Dr. Suzanne B. Phillips

Licensed Psychologist, Psychoanalyst, Diplomate in Group Psychology, Certified Group Therapist, Author, Radio Host and Media Consultant Covering a Wide Range of Psychological Topics

Post: Would You Risk Rejection for Happiness?

womanrejectionGiven that most of us don’t associate being rejected with feeling happy, it is understandable if your inclination is to decline.

A brief look at the growing research on risk-taking and happiness and the connection of happiness with social relationships, may give you pause to reconsider.

A consideration of risk-reducing strategies may even make it seem possible.

Defining Happiness

The definition of happiness held by most neuroscientists, psychiatrists, economists, positive psychologists and Buddhist Monks is not the original view of happiness as a state of good fortune but rather as a sense of well-being.

As such, researchers like David Lykken and Sonjya Lyubomirsky inform us that this state of happiness is a “many factored thing.”

  • From twin research, we learn that 50% of our happiness is genetically determined—we are wired to be the kid who was always smiling or the kid who rarely smiled.
  • Another 10% of our happiness is considered to be a function of life circumstances that are outside of our control, like being born in a war-torn country, loss of parents or family dynamics.
  • The final 40% of our happiness is directly in our hands.

As such, research suggests we can enhance our  happiness because it is not a reflection of what we have–but what we do!!

Risk Taking to Improve Happiness

Research on how to enhance happiness examines the traits, attitudes and behaviors of those people who are found to be happy on screening and assessment measures.

A new study finds that people who enjoy taking risks may be more content and satisfied with their lives than those who play it safe. It seems that activities that may initially cause us to feel uncertainty and discomfort are actually associated with some of the most memorable and enjoyable life experiences.

Whether it is the neurophysiological perk of novelty, the feeling of mastery, or the success of pushing beyond our own expectations, risk-taking to explore the unknown, particularly when it is balanced with familiar feel good choices, is life enhancing.

What About Emotional Risk-taking?

Whereas most of the risks discussed in risk-taking research involve daring unknown experiences from new food choices to skydiving, it is worth recognizing that our happiness is also inevitably enhanced by the emotional risks we are willing to take.

  • Evolving psychological thinking recognizes that as humans our need for secure and loving attachment is primary from infancy.
  • As such, it is not surprising that the number one predictor of how happy we are is the quality of our social relationships.

Yes, but…the wish to have positive social relationships–whether you are a young child asking to play in the sandbox, a teen inviting a date to the party, a single meeting someone online, a spouse sharing a need or a senior entering a new community—can feel risky. It involves risking fear of rejection.

Fear of Rejection

Like most other fears, people can vary in the degree to which they fear rejection based on their history and life experiences. Some who have suffered with family rejection set out in life expecting it and avoiding it.  Some have been blessed with such acceptance that they never expect it. Some can trace their fear of rejection to a certain period in their life like the school years. At any age, many have been caught off guard with a painful rejection.

Why Risk Fear of Rejection?

Risking fear of rejection is a crucial step in enhancing happiness. It is worth the risk because it involves stepping over history, fears and doubts to dare to appreciate self and trust that others will do so. The more risks you can take–the smaller the risk will feel.

Strategies for Risking Rejection

Consider some of these strategies as ways to regulate the fear and anxiety associated with the risk and to make the unexpected possible.

Use Curiosity

  • As a personality trait, curiosity facilitates risk taking. Curious people are more willing than others to take risks because their urge to see or do something unknown out-trumps the anxiety and fear attached.
  • As a tool, curiosity is a valuable risk taking strategy that anyone can use.
  • As soon as you are curious about what will happen when you invite people to be in your book group; ask a man for his number; or meet the other employees, you have re-defined the dynamics.
  • Instead of passively waiting to see if you are rejected, you are actively observing the outcome of a situation. The risk is still emotional but you have added an intellectual component. You have also given yourself a little distance that reduces the fear of rejection. You have become both a participant and an observer.

Wow – Some people were excited about being in the book club!

He didn’t give me his number, but he asked for mine—Maybe he wants to be in control?


Access Your Authenticity

  • Fear of rejection often prompts us to ignore who we really are in favor of who we think others want us to be.
  • In some ways this exacerbates the possibility of rejection because the possibility of finding people who really “ get us” is left out of the equation.
  • One way to buffer the fear of rejection of your true self is to engage in activities, pursuits, and passions that you love, for the love of it… and to be open and friendly in the process.

When musicians, athletes, bird watchers, dog lovers etc. meet, they already have a connection.

Examine Your Expectations and Behaviors

Sometimes we call forth the very reaction we fear. Ask yourself:

  • Are you so worried about rejection that you are cautious, quiet, or overly vigilant rather than curious, open and friendly?
  • Are you reading neutral reactions as negative to prevent hurt or disappointment?
  • Could your “ scared” look be misinterpreted as “mad?”
  • Are you expecting perfection from yourself and others, such that you are actually coming across as judgmental and rejecting?
  • Are you willing to consider that you are not the only person afraid of rejection in the room, club, class or family?
  • Are you open to consider that the other person’s awkward overture of interest or friendship may be far from perfect—but genuine.
  • Are you willing to look on the light side and find the humor in a situation?

Balance Your Tally of the Consequences

Often our fear of rejection is fueled by negative memories that keep us cautious and avoidant of risking social connection.

  • In some ways this is understandable as research tells us that almost everyone remembers negative things more strongly and in more detail than positive ones.
  • The problem is that it does not accurately reflect reality.

How often do we overlook the five compliments and rivet on the dismissal or critique of one person?

  • Just knowing about this tendency helps people take note of both positive and negative consequences.
  • The benefit as reflected in social experiments is that the glimmer of hope offered by acceptance by just one other participant can make a difference.

 Broaden the Field

  • Social connections come in many places and in many ways. A valuable resource is to think of involvement in groups.
  • Many people find that the group structure reduces the pressure of one on one acceptance and rejection.
  • Group activities allow connection with varying degrees of commitment and involvement.
  • Group cohesion builds around a goal – be it a team, a humanitarian mission, or a political cause. It is a natural path to connection.

Assume the Best- Shake Off The Rest

It is easy to say “assume the best”—it is harder to do.

It might be easier to consider that regardless of what happens, the best part of risking rejection is the risk itself. It reflects the courage to leap over fear to options of connection in the future.

A mantra that helps with dealing with “the rest” comes from one of my children’s basketball coaches. When the team was losing and kids missed shots, he inevitably said, “ It’s ok – shake it off – every shot is a new one!!!