Wisdom//

“I’ve Read All the Happiness Books and I’m Still Not Happy”

A clinical psychologist weighs in on what to do now.

Courtesy of  Dan Steel / Getty Images 

Todd was in his 40s when he came to me five years ago. Like many of the patients in my practice, on the surface it seemed like he had life figured out. Following his father’s death, he had recently managed to sell the family business he had worked in for twenty years, was happily married, and had two healthy kids. So why had Todd’s family given him the ultimatum of getting into therapy? Because now that Todd could finally totally self-direct his life he couldn’t get out of bed, his desk was in shambles, bills were piling up, and suddenly he couldn’t “deal” with anything. He had achieved everything our culture tells us creates happiness, and he wasn’t happy. And worse, he was ashamed of not being happy.

As a Doctor of Psychology, I was seeing people like Todd every day in my therapy practice, people crippled by a core sense of inadequacy and self-loathing colliding against an impossible standard: happiness. “I should be happy.” I want to be happy.” “I’ve read all the popular happiness books, why aren’t I happy?”

So, I went the bookstore and bought the books my patients were reading. I followed the leading “happiness experts,” trying to understand as much as I could about their approach, but something still felt off to me. I didn’t see how to reconcile the happiness advice with my goal for my patients: a sustainable, unflappable belief in their inherent worthiness and lovability. And then I went back to my clinical foundation in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and I looked at the scientific results my peers in this field were getting and something essential finally sunk in:

Our society is setting up people on a quest for failure because happiness is the wrong goal.

Happiness is a fleeting emotion, an endorphin rush, a chemical high. It’s the moment the email comes in, the boss says yes, the first kiss, a picture on Instagram that only tells part of the story. It is not the foundation for a contented life. It does not equip you with the skills you need to navigate the endless challenges that are everyone’s day-to-day. Especially in 2018, when the world seems more contentious, fractured, and just flat-out more frightening than ever before.

Then I looked at the clinically tested Cognitive Behavioral techniques and strategies I was teaching my patients and saw that they fell under six headings. They became the basis for my popular YouTube series, A Path to Sustainable Life Satisfaction. This workbook builds on those components: Starting Is Easy, Closing Is Hard, Decision-Making, Facing Fears, Reducing People Pleasing Behaviors, Avoiding Assumptions, and Actively Self-Reinforcing. In this workbook I want to start you on a journey to learn six simple exercises you can do today to start incorporating these techniques and strategies into your life. They are behaviors that have had a profound impact on my patients’ and my audience’s quality of life and their ability to, not just cope, but thrive. That is the power of Sustainable Life Satisfaction℠

While sustainable happiness isn’t a realistic goal, satisfaction can be achieved. In my practice, it became startlingly clear: these are the behavioral techniques that take my patients from being deeply unhappy, depressed, or anxious people who feel inherently unlovable, to being highly functional and deeply satisfied. The best part is that mastering them doesn’t require in-person deep-dives with a therapist, they are practices anyone can do right now to change how they think, feel, and, ultimately, live. That is what I want for you in this workbook.

The exercises are designed to help build on what you may have learned from watching my web series and will take you through everything you would learn in private sessions with me at a fraction of the cost of even a single visit. The best part of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is that it is action-oriented and exercise-based. You can learn the six techniques just as well from me in a book as in a session. You can start applying the techniques right away. You can feel relief right away. And with consistent practice you can achieve cognitive optimization, re-wiring your plastic brain to function in a new, more efficient and effective way.

After only a few months Todd was able to break through his fear, make decisions, and close. He was not just getting out of bed and putting his affairs in order but starting a new venture. In his home life, he was finally doing the things he had always talked about, taking his kids fishing and teaching them to play golf before the time with them got away from him completely. By learning how to follow his goals to completion he built up the self-confidence and self-collateral that let him know that he could handle starting a business without his father. He no longer needed that external approval to function.

Published with permission from A Path to Sustainable Life Satisfaction Workbook by Dr. Jennifer Guttman. 

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