Chapter 1 - Formula for Happiness
The Nature of Happiness
Happiness. What is it? How do we get it? How do we keep it? You probably opened this book with one or more of these questions in mind. You are not alone. These questions have been asked and answers have been offered since the dawn of time. Yet, you may find yourself wondering if you will ever be able to find this desirable but elusive quality of life.
Consider Sarah. Her husband, Tom, recently filed for divorce. Thirty years old and coping with chronic colitis, she wakes up each morning at six to get her two older children off to elementary school. Having taken him back twice before, she was shocked to discover Tom was still having afternoon trysts with Dianne, even while he was attending counseling sessions with her. Now, constantly fatigued and completely demoralized Sarah finds herself trying to keep her house in some semblance of order while spending her days with three-year-old Susie, discussing ongoing support hearings with her attorney, and worrying where and how she and the kids will be living a year from now. "Happiness, that's a childhood dream. I expected I'd be happy at this stage in life. But now I don't have time to think about happiness. What's important to me is simply making it through the day."
Right now you may be in similar circumstances. You might have suffered a significant disappointment or loss. It may have been a separation or divorce. It could have been the death of a loved one or the loss of a job, a career, or a house. Maybe you are wondering what you can do to pick up the pieces and go on to regain contentment and satisfaction in a world which has become empty, meaningless, and flat.
Or you might be someone who has been living day-to-day and recently found life surprisingly unfulfilling. Pete and Nicholas have been best friends since college. Now middle-aged, these two have approached life differently. After four years of carefree living at the university, Pete chose a fast-track career in computers. His townhouse is the ultimate bachelor's pad providing a comfortable staging area for his frequent domestic and international trips, both business and personal. The studious and reserved Nicholas, on the other hand, married his college sweetheart and has worked at the same accounting firm since graduation. Twenty years, two kids, and five homes later, Nicholas celebrates his latest promotion with Pete.
"I love women, and women love me!" Pete quips, pulling out a picture of himself and his latest girlfriend. Nicholas proudly shows off photos of his family. Yet, while successful in his own right, each man feels as if something is missing in his life. "I love my work, Nick. Sensational things are happening in the computer industry. I've been to amazing places, met fascinating people, but when I see the way Ida still looks at you after all these years, it makes me realize how alone I really am."
Nicholas admits his life must appear fulfilling from Pete's point of view. "When I think about all I have--a beautiful wife and kids, a great house, a challenging job and good money--I feel greedy wishing for more. I don't even know what it is I want. But every day I wake up resenting the same old grind."
Peter and Nicholas talk late into the evening about how turning 40 affected them. Both have anxiety and restlessness stemming from their growing realization that life is short. They consider colleagues who seem more content and who seem to experience a joy in living neither of them has yet found. Perhaps you, too, envy happy people and wonder what it is that enables them to deal with life so comfortably and so successfully.
On the other hand, you may be satisfied with your life now, but you are confronting a decision likely to have a profound effect on your future quality of life. Maybe you are deciding whether to get romantically involved with someone you just met or whether to marry someone you have been with for some time. You might be contemplating a divorce or breaking off a long-term relationship. You may even be thinking about having an extramarital affair. In any case, you realize you are facing a momentous decision, but you may not be sure which of your alternatives will bring you more or less satisfaction over time.
Maybe you are considering taking a new job or leaving the one you have and going back for training in a new career. Perhaps you are wondering if relocating to another part of the country will make your life more rewarding than it is today. Maybe you have reached a stage in life where retirement has become a possibility. You would like to pack it in but you're not sure if it's really the right move for you.
Irene has worked in banking for 25 years. While she finds her work fulfilling, she would like to call it quits and enjoy more time with her family. This would allow her to get to know her grandchildren better and take those long camping trips she and her husband, Willy, have dreamed about for years. Despite the temptations, Irene isn't sure what impact the financial consequences of retiring before she qualifies for full pension benefits and Social Security will have on her golden years.
Or, you could be on the other end of life. Noah is a senior in high school. Because neither of his parents completed college, they are determined that their eldest son, a gifted mathematician, pursue an accounting degree from the local university. But Noah wants to work with underprivileged youth. For the past three years, he worked at a summer camp for disadvantaged kids and found it quite fulfilling. "My friends are all out enjoying senior activities and making plans for graduation, but I just sit around trying to decide what to do. I feel caught between pleasing my parents and wanting make a difference in the world."
