Happiness as a Treatment Goal

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Happiness as a Treatment Goal

by Janet Jergins, MMFT

There is no duty we so underrate as the duty of being happy. By being happy we sow anonymous benefits upon the world.
Robert Louis Stevenson

It seems there are two ways to go about treating people in my office. One is to figure out what pathology is occurring in order to treat an illness. Another is to find a person’s strengths and empower them to play to those strengths.

There is a true and legitimate place for both perspectives. One of the strengths based methods showing promise is a movement led by a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, Martin Seligman, who has led a group of therapists and researchers in a movement that he calls Positive Psychology. His most easily accessible book is Authentic Happiness and details the research and his easy to follow happiness interventions. The Cliff Note version of Positive Psychology is three-fold:

  1. Happiness can come from searching for a Pleasant Life, a life focused on Relationships, or a Meaningful Life. Each of these sources enhances happiness, but Meaningfulness has been shown to give the most bang for your buck.
  2. He found that there are twenty-four character traits present in happy people across cultures. If you are curious about which character strengths you play to, take his VIA Signature Strengths Questionnaire. The idea is to call on and exercise the character strengths that come naturally.
  3. There are Happiness Interventions which can enhance happiness reliably. Dr. Seligman and his colleagues made a list of happiness exercises and then tested them against a large population to determine which effectively promoted happiness.
I continue to read and write about positive psychology research. There is also a wonderful blog on happiness by Gretchen Rubin, called The Happiness Project. You may want to check it out.