, Gloucester, MA


September 9, 2013

Fishtown Local: Happiness beyond your control?

I read with interest the notice in the national papers of the passing of William Glasser, 88, a person most of us never heard of.

But his theories have come full circle today and are the guiding principal for many peoples’ lives even if they’d never heard a word of them.

In 1965, Glasser entered a health system that didn’t believe people could control their own happiness. He had started out as a well-paid chemical engineer but was so unhappy in the job, he went back to earn a psychology degree and went to work for the Veterans Administration.

At the time, the theory was that you weren’t responsible for your miserable problems because you were the victim of factors and circumstances beyond your control. But he coined his Choice Theory, aimed at solving emotional and mental problems by accepting responsibility for them. By avoiding the urge to blame others, or to relive past hurts, people could find happiness essentially by choosing behaviors that improved their relationships and increased their chances for happiness.

“We choose everything we do,” Glasser’s theory said, “including the misery we feel. People have choices to make. What are you going to do about your life, beginning today?”

Glasser’s therapies were emphatically drug-free and built on traditions of self-reliance. He felt the only person one controls in the world is oneself — that the effort to change others is doomed and worse, is the actual cause of most emotional problems. Finally, he felt that to reach the most profound human need — “to love and be loved” — people must repair strained relations with their family, friends and co-workers by adjusting the one variable within their control: their own behavior. “We are much more in control of lives than we realize,” he said.

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