, Gloucester, MA

September 9, 2013

Fishtown Local: Happiness beyond your control?

Fishtown Local
Gordon Baird

---- — 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.

For such ideas, he was thrown off the V.A. staff. Fifty years ago, those were ideas that would get you bounced.

Today, many people steer by them. In schools, his approach also became the basis of a kinder, gentler system of teaching students, abandoning more coercive methods, developing more caring relationships and encouraging learners to assume responsibility for their own behavior and academic record. We also see this dynamic at work in our daily lives. The part about choosing everything we do, including the misery we feel, seems evident every single day.

Some folks walk and drive around with permanent frowns on their pusses. Then there’s the “blame everyone else but me” crowd — or the “everyone Is out to get me” crowd, the “blame the government,” and, in general, the “poor me” crowd.

We’ve all looked through that door, but it’s key to come out, as Glasser might say, in control of your happiness. The “whistle while you work” person, the “nothing’s gonna stop me” person, the “do it yourself” person — even the “don’t get mad, get even” person (JFK quote) — is moving in the right direction.

Remember those song lyrics, “I get knocked down and I get up again, there’s nothing gonna keep me down”? That person, too, accepts that we are in much responsible for our happiness than most people will acknowledge.

Whatever motivates you, use it to keep moving forward. John Lennon said it in his hit song “All You Need Is Love,” noting that “there’s nothing you can do that can’t be done.” That’s clearer when turned around — you can do anything that can be done by anyone. If it’s doable, it’s doable by you.

As one great composer once said: “Zipiddy-doo-dah, Zippidy Ay, My ‘o my, what a wonderful day, plenty of sunshine comin’ my way, Zippidy-doo-dah, Zippidy-Ay ... wonderful feeling, wonderful day.”

Thanks, Mr. Glasser. We had never heard of you until now, but we’re gonna miss you . . .”

Gordon Baird is a local actor and musician, co-founder of Musician magazine, and producer of “the Chicken Shack” community access television show.