Like Noah, you may have just finished high school and are wondering whether to join the military, get a job, go to college, or enter a technical program. Perhaps you are on the verge of selecting a major or picking a career. Maybe you are considering whether to have a child. You could be wondering if buying your dream house will enrich your life, or whether it will render you less happy than you are today.
Maybe you were happier in the past. You may be wondering how a rich and rewarding life somehow slipped away. You could be asking yourself, "If I had made different choices would I still be as happy as I used to be?"
Whatever your motivation for reading this far, I promise to deliver something you can use. Whether you are currently unhappy, live a humdrum monotonous existence, find yourself on a treadmill of emergencies and disasters, or are facing a momentous decision, this book will help you manage your life more effectively. You will come to understand the nature of happiness with a new clarity and discover what you can do to become and remain happy.
A United States Supreme Court justice once stated that although he could not define pornography, he knew it when he saw it. Something like this may be true for you when it comes to the nature of happiness.
Armando Sancho wakes each morning full of energy. He takes a morning jog in the park across from his home. With a smile and a wave, he greets Mrs. Cortez each day as she walks her cocker spaniel. When Armando finally walks into the real estate office where he works, everybody turns and smiles. Javier looks up from this desk, "Armando, I don't know how you do it! No matter what happens, you're always smiling. I've never seen any one else lose a sale and look so happy about it. Now you got all of us smiling all day--it must be contagious." After twenty years at Dominges Realty, Armando has a reputation for sales leadership. His clients find him thoughtful, reliable, and a pleasure to work with. It's no wonder most of his business comes from referrals.
While he enjoys work, Armando loves spending time with his family. Every Sunday, his four children and ten grandchildren visit Armando and his wife, Manuela. They gather for dinner and spend the day together. When they lost their house to a fire five years ago, everybody joined in to rebuild it. Armando and Manuela lived with their eldest daughter until their home was finished. She could always hear Armando singing over the hammers and circular saws. Now they all reminisce about how much closer that experience brought the family. Manuela pulls him close, "It's that smile of yours that keeps us going, no matter what."
You may know someone like Armando. The zest for living is hard to miss. You also may have realized that happy people are actually alike in a number of different ways.
Happy people tend to wake up fresh and rested most mornings. They greet the day with a sense of joy in being alive. They look forward to meaningful tasks and satisfying interpersonal interaction. Happy people like their work, but they also take time to play.
Happy people are generally satisfied with where they live. They enjoy the company of their family as well as those they encounter in the community and on the job. They are liked by members of their families, by neighbors, and those they encounter at work and in their leisure time. Happy people have a reputation for being thoughtful, reliable, and responsible. Other people want to have them in their lives.
Happy people spend the majority of their day engaged in some sort of work they enjoy. They are good at what they do, whether it involves operating a piece of machinery, writing technical reports, delivering mail, performing surgery, or keeping house. Happy people generally feel they are appropriately compensated, even if they do not receive a paycheck for doing what they do.
When the workday is done, happy people have ways of having fun. They may enjoy playing golf, building furniture, reading books, or throwing pots. Whatever the activity, these leisure moments render happy people renewed and refreshed when they return to the tasks of life.
Happy people have a relatively high level of optimism. They see the glass half full. They appreciate what they have and seldom complain about what they don't. They view other people as basically good and they are willing to lend a helping hand. They don't envy and they rarely become jealous. Although they experience success in a variety of ways, they rarely boast or brag.
Occasionally, happy people experience significant frustration, disappointment, and loss. They can become angry, anxious, and depressed. But happy people are durable. Even when they encounter setbacks, these troubling emotions never last. Happy people have the ability to recover relatively efficiently from the crises, disasters and indignities of life. They pick themselves up, dust themselves off, and get on with their lives.
Happy people go to bed with a sense of accomplishment and contentment with the day. They are unburdened with regrets about what they did or anxieties over what they failed to do. Happy people slip into sleep with an abiding sense of joy in being alive and excited by their anticipation about what will greet them when they arise.
If you continue to read this book, you will discover how happy people become and remain happy. You will learn the secrets for making happiness a tangible reality. You will have an understanding of the basic structure and dynamics of happiness which will enable you to develop and sustain a rich and rewarding quality of life.
THE VALUE OF THE FORMULA
I first met John when I was working as a clinical psychologist in a community hospital. I was asked to evaluate his suicide potential the morning after he was involuntarily committed to the psychiatric ward. He came in through the emergency room where he had been treated for minor injuries suffered when he intentionally drove his car into a utility pole. John had become so unhappy life no longer seemed worth living.
