What Does a Happy Person Look Like?

???????????????????????????????????????Dateline: Threadgill’s, Austin, Tx. Standing before the void. The void is the giant hole in which I have dumped old posts in order to redo the site. Many changes have been made in cyber world since I started MysteryShrink.

Change makes me anxious. Having a ton of work ahead of me makes me anxious. Fortunately, MysteryShrink is about Anxiety, Stress, Anxiety Management Skills, Defining a Self, and having a good time.

brain anxiety

Stress, Happiness, and the Needle in JP Seymour’s Arm.

We live a consumer oriented society which means our sense of self, the so-called American Dream has come to mean defining who you are by what you buy. Accomplishing the American Dream has come to mean a lifestyle that is envied by others rather than a way of life that is satisfying. When a person who has the big three–Money, Fame, and Power, turns up dead of a drug addiction, we are lost. Why? Why would someone be anxious and unhappy if he possessed what the rest of us are working so hard to attain?

kate_hudson_drops_18_million_on_a_london_townhouse_ezjgpIt’s time to redefine what “living the dream” means. Research and the lives of the rich and famous shows that we have bought into a system that sells products and seduces us into to debt–a system of trying to feel good that does not work. MysteryShrink is about re-thinking what “living the dream” means.

Living the dream could be about finding a way to live that brings meaning to life. Promise to not go all preachy. Just some ideas to think about along with kicks and giggles.

Stress: How Much of Who You Are, that is, your decisions and behavior, is determined by anxiety? Differentiation of Self is a slow process that requires thinking.


Don’t worry if the terms send you back to back to Kim Kardasiun’s waxing trauma. I studied for years to start to “get it” and I’m still working on it. Bowen Theory is about changing how you do your life. That’s pretty big. There were people who have worked with Bowen Theory for years (sadly, many of these are therapists) and still don’t know what Differentiation of Self means. My plan is to help by providing lots of examples. So hang on. You’ll get it. It’ll be worth it. Almost like fun. No, it will be fun. I only do fun.

monkey defining a selfDefinitions of terms in Bowen theory were established in clear and straight-forward language by Dr. Murray Bowen. Thus, these definitions are repeated almost without change in all follow-up publications. Check out the little guy in the ape family starting to differentiate a self.


Differentiation of self refers to one’s ability to separate one’s own intellectual and emotional functioning from that of the family. Bowen spoke of people functioning on a single continuum or scale. Individuals with “low differentiation” are more likely to become fused with predominant family emotions. Those with “low differentiation” depend on others’ approval and acceptance. puppetdreamstime_4318217They either conform themselves to others in order to please them, or they attempt to force others to conform to themselves. They are thus more vulnerable to stress and they struggle more to adjust to life changes. (See “I hate change” above.)



To have a well-differentiated “self” is an ideal that no one realizes perfectly.

The more differentiated person recognizes that they need others, but depends less on other’s acceptance and approval. She doesn’t merely adopt the attitude of those around her, but acquires principles thoughtfully. Her principles help her to decide important family and social issues, and resist the feelings of the moment.

Thus, despite conflict, criticism, and rejection she can stay calm and clear headed enough to distinguish thinking rooted in a careful assessment of the facts from thinking clouded by emotion.

When thinking of decisions clouded by emotions, think of the bad-for-you relationships, high blood pressure rages at other drivers who might be dangerous, that memoir you want to write, bad-for-you jobs, bags of Cheetos, saying “yes” when you mean “no,” the disorganized mess you are avoiding, that book you’re afraid to write, the family member you’re avoiding, or whatever is how you attempt to manage anxiety that backfires on you. Oh, and the late fees that make you want to scream.

http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photos-lost-night-image16471368What the more differentiated person says matches what she does. When she acts in the best interests of the group, she chooses thoughtfully, not because she is caving in to relationship pressures. Confident in her own thinking, she can either support another’s view without becoming wishy-washy or reject another’s view without becoming hostile.

Differentiation of Self is a slow process that requires thinking.

Oh, no. I promised fun and now I’m talking about thinking. Who has that kind of time?



I'm a psychologist who goes to way too many movies, for the same reason I chose this profession. I love stories. I use movies and novels working with people in my office and during speaking engagements. "You should write some of this down," I kept being told. So, this is it, folks.

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