Beyond Blue

Beyond Blue

Dan Baker’s Six Happiness Tools

Because I’m out of the Black Hole (for the moment), the six happiness tools listed below by Dan Baker in “What Happy People Know” provide a few useful hints. I have to be able to read them without saying between every sentence: “I want do die. Why isn’t this working? He’s right–I’m acting like a helpless victim. Why can’t I get my life together? This is all my fault. I’m a failure. I’m so pathetic. I want to die.”
In my opinion, these six happiness tools are a kind of a combination between “the power of positive thinking” (I’m not even going to say the Law of Attraction, for fear of the overgeneralization and black-and-white thinking that can provoke) and cognitive behavioral therapy. My comments are in brackets.
The Six Happiness Tools
1. Appreciation.
This is the first and most fundamental happiness tool. Appreciation is the purest, strongest form of love. It is the outward-bound kind of love that asks for nothing and gives everything. Research now shows that it is physiologically impossible to be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear at the same time. Thus, appreciation is the antidote to fear. [This is oversimplified for those with severe depression. In suicidal states, medical intervention is needed before you’re able to move past the fear.] Although fear was the first feeling that developed during evolution, love is believed to be the second. It, too, has tremendous survival value; our early ancestors, who fought to survive during the day, huddled together for comfort at night. Fear is strong, but love is stronger, because it’s a product of the neocortex, not the lower brain.
2. Choice.
Choice is the father of freedom and the voice of the heart. Having no choices, or options, feels like being in jail. It leads to depression, anxiety, and the condition called learned helplessness. Choice can even govern perception. Anyone can choose the course of their lives, but only happy people do it. [This is also oversimplified, and not at all sympathetic to those struggling with not only mental disorders but chronic pain, etc. In other words, Dan, you’re coming off as an arrogant pig here. And you don’t need to expand like you do in the next sentences. Call me a “victim” but I’d rather be an empathetic person to those in pain than an judgmental jerk.] Unhappy people make the mistake of giving in to the automatic fear reaction, which limits their choices drastically, to just fighting, fleeing, or freezing. [Again, Dan, have you ever had a panic attack at your son’s karate class? I didn’t think so.] Happy people turn away from fear, and find that their intellects and spirits contain a vast warehouse of choices.


3. Personal Power.
This is the almost indefinable proactive force, similar to character, that gives you power over your feelings and power over your fate. Personal power has two components: taking responsibility and taking action. It means realizing that your life belongs to you and you alone, and then doing something about it. Personal power keeps you from being a victim. [He overdoes it with the whole victim thing. I get your point. You don’t need to go there again, Dan.] When your personal power is at its peak, you’re secure. You don’t need to be popular; you don’t need to be right; you don’t even need money in the bank. You can handle whatever life dishes out. [Again … a little too simplified … what about the reader who just told me she lost both of her children, and then her husband divorced her … I’m guessing she’s not feeling all that secure and happy. You got to have a little more compassion, Dan.]
4. Leading with your strengths.
When you give in to the automatic fear reaction, it makes you focus on your weaknesses, which only reinforces your fear. But when you take the path of the intellect and spirit, you naturally begin to focus on your strengths—and start to solve your situation. People often think that fixing their weaknesses will save them, but it rarely works. It’s just too painful. [Actually, Dan, I’ve always been a believer in embracing your weaknesses as the path to your strengths. That’s always worked for me … thus, Beyond Blue. The more popular posts aren’t the ones where I list everything I’m doing right … on the contrary, readers seem to resonate most with the ones written in a true vulnerable state. Just a suggestion.] Leading with your strengths feels good, and that’s why it works. Simple but true. You’ll never be complete until you learn to lead with your strengths every day.
5. The power of language and stories.
We don’t describe the world we see—we see the world we describe. Language, as the single most fundamental force of the human intellect, has the power to alter perception. We think in words, and these words have the power to limit us or to set us free; they can frighten us or evoke our courage [Okay, Dan, you lost me here. I tend to agree with you, but you might be taking it a bit too far—like “The Secret” does.] Similarly, the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives eventually becomes our lives. [Reader Larry, I’m with you here. Smelling lots of animal waste with that line.] We can tell healthy stories or horror stories. The choice is ours. [The problem I have here, is that I suspect the people of Darfur and Afghanistan and Iraq aren’t huddling together telling themselves horror stories that keep them trapped in tragedy. Rather, some major crap just happens in this world, and unfortunately they got more of it than, say, I did in rich, semi-feminist America. The woman I met yesterday who miscarried eleven times and lost triplets at 26 weeks of gestation, only to discover she can’t carry a child, deserves our compassion, not our judgment.]
6. Multidimensional living.
There are three primary components of life: relationships, health, and purpose (which is usually work). Many people, though, put all their energy into just one area. The most common choice is work, because work best assuages our survival fears of not having enough and not being enough. [Finally, Dan! We agree on a point.] Other people become obsessed with relationships (because relationship is another word for love), and some limit their lives in the name of longevity. None of this works. Happiness comes from a full life.
What was most empowering about that exercise—going through Dan’s six happiness tools and pulling the parts that I liked—is finding that I am now confident enough in myself to debate a (who SOME refer to “piled high doo-doo er”). For so long, my opinion didn’t matter. I took everyone’s (and especially a’s) word for it—they held “the truth.”. Now I’m finding I have my own truth that combines little nuggets here and there from lots of different sources—maybe even a mini-one (so small you can’t see it) from the law of attraction.