In our first conversation, John revealed that his problems actually began two years earlier. This was when his wife, Vicky, told him to leave home because he was still involved with Mona, his chair-side assistant. After catching him twice before, Vicky had reached the end of her patience when she walked in on John and Mona making love in his office after work.
Bitter over the betrayal, Vicky vigorously pursued a campaign of parental alienation. Soon, John's two kids were unwilling to spend time with him. When he did manage to get them for a visit, things did not go well. They would berate him about his relationship with Mona and press him to explain why he was not sending their mom all of the money he was supposed to provide.
Part of what made these encounters dissatisfying was John's guilt about not keeping up with child support. Vicky had hired the most aggressive divorce attorney in the county. Her lawyer had managed to get a substantial settlement which obligated John to continue paying the mortgage on the dream house he and Vicky had purchased about six months before he started his affair.
Once separated, John lived in a small apartment, but he spent most of his time at Mona's place. Although things went fairly well between them early on, John's distress over the loss of the relationships with his children eventually took its toll. He started drinking more heavily and Mona began complaining about his use of alcohol. Lost hours of sleep and too much Jack Daniels resulted in John showing up for work tired and hung over.
The fact that he was becoming impaired became apparent to his patients. As time passed, the office manager began receiving letters from other dentists requesting transfer of records for reasons never fully explained. Faced with a declining caseload, John decided to deal with the increasing difficulty of paying child support by billing Medicaid for services he had not actually performed.
The day before we met, Mona had ended both her romantic and professional relationships with John. The same day, a certified letter arrived at the office informing John that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania was initiating an investigation for suspected Medicaid fraud. Adding to the loss of his marriage, the loss of his children, the loss of many of his patients, and the loss of his lover, John was now confronted with the likelihood of losing his license to practice and the possibility of doing some time in jail.
Although John's story is more dramatic than most, it illustrates aspects of what I encounter almost every day. Many of the people who come to see me are unhappy as a result of something they did or failed to do. Often their unhappiness is the result of pursuing a course of action they believed would make them more content and satisfied with life.
Although Samantha thought she would be happy if she organized her life around those things and activities important to her husband, after eighteen years of marriage she became depressed when she realized she was generally discontent. Joel accepted a promotion because he thought the increased pay and prestige would make him happier. The new job turned out to be dissatisfying and he was miserable as a result. Joanna assumed she and Frank would be happier by relocating to Florida once he retired, but she ended up regretting the move because the distance they lived from the children meant limited opportunities to participate in the lives of her grandchildren.
Each of these people became dissatisfied and discontent because he or she did not have a clear understanding of happiness nor did he or she realize what needed to be done in order to become and remain happy. If they had known what happiness required, they might have decided to do things differently. Very likely they could have avoided undermining their contentment and satisfaction with life.
The formula for happiness is a sort of manual or blueprint for building a life which creates and sustains happiness. It identifies the basic elements of happiness and provides a set of guidelines for becoming and remaining happy. With the formula, you will be able to proceed with your pursuit of happiness confident that what you are doing is maximizing your potential for finding and holding on to a rich and rewarding quality of life.
HAPPINESS AND EMOTIONS
The formula for happiness is rooted in the reality that happiness is an emotion or, more precisely, an emotional state. Emotions are complex bodily changes which occur in response to the things, people, and events we encounter in daily living. Emotions express how these things, people, and events affect what we consider to be essential to our contentment and satisfaction with life.
Victor is walking down a street on a bright spring morning. He has just kissed his loving wife goodbye and he is on his way to work at a job he enjoys. As he strolls along, he is aware of how the sunlight attaches to the leaves of the trees and marvels at the beauty of the flowers and shrubs he passes along the way. Suddenly he hears the squeal of brakes and observes a large out-of-control dump truck rapidly bearing down on him. Filled with fear, Victor's contentment instantaneously vanishes as he suddenly finds himself running to get out of its way. His fear expresses the reality that his circumstances now constitute a threat to his physical well-being.
Sometimes, as in this situation, the relationship between emotions and the things, people, and events which cause them is crystal clear. At other times, the relationship is more difficult to discern. Stan appears to be depressed, Veronica seems to be angry, and Clark is noticeably anxious. The circumstances giving rise to their emotions are anything but obvious.
Yet, the cause of their emotions becomes apparent when each of these people discloses the circumstances within which they are situated. In talking to Stan, we learn that he has been working extended hours for the past month and just had a greatly anticipated day of golf cancelled due to rain. Veronica recently discovered one of her best friends made a disparaging remark about her to a mutual acquaintance. Clark tells us the organization he works for is about to be sold to a competitor. As a mid-level executive, he is faced with the possibility of losing his job.
