Fifty-two year old Sean presented quite a sight when he walked into my office. He had pulled his salt and pepper hair into a ponytail that hung halfway down his back. He wore a red flannel shirt tucked into faded jeans, held tight by a belt with a silver buckle the size of a dollar bill. On his feet were ankle-high work boots laced tight over the bottoms of his pants legs, the better to keep ticks away, he explained. Over his shoulder he carried a backpack that contained a bottle of water, his journal, and snacks that he devoured to keep himself energized. I couldn’t help but wonder what Grizzly Adams was doing in my office.
Sean described the guilt and depression that weighed him down most every day of his life. I probed until I uncovered the culprits that blocked any chance for him to experience the happiness he so much craved. Not surprisingly, Sean violated most all the cognitive strategies I encouraged you to adopt in earlier blogs: he expected himself to be perfect, damned rather than forgave himself when he erred, and mostly focused on his negative qualities while ignoring his good deeds. He could have been the poster child for Unhappiness Unlimited.
Sean took to therapy like a bear to honey. He embraced my input, followed through on his between-session assignments, and worked hard to adopt more realistic attitudes toward himself. He learned to damn his mistakes but never himself, he sloughed off his expectation for perfection, and he allowed that he possessed tons of positive qualities.
As you can imagine, the more Sean changed his negative thoughts about himself, the more his depression drained away. One day, he ambled into my office and said, “Doc, I think I'm over my depression.”
“Great,” I said. “You sure worked hard at it.”
“Thanks,” he said. “Now I think I want to get some of that happiness.”
That was a magic moment for me. Why? One, I had helped one of my fellow humans cure a pernicious, soul-sapping disease. For another, Sean gave me the opportunity to help him fulfill his purpose in life: to be happy.
And that’s what we did. I explained to him that once you firmly resolve to be happy, your task becomes simple and straightforward. It is to discard those things that lead to suffering and engage in what brings you happiness.
With that, I instructed him to take a week to think of four or five things that, if made a regular part of his life, would bring him more happiness. Here's what he brought in the next week:
1. fulfilling work – doing my artwork;
2. having an intimate relationship with a soul mate;
3. communing with like-minded friends and colleagues;
4. getting back to nature.
After presenting this to me, Sean said, “No wonder I don’t have happiness. I have none of these in my life.”
“So, let's get to work creating them,” I replied.
Sean started small. He chose to do his artwork an hour each day and also to get outside daily to either chop wood or walk in the woods.
The satisfaction he got from this encouraged him to add more. He’s still in process, but I can report a man whose happiness grows weekly as he continues to build pleasure into each day of his life.
If Sean can create such real positive results, so can you. By bringing daily pleasure to your life, you can, like Sean:
• dramatically increase your happiness quotient.
• experience the pleasure of having a life you find worth living.
• have confidence in tomorrow, for all you have to do is do what you did yesterday and today to bring about those happy moments the next day.
To begin to immediately do what gives you happiness – every day – follow the following suggestions:
1. Make a list of as many small things as you can that would bring you fun and pleasure on a daily basis. Don't censure yourself; nothing is too small or silly, so long as it contributes to you having a good day. Then, most importantly, make sure you build in at least one of these each day, starting today.
2. Think a little bigger. List things you'd like to do that would bring you pleasure and happiness, but ones that may not be available on a daily basis. Examples might be attending a U-2 concert, spending a weekend at the beach, or having dinner with close friends. This gives you something to which to look forward. Arrange one of these at least every month, and follow through.
3. List the things you find negative in your life – things you find annoying, frustrating, dislikable. Focus on one each week and make use of the Serenity Prayer: rid those you can, and work to gracefully lump those you can’t (Note: I’ll help you learn to tolerate these unwanted nuisances in a blog down the road.).
4. Identify the people you find toxic. Without damning them, plan to either minimize your contact or eliminate them from your life.
5. Review each night before bedtime the pleasures you had that day. Relive them; savor them; be thankful for them.
I want to thank you for giving me the privilege of helping you create a happy, satisfying life, one you love to live. But, remember, as I emphasized in my February 2, 2013 blog, The Five Happiness Power Principles, there is no short cut. To be happy, you must accept responsibility for bringing happiness into your life and, above all, make effort s– every day – to do so. Please follow through on the suggestion I offered you in this blog. Only doing so will produce results. I’m behind you every step of the way.
Don’t forget that you can contact me at anytime. Till the next blog, live with passion.
Russell Grieger, Ph.D. is the author of several self-help books, all designed to empower people to create a life they love to live. These include: Unrelenting Drive; Marriage On Purpose; and The Happiness Handbook (in preparation). You may contact Dr. Grieger for more information at firstname.lastname@example.org.