An integral part of medical practice is bibliotherapy.
Each day, I prescribe books that I feel would be most appropriate for patients and the challenges they are facing. One that I keep at my office and have available at home for everyone in the family is Martin Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness.”
In this practical and positive self-help book, Dr. Seligman outlines the effective, positive techniques that psychologists and other counsellors use to help their clients. When we seek counsellors, we are usually focussed on a negative situation or negative feelings. The long-term goal however is discovering and maintaining authentic happiness, that is genuine, deep, lasting happiness in life.
To achieve authentic happiness we need to be at peace with the past, enjoy the present and look forward to the future. As I’ve mentioned in many of my columns, it is often the trauma, disappointments and losses of the past that prevent us from enjoying happiness today. We can come to terms with the past by reviewing, reinterpreting and reframing our experiences. In short, we must sometimes rewrite our own back stories – the stories of our lives. We must somehow find a way to forgive others and forgive ourselves.
To be happy in the present we need awareness and control of our emotions and our thoughts. Dr. Seligman presents another practical approach to using cognitive therapy. By looking at our situations in a different way, we can feel better about them.
To be happy in the future we need to live for something greater than ourselves – a mission, a noble cause, our children, our community. We need to engage what Dr. Seligman refers to as our signature strengths – or to use the terminology of “From Good to Great” what we do better than anyone else.
Your happiness exercise: If you’re not totally happy at this moment, reexamine how you view your past, present and future. Are you at peace with the people and events of your past? Is there something that holds you back? What can you let go of now? Who do you need to forgive?
If your current situation is bringing it down. If you can’t think of a more positive way of seeing it, ask a good friend whom you trust. Read the suggestions in Seligman’s “Authentic Happiness” or Greenberger and Padesky’s “Mind over Mood.” Are you falling for the common thinking errors or biases that feed anxiety, anger and depression?
What is you purpose in life? What do you do better than anyone else? What are your signature strengths? Are you using your special qualities to answer your calling?