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Readjusting and the Pursuit of Happiness


Aug. 22, 2022 Psychology Today

In Civilization and its Discontents, Freud observed that struggle is intrinsic to the human condition. As a psychiatrist, I help people deal with it. That includes helping them to direct that struggle towards finding happiness.

I help people identify the source(s) of their unhappiness and work through ways that help them 1) stop hurting, and 2) begin to experience a much-improved state of mind relative to their initial problem. Notice how contextualized and open-ended that second task is. 

Happiness (or, rather, getting there) involves work, tailored to each individual in some particular aspect of their lives. The goal, which many patients achieve at least to some degree, is to experience less conflict or struggle; more personal freedom; greater clarity about themselves and/or others; more contentment; and at the far end of the spectrum, maybe even joy.

Always, we focus on the patient’s learning to take the initiative, to direct his or her mind towards whatever they need to find in order to feel happy. At work, it could be finding a sense of purpose after aimlessly drifting. It could be finding a way to feel valuable after retirement. We examine a patient’s thought processes; their pratfalls; their finding the incentive to continue. 

Because the goal is proceeding towards happiness, the question of incentive—i.e., motivation, the will to keep going—turns up no matter what the patient’s ultimate concerns. Patients set about finding mental energy, the personal wherewithal to make a difference in how they proceed through life. Ultimately, I have observed people’s committed struggles to feel better about where they are, who they are, and what they still can accomplish.

I define the domains of happiness around those that continually (unremittingly) involve my patients:

Work and Money. This is about pursuing happiness in professional life. How do we balance the need to work with all the stress indigenous to a work environment? How do we choose an occupation when we love doing one thing but something else pays more? Work and sacrifice seem to run in tandem. It’s as if taking up a profession, or even just holding a job, is a constant balancing act where personal preference, financial reward, and even ethics are constantly jostling for importance in a complex calculus that changes over the course of our lives. 

My patients struggle to define their relationship to work at various, crucial inflection points along the way. They adapt and transcend disappointment. They find more in work than merely a source of financial security or a way to structure their lives.

Wellness and Personal Growth. Wellness refers to an individual’s continued growth across and balance among several dimensions of life: the physical, to be sure, but also emotional, social, and professional. It may also include a spiritual dimension, which is not so much a belief in God as a capacity to listen to your heart, live by your principles, and be fully present in whatever you do. In this posture, spirituality means curiosity and openness to experience; you learn about being human, and allow yourself and others to be who you (or they) really are; you see opportunities for growth in the challenges that life presents. Thus, whether “wellness” is or is not physical, it takes work. It takes commitment, and a sensitivity that extends beyond oneself.

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