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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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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The University of Utah offered to let me use a handcart to lug around the amp, speaker and prizes I brought for the talk. This saved me many trips and perspiration, helping me to stay lemony fresh. 😉  This was a real day saver too because if I hadn’t had it when I realized I was in the wrong room (see Positive #1), there is no way I would have started on time. Yeah, Cart.

Frank Clayton , the Happy Therapist

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Published on KSL
Let me start by saying a person should never, never, never go off their medications without talking to their prescriber. It is dangerous and potentially lethal.

According to the Behavioral Risk-Factor Surveillance System, Utah is currently the happiest state in the union. It is also one of the saddest. Utah sits right in the middle of the “suicide belt,” which stretches along the Rocky Mountains from Wyoming and Idaho, through Utah and Nevada and down to Arizona and New Mexico. As of 2008, the mortality rates gathered from the U.S. census indicated that Utah ranked ninth in the nation for suicides. In September 2010, the Utah Department of Health declared that Utah was the fourth greatest consumer of antidepressants in the nation with 12.71 percent of residents being prescribed antidepressants.

The problem is that these medications do not work on most of the consumers to whom they are prescribed. Continue reading Antidepressants don’t appear to work for most Utahns

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I want to say thanks to Jonathan Glick for challenging me to get back on the positive band wagon. It really does feel good to be actively seeking the positives again. Join me, won’t you?

 

Frank Clayton, the Happy Therapist

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Write down three good things in your life every day to improve your Happiness. That is what Martin Seligman suggested based on his research about Happiness. Being the founder of Positive Psychology and the former president of the American Psychological Association, he can be considered a very reliable source. So three positives is good. Five positives are even better. In their publication Counting Blessings Versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life, Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough discovered that super-sizing the number of blessings you count each day has even more benefits. This why we encourage students in Happiness 101 to do this as a “Home Opportunity” (we don’t like to call it Home WORK, because that sounds too much like “work”).

I used to write my five things in my journal every day but then one day on a whim started sharing them on Facebook. Then I realized I have an internet presence in five different places, so why not spread the love?

For the other four positives, go to:

Happiness 101 Facebook Fan page
Twitter account)
My Facebook page
YouTube
Happiness 101 MeetUp.com page.

Feel free to share your own positives – here, there or everywhere.

~Frank Clayton, Licensed Professional Counselor

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By request, I have started posting my five positive things on Facebook again. It is a lot of fun sharing the positives. There is SO much for which to be grateful. An interesting phenomenon has occurred when I express gratitude for the things that do NOT happen. For instance, when I write “I am glad I did not get into a car accident today” I am frequently met with, “Did you have a near miss?” The answer is “no”. I did not have a near miss. Isn’t it an interesting reaction though? Must we have a near miss to appreciate what we have? Most of the time this is exactly what we (human beings) do. We take for granted the blessings all around us – not because we are an ungrateful by nature. It is due to a trick our brains play on us called Hedonic Adaptation (Sonja Lyubomirksky, The How of Happiness) also known as the Hedonic Treadmill (Barbara Fredrickson, Positivity). It’s just a fancy way of saying “We get used to it”. There is a remedy for Hedonic Adaptation: Gratitude. Just by taking a few minutes each day to stop and think about the many things we have to be grateful for can help us to appreciate them without the “benefit” of a near miss. Writing down five positives per day has proven (Martin Seligman, Emmons and McCoullough) to reverse the course of a downward spiral. If you are a bit rusty on counting your positives, I offer eight different ways to do so in the article Building Your Positive Muscles. There you will learn new ways to appreciate what you’ve got BEFORE it’s gone.

Frank Clayton
Licensed Professional Counselor

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How would you like to enjoy your food much more while consuming far fewer calories?

