What Happy People Know, by Dan Baker, Ph.D and Cameron Stauth

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On my bookshelf at home, you will find war and peace.  I am not referring to the Tolstoy novel, although you will find that there too.  My husband is a staunch history academic with an avid appreciation for historical war.  Any war you can think of will probably be represented by at least one book on our shelf.  I love psychology, spirituality and recovery.  Any modern day book about people hitting the depths of despair and then finding their way back to happiness has a very good chance of being on my bookshelf.   This is why our bookshelf can be divided into two sections: war and peace.

One of my all-time favorite modern psychology books about happiness is What Happy People Know by Dan Baker, PhD. and Cameron Stauth. I did not purchase this book but it was given to my husband in 2004. The inscription inside reads “Dear Tom, I am giving this book to your brothers and you because it means so much to Dad and me that all of you have a wonderful, happy life. Love, Mom.” With such a beautiful note to my husband and the fact that this is my favorite subject matter, I have read this book cover to cover, many, many times.

As a side note, the author, Dr. Baker, is the Director of the Life Enhancement Program at Canyon Ranch.  My mother-in-law and father-in-law have been to Canyon Ranch many times and really have an appreciation for him.

What Happy People Know gives very clear, useful advice, and remembering just a few tidbits has made a difference in my perspective on any given day. The author starts with explaining twelve qualities that are common in happy people: the first is Love- loving someone else helps with happiness more than being loved. The second is Optimism- this is what provides power over painful events. Third is Courage. Fourth is Freedom- freedom of choice in life is available to anyone who has the courage to exercise it. Number five is Proactivity – Happy people participate in their own destinies and are not passive victims. Number six is Security – Happy people know that nothing, over time, lasts- including money and approval. Happy people know that security cannot be measured with a calculator or a calendar.   Number seven is Health – by this he is referring to a person’s mood chemistry in relation to neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine.  Numbers eight through twelve are Spirituality, Altruism, Perspective, Humor and Purpose respectively.

Dr. Baker says that the Six Happiness Tools he suggests can completely change your life, if you commit to using them often.  In my experience, these tools are quite useful when I am feeling down and cannot put my finger on why. The Happiness Tools are as follows:

Appreciation – This is the most integral Happiness Tool.  Appreciation is the purest form of Love, and that it is impossible to be in a state of appreciation and a state of fear simultaneously.

Choice. – He calls choice the “father of freedom and the voice of the heart.”

Personal Power – This entails taking responsibly for your own life and taking any action necessary.

Leading with Your Strengths – Most people spend their time trying to fix their weaknesses, but happy people know that focusing on your strengths enhances them and allows you to grow.

Power of Language and Stories –  “The stories we tell ourselves about our own lives eventually become our lives.”  We think in words and these words can hold us back or set us free.

Multidimensional Living – Focusing on relationships, health and purpose are the way to a full life.  Unhappy people often only focus on one of these areas.

Dr. Baker also warns us of the Happiness Traps.  These are five very common things people do because they think it will make them happy. The Happiness Traps are as follows:

The Trying to Buy Happiness. – Dr. Baker says that the more money people have, the more time they spend worrying about it.  They worry about making more and they worry about losing what they have.

Trying to Find Happiness through Pleasure – Once we get accustomed to any pleasure, it loses its ability to make us happy.  (Addiction anyone?)

Trying to Be Happy by Resolving the Past – Happy people know that you cannot resolve what has already happened… you transcend it.

Trying to Be Happy By Resolving Weaknesses – People can change their lives if they put resources into building their strengths instead of correcting their weaknesses.

Trying to Force Happiness – Happiness cannot be forced because it is a by-product of living the right way.

Scattered through the pages of this book are stories of patients he has treated at Canyon Ranch.   It is fascinating for me to read about these people and realize that we all have fundamentally the same inner dialogue.  It does not matter how rich, how famous, or how revered someone becomes… they still have the same basic fears as everyone else: the fear of not having enough and the fear of not being enough.  When we can push these thoughts aside and realize that they are not even real problems, we allow our spirits to thrive.  Do you know how you can tell if you are enough?  Check to see if you are breathing.  If you are breathing, then that means you really are enough.

Pages: 259  FOA Pages: 26,385

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