Want to be happier?


A former law clerk for Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, author Gretchen Rubin spent a year test-driving dozens of techniques and notions that purport to make people happier. Her 2009 book, The Happiness Project, spent two years on the New York Times bestseller list, even reaching number one.

Through this interview Gretchen Rubin explains the facts about happiness, followed by a commentary from psychotherapist Noah Clyman.

Question: What are the main misconceptions about happiness that you discovered?

Rubin: The term happiness suggests it’s like an on/off switch, or that there’s a magic finish line that we cross to achieve it. It’s better to think about being happier—“If I did this or that, would I be happier?” It’s not about achieving some perfect state. It’s just about moving in the right direction.

Question: What stands out most in your research?

Rubin: The key to building a happy life is basing it on the foundation of your own nature, your own values, your own interests—the distinctive structure of your own personality. With habits, you always hear people saying things like “Do it first thing in the morning” or “Do what Steve Jobs did” or “Do it for 30 days” or “Start small” or “Give yourself a cheat day.” But there’s no magic one-size-fits-all approach, because it all depends on the individual. You really have to think about who you are, which you’d think would be easy because you hang out with yourself all day long, yet it’s a great challenge to know yourself and grasp what’s true about you.

Question: What can therapists learn from the framework you’re describing?

Rubin: One of my psychologist friends says, “My job as a therapist is to help clients meet their inner expectations.” I think that’s a big waste of time and energy because that’s not going to work for everyone. For many people, it’s much better to have external accountability, because that makes it easier for them to get motivated. I think a lot of times people get frustrated with therapists because they want them to provide external accountability, but they won’t: they don’t see that as their proper role. That’s why with many people I think coaches are often more effective. The whole point of a coach is to hold you accountable. Therapy is all about insight; coaching is about holding you to it, and I think that’s what a lot of people need.

Noah Clyman, director of NYC Cognitive Therapy agrees with Rubin. “All psychotherapy is not the same! Are our practice, clinicians are expertly trained in cognitive behavioral therapy (or CBT) – a type of psychotherapy that has thousands of research studies demonstrating its efficacy for the range of psychiatric disorders, psychological problems, and many medical conditions with psychological components.” In contrast with other types of therapy, CBT is generally more focused on the present, more time-limited, and more problem-solving oriented.

No other psychotherapy has been validated by so much research. “If I had a medical problem, such as trouble breathing,” explains Clyman, “I would go to my doctor and ask for the treatment that research has shown to be the most effective. The same should hold true for emotional problems.

“CBT is a great choice of therapy if you’d like to increase your happiness,” says Clyman.

The Q&A with Gretchen Rubin is excerpted from “Personality and Habit Change” through the Psychotherapy Networker

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