He was struggling with getting started in life. He would often not make it in a job. In fact, because of the number of jobs he had over his life, he had more expertise in job search skills than he had in work skills. His personal life was ‘on and off again’ with respect to relationships. An effective psychological approach to this individual might be to deal with his anxiety associated with his approach to work and life, assisting him in making a commitment to work on his ‘issues.’ Seligman, who is a well-known psychologist, a world-class professor at the University of Pennsylvania, and a contributor to the mental health field for thirty years, has coined the phrase ‘human misery’, suggesting that we need to go farther with our efforts – not just restoring a sense of equilibrium and well-being, but actually helping people achieve happiness in their lives.
Seligman tested over one hundred interventions that can make people happier. One that he had shared is called the ‘gratitude visit’. This intervention is powerful and may be of benefit to this client with all the anxiety in his life. The gratitude visit has several parts. First, think of someone who has had a powerful impact on your life, someone who has made a major difference in your life and is still alive and you have not thanked. The second part is to construct a letter of tribute of at least 300 words, telling him/her of what they did for you, how it made a difference to you, and where you are now with your life. The third step is to call the person and make an appointment to see them. Don’t indicate why you are coming to visit. Tell them you have a surprise. The fourth step is to read your letter of tribute to this important person in your life. Seligman claims that this can be a very highly charged experience, having a profound effect on both individuals, and, in addition, contributing to a level of happiness to the person initiating the gratitude visit.
I do not think that Seligman had tested one of the ideas of George Will, a political commentator, who presented a commencement address that touched on the topic of happiness. Will suggested that in order to be happy, we need to look behind us with ‘astonishment’ at our accomplishments – to honour our own individual struggles and successes. He further suggested that happiness is also rooted in learning – the friend of sadness is boredom. He ended his address with these words. “Live with a crick in your neck from looking back in history; cultivate the immunity to boredom that learning confers – so you can get on with the next astonishment.”
Originally published in the ‘Tri-Cities News’ as a voluntary contribution to the community from Arthur Rathgeber.
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