A while back, I had read a book by Augusten Burroughs, titled “This is How: Help for the Self,” (2012). One thing that had stuck with me is a passage about how people are looking for happiness from external things. One of the things he discusses in the passage is the concept of the “ifs” and “whens” (Burroughs, 2012). For example, a lot of people say things like “I will be happy when I lose 20 lbs,” or “I would be happy if I had x amount of money.” Because the feeling of happiness is tied into those things, people think that when they achieve those “ifs” and “whens,” they will achieve happiness. However, there are countless cases where people feel exactly the same (and sometimes worse), when they achieved these goals that they make their happiness contingent upon (Burroughs, 2012). Burroughs discusses the fact that those people are not looking for those specific things (the weight loss, or the money)…they are looking at how they believe they will feel when they achieve those goals (Burroughs, 2012). He identifies that if those people do not work on getting “that feeling” now, they will not have that feeling when those things happen (Burroughs, 2012). Therefore the goal will be trying to get that feeling now (Burroughs, 2012). That way, when the goal is achieved, the joy of achieving the goal accentuates an already-present joy.
But how do we assist clients with finding that joy NOW? Well, we try to have the client envision what those situations would feel like. They surely have the idea in their head of what it would be like if they had those above mentioned goals come to fruition. Have them imagine it—ask questions about what it would feel like…have them really explore that feeling so they get to know it—at least conceptually. Then, you can assign them with the task of seeking that feeling in their everyday life. Get their buy-in that they are actually seeking the feeling, and that this feeling can at least in some form, be achieved even if those goals have not happened. With work and perseverance, the client can begin to have the perspective shift required to start feeling joy over little things. It of course takes time and willingness on the client’s part, but over time, I have seen it happen with success. Just something to think about.
Burroughs, A. (2012). This is How: Help for the Self. New York, New York: St. Martin’s Press.
Summer Jeirles is a Licensed Professional Counselor and a Certified Advanced Alcohol and Drug Counselor with a background in addictions and co-occurring disorders in adults. She currently practices in Virginia.