While all emotions are caused by the way in which things, people, and events affect what we consider to be essential to our contentment and satisfaction in living, different emotions express something unique about the way in which these things, people, and events impact on our quality of life. In other words, each emotion is defined by the specific way in which the things, people, and events encountered in daily living affect what we consider to be essential to our contentment and satisfaction with life.
Like fear, anxiety involves a threat. Unlike fear, where the threat is clear and present, anxiety occurs when the threat is ill-defined and not yet present. Although nobody has told him that he will be terminated, Clark is anxious because he is faced with the possibility he will lose a job he very much enjoys. Jim, a combat soldier on patrol in hostile territory, is constantly anxious because a sniper could be hiding behind any tree. Joan, a single mother living in a high crime neighborhood, is anxious over the possibility of being assaulted when she leaves her home as well as the possibility that, even if she isn't, she might return to her apartment to discover it has been burgled while she was out buying groceries.
Depression occurs when we lose someone or something we view as essential to our contentment and satisfaction in living. Ten-year-old Rocco is depressed over the death of his dog. When the boy of her dream ditches her for another girl, Gayle finds herself becoming depressed. Richard is depressed when he is laid off from a job he expected to have until he reached retirement.
Anger is a felt sense of injustice. We become angry when we believe someone's unfair behavior has resulted in a threat to, or loss of, something or someone we consider essential to our quality of life. Three-year-old Tatiana gets angry when an older playmate takes away her doll. Troy becomes angry when a drunk driver runs into his recently refurbished roadster. Heather was angered when she discovered that her husband, Fred, was involved in an extramarital affair.
Envy occurs when we encounter another person who has what we believe is essential to our contentment and satisfaction in living and which we do not ourselves possess. Heather envies her sister's relationship with her husband. Whenever she and Fred go out with Theresa and Chris, Heather finds herself becoming upset over the attention and affection Chris shows Theresa while her husband is basically non-affectionate and appears to be disinterested in her.
We experience jealousy when we believe someone is going to take away who or what we consider essential to our quality of life. Vicky became jealous of John when she discovered he was spending many hours after work alone in his office with Mona. She continued to be jealous as she discovered more and more evidence the two of them were romantically involved. Her jealousy eventually subsided when she decided she no longer wanted to be married to a man she couldn't trust.
We feel guilt when we have done something which results in a threat to, or loss of, that which is essential to our contentment and satisfaction in living. Guilt involves a wish that we could somehow undo what we did. John felt guilty about filing false Medicare claims when he was confronted with the possible loss of his license to practice dentistry. He found himself wishing he could somehow go back in time and pursue a different course of action than the one he chose.
Fear, anxiety, depression, anger, envy, jealousy, and guilt are all negative emotions. Negative emotions occur when we experience a threat to, or loss of, what we consider essential to the quality of our lives. Positive emotions occur in response to those things, people, and events which enrich or enhance the quality of our lives.
Pride is a positive emotion we experience when what we have done has enabled us to get or keep something we consider essential to our overall contentment and satisfaction in living. Lucinda is proud of her bachelor's degree. It was the product of a tremendous amount of work and self-control. Her degree not only represents the promise of good job opportunities, but it also enhances her self-esteem.
Love occurs when we have relationships with those things, people, and events which bring us a sense of contentment and satisfaction. Five-year-old Sheila loves her teddy bear because when she hugs it in the darkness of her bedroom it makes her feel more secure. Theresa loves Chris because she has someone with whom to share her passion for classical music, rock climbing, and traveling. When Steve says he loves golf, he is expressing the reality that this activity offers an opportunity for physical exercise as well as a break from a stressful job.
We experience joy when we are in direct contact with those things, people, and events which we, in some sense, love. Married for fifteen years, Theresa still feels joy when she spends an evening with Chris. Steve is joyful when his tee shot goes long and lands in the center of the fairway. June loves the beach and she experiences joy watching the sunrise over the horizon of the Atlantic.
Excitement occurs when we anticipate we will have an opportunity to enjoy those things, people, and events, which contribute to our contentment and satisfaction in living. Sheila becomes excited on Christmas Eve as she anticipates what she will find under the tree the next morning. Theresa becomes excited when she thinks about spending an evening with Chris. June becomes excited as the week of a seaside vacation draws near.
