my best not impose my opinions on her and it’s really really hard sometimes when I see her really really hurting.

Dad said to make an ultimatum. Thankfully, my daughter always asked a second opinion of Dan and I.:)

My partner, Dan, suggests she ask “the boy” certain questions in certain ways (aka calmly and when she’s not feeling defensive). In other words, after “taking a breath” before leaping into emotionally shark-infested waters. He knows she is listening to all of us before she acts which is a soothing thought. He has also successfully raised four teens himself and I always smile inside when I hear her say “Hey, Dan…guess what happened today.”

The truth was she was suffering quietly at school (which made me sad as her mom) but she was vocal at home (which was a blessing in my book and made me grateful.)

Working on Healthy Sense of Self materials on a daily basis definitely informs my thought patterns and choices as a parent. It makes me a better parent than I already was. It keeps me generally more aware and a better observer of myself and for that I am grateful. I’ve taken my personal inventory of my major life experiences at least annually since joining this team and organization in 2011.

To put things in perspective: In 2011, my daughter was 11 and navigating Middle School. Boys were not yet an issue. Self-image, friendships, grades, and wanting a cat of her own were though. High school is a whole other Universe to master.

Having been through plenty of my own failed relationships in my late teens, 20s, 30s, and 40s I knew in essence what she was going through. Fundamentally, I know this is part of the human experience. The good and the bad and the ugly contribute to our evolving emotional intelligence, our empathy, our resilience, our rational and intuitive skills, and our Sense of Self.

When she finally and wisely chose to lean in and push the issue of why he wasn’t spending any free time with her, he came clean that more than three weeks ago his level of interest had changed. She leaned in with one more painful question — which is a testament to her courage I say.

The Girl: Why didn’t you say so three weeks ago?

The Boy: I didn’t want to hurt your feelings.

The Girl: Well, you have been hurting my feelings.

The Boy: …well I guess I will see you at school then after Spring Break.

The Girl: Yeah, see you. (And then she hung up and came to find me in need of a long hug with crocodile tears in her eyes.)

I made us sweet tea. She passed on wanting any cookies. We spent some time talking about her painful experience of hearing the truth spoken–that she had sensed weeks before. She knows she has the rest of the week to regroup before going back to school. The Universe (which clearly has a sense of humor!) tested her literally that same afternoon, not two hours later.

She went to practice some golfing basics that afternoon and came home reporting with a hint of sarcasm in her tone, “Guess who I saw at the course?”

She wasn’t upset by it though. In fact, she was happier than she has been for weeks because she handled “the sighting” with grace and strength. Good golf was played that day and homework was done in record time. And, there is still nearly a full week of Spring Break for her to enjoy. Her resilience astounds me every time, even though I know she has it rooted in her core being. Again, I feel gratitude for her vocalizing her feelings in real time.

So I will pose the question again.

Does human happiness depend on filtering out the negative things in life?

It’s not about filtering out the negative; it’s about embracing the process of understanding what we perceive to be a negative; and learn from it.

Happiness can be amplified by how we process the scary, the upsetting, the anxieties, that we are bound to encounter in life and especially in relationships.

As my favorite mom-documenter, Joni Gilbert, ritualistically ends her funny and insightful pieces posted on FB that chronicle her exchanges with her son wunderkid Cody:

Heart Pounding. Love Abounding.


The Mission of Healthy Sense of Self is to support people on their journey of restoring their own happy, healthy Sense of Self, especially those who don’t have a sense of what that might be. Take our 90 second quiz to understand more about your Sense of Self today.


  1. The MoneyWhisperer on April 24, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    You describe the process of your teenager daughter beautifully, Deborah. It can be so painful and complicated for “beginners”. It is so important to have parents with sharp ears and a big heart.

    • Antoinetta Vogels on April 24, 2016 at 10:16 pm

      Thank you for your reaction. It takes in deed quite a bit, not so much to become a parent, but to be a good one, giving priority to acknowledging your child all the while staying true to your Self.

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