  • Gen

    I really appreciated this post. I’ve struggled with depression for a long time and there’s nothing worse than picking up a “positive thinking” book when you couldn’t think a positive thought if your life depended on it. Your comments in brackets were spot on. It was great to realise that others feel the same way as I do and can recognise the limits of these types of books.

  • Barbara

    Here, here! While there are nuggets of truth and wisdom in Mr. Baker’s essay, the he fails to address the complexities you point out. In addition, he fails to address what I call the chicken and egg problem of personal traits: Are people happy because they have learned (through dint of hard effort) to do these things? Or are the people who more easily do these things (because of parental/community modeling, a naturally optimistic and charming personality which to some extent at least is genetically based, fortunate life circumstances, etc)? As you so aptly point out, writers like Mr. Baker who seem to focus exclusively on the former are engaging in a tacit form of blaming the victim–if you’re not doing these things, you must be choosing not to do them with the same amount of free will as those who choose to do them. It is much more difficult (and it sells fewer books!) to address those complexities and truly give depressed people useful tools. Thank you for sharing your wisdom.

  • Anonymous

    I appreciate your playing devil’s advocate regarding the simplicity of Dr. Baker’s list and pointing out that we are no all alike and some people need more compassion than others. I thought your comments sounded like an attack and seemed as if they were coming from a place of anger. After all, I don’t think Dr. Baker was addressing those who are understandably in a depressive state, but rather those who are on the upside of depression or other life situations. In his defense, it would be impossible to deal with all the variables/challenges people face in life with one short article. I interpreted his list as a “skeleton” …… i.e. you fill in the blanks according to where you are in your life. Maybe Dr. Baker could have prefaced his article by qualifying his statements. Would that have made you feel more comfortable?

  • teresa wilbanks

    i have had alot of loses 10 friends and family in less than a year and Iwand to have a different life. God has given us each day. I agree that if someone is clinically depressed he has to have help. Life is for the living. anything positive should be imbraced. I know that alot of people have hard lives but life is for living no matter how hard we have it. if you believe in God yu know that he will not put more on you than you can bear. Speak of evil and you will be evil, speak of sad things and you will be sad,speck of good and you will feel good. we do control ourselves with our thoughts and our tongues. this is for healthy minded people. thank for some more tools for living day to day moment to moment teresa

  • Bonnie Greene

    I needed this post today to carry on. I had begun to sink in depression for the tials that were in my life, but while I was looking down I forgot to keep looking up. I have so much to be thankful for and yet the enenmy continues to want me to feel sorry for my situations and for myself. Positive thinking and positive people in you life is a plus.

  • milagros

    Thank you for your more nuanced comments on simplistic solutions on happiness being dished by experts. I wonder if Dr. Baker has ever walked a mile in the shoes of an Iraqi civilain in Baghdad, a Palestinian who lived all his life in fenced settlement , or, nearer our neighborhood, a sickly, older, impoverished, white woman who was divorced by her husband of many years in order to marry a much younger, healthy woman?

  • kineu

    “Appreciation” This is a trait not everyone has, not because they don’t know how to appreciate but because there lives have been filled with so much fear and anger growing as a child so they never had anything or anyone to appreciate only fear and hate.”Choice” The power of free will and human kinds greatest downfall. Yes we all have a choice but most choices are not chosen by you but by the influential people around you for its like someone whispering in your ear but in the end it is you that made the choice and has to live with it.”Personal Power” All I have to say to this is God’s Will let him be your rock and he will give you the strength that you desire.”Leading with your Strengths” Meditate for a bit after a prayer look deep inside yourself and maybe you will actually find a strength or 2 waiting to help you get done what you want.”The power of language and stories” for the lord says the tongue is mightier than the sword, and every great man had a mighty tongue to use it for good or evil is your “choice”.”Multidimensional living” love all around you and search and follow your heart for your only real purpose in life is to love.

  • Bel

    After reading the 6 Happiness Tools, I agree with each and everyone of them. But the one that sticks out the most and made me just now realize what my problem has been is CHOICE! Too many of us make choices or lack of choices with the preset that our choices affect others around us. WE don’t want to hurt, upset, or anger those close to us therefore, we make choices not on what is best for us, but what is best for others. For example, falling in love…One falls in love with someone whom he/she thinks is wonderful, but the family does not…problems begin to occur within the family…he/she let’s go of that special person….and so we learn to settle! But the family is happy and the individual is miserable. Depression, anxiety, helplessness begin to settle in because the choice made was not in his/her best interest! This is just one example of making choices to avoid conflict in others. And when we make choices with other people’s interests in mind, Yes, we begin to feel confined…like being in jail!

  • Anonymous

    New to this site but sounds like my kind of people! Kudos to those who make it possible. I too have battled depression off & on for a long time. Tried the alcohol solution for several years. Self-Medicated as someone said. Discovered the twelve steps along with support groups & they were a life saver. But another downward spiral starting at around age 48 & it’s been up & down the last twelve yrs. Especially the last 5-6 as i began to isolate myself & tried to get by mainly on medications. Thought the six tools were thought provoking & contained some well founded wisdom. Like most other “tools” they have little benefit unless we use & apply them. So thanks agin to Ms. Borchard(I felt better just looking at her picture) & to the rest of you fellow strugglers. One last quote; Sometimes it’s darkess just before dawn. Fear knocked, Faith answered & know one was there. May we all find courage to take the next step. God bless, Dan in Ga

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