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 Take a Risk 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.

 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.

But… What about emotional risk taking?

 Would You Risk Rejection to Improve Happiness?

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.

 The wish to have positive social relationships can feel risky. Whether you are a young child asking to play in the sandbox, a teen making friends in a new school, a single meeting someone online, or a senior entering a new community, 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 risking rejection. They may make the unexpected possible.

Cultivate Your 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.

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 researchtells 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 may help us take note of both positive and negative consequences.
  • The benefit as reflected in social experimentsis that the glimmer of hope offered by the acceptance of just one other participant can make a difference.

 Assume the Best-Shake Off The Rest

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

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 in the future. It fosters resilience across many aspects of your life.

A mantra that I find helpful came from one of my son’s basketball coaches many years ago. When the team was losing, the players were upset and inevitably missing shots, this coach would say,

“ It’s ok boys– shake it off – every shot is a new one!!!


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