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Choosing Happiness

Audio Version of Article: Crazy-Makers: Passive-Aggressive People

Audio Version of Article: Why Are People Mean? Don't Take It Personally!

Audio Version of Article: Happiness Is An Attitude

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by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
Tap to Listen to Article
"One of the most salient aspects I've noticed about unhappy people is that they are desperately trying to avoid negative emotions and in the process they feel miserable."


Yet, as I read the above I recognize that I'm simplifying a complex issue. Frequently, new psychotherapy clients tell me "I've tried that positive thinking stuff and it doesn't work." When they make this statement I agree with them "You're absolutely right. Positive thinking doesn't work." I explain to them that cognitive therapy involves realistic thinking, not positive thinking. Positive thinking doesn't work because it is not realistic and we can't believe it. The first premise of developing a coping statement or a rational challenge to inaccurate thinking is that the individual must be able to accept and believe the statement at least with an intellectual understanding. If you notice in the example above of the spinal cord injury patients they didn't say "I'm grateful to have such a challenge in my life because it's teaching me so much" but they recognized their feelings about the injury "this sucks" prior to focusing on what their life still offered.

The other aspect of choosing to be happy is that we still feel loss, grief, sadness and anger when events occur to us. Being happy does not preclude other emotions but includes them. Happiness is an overall attitude, a state of contentment or satisfaction, not a temporary emotion such as joy or elation. Therefore, we have the ability to be happy even when we experience these other emotions. In fact, through our full immersion in life and the emotions life brings, we can learn how to be happy. One of the most salient aspects I've noticed about unhappy people is that they are desperately trying to avoid negative emotions and in the process they feel miserable. Also, keep in mind that this article is addressing emotional states, it cannot be applied to clinical depression.

Therefore, happiness is a choice to feel the emotions that result from an event, to fully grieve, but also, to recognize our ability to accept what life offers us rather than remain focused on what is taken from us. Happiness is an attitude.

How can we be happy when bad things happen?--page 1

How is the attitude of happiness a choice?--page 2

How is the attitude of happiness different from positive thinking?--page 3

"Sadness is a state of happiness because it is an emotion and emotions allow us to solve problems and solving problems allows us to live as fully as we are capable."


by Monica A. Frank, Ph.D.
One day when I was seven–years–old my father allowed me to choose our Sunday family activity. He said we could either take a drive across the Mississippi River or ride on the last streetcar in St. Louis. At that time of my life I had never seen an ocean or even a great lake and I was awed by the vastness of the Mississippi River. It never occurred to me that the river would always be there and the streetcars might not. I chose the river. Of course, driving across the river took all of fifteen seconds. Immediately after we crossed the bridge I regretted my decision. My regret at the time was that the streetcar excursion would have been lengthier. My regret later was that I never again had the opportunity to ride a streetcar in St. Louis.

My father could have protected me from my regret and sadness. He could have taken me on a streetcar anyway or have convinced me that I had made the wrong decision. However, he allowed the decision to stand and allowed me to deal with the consequential emotions. I don't know what he intended, but I do believe that he was trying to be a good father that day.

I learned a great deal from that decision. I didn't learn it all at once but over time I came to realize the value of this single incident. I learned that I could tolerate the outcome of a decision even if I didn't prefer such an outcome. I learned that I didn't have to be protected from emotions. And I learned that things aren't all good or all bad. In particular, I realized that my father with his many limitations could teach me a valuable lesson and that I could love that part of him even though I couldn't accept the rest. READ MORE: page 2

Intro  to sadness is a state of happiness--page 1

Why is protection from emotions harmful?--page 2

What is happiness?--page 3

Why are all emotions valuable?--page 4

How do we find happiness?--page 5

How do "fixed desires" prevent happiness?--page 6

What is the value of sadness?--page 7

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Dr. Monica Frank

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