Now, before I go any further I must say that I am not a dietician. I don’t even play a dietician on TV. But I do know a thing or two about Happiness. I can tell you that most people eat their food mindlessly, not truly tasting their food. I can also tell you that studies have shown that your enjoyment between your first and second bite of food plummets significantly (Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness). By the time you get to bites three and four, your mind is probably drifting to the day ahead or the day behind. So you are consuming a lot of food (and calories) with minimal pleasure. Why not try the Happiness Diet? I suppose we could also call it the Mindfulness Diet. Before you partake, look at your food. Notice the details, the contours, the difference from one side of the food to the other. If you won’t be breaking any major laws of protocol, touch your food. Close your eyes. “Listen” with your fingers. Once you have thoroughly examined your cuisine, take a bite of food and savor it. What is its texture on your tongue? Is your tongue having different experiences on the tip vs. the top vs. the sides? Though I am not a doctor either, it is widely known that different parts of the tongue experience food in different ways (see this article on Thinkquest on taste). Is there a smell that wafts from your food? Be sure to savor the aroma as well. You get the idea. There are five senses – use them. Experience the food. Simply by being mindful, you could experience more flavor in one bite than you could otherwise enjoy in an entire meal.

Savoring life experiences is just one of twelve Happiness Habits dished up by Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, The How of Happiness. Buy it here and/or read my review here. Join us for Happiness 101 to learn how to enjoy life more with a fraction of the effort.

Frank Clayton
Licensed Professional Counselor

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If you had to choose to between being right or being happy, which would you choose?
For some people, being right is extremely important but is it more important than being happy? Sometimes happy people are accused of not living in the “real world”, that they wear “rose colored glasses” or of being a Pollyanna.
There is actually some validity to this accusation. In his book, Authentic Happiness, Martin Seligman writes of an experiment in which participants were asked to turn on a light. Sometimes the light went on and sometimes it did not. Those who scored higher on the optimist scale predicted that the light would turn on more than the realist and they were wrong more often because of their optimistic leanings. So the optimist has more hope than the realist. But would you rather be right or be happy? Thankfully the question is not that cut and dried. It’s not all-or-nothing, black-or-white. Yes, the realists were more accurate but not by a landslide. So, would you rather be right and be less happy or be more hopeful and be more happy?
There are a many more implications to this question than first meet the eye. Studies have proven that optimists are happier, have a better quality of life and enjoy better health.
Viktor Frankl was a psychologist before being thrown into the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. In the middle of the most horrific of studies in human behavior, Frankl calculated that when prisoners lost hope, they were dead within two weeks. Was there reason to give up hope? Plenty. Statistically, the chance of getting out of there alive were extremely poor. But the optimist lived longer purely because of his more optimistic point of view.
So, now you get to decide: where on the continuum of hope would you like to live? If you are a realist, you would be willing to let go of your death grip on reality in favor for a little more happiness, opting to be an optimistic realist. Or go even a little further into optimistic territory adopting the title of a realistic optimist. My hope is that you will join us among the ranks of optimists. Wherever you find yourself on the continuum, I hope you are doing so as a conscious choice. Choice is a drum we beat a lot in Happiness 101. One choice you could make would be to pick up Sonja Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness. One of her twelve Happiness Habit strategies is Cultivating Optimism. Another choice you could make is to join us in Happiness 101. It is a FREE class about Happiness I teach every Monday at 7pm. Click here to check out the upcoming class schedule or call 877-476-6338 for recorded information.
~Frank Clayton, Licensed Professional Counselor

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On the issue of forgiveness, the founder of Positive Psychology, Martin Seligman said “Frequent and intense negative thoughts about the past are the raw material that blocks the emotions of contentment and satisfaction, and these thoughts make serenity and peace impossible.”
In her book, The How of Happiness Sonja Lybuomirsky lists forgiveness as one of the 12 Happiness Habits, but admits it is the most difficult one to do.
There is a great deal of misunderstanding about forgiveness. It is not to condone the offender. Forgiveness is a gift that you give to yourself, taking back your own power, severing the control the transgressor has over you and your happiness. Understanding forgiveness is only part of the battle. We are not readily taught HOW to forgive. This Forgiveness Group will give participants an opportunity to learn more about forgiveness but more importantly HOW to do it.
Those wishing to attend the Forgiveness Group will need to consult with myself to ensure appropriateness and a good fit for the purpose of the group. This consultation will take 10-15 minutes and is offered free of charge. Cost of the group will be $25 for 1.5 hours of group time. This will be a closed group. This means that once it has begun, new people wishing to join will have to wait until the next group begins (apx six months). This group will meet twice a month, on the second and fourth Wednesday of each month at 7pm. Location: 220 East 3900 South #7, Salt Lake City. To arrange a consultation or if you have any questions, E-mail me at frank@saltlakementalhealth.com or call 877-476-6338 for recorded information.

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