Greg is an undeniably handsome man, with a shock of red hair and deep blue eyes. He entered my office, saw the black leather couch and seated himself across from me.
“So, let me fill you in on why I am sitting in the office of a psychotherapist for the first time in my 58 years," he said. His golf cap suggested his allegiance to The Arizona Biltmore, an exclusive winter hotel where he told me he vacations with his wife.
“We’ve got a great life and I just don’t know why I am not happier," he added. "I do not come from money, but I have it now I’ve worked wicked weeks to rack up financial security."
"I created a gadget to protect cell phones from water damage and it sold big. The reason it sold is that I can sell anybody anything.
"Folks trust me when I tell them I have ideas that can increase their wellbeing, and I do. I know my stuff.”
I smiled inside. I could already guess why he needed help. His overblown sense of self got in the way of successful intimacy with loved ones.
Now was not the time to speak about this so I began, “I am delighted for you that life is good, but why are you here?”
“My golf buddies tell me I’m too busy to be happy, and they are right," he exclaimed. "Sharon and I want to take off in our boat and sail over the winter, but being self-made comes at a high price. It is hard to feel relaxed and at peace."
"Your website is terrific and the YouTube segments let me know how you think, so here I am. Help me relax into happiness. Can you?”
The blue eyes headed for my own to see if I meant business, and I did.
“We need to see what drives your dysfunctional behavior. If anxiety drives you to need financial success more than is healthy, we need to work with your anxiety," I said. Greg sat forward.
“I can’t not earn money," he exclaimed. "I want to leave wealth to our parents and our kids and somehow, I think I can do it all, but that does not make me happy, even though I think it should."
I knew how to get his attention. I had to sell him a better future. “Greg, let me pitch some wisdom to you," I began. "The 20th century saw one of the most wonderful advancements in the history of mental health. We now have good research from the psychology of happiness, which is also called positive psychology. Have you heard of it?” Greg nodded.
“Dr. Martin Seligman is a colleague at Penn , who spearheaded research on what actually makes people happy. Look this up online and we can go from there."
“Can you give me a cliff notes version of where we are headed?" he asked.
His request was perfectly timed. I briefly set out four basic principles of positive psychology often called the PERMA categories in mental health.
1. Positive Emotions: Successes, happiness, joy, peacefulness, calm; these are the emotions that bring us happiness.
2. Engagement: Caring about and investing time and energy in another person or animal brings us happiness.
3. Positive Relationships: Meaningful relationships with those who matter most to us, like parents, partners, children friends, and pets.
4. Meaning: Selecting ways to contribute to our world in ways that give us a sense of purpose and importance creates happiness.
5. Accomplishment: Activities that you are invested in and proud to be doing.
Greg had relaxed for the first time I met him. “Can I bring Sharon in to learn with me? I know I have to do my part of the changing but we can learn this great information together and pass it on to our kids.”
“Of course she can join us some of the time," I replied. Some of the time you can work on your own. Good?"
I knew Greg would want his own time to absorb the wisdom he was going to encounter. As I write this, he has familiarized himself with the research and recommends it to others.
To Consider: What make you happy and how often do you get to enjoy this time? What do you need to do to blossom into a happier person who enjoys a large part of each day? Will you be glad you did? Why?
To Read: Judith Coche. Your Best Life: Pathways to Happiness. Philadelphia, 2013: Optimal Life Press. Purchase on Amazon.
ED. NOTE: Dr. Coche practices clinical psychology in Stone Harbor and Philadelphia. She invites responses through her website, www.cochecenter.com