Happiness: Just Another Fad or The Real Deal?

October 4, 2012

Question:

“Is happiness just another fad or is it the real deal?”

Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC:

Before tackling this somewhat controversial question, one must ask, “How do you define happiness”? It seems there are always news stories about the latest and greatest happiness survey, which typically measures happiness on a scale of one to ten. Here’s the problem: not everyone defines happiness the same way. Some of us define happiness in terms of a life partner, others in terms of accomplishments and still others in terms of health and well-being. As you can see, it’s just not that simple to define or measure happiness.

As far back as Aristotle, happiness garnered lots of interest and attention. In 1998, Martin Seligman, Ph.D., founded the School of Positive Psychology. Dr. Seligman changed the way many of us in mental health look at our patients’ difficulties. Rather than view them through a lens of illness, Positive Psychology suggests we focus on a person’s strengths. What makes a person flourish is another question we may want to consider.

I was trained in a medical university setting, so the medical model was the rule of the day. I simply can’t toss that aside because I do see great value in this approach; however, I love the idea of incorporating Positive Psychology into my clinical work. This approach works quite well as it provides the benefit of both schools of thought. We can take care of our patients’ mental health needs in terms of diagnoses and treatment but elevate our care to the next level by bringing in tenets and homework assignments from the School of Positive Psychology (Positive Psychotherapy 1 ). Let me share a real life clinical experience:

One of my patients diagnosed with OCD decided he’d gained all he could from medication and CBT. He no longer wanted to spend time talking about his obsessions and compulsions so I introduced him to Positive Psychology. I suggested we spend some time exploring the concept of flourishing and overall well-being. He loved the idea saying he didn’t want to turn into his father whom he described as very negative and unhappy. This therapeutic intervention made a huge difference in my patient’s life. Granted, we may again focus on his OCD when he encounters stress but I have to wonder if the improvements he has made in terms of overall well-being will help him deal more effectively with life’s stressors?

Does Positive Psychotherapy actually work or is it just another touchy feely fad? That’s a fair question so let’s get to it. Group Positive Psychotherapy (Group PPT) is in fact effective in the treatment of mild to moderate depression and the results are evident at a one-year follow-up. 1 Similar results are reported in another study looking at schizophrenia. 2 Not only did PPT improve overall psychological well-being but reductions in psychoticism, paranoid ideation, and depression were also reported. 2 There’s enough data here that we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the power of mental well-being.

If the idea of mental well-being piques your interest, I’d like to invite you to attend my presentation, “Is Happiness Teachable? Positive Psychology in Everyday Clinical Practice”, at this year’s US Psychiatric Congress. We can roll up our sleeves and take a deeper dive into the School of Positive Psychology and look at tools that are readily available to track our patient’s overall well-being (WHO-5). 3

See you in San Diego!

Saundra Jain, MA, PsyD, LPC

 

1 Seligman M et al. Am Psychol . 2006;61(8):774-788.

2 Meyer PS et al. The Journal of Positive Psychology . 2012;7(3):239-248.

3 www.cure4you.dk/354/WHO-5_English.pdf . Accessed Aug. 8, 2012.

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