Jan 172010

Happy At Last – The Thinking Persons Guide to Finding Joy, by Richard O’Connor. I found this one in the “New” section of the library, but I was busy so I brought it home for my daughter to pre-review for me (the entry in the encyclopedia for “thinking person” has my daughter’s picture next to it). Well, now I’ll have to buy a copy, because three more people in the family are anxious to read it.  The book is, in a nutshell, a scientific explanation for why we are so often unhappy – and a detailed program to BECOME happy.

O’Connor is a psychotherapist, so he gets to see a lot of unhappy people. The book is extremely practical, down to earth, and well-researched. It begins with a history and explanation of how our brains, working with evolutionary goals in mind, trick us into making choices that can leave us unhappy. The research and the “tips” that O’Connor extracts from them are worth the price of the book. For example, your impression of an experience is largely governed by the LAST part of that experience. A wonderful dessert outweighs a mediocre dinner, to the brain.  Or the fact that we regret inaction more than action. We will think better for ourselves for a bad choice (at least I TRIED). But we will forever regret not taking a chance that we were too afraid to take. O’Connor also gives a blistering analysis of our modern culture of consumerism, advertising, competition and stress, and catalogs the damage that being raised in such a dysfunctional culture does to our brain.

Then we come to the part of the book that tells us how to fix ourselves. The good news is that by using relatively simple techniques, we can rewire our brain. The bad news is that it takes some time. But over the course of a few months, we can literally GROW our brains into a happier configuration. We can undo the damaged mental state we find ourselves in.

The rest of the book is crammed with techniques and exercises to make every aspect of your life happier. There is a meaty section on mindfulness meditation. There are cognitive techniques, inner dialogues, writing exercises. It’s like having a therapist coaching you into a happier life . Actually, that’s EXACTLY what it is. O’Connor, although an agnostic, does not fail to acknowledge the role of both formal religion and informal spirituality in mental well-being, and does an excellent job of directing the reader to finding your values and direction for life.

I particularly appreciated that the book is intelligently written and doesn’t patronize the reader. The last thing we need if we are having happiness issues is a shallow pep-talk or questionable methods. Pick this book up. If your  family is anything like mine, you’ll be reading it to each other and standing in line for your chance to read it yourself.

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