It is easy to feel powerless against the recession. Headlines are rife with doom, and we have control of almost none of it: unemployment, the housing market and the national debt. In this constant stream of negativity, it is easy to focus on what we do not have control of and forget about what we do have control over.

How can one person feel worried sick while the next person is not? Why is one person depressed about the layoff while the next person is actually happy about it? The answer lies not in the circumstances but how we handle it.

I, myself, have been laid off during this recession, and I have struggled with depression and pessimism for most of my life (see “My Story: From Suicidal to The Happy Therapist“). Therefore I can deeply empathize with clients and students who tell me their story, which is usually peppered with words like “stuck,” “trapped” and “can’t.”

It is important to acknowledge sadness, hopelessness and worry. These feelings are not merely uncomfortable emotions — they are guideposts to feeling better; a divining rod to their belief system. In the very first class of Happiness 101, I tell students not to slap a plastic smiley face over their pain but to feel it and learn from it.

Positive psychology teaches that each emotion is feedback to us about our underlying belief system. It is here that we find choice and empowerment. For instance, if a man feels shame because he was swept away by the latest wave of layoffs, he might have an underlying belief like “If I am not providing for my family, I am a failure.” You will notice this belief statement leaves little room for extenuating circumstances — for instance high unemployment rates.

We do not have control over the world or national economy, but we do have control over our own belief system. In this example if the man replaced his belief with “As long as I am doing my best, I am okay,” instead of feeling shame, he might not only feel hope but possibly pride because his focus is on his efforts and not the outcome.

Whether suffering job loss, death of a loved one or a personal failure, we can always choose how we weather the storm. In his famous book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Nazi concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl wrote, “the last of the human freedoms: to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

James Dean said, “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sail.” You might imagine that one person who believes he is helpless against the storm of the recession would have a very different feeling than the person who believes, “I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.” (“Invictus,” William Ernest Henley)

After people have told their story and properly honored their feelings, they might be open to discussion about what they do have control over, rather than lamenting about what they do not. In the above example, this hard-working American had no control over being laid off. He can continue to apply for jobs but have no control over call-backs. He can do well in the interview but still not get the job.

Research has proven (Dan Gilbert, “Stumbling on Happiness”) that when people feel that they have no control, depression often follows. This is why it is important (at the appropriate time) to turn discussion toward what one does have control over.

In session, I challenge phrases like “I’m in a rock and a hard place,” “there’s nothing I can do” and “I am trapped.” Invariably I find that there are many choices — all at varying degrees of attractiveness.

For instance, the unemployed man might believe that his only option is to just keep applying for (local) jobs and pray that something comes through. When brainstorming, he might find several other options including: filing for bankruptcy, taking a job out of state, renting out the basement, filing for unemployment, asking for loans from friends, moving in with mom and dad and/or starting his own business. This man might find all of these options to be unsavory, but I have found that depression immediately begins to loosen its grip when we explore what is possible rather than lament over the lie that “there is no hope.”

We may not have control over the economy, but we do have control over our pessimism. If you believe that you are born pessimistic, I would like to point out that this too is a belief. Ironically if you believe yourself to be a born pessimist, you will behave accordingly, making no effort to change. Pessimism can not only poison one’s attitude toward braving the economic storm but it can adversely affect decisions that might have helped to pull you out of it.

For instance, if one says, “What’s the point in applying for the job? I’m not going to get it anyway” and he does not apply for the job, then his prediction comes true. Henry Ford said, “Whether you think you can, or you can’t, you’re right.” Hope is always a choice.

I have documented the progress of dozens of students and found that those who make the greatest progress are those who turn from hopeless to hopeful during the eight-week course. You can test your own level of optimism at www.authentichappiness.com and start improving your outlook by taking your cues from the father of positive psychology, Martin Seligman, in his book, “Learned Optimism.”

Cultivating optimism is just one of 12 scientifically proven happiness activites suggested by Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, “The How of Happiness.” Others include:

  • Expressing gratitude
  • Practicing acts of kindness
  • Nurturing relationships
  • Savoring life’s joys
  • Practicing religion or spirituality

Focusing on these activities (which you do have control over) will help you to feel empowered. Focusing on what you do not have control over will likely lead you to feel helpless and disempowered. There is much in this world over which we have no control — including the recession — but we always have control over our own positive attitude. The Nazis could not take it from Viktor Frankl. The recession can not take it from you. You always have a choice.

Frank Clayton, LPC

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Once sugar was harder to get and more expensive. Now it is plentiful and sweetens my life and a daily basis. Out of respect for those on a diet I will refrain from listing all the goodies but would like to say that if my coffee were blond but not sweet, the relationship would probably end. 😉

Frank Clayton LPC

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Report from IPPA Conference, Day 3

Wow! What an absolutely amazing day! In case you’re just “tuning in”, today is day 3 of the 2nd Congress of the International Positive Psychology Association.
Here are the highlights:

  • Barbara Fredrickson (author of my #2 pick on Happiness, Positivity) talked about Love
  • Meeting Todd Kashdan and (what may be his last) talk at IPPA
  • Possible collaboration with positive psychologist and local, Lynn Johnson
  • Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy with a Positive Spin
  • Positive Computing
  • Meeting Jane McGonigal and using her on-line game to enhance Happiness 101
  • How much you think you can do something effects whether (and how hard) you try *
  • The use of strengths in therapy – the intermediate lesson *
  • Gala and the National Constitution Center *

* I will report on these tomorrow.

