Make a PACT to Increase Happiness and Reduce Stress

Now that most of us have a few weeks of quarantine under our belts, it might be a good time to take stock of our individual responses to this stressful situation. I’d like to do it in a way that can help you keep that stress from negatively affecting you both now and in the future. Let’s revisit a model my wife, Margie, and I have taught for many years to help people balance their lives and reduce the harmful impact stress can have on their health and well-being.

The model I’m referring to is the PACT model. It was born from Margie’s studies on research about peak periods of happiness in people’s lives, as well as research about the effect extreme stress has on people’s long-term health. Not only were researchers able to identify common elements related to both topics, they found the two sets of elements to be essentially the same. When Margie studied this research, the similarity of the results from the separate studies confirmed that a simple model for life balance and stress reduction would enable many of us to better manage the day-to-day demands of a busy life as well as unexpected stress-inducing situations.

The PACT Model

For convenience, I’ll be using the acronym P.A.C.T. to refer to four elements that can create both happiness and stress resistance in our lives: Perspective, Autonomy, Connectedness, and Tone.

P: Perspective

The first element that can create happiness and stress resistance is perspective. Perspective can be defined as the “big picture” of life. People with good perspective know their life’s purpose and direction and value their past but still have a keen sense of the present moment. Perspective is that broad picture of where you’ve been and where you’re going that sets the context for today.

However, any time there’s a major shift in our lives—divorce, job loss, death of a loved one, or other big change, our perspective is likely to suffer. Of course, an unexpected disruption like the COVID-19 crisis, with its sudden fear and doubts, will cause most people to go through a period of low perspective. Over time, though, many people find that a low period can become an opportunity for growth—even though it doesn’t feel comfortable or familiar. They see a difficult situation for what it is while also believing that better times are ahead, and that we will step into that reality together. After all, none of us is as smart as all of us.

A: Autonomy

The next element that contributes to high life satisfaction and high resistance to stress is autonomy. Autonomy is a feeling of having control over your own life—a clear sense of your identity, the freedom to make your own choices, seeing your daily activities as moving you toward your long- and short-range goals.

Now, before you say “Blanchard, in control is the furthest thing from how I feel right now,” let’s take another look at autonomy.

Although the state of today’s world makes most of us feel that we are anything but in control of our lives, we always have some autonomy. As an example, we can choose how we react to our current situation. A couple of my friends have mentioned it’s easier to get through hard times if you also pay attention to good things that are happening around you. Another friend says “Don’t waste a crisis!” She believes in using times like these to strengthen her positive mental attitude.

We also have the ability to develop our skills—for example, taking a course online or beginning a meditation regimen—to help us control where our thoughts go. Or we can choose how to spend our extra time—watch some TV, open a good book, try a new recipe, and work on a puzzle after dinner. We can be intentional about what messages we pay the most attention to—those that claim things are awful and life will never be the same or those that suggest this is the beginning of a new era of neighbors taking care of one another and people around the globe working together to build a positive future for our children.

C: Connectedness

The third ingredient is connectedness. Connectedness relates to the quality of relationships in our lives. People who report high connectedness have positive relationships with friends, family, self, coworkers, and supervisors. You can have a highly connected experience watching a beautiful sunset or walking into a home that you’ve decorated because it feels good to you. You can feel highly connected having a cup of coffee while Face Timing a friend or sitting in bed at night cuddled up to a loved one.

Low connectedness is when you do not feel you are an integral part of your environment—whether it be at home, at work, or in your community. For example, if you move to a new home and go away for the weekend, then return and find that nobody knows you were gone, it can indicate that you are not very connected to your neighborhood.

Mutually supportive relationships can enhance a feeling of overall well-being and balance. If you suddenly find yourself working from home due to shelter-in-place rules, staying in touch with your colleagues at work may help improve your morale and performance. And while spending more time than ever at home with your partner and/or children may at first seem to be a major work disruption, once you settle into a nice routine you may all discover a stronger feeling of family unity than you have felt before.

T: Tone

The fourth element in the PACT model is tone. This is how you feel about yourself physically, and includes the way you present yourself, your health and energy level, and your sense of fitness. People with high tone generally have a high energy level, average weight, and good nutrition and are comfortable with their physical appearance.

Note: If your perspective, autonomy, and connectedness aren’t as high as you would like these days, focus on your tone. Start simply by scheduling time every day to go for a walk, making better decisions about what you eat, and going to bed at a reasonable hour. You’ll find that while you’re walking, you have time for some perspective—to really reflect on life. And when you’re making good, healthy choices, you’ll start to feel better and that will remind you that you are in control of your health. And  people who feel good about themselves are more likely to reach out to others—and that will help you develop a feeling of connectedness. So you see, starting with tone helps the other three stress-reducing elements in the PACT model tend to fall into place.

Following the PACT model as you move through this season in your life will help you. It will work even better if you personalize the steps and make it your own. When you allow perspective, autonomy, connectedness, and tone into your daily life, stress will naturally lose its grip and you will enjoy life on a higher level.

Take care and stay safe! Have an im-PACT-ful day!

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