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SALT LAKE CITY — They call me The Happy Therapist. It’s not because I’m the happiest of all the therapists in Salt Lake City; They call me The Happy Therapist because I have made it my mission to teach the world how to be happy — not just my patients, but everyone, for free.
Why should I donate so much time and effort to helping strangers struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts, especially when I’m a professional who could charge for my services? Because once upon a time, I was one of those people.
It was Christmastime in Alaska, 1987. I had just gotten divorced, and by that point I believed I was such a terrible person that I couldn’t possibly be a decent parent to our only child. I gave up custody without a fight.
Since I was then officially single, my employer put me on 24-hour shifts, allowing the people with families to spend time with them. At the end of an all-nighter I went to my car to find the tire flat. I thought about calling a friend for help, but I’d forgotten: I had no friends.
As I changed the tire, it was cold — Alaska cold, and not just outside. It felt like my heart was turning as cold and hard as the ice I crouched upon. Dark thoughts whispered in my ear. “Would anyone even miss me? ” “What good am I?” “What kind of a loser doesn’t have any friends?” Suddenly, dying did not seem like such a bad idea. I even toyed with how I might pull it off.
I’d like to say this was the first time I thought of suicide, but it wasn’t. Such notions were handed down to me by my parents. When I was 11, my dad shared with me — on a regular basis — elaborate schemes to commit suicide. He had plans for making it look like an accident, plans where no one would ever find the body, and plans with high shock value.
Between my two parents, he was considered the stable one. My mother admitted to suicidal plans of her own and even attempted once. In 2007, not wanting to face the inevitable consequences of a lifetime of smoking, she took over 40 pills and laid down to die. Were it not for a woman delivering Meals on Wheels, she would have died that night.
I am grateful to say that neither parents carried out their plans and both died of natural causes, but depression runs deep on both sides of the family tree. My half-sister died of a drug overdose at age 21, and my half brother shot himself just over 10 years ago. This just covers the family experiences — I have also had two close friends and numerous acquaintances commit suicide.
If you are feeling suicidal, please call 1-800-SUICIDE. If you are not suicidal but are in crisis and just really need someone to listen, call 1- 877-273-TALK.
As a survivor of people who have completed suicide, I know what a hole it leaves. I know that every person who knew the deceased asks themselves, “If I had just reached out more, would they still be alive?” Or, “Were there signs and I just wasn’t paying attention?”
I also know that when I thought about suicide, I did not think about how it might impact others. I just knew I was in emotional pain and I wanted it to stop. At the time, I did not see any other way. In hindsight, I agree with the axiom that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
I am a very private person. Many of the things I’ve just shared are not even known by my friends. I share them now for only one reason: I am not The Happy Therapist because I was born this way or because I have had an easy life. I am The Happy Therapist because I read, study and scour literature on positive psychology so I can use all the techniques at my disposal to scratch and chisel every scrap of happiness I can get.
I learned many of those techniques in my favorite book, “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky. One of its many tools is a self-test called the Oxford Happiness Questionnaire. My first test revealed that in spite of all my therapeutic knowledge, training, experience and couch time, I was just a tiny bit below normal on the happiness scale. I was a therapist and I was less happy than the average person! Not only that, I was still considered mildly depressed.
Happiness has been proven to spread like a virus. For nearly three years I've been teaching a free class in the Salt Lake Valley called Happiness 101. I realized I could branch out and reach people in the rural areas of Utah, where the suicide rates are some of the highest in the nation, by offering a Happiness 101 Webinar.
There is no cost to attend the Webinar and everyone is welcome to attend. Whether you are depressed and want to feel happier or if you are happy but would like to learn techniques to stay that way, the Happiness 101 Webinar is for you.
It is my hope that teaching the techniques of Happiness 101 via this Webinar will not only help people to survive, but thrive. The techniques I teach in Happiness 101 work. According to the self-tests, I am no longer considered depressed and am much happier than the average person. If they can work for me, they can work for you. CLICK HERE for more information on the webinar.
So, I set my feet upon the path. I learned that 50 percent of my happiness is contingent on my genetics, but 40 percent is based on my choices. I also learned of studies that prove that through our actions, we can actually rewire our brain to be happier, effectively proving that we need not be a slave to genetics that pre-dispose us to depression. I learned that it is not the big light-bulb moments that jar us into a happier life. Instead, it is the little habits we do daily that take us a little closer to — or further away from — our happiness. I learned a scientifically-proven technique that takes five minutes a day that has a 94 percent success rate of helping people rise from the depths of depression.
I believe these tried-and-true methods of happiness should not be held ransom but given freely. And that’s what I do: For nearly three years I’ve been teaching a free class in the Salt Lake Valley called Happiness 101. I realized I could branch out and reach people in the rural areas of Utah, where the suicide rates are some of the highest in the nation, by offering a Happiness 101 Webinar. I have been urged by many well-intentioned people to charge for the class, but that’s not why I created the class. Besides, I am paid handsomely by my students. Not in money, but in smiles. When I see hope where there was none before, I feel like the richest — and happiest — man in the world.
It’s been nearly 25 years since that cold Alaska night, and these things I’ve learned have truly taken me worlds away from that hopeless place. I now believe that no matter your circumstances, anyone and everyone can live a happy life. I know this not just as a therapist, but as someone who has come back from the depths of depression and is now truly and genuinely happy. This is why I am The Happy Therapist: to teach the lessons that saved my life so that others might also be saved.
Frank Clayton is a Licensed Professional Counselor. He has taught about happiness (positive psychology) to both citizens and professionals. He will teach Happiness 101 Webinar to Reduce Suicide in Utah for six weeks beginning October 5th