HAPPINESS VERSUS TRAGEDY?

I received a heart-warming bit of “fan mail” and wanted to thank the wonderful person who mailed it and make a couple of comments.

Here is the mail, reprinted with permission:

Dear Dr. Johnson
Both my husband and I enjoyed your class on Positive Psychology on Feb 14th. I have taken your classes and bought the books and handouts and am in the process of taking your online autogenic training course. My husband, a physician-internist, has been listening with me. He treats a lot of depression and has found this very interesting. I am slow getting the course done, but enjoying it.

Somethings that struck me from your PP class on Feb 14th—gratitude assignments and weakness and strengths:

One year ago this last Christmas our son died unexpectedly. It has been difficult (understatement) for all the family, especially his best-friend brother. I found this past year a very strong need to write letters, very specific letters, to those who knew my son and had influenced his life and those that helped us and gave us support. I was driven to write, even when I didn’t want to! I wrote over 300 letters of gratitude. Every letter I wrote lifted my spirits. As I felt lifted I was able to help my children reach out and find ways to help their grief. There are days still when I feel overwhelmed with the grief. I pull out the sweet, caring letters that others took the time to send to our family. They probably do not realize how much a thoughtful letter means especially when someone is going thru a difficult time. I have found that gratitude —whether writing letters or receiving letters or writing in a journal,or expressing to each other, has helped our family tremendously this past year. It has also helped us to help others that are grieving.

Another concept you talked about—looking at strengths as opposed to weaknesses. I think the tendency for parents is to want to improve our children so we try to “fix” those weaknesses. After my son died I heard so many stories from others about his kindness and specific stories of some things he had done. It hit me that I had been looking thru my parent eyes at what was wrong and was missing what was right. I missed out on a lot because of that. We are now using the VIA strength test and working on those together as a family. And its much more fun looking at strengths and developing those.

I’ve read recently two non-fiction books that show not only courage but also gratitude and reaching out to help others. The books “Unbroken” the story of Louis Zamperini and “My Story” story of Elizabeth Smart. I was amazed at the gratitude that was expressed throughout the books even while suffering and then to see their lives of helping others. I also appreciate the example you use about John Walsh and the murder of his son Adam and his TV series “America Most Wanted”

Thank you for all the wonderful classes and information. You help many of us both professionally and personally. And you make it fun!

This was a touching communication, and it made me think about a review on Amazon for my Kindle book “I Hate My Job,” He Said. I wrote about a principle that I hope all counselors could embrace, that, fair or not, happy people get the best opportunities. So when you hate your job, shift your thinking, come to where you can at least find some value in it, and use every tool you can to enjoy the job.

But this particular reviewer gave the book a single star and dismissed my little (very short!) book as trivial and shallow.

What I have not said in the book is that in followup, every person in that true book has moved on to a more exciting and positive job, either inside their original company or outside. So what the poor soul who disparaged my book failed to understand is that the Matthew Principle is still alive and well, namely, as Bessie Smith sang, “Them that’s go, gets; them that don’t, lose. So the bible said, and it’s still news. Momma may have, Poppa may have, God bless the child who’s got his own, who’s got his own.”

Some seem to think that if outside circumstances are tough, we have an obligation to be sad, or angry, or in despair.

I want you to know that just isn’t so.

Happiness helps people get better jobs. All right. So can happiness help with the devastating grief of losing a beloved child? Yes, I suspect so, and I think this letter is proof. Grief is real, and joy is real, and both of those are part of life. Embrace the grief, and allow the joy.

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2 Comments

  1. Lee Ann April 10, 2014 at 8:24 pm - Reply

    I once completed a vertical list of the tragedies which had happened in my life on the left side of my page. I named them something short like “car wreck”. On the right side I placed a virtue or character trait which I developed in processing each experience such as patience or flexibility. Then I took the seven basic colors of the rainbow and I connected the experience on the left to the character trait on the right. I kept it and saw that my hard times have been developing my best character traits. The final stage of accepting what is and doing what makes sense is pure JOY. The bible says the kingdom of God is joy. Appreciation is the highest form of love and it is contagious as well as expansive in nature. I love your teachings and will proceed slowly with my autogenic training. I walk in a barn, smell the manure and happily look for the pony.

  2. Brett Williams April 23, 2014 at 9:28 pm - Reply

    Letters like that are an emotional payday. You are blessing lives.

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