Monday, March 19, 2007

We Are Responsible for Our Own Happiness: This I Believe

In this week’s post, I have decided to express a personal conviction that has driven my desire to pursue a career in psychology and business. The overarching theme in my blog has been to show the link between these two fields, and this post further expands that ideology by showing how my core belief is integrated into both psychology and business. I have been inspired by the This I Believe national media project, which encourages personal expression through writing about individual core beliefs. We can think of a core belief as foundational and central to an individual’s life outlook and personality. The core conviction this post focuses on influences not only my outlook on life but the goals and career aspirations I have developed. Specifically, I strive to pursue my professional and personal goals to the best of my ability and take advantage of the opportunities provided for me. I believe that everyone is responsible for his or her own happiness, which is defined by as the “state of well-being characterized by emotions ranging from contentment to intense joy.” I will expand on this concept by describing happiness as a general satisfaction with one’s achievements.

I began building upon this philosophy a few years ago, in high school. Although I am not a very religious person, I went to a Benedictine school and took a theology class every year. In my junior year, during my sixth religions course, a beloved and radical teacher discussed basic philosophical ideas with us. Although his ideas were more complicated than this, the basic concept was that people are all given choices, and each decision helps to determine one’s own fate. For example, I once heard a young woman speak about her intense battle with cancer as a small child. Although she was in the hospital for years, she does not spend her life worrying or complaining about the past⎯instead, she has chosen to give inspirational speeches, be grateful for the help that St. Jude hospital (a picture from their website is shown below) gave her, and be excited about starting college in the fall. Of course it is reasonable to mourn or be emotional after a traumatic event, but at some point we need to move on.

This responsibility comes with multiple possibilities. In the article entitled 8 Ways to Happiness, from, they discuss ideas about how responsibility for emotions, emotional responses, beliefs, and actions can lead to greater happiness, stating that “you have control.” I achieve this by attempting to “look on the bright side” of every situation. Although I worked assiduously in high school, for instance, I was accepted to college as a late admit, meaning that I would have to come halfway through my freshman year. While I was upset that I had to miss those influential and important first few months, I hoped that it had happened for a reason and I would benefit in hidden ways. Initially, I could see that getting into my first-choice school was a great accomplishment and I should be proud and happy for the opportunity. However, it was not until later that I realized the true benefit of starting school belatedly. During that first semester, before I began school, I lived nearby with my grandparents and took extra classes and got a job to stay on schedule. Normally, I only saw my grandparents a few times every year. After my grandfather passed away unexpectedly, a few months later, it was apparent how special my few months living with him were.

Another possibility, in addition to finding the positive components to negative situations, is to do what is in one’s power to work towards happiness. This ability translates into the business world. For example, Reese Witherspoon, a famous and respected actress, recently underwent a difficult public divorce. Instead of hiding from public view and letting it be detrimental to her career, she has generated positive media responses by coming to events looking happy and refreshed. In the March edition of Harper's Bazaar, pictured above, she states: “I look forward to my work. I love my children…I'm very lucky. I have a really great life." Her bold actions and positive outlook will benefit her professionally and personally, as members of the film industry will not doubt her ability, commitment, and professionalism, and she has not allowed herself to be overcome by a challenging personal experience.

How does my belief relate to the field of psychology? I believe it is one of the main principles governing current psychological therapy and practice. Studies in psychology have literally focused on happiness, as psychologist Dr. Seligman’s “research has demonstrated that it is possible to… feel more satisfied, to be more engaged with life, find more meaning, have higher hopes, and… laugh and smile more, regardless of one’s circumstances.” Additionally, therapy that has been empirically supported as successful at helping individuals, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, teaches individuals to change their behavior. Unlike antiquated Freudian practice, in which “the theory is that, with relaxation, the unconscious conflicts will inevitably drift to the fore,” current psychology expands beyond the stereotypical therapist quietly listening to constant complaints. Additionally, it no longer focuses on blame⎯what good will it do a patient to learn that their mother or father is the source of all of their adult problems? Psychologists know that each individual must be responsible for changing their situation, no matter whose fault it is, in order to live a happy and satisfying life. Furthermore, business professionals must generate positive results and publicity in the face of challenging situations. Everyone is responsible for his or her personal happiness⎯this I believe.

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