Welcome to Misery!
The inaugural how to be miserable post.
Posted June 10, 2016
Hap hap hip-hap happy.
Enough, already. Welcome to How To Be Miserable: The Blog.
What’s This All About?
For much of the past 20 years, psychology has been obsessed with the quest for happiness. Whereas previously clinicians focused on the alleviation of extreme suffering, more recently we have examined how to lift people from garden-variety dissatisfaction to elevated fulfillment.
In a sense, this shouldn’t be necessary. Although poverty and misfortune abound in modern society, they are nowhere near as common as they were in our species’ evolutionary environment. We have cars, roofs, healthcare systems, microwave ovens, and artisanal beers. We work, for the most part, in reasonably safe surroundings. We sleep in comfortable beds. We have unparalleled opportunities for entertainment.
If a denizen of the Middle Ages found himself transplanted to 21st Century North America, he would think he had arrived in heaven.
But look around.
Unhappiness surrounds us. The media speak of a mental health crisis, despite the fact that we spend more on mental health per capita than at any point in our history. Depression rates are rising, and not only because we continually broaden the definition of depression to include ever larger proportions of the population. Of those not diagnosed with clinical depression, many are dissatisfied with the level of happiness they have achieved in their lives.
If a culture is a machine for the production of human happiness, ours appears to be malfunctioning - and grossly inefficient. Maybe we should look and see what has gone wrong.
The field of positive psychology is big on the idea of signature strengths. If, in a world of relative plenty, we have managed to create so much misery, then perhaps unhappiness is our true signature strength. Let’s make the most of it.
The Shape of Things to Come
This blog is inspired by my book How To Be Miserable: 40 Strategies You Already Use (New Harbinger, 2016). I’ll talk about bits from the book, and about strategies that didn’t appear in its pages. I’ll point out societal characteristics that may contribute to human unhappiness. I’ll introduce relevant research. I’ll suggest skepticism for some of the more grandiose claims of the mental health, umm, industry. Of which I am a semi-reluctant part.
I’d also like the blog to be at least somewhat interactive. At intervals I’ll print letters and Q and A pieces. To this end, please feel free to write me here at Psychology Today. Including:
- Ways that you erode your own happiness, contentment, and enthusiasm.
- Questions about positive psychology, mood difficulties, and life fulfillment. (Please understand, however, that I cannot offer clinical advice in this forum.)
- Topics you’d like me to cover.
A Bit About Me
I’m a psychologist practicing in Vancouver, Canada. In 2002 I founded Changeways Clinic – a stunningly unimaginative name that I adopted from the service I had previously been running at UBC Hospital – the Changeways Program. We now have 14 psychologists providing cognitive behavior therapy and other evidence based treatments for anxiety, depression, life change, burnout, health-related distress, and much more.
My books include How to be Miserable, The Assertiveness Workbook, Your Depression Map, and Private Practice Made Simple. In my spare time I operate a small orchard in the interior of British Columbia, growing apples, pears, peaches, apricots, cherries, and plums. We have no intentional animals, though our guests include deer, bears, cougars, beavers, otters, and rattlesnakes.
A bit heavy on the rattlesnakes for my taste, but hey: life is never perfect.