It was much cooler today. A blessing for my walk to my third download of information in the realm of positive psychology, a.k.a. Happiness! As I walked through City Hall in (literally) the heart of Philadelphia, I hummed a little tune. I was distracted by the richness and variety of the people as I walked. Per haps distracted enough by the suits, the homeless, the street venders, the skaters and the provocative dress, the song’s lyrics did not bubble to the surface until in the shadow of the Downtown Marriott. I murmured, “All you need is love. Bump-ba bump-ba bump. All you need is love. Bump-ba bump-ba bump. All you need is love, love – love is all you need.” As I realized I was humming a Beatles standard, I also realized that the topic of Barbara Fredrickson’s talk was “Love: A new lens on the science of thriving” Continue reading Report from IPPA Conference, Day 3

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One of the games my wife and I really enjoy is called Phase 10.  She and I are good at making a point of connecting each evening and spending quality time together.  There were a couple of times where things could have turned in a negative direction but I kept reminding myself that it is not about the game (winning, losing, misunderstandings about rules).  What IS important is relationship and feeling connected.  Because that was the focus, that was the result.  Today I appreciate playing Phase 10 giving me an opportunity to keep my mind active and connect with with my wife.

Frank Clayton, the Happy Therapist

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She’s been gone for FOUR days!! I guess after 21 years when I miss her this much we must be doing something right, huh? I think it’s because we actively work on our relationship, keeping it fresh and vibrant. I’m so glad she’s back.

 

Frank Clayton, the Happy Therapist

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On August 8th, 1991 my father did something he had never done before: he videotaped our visit. It captured good conversation and sing-alongs with my daughter, who was five at the time. Little did we know when it was videotaped that he would be dead within twelve hours. On this Easter I took the time to watch all three hours. I feel grateful to have this treasure that captures a moment in time, my father’s final hours.

Frank Clayton, the Happy Therapist

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Okay, so maybe I am a bit bias. Maybe even a little more than a little bit bias, but I think you will agree with me by the end of this article: You should get a therapist now, rather than later. Therapy helps people to lead happier more productive lives. I think people wait WAY too long to go to therapy – especially couples. Think of therapy as preventative, rather than something to do once you are on fire. My suggestion would be that you think of going to a mental health therapist the way you think of going to the medical doctor – you go occasionally just to check in an ensure that everything is alright. Another good reason to get a therapist sooner than later is because if there comes a time when you REALLY need to talk to a therapist right away, then you have a therapist in place – someone with whom you are comfortable. Imagine how frustrating it would be to really need therapy and go to someone who is not a good fit for you or (as I have known many to do) spend weeks going through insurance to make sure your therapist is actually in your network. There is even more reason to seek a psychiatrist sooner than later. Right now in Salt Lake City, the wait to see a psychiatrist is THREE MONTHS. If you have even a suspicion that you might need someone to prescribe psychotropic medications, make an appointment now (for more info about psychiatrists, see Doctors vs Therapists) Back to therapy: if you have a job, your employer probably has and Employee Assistance Program (EAP) that allows for three to five FREE sessions of therapy per year. Contact your human resources department and tell them you want the phone number of your EAP. They do not need to know why you are calling. In fact, EAP usually also provides legal and financial counseling as well, so it remains confidential. These EAP companies report nothing to your employer. Of course a regular dose of Happiness 101 couldn’t hurt. There is no charge for the class – it is a gift I give every Monday at 7pm. Click here for the upcoming class schedule.

Frank Clayton
Licensed Professional Counselor

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In my experience as as a counselor, I find poor communication to be the culprit in most marital strife. As part of that miscommunication is: the signal sent is not necessarily the signal received. One of the most damaging of these miscommunications is a distortion in the language of love. Take a moment to consider:
How do you really feel love? Think of times where someone has done or said something that REALLY made you feel loved.
Conversely, how do you express love? If you want someone to know that you really love them, what do you do or say?
Suppose the way you say “I love you” is via gifts but the way your mate feels “I love you” is by spending quality time? Then your gift may not be appreciated and worse yet your mate may not feel loved. Maybe said mate is trying to tell you “I love you” by asking to spend time together, but you are too busy earning the money to buy the gift which you hope will let them know how much you really love them. In the meantime your mate may feel unloved.

The 5 Love Languages


In his book, The 5 Love Languages , Gary Chapman does an excellent job of explaining the five different languages of love: words of affirmation, physical touch, quality time, receiving gifts and acts of service. On his website (www.5lovelanguages.com) you can take a brief test to find out what your primary love language(s) is/are. You can find his book at the local Borders or Barnes & Noble. I recommend reading it together. You can (literally) get on the same page, Kindle and rekindle the flames of love in no time.

Frank Clayton
Licensed Professional Counselor

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