Recently I was discussing with a client the issue of happiness and how to have more of it. One of the questions that came up was “isn’t that rather obvious”, and it occurred to me that a lot of what I say in my work does have a feel of being rather obvious. In the treatment of depression for example we often use a ‘visual / analogue scale’ or more simply a line on a piece of paper with zero at one end and ten at the other end. People are asked to rate their depression at this point on the scale, then a second rating in answer to the question “has there ever been a time in your life when you have been less depressed than you are now?” As you can imagine most people have had better times and when they explore what was different they often say things like, “I had more friends” or “I had a job that I loved doing” or “I used to walk my dog everyday”, leading to the realization that in many cases they have stopped doing the things that gave them pleasure and satisfaction, and therefore made their lives happier.
My recent reading led me to the writings of David Myers and the subject of Social Psychology. He points out that what can appear to be common sense is that we often invoke it after we know it, this he terms a hindsight bias. So I will continue to promote the principles of happiness and how to have more of it, as I am increasingly doing in my day to day work, and if I get told that I am stating the blindingly obvious, then I will gladly accept that….
No doubt about it one of the greatest principles to promote happiness in an individual is having people to love and having people in our lives that love us. This last several days has been a little different as my daughter and I have had the opportunity to spend time together as my wife has been away visiting family.
There is certainly a different dynamic operating when one key person is removed from the family unit, fortunately only for a short period. I have to say I have very much enjoyed this time with my daughter who is getting ready to leave the nest and head out on her journey, and to continue her education in an area that she is passionate about. Having that passion and seeing it as a purpose in her life is something that can only contribute to her life.
One other factor that has been evident recently is the importance of the silly stuff in our lives. Having time to play is critical in enhancing happiness and creating opportunities to see things differently. If we are relaxed our minds have the opportunity to process information and we do this subconsciously, our ability to solve problems is then enhanced, and clearly the more effectively we can deal with problems, the less we have and the happier we can be.
So time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time….
As I continue my work in mental health, the one thing that that occurs time and time again, and something that undermines peoples attempts to recover from crises in their lives is social isolation. When illnesses such as depression strike, the need to be with supportive groups of people, whether this be family or friends, or in the case of the need for hospitalization meeting people like myself or my nursing colleagues is clear. Of the many things we can do for our fellow man is to be with them when the going gets rough.
In modern society however, with all of the challenges that we face on a day to day basis, we often turn away from other peoples issues’ as we have enough on our personal plates. However if we refrain from turning away, we are presented with an opportunity to enhance our personal happiness. Many studies have demonstrated that acts of kindness have the capacity to enhance our own personal satisfaction, it even enhances the personal relationships with a partner when we extend kindness during times of their personal need.
We are social beings and although most people value personal time, when that is extended or even in some circumstances enforces, we experience distress. It has been said that there is only one race on the planet, the human race, and an increase in we more than me thinking can only be beneficial to our collective species. So if you meet someone who is down, give of yourself a little, reach out and give them a hand up, you will likely find yourself benefiting in the longer term yourself.
There is certainly a strong discourse around the Positive Psychology movement.
As the move to take Psychology away from the traditional roots of a focus on the psychopathology of illness, to one of a focus on resilience, character strengths and virtue, strong voices have emerged to challenge what might be considered a limited view of the world promoted by the positive psychology thinkers.
As I set out on my own path to explore the ideas around happiness, I am conscious of the many colleagues that I have in the field of Psychology who are fine upstanding people, and who have no greater focus in their careers than to relieve the suffering of others by using their skills and knowledge in the best way that they know how, essentially doing the best they can with what they have.
Nowhere have I read any declaration from Positive Psychology proponents that the mainstream psychology field is negative or of reduced importance. Clearly there is suffering in the world and that suffering has a place in human development, however one has to make a determination for oneself as to how to approach the world that we live in, and I have chosen to align myself with the Positive Psychology movement. I say this with a recognition that The Happiness Lens is not rose coloured, I do not live in some Pollyanna like world; this would be impossible as I am faced on a regular basis with the after effects of the damage the world and other people can create, but I am making a choice. Self-determination is a significant characteristic in achieving personal growth and happiness, and here I walk the talk.
I do believe that the tools promoted by the PP movement have the capacity to move us forward and assist those of us that need it to have greater well-being. Health after all is more than the absence of illness. But I accept the dialectic, and hope that the synthesis of differing views is a place where we all can be satisfied.
Positive Psychology is not specifically the study of happiness, although happiness is a concept that we are all familiar with, it is the study of what makes life worth living. There are examples throughout history of people overcoming the most difficult of circumstances, perhaps the greatest example of this for me comes through in the writing of Viktor Frankl, a man who’s now very famous story shows how he survived the Concentration Camps of Nazi Germany and emerged a better man who was able to go on and contribute to the world. Refusing to be victimized by his experience, he found the meaning in his experience. Everything begins as a thought, and it is this idea that has become the focus of my life in recent times. How can I be more masterful of my thoughts and therefore be happier.
I am by the way a happy person in general, I have a family that I love and who love me, I have work that I find valuable and challenging, and I have access to resources that stimulate me, including the physical environment of British Columbia Canada where I live.
As a therapist working in mental health I was taken by the writings of Epictetus, the Stoic Philosopher, who said that “Men are disturbed not by things which happen, but by the opinions about the things” or simply it’s not what happens to us that causes us problems, its what we think about those things. Epictetus might be the worlds first self-help guru…..
Epictetus also pointed out that change is inevitable, and I am changing at this time, my thoughts have changed as I have been exposed to the Positive Psychology framework, although saying that I was not blind it previously, I just hadn’t found the framework. I’m not a slow learner, but I certainly missed the start of the movement. I am also keeping my dreams alive and I will be exploring my world of possibilities in future posts.
But for now it’s Valentines day and I’m going for lunch with my darling wife.