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SALT LAKE CITY -- I believe we are born happy. Being unhappy is something we learn. Then we actively and systematically cultivate our own unhappiness through our habits.
In my practice as a therapist I find that most people struggling with depression are very pessimistic, isolative, do not exercise and are on a steady diet of unhealthy food, depressing television and unhappy music.
If happiness were a choice, what would you choose?
As I stated in my article "Recession's end will not bring lasting happiness," getting married, having a baby, getting the promotion — even winning the lottery — will not make us lastingly happier. It is not the big-ticket items that make the biggest impact but the little things we do every day.
Often we perform unhappy habits without any conscious thought. Therefore, it is imperative that we become mindful that we can make conscious decisions to be happier.
In his book, "The Art of Happiness," His Holiness the Dalai Lama suggests that one discover the things that makes one happy and do more of that; to be mindful of the things that makes one unhappy and do less of that — “That is the way of happiness.”
I took this premise and created the Eight Steps to Happiness, which I teach in Happiness 101:
- Be mindful. Become aware of your habits.
- Determine whether your action or habit is making you happy or unhappy.
- Decide whether you want to do anything about it. If so:
- Brainstorm. Come up with at least five courses of action. If you have trouble coming up with ideas, ask a friend or loved one for help.
- Decide on a course of action. Don’t allow yourself to become too stuck on this step. If you do not make a decision, then you will simply continue to practice your unhappy habit. By not making a decision, you are still making a decision — to be stuck.
- Do it. Take that first step into your new decision.
- Assess. After a time, decide whether your new course of action seems to be working for you. If not, go back to your pool of ideas from step four. It is always good to get feedback about your course of action from trusted others.
- Re-assess. After you have been practicing your new habit for a time, re-assess to make sure it is having the desired effect. Again, if it is not working for you, return to step four. At no time should your decision impede on the rights of others, break the law or cause injury to another person.
If you believe that you are suffering from depression, I urge you to seek help. If you have any thoughts of suicide, please call 1-800-SUICIDE (800-784-2433). But if you believe you were born unhappy, please re-examine that belief. You might be predisposed to depression, but I have seen many people use this belief as an excuse to stop trying. Even if you did not win what Jonathan Haidt calls "the cortical lottery," only 50 percent of our happiness is based on our genetics. Forty percent of your happiness is based on the choices you make every day — whether you are aware of them or not.If happiness were a choice, what would you choose? Since it is, what are you waiting for? Take the first step today.
Frank Clayton is a licensed professional counselor practicing in Salt Lake City. He specializes in happiness. He teaches other therapists and professionals about positive psychology and has been teaching Happiness 101 for over two years.