‘Happy for No Reason’

This week I thought we’d ponder some of the thoughts of a popular happiness promoter, Marci Shimoff. She had a role in the film The Secret, btw, which regardless of its dubious metaphysical perspectives can never be accused of being pessimistic. Here’s a list of incredibly optimistic teachings gleaned from The Secret’s gurus. They are really focused on self-actualization and maximizing one’s potential to live the best life possible.

Nonetheless, in the realm of understanding the nature of reality (metaphysics), I also think some of The Secret’s statements can lead a person astray in his or her proper assessments of things (especially in the realm of preventing and curing disease). As I noted in last week’s post, the more we logically comprehend and distinguish the actual causal properties of things—what’s happening within ourselves versus in the world around us, and the complex relationships between the two—the better we will be at taking actions necessary to further our lives and well-being—as well as anticipating possible setbacks.

Accepting the metaphysically given, however, shouldn’t detract from trying to change one’s particular psychological (and existential) plight. As Nathaniel Branden has noted, self-concept is destiny. And as Marci notes in the following story from her book, one’s level of happiness (like self-concept) is something one takes with oneself, regardless of context or circumstances.

Excerpt: ‘Happy for No Reason’ – Family and health – MSNBC.com.

Btw, if you happen to watch the accompanying video, you’ll see dear Marci engage in some pseudoscientific testing known as applied kinesiology. My own aunt, who was a chiropractor and is now a nurse, sometimes performed this on me, and I always had at least one eyebrow raised—for good reason, because as this source and this source each notes, AK has next to nothing to do with ascertaining scientific causation. Nice party trick, though. :)

Hear’s an email I received from Marci (I’m on her list; it wasn’t personal;), explaining the sorry state of modern psychology, with its focus on mental ailments and near prohibition on prevention and positives.

Dear wes,

Thanks to the many of you who emailed me about the Happy for No Reason PBS show. I’m so glad you enjoyed it. Go to http://www.HappyForNoReason.com 
for information.

I haven’t watched this show, but it probably reflects much of what mainstream positive psychologists, such as Martin Seligman, have been explaining on the subject.

Imagine what a great time I had interviewing the top scientists and psychologists who appear in the show. I heard many amazing things, but one statistic that shocked me came from Dr. George Vaillant, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School.

He told me that The Comprehensive Textbook of Psychiatry, widely regarded as the most authoritative text in psychiatry and clinical psychology, is 4,500 pages long with 500,000 lines of text. Now, you might expect — as I did — that this “bible” of mental health would devote at least a chapter or two to the science of happiness, right? Wrong.

This book has thousands of lines on anxiety and depression and hundreds of lines on terror, shame, guilt, anger, and fear. But there are only five lines on hope, one line on joy, and not a single line on compassion, forgiveness, or love.

Wow! If mental health professionals are taught to focus primarily on what’s not working in the lives of their clients, is it any wonder that most of us do the same in our lives?

Yes, it’s important to do more than try to alleviate the negatives. We must also consciously focus on accentuating the positives, maximizing our own happiness, according to an objective value system that’s in service of one’s life and well-being.

Imagine your own life as a living book comprised of a half a million lines. How many of those lines would be statements of gratitude, confirmations of your personal strengths and victories, or expressions of love and joy? And how many, in contrast, would be declarations of your shortcomings, your regrets, or your mistakes?

Most of us were conditioned from early on to focus on what’s missing, what’s flawed, and what’s not quite right… especially about ourselves. Maybe we believe that if only we could identify our inadequacies we could banish them from our lives.

Of course, the reverse is actually true. The Law of Attraction reminds us that what we focus on expands. The story we tell about ourselves — the script we speak aloud as well as our internal dialog — sets the stage for our lives.

Hmmm, and I wonder how on Earth individuals could get such bad scripts in their heads… I first heard about “scripts” from a book on transactional analysis that I read in my early twenties; can’t recall the name, but here’s TA’s take on scripts.

Since humans are really the only organism that must cultivate and maintain some semblance of self-esteem—i.e., the conviction that one is capable of thinking and judging the facts of reality correctly as well as coping with life’s challenges, and the feeling that one is worthy of happiness—it necessarily follows that humans can make false assessments about their self-esteem. We all have a need to think of ourselves as capable and dignified, so to the extent that we conclude otherwise, we suffer emotionally and existentially (and others in our wake do to).

We certainly have a long way to go in the realm of self-esteem-encouraging parenting practices, as Haim Ginott made clear in these very instructive video clips from a few decades ago. Bad parenting techniques of course are the result of intergenerational transfer; like mother and father, like daughter and son; family psychological history tends to repeat itself. In order to make it easier for little people to grow up being happy and having high self-esteem, it’s crucial to be an aware parent. Then, we can avoid passing on the low self-esteem madness that manifests itself in people’s unhappiness (negative self-talk and behavior) later in life. It also helps enormously, as an adult, to take children seriously.

Aside from our early experiences that tend to set the stage for later psychological difficulties, it’s vital to remember that you are in charge of how you are feeling about your life and your relationships in the present. And you have the capacity to reinvent yourself, to alter your patterns of thinking and acting—courtesy of your rational, volitional faculty and your ability to explore and modify your subconscious world psychotherapeutically. Here’s a method that Marci recommends:

So here’s what I invite you to do in the next few weeks, starting right now:

  1. Imagine you’re the narrator of your own life story. Examine the book and assess how much of it is focused on what you have, what progress you’ve made, what you’re good at, and what you’re grateful for.
  2. Take a few moments each morning to create — in your mind or on paper — your ideal storyline for the coming day. Phrase your story in the past tense and include all the events that went well, the things you accomplished with ease, and the fun and laughter you enjoyed along the way.

Lately, Sergio and I have been doing this second step together each morning, and I have to tell you, it’s a wonderful way to start the day.

Happy script writing…

Marci Shimoff

Indeed, happy script writing (and righting),

W

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