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Becoming Happier

Sometimes, life just reminds you why you do what you do.

Today, it was an email I got from a list I subscribe to. Lisa Brookes Kift is a Marriage and Family Therapist I first encountered on Twitter several years ago. She sends out a newsletter once every month or so, and I usually enjoy reading the stuff I find in it.

Today, it was an article in her Love and Life Toolbox about becoming happier.

Becoming Happier is a Worthy Goal

If you’re reading this, then you know that my life’s work is helping sensitive therapists help their clients with their emotional lives. Finding greater happiness is a big part of that. Across the world, people are motivated by it.

Feeling good also helps you regulate the times you’re not feeling so positive. In fact, it’s the only thing that really, truly does. The research has consistently shown that, but too few people know how to go about doing it. Instead they rely on tricks to regulate their emotions that, in most cases, end up backfiring.

(Therapists aren’t immune from that. Most of what therapists typically prescribe—distraction, venting, thought stopping, examining one’s emotions—is counterproductive. The research is clear about that.)

Finding and increasing happiness is vital. That thought, and my curiosity about what Lisa might have to say about it, sent me to her article.

In it, she listed eight areas in which people’s struggles could lead to poor returns on their efforts to become happier:

  • Inadequate social connections
  • Unresolved earlier emotional issues
  • The inability to regulate emotions effectively
  • Not meditating, since meditation lowers stress hormones
  • A lack of optimism
  • Not accepting and focusing on the good parts of one’s life
  • Not living authentically
  • Lacking gratitude

Becoming Happier, the ADEPT way

I have no quibbles with this list. It’s actually a pretty strong one. It just reinforces what we train clinicians to do at ADEPT, though we approach the bigger problem in a somewhat different order:

  1. First, we help our clients establish the ability to regulate themselves and their emotions. As I mentioned before, this can only be done through positive affect, and we help our clients by lending them some of ours during the first parts of treatment while we help them build their own. We take our cues on how to do this from modeling the ideal early attachment relationship.
  2. Second, we use our clients’ improved ability to regulate to help them resolve their earlier, poorly examined emotional problems. We dig into their pain and help them resolve it. Once they do, their defensive and problematic thinking and behavior evaporates, largely on its own. This is the core focus of our early work together.
  3. After removing these earlier problems and their defensive thinking and behavior, clients become aware of their genuine feelings, often for the first time in years. Their sensory experiences become sharper. Their values become clearer. Their lives become more vibrant and authentic.
  4. Without all of their old problematic behavior weighing down their relationships, those relationships can become more authentic and deeply connected, though this can also present challenges when significant others aren’t yet ready for authenticity in their own lives. We coach and encourage clients through this phase.
  5. ADEPT doesn’t advocate meditation, per se. It’s very good for thinkers, but works slowly when used by the highly sensitive people attracted to ADEPT. However, resolving old emotional problems lowers stress by itself, since stress and emotions are so intricately intertwined.
  6. Awareness of genuine feelings also leads to the kinds of spiritual advancements meditation promotes. At the lower level, this includes optimism, gratitude, and accepting the good in one’s life. That completes Lisa’s list on how to become happier.
  7. As one becomes more grounded in one’s authentic feelings (which can happen surprisingly quickly once old emotions start being resolved), further movement into more spiritually advanced states of unconditional love, compassion, and even inner tranquility become possible and even likely.

Becoming Happier is in Everyone’s Power

Discovering your core self is a very powerful experience. It’s full of stable, positive feelings.

This is what ADEPT offers, in a nutshell. There’s no reason for anyone to be miserable unless they choose to be. Everybody has the capacity to feel better about their life, to have better relationships, and to be more authentic and less weighed down by bad memories.

Everyone has the capacity to experience endless compassion and inner tranquility, and of giving and accepting unconditional love.

They only have to be open to it, to be willing to change and give up the old defensive patterns that haven’t been working very well for them. That’s the “secret” to becoming happier.

The only real question is why anyone wouldn’t.

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