The method with which happiness is obtained is frequently debated. Some people believe happiness is obtained by achieving success, such as a work promotion. Others believe happiness is acquired by purchasing material items or by having wealth. Still, others believe engaging in activities that elicit feelings of happiness, such as having dinner with a friend or traveling, creates happiness. As it turns out, people still report being unhappy even if they experience any of the aforementioned examples. As a therapist, it has been my experience that true happiness is obtained when an individual has solvable problems to address that they find meaningful. This is why some people may experience feelings of depression when they first retire.
When working with a client who reports feelings of unhappiness, I first assist them to identify their personal values. Often, individuals have values that conflict with societal values. For example, a person who reports being unhappy at work is most likely frustrated because their personal values conflict with their company’s work culture. In these circumstances, I help people to alter their values because it is unlikely their company’s values will change. Some individuals value perfection, which is not a solvable problem. Individuals who expect perfection for themselves are often frustrated on a daily basis because the goal of perfection is unattainable.
If an individual’s values are supported by others and can be realistically achieved, I then assess if the client has an identified problem to address. I have found that if a person is given a task that is easily accomplished, that person often does not find the activity to be meaningful. However, if a person has to work to achieve a task, that person may experience great joy when s/he finally succeeds. It is important for a person to have achievable goals and, at the same time, are challenging to accomplish. Finally, I assist individuals to recognize the importance of surrounding themselves with people who will encourage them to meet their goals. In my experience, individuals report being happy when they have identified realistic yet challenging goals and have a network that includes supportive friends and family.
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