CALIFORNIA PSYCHOTHERAPEUTIC RESOURCES, INC.
PATRICIA MCTAGUE-LOFT, MS, LMFT, FAPA, SAP
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Posted on: February 27, 2018
Individual Counseling insights brought to you by Westlake Village-based California Psychotherapeutic Resources, Inc.
Most people seek a life filled with meaning, contentment, gratification, and pleasure. In moments of reflection, we may wonder what we can do to direct our lives not only away from anxiety, anger, stress, and depression – but toward a state of personal fulfillment. We may realize that the typical markers of achievement in our society – a graduation, a marriage, a job promotion, the completion of a project, buying a home – don’t always bring us the happiness that we expected, and often they increase our stress levels.
Despite the fact that we are affluent by world standards, able to drive nice cars, live in large, clean houses, and have access to entertainment media, we are subjected to high levels of stress. As a result, many of us carry with us a pervasive feeling of discontent. We pursue the next highest goal in our lives, only to find that achieving that goal does not bring us the feeling of true happiness that we long for. Most of us live better than royalty did in the past, but these high standards of living have not brought us a sense of true contentment. A survey of people in nations around the globe learned that the highest levels of personal happiness were found in Nigeria, followed by Mexico. The United States came in at number 16, while Canada and most of Western Europe also scored at similar levels.
Psychotherapy has made great strides over the past half century in understanding various forms of mental illness. We can now classify these conditions and make appropriate interventions to alleviate them through specific forms of psychotherapy and sometimes medication. Less research has been done, however, in finding ways to understand how we can achieve a life filled with meaning and contentment.
We have a host of methods for treating some of the conditions associated with unhappiness – stress, anxiety, depression, anger, lack of engagement, substance abuse, poor interpersonal relationships, cognitive and emotional impairments. Now, however, psychotherapy is making similar strides in devising methods people can use to move to the next step, from unhappiness to true happiness. The purpose of this new trend in psychotherapy is to understand how people can achieve genuine happiness in their lives. It shifts the focus in psychotherapy from the negative to the positive. There is a place for understanding and treating more negative life experiences, depending on the concerns of the individual, just as, in many cases, the focus should be on the positive. Sometimes, when people have resolved their negative issues, they can begin to focus on more positive concerns.
There are some things we can do about our life circumstances to increase our level of personal happiness. For example, cross-national studies have found that people who live in wealthy democracies are generally happier than those who live in countries with poverty and dictatorships. People who are in committed relationships tend to be happier than people who live alone. People who are lucky enough to avoid negative events in their lives report higher levels of happiness than those who have been hit by unfortunate events, such as job loss, divorce, or the death of a loved one. Those who are religious report higher levels of happiness than those who are not. Surprisingly, however, once a basic level of financial security has been achieved, having more money does not contribute to happiness. Healthy people appear to be no happier than those who suffer from an illness. Higher levels of educational attainment are not linked to more happiness. People in sunny climates report about the same levels of happiness as those in colder climates. And race and ethnicity have no effect on a person’s perceived level of happiness.
Recent research has focused on how a person can work toward a happier life. Martin Seligman and his associates at the University of Pennsylvania base Positive Psychology on years of research into what makes people happy. They have concluded that happiness is an internal experience based on staying true to one’s genuine or authentic self. When people are able to function well in the world using their strongest abilities (they call these abilities our “signature strengths”), they have a chance to achieve authentic happiness. They have identified twenty-four signature strengths found in cultures across the world. The first step is to identify your own personal strengths. From there, you can explore ways to incorporate these strengths into your life so that your best abilities can be expressed in whatever you do in your daily life. When you can stay true to the best in yourself, you can achieve an authentically happy life.
The following are the twenty-four signature strengths identified in the Positive Psychology approach. Identify the two or three that fit you best. To work toward authentic happiness, try to see how you can incorporate these strengths into your daily life experiences.
Can Money Buy Happiness
The simple answer to this question is that no, money can’t buy happiness – in most cases. Researchers have compared people in countries throughout the world. In the poorest nations, people with more money do report greater happiness in their lives, an easily understood concept. That is, those who live in severe poverty are not as happy as those who have enough money to meet their basic needs. However, once the average income exceeds $8,000 per person in a country (and industrial countries in the western hemisphere all exceed this figure), it was found that more money does not lead to greater life satisfaction. Even those who are fabulously rich in the United States were found to be only slightly happier than the average citizen. People with the highest incomes often have to work long hours, and many of them quit these jobs in order to find work that brings them greater life satisfaction.
We adapt to higher incomes, and then they lose their allure. Just after a promotion and higher salary, a person does report greater life satisfaction and happiness. However, in less than three months the higher level of income loses its impact on happiness levels. We learn to take the higher income for granted. As we accumulate more material possessions, our expectations rise. The things we worked so hard for no longer make us happy. We then work even harder to get to the next level. And then the same thing happens – we adapt to the higher level, and then within three months our happiness levels drop again. We end up on a treadmill, working harder and searching for more, then adapting to the higher levels.
Happiness is elusive if we look for it through monetary gain and material possessions. We are no happier driving the luxury car, after the first few months, than we were when we drove our old workhorse. Money is like a drug addiction. We need more and more – and then we adapt to the higher levels. It becomes a never-ending cycle.
Finding happiness does not lie in making more money. It is found within.
The newsletter from which this blog is drawn is intended to offer general information only and recognizes that individual issues may differ from these broad guidelines. Personal issues should be addressed within a therapeutic context with a professional familiar with the details of the problems. ©2017 Simmonds Publications: 5580 La Jolla Blvd., 306, La Jolla, CA 92037. Website: www.emotionalwellness.com
Posted in: Individual Counseling