Nephew: How do you know so much about happiness? Correction: what makes you think you know so much about happiness?
Uncle: There are different types of researchers into happiness.
Nephew: You’re the one I’m asking about.
Uncle: There are the researchers who study the broad environment to determine what makes a person happy. ‘Will a person be happier in a democratic society? How much greenery needs to be in the community? Does the wealth disparity between the rich and the poor make a difference? Is an adult more likely to be happy if they are married? Or religious?’
Nephew: They’d be academics.
Uncle: Yes. And there are those who focus on a person’s upbringing. They ask questions like, ‘How can a child be raised to ensure they grow up well adjusted and happy? Are children better off breastfed? And spanked?’
Nephew: Not at the same time, I hope.
Nephew: And we have the academics who study our biology and ask questions like, ‘What role do genes play?’
Uncle: Yes, that’s another field of research.
Nephew: And the problem fixers? Counsellors, psychiatrists and other concerned people?
Uncle: Yes, they aim to make a person happier by helping them deal with their individual problems.
Nephew: That’s four kinds of researchers. Where do you fit in?
Uncle: And there are those who focus on how we, as individuals, can be happy regardless of our circumstances. We ask, ‘How can a person be happy despite their environment, despite their upbringing, and despite their problems?’ The people in this field are the self-help gurus, spiritualists, life coaches, and motivators.
Nephew: And you.
Uncle: And me, I suppose.
Nephew: So the academics look at the environment to see how it influences the individual, and you lot look at how the individual can respond to their environment?
Uncle: That’s a fair summary, but I don’t like being lumped in with the self-help gurus, spiritualists, motivators and life coaches.
Nephew: Suck it up.
Uncle: You cheeky blight!
Nephew: In what way do you think you’re different?
Uncle: The self-help gurus tend to suggest we change our thinking, or change what we feel. ‘Be a positive thinker,’ they advise, as though it’s easy to choose our thoughts. ‘Practise gratitude . . practise compassion . . . be forgiving’ they might say, as though we can choose what to feel. But it’s too hard to change our thoughts and feelings. I focus on changing our awareness and our behaviours. When those things change, our thinking changes.
Nephew: I can see the difference, but no, you’re all lumped together. Suck it up.
” . . . self-help literature is full of good advice, but good advice is not the issue; most of it has been around for centuries. The issue is how to implement it.”
Kathryn Schultz, in her article, ‘The self in self-help’, New York Magazine.