Happiness is a positive emotional state, which is more complex and multifaceted than any single positive emotion reviewed so far. While it involves pride, love, joy, and excitement, happiness is more a matter of how we are simultaneously situated with respect to the totality of those things, people, and events which constitute the circumstances of our lives. In other words, happiness occurs when we have more or less continuous access to what is essential to our contentment and satisfaction with life.
CORE ELEMENTS OF THE FORMULA
The combination of things, people, and events which make a difference in whether and to what degree we are happy are the basic ingredients of the formula for happiness. Since they have natural, inherent, or intrinsic worth they are referred to as core values.
Core values determine the quality of life for anyone, anywhere, at any time. This means they impact a person's quality of life irrespective of gender, race, or nationality. These core values also enhanced the quality of life of people in the past and they will contribute to the happiness of people yet to be born.
In the next three chapters, I will describe ten core values. I will show you where and how they are encountered in daily living. You will see what happens when we do not have sufficient access to each of these values as well as how placing excessive priority on any one of them can have a negative effect on our overall quality of life. As you go through these core values I will also give you an opportunity to measure your personal level of satisfaction with respect to each of them.
In chapter five I will show you how the core values relate to one another. You will have an opportunity to measure your overall level of happiness. You will also learn about the role that priorities, attitudes, expectations, and thought processes play in our ability to experience contentment and satisfaction with life.
In chapter six I will show you what research has revealed about the relationship between behavior and our ability to get and keep core values. I will describe seven patterns of behavior which tend to result in a threat to, or loss of, one or more of our core values. These are referred to as self-defeating behaviors, because they are courses of action which appear to enhance overall happiness but often actually have the opposite effect.
Chapter seven describes nine self-defeating beliefs. These are ways of thinking about life and how to live which tend to support self-defeating patterns of behavior. When we operate on any of these beliefs, we are likely to pursue courses of action which result in a threat to our contentment and satisfaction in living because we see nothing wrong with doing what we do.
Once you have a full understanding of self-defeating behaviors and beliefs, chapter eight will introduce you to four core principles--ideas about what's right--for the effective pursuit of happiness. These are guidelines for making choices which were formulated as alternatives to the seven self-defeating behaviors. You will see how acting on these principles enhances our ability to avoid courses of action which, in one way or another, pose a threat to our contentment and satisfaction in living.
In chapter nine I will show you how acting on the combination of the four core principles maximizes your potential for becoming and remaining happy. You will see how regularly utilizing these principles for making choices in daily living generates emotional well-being and enhances your self-confidence, optimism, and self-esteem. I will show you how others benefit when you follow the formula and how you can reconcile following the formula with your religious beliefs.
The core concepts of the formula will provide you with the ability to effectively deal with things, people, and events you encounter in daily life. You will have a roadmap for navigating in a way which makes happiness a genuinely achievable reality. But beyond providing you with a solid set of concepts for putting together a high quality life, I will also give you a set of tools which will enhance your personal pursuit of happiness. Each of these tools is a self-administered program for evaluating where you stand with respect to core values and how what you do will impact your future quality of life.
In chapter ten you will be given a workbook you can use to develop a plan of action for enhancing your overall happiness. Once you have identified deficiencies in your access to one or more of the ten core values, you will be shown how to develop potential courses of action which will raise your overall contentment and satisfaction in living. You will be given a decision tree which ensures that your potential course of action is not some sort of self-defeating behavior. I will provide you with a method for forecasting how your potential course of action is likely to impact your future quality of life. Once you determine a potential course of action is likely to make you happier, you will be provided a set of instructions for developing an action plan with which that goal can actually be achieved.
In chapter eleven I will give you a program for making momentous decisions. It will assist you in making choices such as what to major in at college, which career to pursue, whether to take a particular job, whether to remain in a romantic relationship, whether to get married, whether to have a child, whether to get a divorce, whether and when to retire, or any other major life decision. You will be provided a means of forecasting how the consequences of each of your alternatives are likely to affect your level of happiness. This will enable you to determine which alternative is more likely to enhance your overall happiness at some future point in time.
You may have read other books about happiness only to end up feeling disappointed by the time you have finished. You may have gotten encouragement, commonsense, or advice for handling specific problems such as low self-esteem, self-defeating thinking, poor communication skills, getting along with a spouse, handling difficult people, improving mood, defeating anxiety, losing weight, or even dying more happily. But resolving a single source of dissatisfaction does not ensure a happy life.
This time your experience will be different. You are now holding the formula for happiness. When you finish reading this book you will have finally learned what you need to know and what you need to do in order to become and remain happy.