Since I have been teaching Happiness 101 for over a year, I have come to be known as “The Happy Therapist”. But I have not always been a therapist and I have not always been happy.
One of the myths of Happiness is: You are either born with it, or your not. Most myths with great longevity have a kernel of truth – this myth is no exception. Studies have proven that approximately half of your Happiness is based on genetics (The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky). You might assume that because I am “The Happy Therapist” that my genetics predispose me to be Happy. Just the opposite. Looking to both my mother and my father and much of the extended family, I would definitely say that, from a biological standpoint, I lean heavily in the direction of UNhappiness. Yes, I have been on antidepressants. Yes, I know what it is like to be so down you don’t want to get out of bed or shave much less go to work. Yes, I have been there.
Life events is what most people hope will make them Happy. “If I get the promotion THEN I’ll be happy”, “When I get married THEN I’ll be happy”, “When I win the lottery, I’ll be happy.” Sadly this hope is misplaced.
Life events makes up only about 10% of our overall Happiness. This means it does have an effect, but not nearly as much as we think it will. So, you might think that I must have had a very rosy 10%. Yes and no. The first half of my life was fraught with a barrage of unhappy events, peppered occasionally with positive ones. The turning point was meeting an amazing and upbeat woman whom I now call my wife. Though I was very pessimistic and cynical her continued optimism exposed me to a new way of thinking. I began to make different choices.
It is our choice that makes up the 40% of our overall Happiness. In this area too I have struggled greatly. For the majority of my life, I have made choices that have actively fostered my own unhappiness. I gravitated toward the dark and adopted unhappy habits. Even now, after all I have learned, I unearth thoughts, beliefs and behaviors that undermine my own Happiness. This is one of the reasons I have told my students from the beginning that I am on the path of Happiness WITH them.
When I took Sonja Lyubomirsky’s Happiness self-test in The How of Happiness, in April 2009, I scored 4.20 (on a scale from 1 to 6). That score was just below average (4.30). I am a THERAPIST and I was still scoring BELOW average! I am pleased to report that my retest on May 1st, 2010 revealed that my Happiness has increased significantly to 5.03. My Happiness increased because I use in my daily life the techniques I teach in class. In other words I do not just talk the talk, but walk the walk. I want to thank the students of Happiness 101 who keep me on my toes and inspire me be a better therapist, teacher and human being.
This has been the most challenging article I have written to date. I share my story only because I want you to know that even if you think you were born unhappy, even if life has given you lemons, even if you have made choices up to this point that have contributed to your unhappiness, YOU CAN BE HAPPIER STARTING RIGHT NOW. Don’t think of the path as one with a finish line. Don’t even strive to be “Happy”. Just aim to be a little Happier today then you were yesterday.
Specifically you can do this by writing down five positive things right now. These positives could be anything big or small. They need not be a personal accomplishment, though they certainly could be. It could be anything that you appreciate. If you have trouble, see my article called Building Your Positive Muscles. There are eight different ways to find positives. Martin Seligman and later Emmons and McCoullough did studies that prove that doing this five minute exercise each day helps to jog sad people from their depression and helps Happy people maintain their sunny disposition.
Another way to start being happier today is to use the formula we use in Happiness 101:
1) Become mindful. Be aware of the conscious and unconscious choices you are making.
2) Contemplate. Ask yourself, “Is this something that makes me happy?”
3) Brainstorm. Explore your options. What OTHER choices can you make?
4) Decide. Choose a course of action.
5) Act. Do it! Even if you don’t necessarily like the option you picked, it’s okay you can always change it.
As much as I would like to take credit for this formula, it is just a step-by-step break down of what the Dalai Lama offered in his book, The Art of Happiness: “One begins by identifying those factors which lead to happiness and those factors which lead to suffering. Having done this, one sets about gradually eliminating those factors which lead to suffering and cultivate those which lead to happiness. That is the way.”
Thank you for walking this path with me.
Frank Clayton a.k.a. The Happy Therapist