There have been many excellent new books that have looked at the emerging science of positive psychology and happiness. As a graduate of Martin Seligman and Ben Dean’s Authentic Happiness Coaching Program, I have been following the happiness research closely. A new book by a former President of Harvard University, Derek Bok, offers a common sense look at the factors that interfere with personal happiness.
I won’t go into a detailed review of the book because you can get that elsewhere. In this very practical and well-researched book, Bok has identified three key happiness contaminating factors that fit with my clinical experience as a family therapist, coach, and community builder over the past two decades. They are chronic pain, mental illness, and sleep deprivation. Folks that suffer from one or all of these things have their ability to experience happiness compromised. It stands to reason that the more severe the pain, mental illness, or sleep deprivation, the more severe the unhappiness, or at least the ability to experience happiness.
Much of the work I have done over the past two decades has been directed at ameliorating the cultural conditions that lead to depression and anxiety, the most common forms of mental illness. In my opinion, sleep deprivation and pain are quite often connected to depression and anxiety.
Depressogenesis explores the environmental/cultural factors that lead to depression. My belief is that we live in a toxic culture that causes depression (and sleep deprivation and chronic pain) and that we are barking up the wrong tree by looking for tertiary solutions instead of attempting to change the culture to make it less depressogenic – more amenable to creating happiness. Thus, my book in process, Discovering Possibility, that addresses this issue in a systemic way.
My advice to readers is that you must adopt a counter-cultural stance if you want to find more happiness for yourself. Yes, it is prudent to adopt all of the self-help recommendations you hear about that can help you deal with pain, mental illness, and sleep deprivation, and I will not review them here. Certainly, there are times when it is critical that you seek professional mental health treatment. But in my opinion, the best thing you can do to find more happiness is to design an intentional, counter-cultural, individual happiness plan, and utilize anchors in your life to help you stay true to your new convictions. And join the growing ranks of citizens who are part of the American restoration movement so that you can also be an empowered change agent for a healthier community.