The Elixir Of Life? How Feeling In Control Impacts Our Work Lives - And Our Longevity
Feeling powerless and helpless is a key factor behind anxiety and depression. There's a simple cure for that, according to Ellen Langer and Johann Hari
But the changes we make in life to feel happier don't have to be as dramatic. This feeling of powerlessness isn't just confined to workplaces - and neither are the answers.
In the late 1970's, esteemed Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer and her colleague Judith Rodin, conducted what was to become a landmark experiment in Arden House, a care home in New England.
What they did was deceptively simple but startlingly effective. They divided the residents into two groups, both of which were given plants and films to watch, with a subtle variation in the parameters set around the control group, as Langer explains in her book Counterclockwise:
"...they were allowed to choose where to receive visitors, and if and when to watch the movies that were shown at the home. Each also chose a houseplant to care for, and they were to decide where to place the plant in their room, as well as when and how much to water it."
As Langer goes on to explain, the point of the exercise was to help the residents "engage with the world and live their lives."
Eighteen months later, they revisited Arden House, compared the two groups and found that the control group were not only healthier, happier and more alert but twice as many of them were alive, raising the idea that not only is the feeling of control directly linked to happiness - it's linked to longevity, too.
What is so reassuring about this study, is that sometimes the desire to be in control of our lives can take on what feel like unreachable goals - we want to own a house, run our own business, be in a position of status. And, of course, these things might come.
But for the time inbetween, it is a relief to know that the things that markedly improve our happiness levels right now are the little decisions we are able to take every day - and knowing that there are always some aspects of our lives (if not all) that we are in control of.