“I don’t know if it’s true, but I’m happier believing it is”: Believing in Others

By Maria Miller, MA, PLPC

Researcher Dr. Brené Brown, a self-proclaimed skeptic, asked her husband: “Do you believe everyone is truly doing the best they can?” She explains that her husband, who is a pediatrician, has seen all kinds of humanity: The good, the bad, the ugly. He thinks for a while, then he slowly responds: “Yes, I do believe everyone is doing their best. I don’t know if it’s true, but I know that I am happier believing it is.”

It turns out that he’s right. According to Dr. Brown’s research, people who are generous with their interpretations of others’ words and actions are happier and more fulfilled (pro tip: they’re also more boundaried–more on that next week). What does it look like to extend that grace to others? Dr. Brown defines this trait as “extending the most generous interpretation possible towards another’s intentions.” With my clients, I’ve shortened this to MGI- Most Generous Interpretation. This is how it looks in action:

You’re late driving to work after dropping the kids off at daycare, hot coffee threatens to slosh over your cupholder, and some jerk cuts you off, narrowly missing you.

Deep breath. Most Generous Interpretation: Their partner is in labor in the back seat. They’re rushing to the hospital, screams fill the car, and they are about to meet their first baby. Deep breath.

While this story may not be true (will you ever even know?), I imagine your nervous system and emotional health will be stronger if you believe it is. Extending MGI to others, over time, will help you become a more compassionate, empathetic person.

How about you? Who has pissed you off or disappointed you lately? Try applying the Most Generous Interpretation you can to their actions. How does it feel to do that?

I know what you might be thinking: If I did this all the time, I’d be a walking doormat. I’d never hold other people accountable for their repeated mistakes, and I would forgive unforgivable behavior over and over again. How is this helpful?

As a part of this research, Dr. Brown also collected interviews with hundreds of the most compassionate people in the world (monks, volunteers, etc), and they all had one thing in common: Impeccable boundaries. While these people use MGI on a regular basis, they also very clearly communicate what is and is not okay with them. They keep their hearts open and their backbones strong. Next week, we’ll chat about how boundaries can support generosity & compassion. Until then, take good care and try some MGI this week. May I suggest you even try it on yourself?

Maria Miller is a therapist at The Center for Mindfulness & CBT. She specializes in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders, depression, anxiety, emotional intelligence, and trauma. With her background as a yoga teacher and emotional intelligence assessor, she enjoys blending mindfulness & a heart-centered approach with evidence-based techniques to help clients live from their own truth.

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