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
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.
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 Ph.D.er (who SOME refer to “piled high doo-doo er”). For so long, my opinion didn’t matter. I took everyone’s (and especially a Ph.D.er’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.